Extraordinary Port, Extraordinary Presentation

The Graham's name is branded into the wood by laser

At Graham’s we care passionately about every aspect of our Ports, and we pursue our ideal of quality beyond the winemaking all the way through to the packaging and presentation.  Our 2011 Holiday season gift box for the Graham’s 40 Year Old Tawny is one recent example.

The Port

Graham’s 40 Year Old Tawny Port is a testament to the art of blending.  A Tawny Port with indication of age (10, 20, 30 or 40 years) is a blend of multiple wines of various vintages, which when combined have an average age of not less than the number of years on the bottle.

The elegant amber of the 40 YO Tawny contrasts with the cedar coloured 20 YO

The component wines will have been selected for ageing in pipas, casks of around 550 litres, years ago.  In these small casks the air which circulates through the pores of the old wood causes the wine to evaporate slowly.  This micro-oxygenation concentrates the wines, and the flavour profile changes from a young, juicy, red and black fruit driven character into something altogether more subtle and complex.  Over the years, the cask-aged Ports will develop a wide range of aromas such as dried fruits, nuts, caramel, tea, spices, cigars, leather and more.

Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker, then works with Port samples of a range of ages, each of which has a unique flavour profile, to blend this extraordinary Port.  Most of the wines he will select to create the 40 Year Old Tawny will have been laid down by his father or grandfather.

Golden amber with a pale green tinge at the rim which denotes great quality and class. Very complex on the nose with a powerful fragrance that belies its age. The palate is a gamut of flavours, ranging from delicate fruit and raisins to burnt toffee and chocolate. The persistent aftertaste is sheer pleasure.

For the 2011 Holiday season we wanted to celebrate Graham’s 40 Year Old Tawny with a unique packaging that would convey the subtle and complex character of this wine.

The layered box is assembled and finished by hand

The Presentation Box

Graham’s approached Serafim Pereira Simões Succesorers (SPSS), a firm of artisanal carpenters who are known for their collaborations with top architects such as Álvaro Siza Vieira and Eduardo Souto de Moura on projects in Portugal and around the world.  Based in Valadares, near Vila Nova de Gaia, the firm has long standing ties to the Port trade.

We shared the 40 Year Old Tawny, and set them the challenge of designing a package to express the quality and character of the wine.  Impressed by the extraordinary colour of the Tawny Port and the layers of flavour on the palate and finish, they proposed a box constructed of layers of wood, cut in graduated bottle silhouettes to frame the glass bottle within, but backless, so the light could pass through and display the extraordinary colour of the Port.

Graham's 40 Year Old Tawny Holiday 2011 Gift

Zélia Reis, Marketing Manager for Symington Family Estates, visited the SPSS workshop to watch the boxes being constructed.  Their process is a combination of cutting edge technology and exquisite hand craftsmanship – very like our own viticulture and winemaking.  A computer calculates the optimum layout to cut component parts from a sheet of wood with minimal waste, and lasers cut the silhouettes precisely and burn the “branded” text on the box.  The construction is done entirely by hand however, and in the photo above you see Edmundo Vieira assembling and finishing a box.

We hope this holiday season you will have a chance to enjoy the extraordinary craftsmanship that goes into both Graham’s 40 Year Old Tawny and SPSS’s wonderful gift packaging.

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New Ambulance for Carrazeda de Ansiães

The Volunteer Fire Department and the Symingtons at Carrazeda de Ansiães
The new ambulence, fully equipped, was donated to the community by Symington Family Estates

For the sixth year in a row, the Symington family have donated emergency equipment to a Douro community, this year a fully equipped ambulance to the Volunteer Fire Department of the town of Carrazeda de Ansiães.

Yesterday Paul, Charles and Johnny and Helen Symington together with more than twenty Symington Family Estates (SFE) staff from both Gaia and the Douro travelled to Carrazeda to celebrate the handover of the Ambulance to the town and Fire Department.  With half a dozen quintas in the area, the Symingtons know Carrazeda well, as the town provides many goods and services to our quintas, and SFE employees, both year round and seasonal workers, live locally.  Graham’s Quinta do Tua, Cockburn’s Quinta dos Canais, Dow’s Senhora da Ribeira, Smith Woodhouse’s Vale de Coelho as well as quintas privately owned by Charles and Johnny are all within the concelho, the administrative area served by Carrazeda.

L to R: Paul Symington, José Luis Correia and Carlos Manuel Fernandes at the podium

After the priest blessed the ambulance, and Paul gave it a liberal splashing of Champagne for good measure, visitors, town dignitaries and the entire squadron of emergency volunteers went indoors for some brief speeches and of course refreshment.  Paul spoke of the family’s commitment to the region: several generations of Symingtons have been involved with Senhora da Ribeira since the early 20th century, and now, with ownership of 26 quintas representing 1,891 hectares of land across the Douro region, we are a major investor, spending over €3.5 million each year for goods and services at our quintas.  The Symington family have strong ties and a strong sense of responsibility to the communities surrounding their quintas, and these annual donations of emergency equipment are another way of expressing their gratitude for the local support for their enterprise.

Carlos Manuel Fernandes, Presidente da Associação Humanitária dos Bombeiros Voluntários, thanked the Symington Family for the donation of the ambulance, and José Luís Correia, Presidente da Câmara Municipal Carrazeda de Ansiães, also thanked the family and spoke of their presence and commitment to the region.  He presented each Paul, Charles, Johnny and Helen with a gift of books of the history and sights of the area, just in case there was a detail they didn’t yet know about Carrazeda!

New uses for blue schist vineyard posts!

No Portugese celebration is ever complete without food.  After the speeches we enjoyed some excellent fruit cakes which paired well with the Cockburn’s Special Reserve which was served (Quinta dos Canais being the largest property and nearest to Carrazeda).  Whoever was in charge of the food came up with a brilliant and creative use for blue schist posts no longer needed in the vineyards.

But cakes are not enough, and after the ceremonies were over and the ambulance backed into its new home at the fire station, the Symingtons, their employees and many representatives of the concelho of Carrazeda and the emergency services drove down to Quinta dos Canais for a full lunch of carrot soup, Mirandesa beef, and a wonderful array of desserts, fruit and cheese, all served with the Symington’s Altano Douro DOC wines and Cockburn’s 20 YO Tawny Port.

Over lunch we all had a chance to catch up – Arlindo from Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua was there along with his fellow caseiros (property managers) including  Orlando Leonel (Canais) and Mário Passeiro (Vale de Coelho),  our viticultural and winemaking teams were represented by Alexandre Mariz, Artur Jorge Moreira, Ricardo Carvalho and Pedro Sousa, as well as Manuel Lapa from the Tasting Room in Gaia; from the Lodges António Monteiro and António Fonseca came up together with Emílio Oliveira who is in charge of the Tanoaria (cooperage), and many more from our Gaia and Douro offices who have both personal and professional ties to the region.

Whilst at lunch the heavens opened up and it began to rain heavily.  Many people commented on the fact the Douro is spectacularly beautiful even in the rain, and probably all hoped privately that no one would be needing the emergency services in this weather.

The slide show below shows many more images of the day, from the ceremony and reception at the fire station to the lunch at Quinta dos Canais.


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Graham’s in Japan

Hibiya Bar staff with their cocktail creations, L to R: Ms Chinatty Teduka, Mr. Takumi Ishikawa, Jorge Nunes of Graham's, and Mr. Yuki Yoshida

Graham’s own Man-About-the-Far-East, Jorge Nunes, has been in Japan to visit customers and provide training to staff at our distributor, Asahi, as well as a wide range of venues that serve Graham’s Port.

Jorge wrote in with this great story:

Something very interesting happened today.  I was giving a staff training to about 30 people, all from a chain of bars called Hibiya Bar in Tokyo (there are 26 of these in the city) and after a question about cocktails, I was presented with 2 barmen and 1 bargirl, who did 3 cocktails using Graham’s Fine Ruby or Fine White Ports.  The photo shows each one holding his or her cocktail.  The staff gave us permission to publish their recipes (see below) – all 3 were really good!

The President of Hibiya Bars, Mr. Oshiro, shared his photos from a recent visit to Graham's Lodge with three of his colleagues.
Asahi staff at the Osaka restaurant Portugalia for training. Recognise the silhouette of the Dom Luis Bridge in the wall painting?

On top of all this, by pure coincidence, the President of Hibiya Bars, Mr. Oshiro, was at Graham’s Port Lodge just 2 weeks ago!  They showed me the pictures he took.

I’m also attaching a photo of a staff training session with our distributor’s Osaka team – our distributor is Asahi Breweries. We tasted Fine White, Fine Ruby, Six Grapes (with the very good Pierre Marcolini 70% dark chocolate), 10 Year Old Tawny and Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage 1998.  Port and Chocolate was a success.  The training was conducted in the Portuguese restaurant Portugalia, whose owner is Eduardo Batista, and has been in Osaka for 34 years.

Jorge will be travelling further in Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia, and we are looking forward to more news and photos.

Here are the cocktail recipes which Jorge enjoyed so much:

Ms. Chinatty Teduka and her creation, Sweet Tiger

  1. Graham’s Fine Ruby 40ml
  2. Caramel Syrup 2 tea spoons
  3. Camus Cognac “ile de lait” 10ml
  4. Mascarpone 2 tea spoons

Mr. Takumi Ishikawa and his creation, The Rose

  1. Graham’s Fine Ruby 40ml
  2. Cassis Liqueur 10ml
  3. Pineapple juice 10ml
  4. Litchi liqueur 1 tea spoon
  5. Rose liqueur 1 tea spoon

Mr. Yuki Yoshida and his creation, Frozen Port Sangria

  1. Cointreau 30ml
  2. Peach juice 30ml
  3. Lemon juice 10ml
  4. Cinnamon Syrup 10ml
  5. Lemon peel mince
  6. Graham’s Fine White Port float
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Celebrations at The Factory House

Seating plan

Dominic Symington writes:

Today we have just finished the 200th anniversary lunch commemorating the repossession of the Factory House in 1811 after the Liberation of Oporto by General Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) in 1809.

The original centenary lunch was held on 11th November 1911, the members sitting down to 11 courses at 11am.  As we understand it today, the date and time was a total coincidence.

The lunch was attended by 25 current and retired members (dates are their year of election to the Factory House):

Seated from left to right:  Paul Symington (1983), Peter Cobb (1980), Ian Sinclair (1975), Alastair Robertson (1969), Robin Reid (1962), Michael Symington (1955), Dominic Symington (1992), Ian Symington (1958), James Symington (1964), Gordon Guimaraens (1975), António J. Filipe (Honorary Member), Peter Symington (1975), Nick Heath (1984)

Standing from left to right:  Henry Shotton (Executive Member), Euan Mackay (2008), Johnny Symington (1989), Jim Reader (1988), Johnny Graham (1986), Natasha Bridge (2010), Adrian Bridge (1997), Rupert Symington (1994), Joe Alvares Ribeiro (2009), Charles Symington (1998), William Graham (Overseas Member), David Guimaraens (1997)

Today we recreated the same event with 11 courses prepared by Chef Fernando Santos and 11 wines, convening at table at 11 o’clock.  After 2 minutes silence we proceeded with our lunch – full menu and wines below – all were superb and a particular mention must go to the Anselmo Mendes Contacto Vinho Verde which was superb.

L to R: Taylor's 1935, Graham's 1924, Dow's 1961 Colheita, and Churchill 1997

All wines showed outstandingly well and, as would be expected, the four Ports – three Vintages and a Colheita – all showed their true colours and were absolutely delicious.

A particular mention must go to the Graham’s 1924, which showed a pale tawny colour but with a surprising pinkish tinge, wonderfully floral with a hint of mint and eucalyptus and a delicious delicate saddle leather tone nose,  gentle and lingering rich creamy finish – quite superb.

The young Churchill 1997 with the chocolate was excellent and the Taylor 1935 was also exceptional.

Menu and Wines:

  • Pol Roger Brut Rosé 2002 & sea food broth soup as aperitif
  • Pause between 5th and 6th courses – Lemon & Champagne Sorbet
  1. Cream of Chestnut Soup, Wine Blandy’s Verdelho 1984
  2. Blinis with Salmon Roe, Wine Olivier Leflaive Rully 1er Cru. Mont Palais 2006
  3. Cream of Leek & Oysters with Seafood and Roe Foam, Wine Joseph Drouhin Beaune 1er Clos des Mouches 2007
  4. Swordfish Ravioli with Black Truffle sauce, Wine Anselmo Mendes Contacto 2010
  5. Slow Cooked Bacalhau with Coriander Sauce, Wine Louis Latour Beaune 1er Cru Vignes Franches 2008
  6. Warm Duck Liver on a bed of Pear Pureé and Port reduction sauce, Wine Château Suduiraut 1er Cru Classé 1996
  7. Pork Cheeks served on a bed of pumpkin puree, Wine Prats & Symington Chryseia 2003
  8. Tornedo of Beef Fresh Vegetables and a Stilton sauce, Wine Ch. Pontet Canet 1999
  9. Macedónia of Red Fruits Rasberry icecream strawberry coulis, Wine Royal Tokaji Late Harvest 2009
  10. Medley of Chocolate Mousse served with Coffee Ice Cream Biscuit Fondant with Nuts and Bunuelo Chocolate, Wine Churchill’s 1997 Vintage Port
  11. Queijo da Serra Ilhas de S. Jorge and Stilton, Wine Dow’s Colheita 1961

Dessert Room:  Taylor’s  1935 Vintage Port, Graham’s 1924 Vintage Port

Additional note from Dominic:  I chose all the wines and selected the dishes jointly with Laura my wife, Chef  Fernando Santos and Olga Lacerda, the Factory House Manager.  We did a trial run with some courses so that I could get the taste and flavors clear in my mind so as to select the most appropriate wine pairing.

All the Vintage Ports came from the Factory House’s own cellars, with the Symington Family providing the Dow’s 1961 Colheita from cask.

Click into any image in the Gallery to open the photo full size and click to scroll back and forth.


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The Vintage Port Academy

Graham's Euan Mackay decanting vintage port

Once again Euan Mackay, Graham’s Sales Director, has been in Hong Kong for The Vintage Port Academy.  Founded last year by the classic Port houses of Symington Family Estates (Graham’s, Dow’s, Warre’s) and Taylor Fladgate Partnership (Croft, Fonseca, Taylor’s), the aim of the Vintage Port Academy is to develop an understanding and enjoyment of Vintage Port among wine consumers and professionals around the world, through a programme of seminars and courses for wine trade and hospitality personnel as well as tastings and workshops for fine wine consumers, collectors and media.

The workshops are a key initiative, providing valuable specialist training to wine, food and hospitality professionals who wish to offer Port to their customers.  The classes are also a great adjunct to other wine trade studies and qualifications.  Participants complete an exam at the conclusion of their course, which included a question on how best to recommend a Late Bottled Vintage Port to a customer, with prizes for the top scorers.

L to R Graham's Euan Mackay, VPA prize winner Leo Au, and Nick Heath of Taylor Fladgate
L to R Graham's Euan Mackay, VPA prize winner Ian Wu, and Nick Heath of Taylor Fladgate

This year’s winners were Leo Au who works in Beverage Service at the Salon de Ning, Peninsula Hotel, whose LBV advice took the form of a tasting note:   “On the palate, nice balance between sweetness and flavour, gives you a strong wonderful mouth-feel every sip.”  Ian Wo, Assistant Restaurant Manager and Sommelier at the Centurion Restaurant & Kat O Bar, Shatin Clubhouse, Hong Kong Jockey Club put his recommendation in the form of food pairing suggestions, which sound very good to us:  “This wine would pair perfectly well with heavy red meat dishes, and for Chinese food, don’t forget to try this with a BBQ suckling pig.  You’ll fall in love with it!”  Leo and Ian each won a special Vintage Port Academy case of a bottle of each Graham’s 2007 and Taylor’s 2007.

Additionally, Euan and Nick Heath from Taylor Fladgate held a special tasting for the Press, describing the Douro region and the importance of terroir and provenance for Vintage Ports, re-enforcing their points with a tasting of Quinta Vintage Ports.   There was also a trade tasting where each importer presented a range of Vintage Ports to their customers.

Kee Club Tasting Event

Finally a Port and Food Pairing event at the Kee club attracted over 200 wine lovers, who enjoyed some wonderful and creative pairings with Graham’s wines, including

  • Late Bottled Vintage 2005 with Francesca Bari almonds
  • 20 Year Old Tawny with foie gras and Graham’s 20 Year Olld Tawny Jelly on chocolate biscuits – Euan’s personal favourite of the event
  • Graham’s Vintage 1980 with venison patties

The Vintage Port Academy has a new dedicated website, where you can learn more about upcoming activities, and register your interest in next year’s events.

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Quinta Vintage Port Tasting

Johnny and Paul Symington leading the tasting in London
The first flight of wines, showing Malvedos and Tua 2006 at bottom left and right, Malvedos 1979 middle row second from left, and L to R in the top row, Malvedos 1965, Dow’s Bomfim 1965, Malvedos 1958 and Malvedos 1950

The past two weeks have seen Paul Symington on the road with his cousins – Johnny in London and Charles in Lisbon – to demonstrate the quality and longevity of Quinta Vintage ports and the extraordinary range of terroir character in the Douro.  Journalists and other wine trade professionals were invited to partake in these extraordinary events.

Nineteen Vintage Ports were served from across all the Symington port brands; the Graham’s wines included Malvedos Vintages 2006, 1999, 1979, 1965, 1958 and 1950, and a Quinta do Tua 2006.  As an extra curiousity at the end of the tasting, we served a cask sample of 2011 Touriga Franca from Malvedos, so the Ports ranged in age from 61 years to just one month old!

When Paul and his cousins were planning the event, they reviewed the contents of the cellars here in Gaia to select vintages and found there were only seven bottles left of the Malvedos 1950.  The plan was to open one bottle in the tasting room to decide whether or not to include the 1950 in the tasting.  On the way up from the cellar, that bottle was dropped… and then there were six!  Three were sent to London, and three to Lisbon, untasted, and the wine was a revelation to everyone, with its extraordinary freshness, balance, and intense and complex flavours.

The tasting was introduced with a discussion of the extraordinary diversity within the Douro region, with Paul citing such variables as average temperatures, rainfall, soil pH and composition, at quintas from Warre’s Cavadinha a few kilometres north of the river in the Pinhão Valley, to Dow’s Bomfim on the riverfront at Pinhão, to Malvedos 10 km upriver, to Vesuvio another 14 km further upriver towards the border with Spain.  These facts and figures were made real when guests tasted the feminine elegance of Cavadinha, the spicy, dry austerity of Bomfim, the opulent sweet fruit of Malvedos, and the elegant power of Vesuvio.

Charles Symington and Arlindo Santos of Garrafeira Campo Ourique in Lisbon

After the tastings Paul, Johnny and Charles had a chance to catch up with their friends in the trade over champagne, though a few people preferred to top up their glasses of a favourite Vintage Port.

About Quinta Vintage Ports

In the really extraordinary years, perhaps three times in a decade, we declare a classic Graham’s Vintage Port, with the wines from Quinta dos Malvedos at its heart, but also blending in wines made from any of Graham’s four other quintas, including nearby Quinta do Tua and Quinta da Vila Velha, Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto valley south of Pinhão, and Quinta do Vale de Malhadas in the Douro Superior.

In the years between, we usually bottle a Quinta Vintage Port from Quinta dos Malvedos.  Exactly as for classic Vintage, the wines are aged in cask for about 18 months before bottling.  But whereas classic Vintages are always released en primeur shortly after bottling,  Quinta Vintages are aged in bottle in our own Lodge here  in Vila Nova de Gaia until we consider it ready for drinking.  Typically, this means the Quinta Vintage Ports are released around ten years after the Vintage – for example, the currently available Malvedos is 1999.

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The extraordinarily rugged mountain landscape of the Douro creates an astonishing range of microclimatisation between even nearby properties.  Both Malvedos and Tua are fundamentally south facing quintas on the north bank of the Douro and they are only a couple kilometres apart, but the landscapes and taste profiles for the properties are very  different.  Malvedos has the more varied landscape and a higher top altitude, so the vineyards are not just south facing:  with areas of vine facing east, or located in narrow valleys where the heat can concentrate, Malvedos wines have extraordinary aromatics of mint, eucalyptus and floral notes, particularly violets, and the wines have great complexity and balanced structure.

Tua, on the other hand, has an old walled vineyard that faces west and south west, and the rest of the vineyards are stretched out along a south facing area which does not have as deep undulations or as great a variety of exposures as Malvedos, and the vineyards are mostly confined within a narrower band of altitude.  What Tua does have is a very high percentage of old vines, and the wines stand out for their complexity and tannic structure.  Our first Quinta do Tua Vintage Port was made in 2006, the year we acquired the quinta, and this wine is among those still ageing in our Lodge.

At the UK tasting, front row L to R are Jane McQuitty (wine columnist for The Times), Richard Mayson (wine writer and critic specialising in Port) and Mark Buckenham (buyer for The Wine Society)

Press Reaction

Those attendees who have already published about the event have been very impressed indeed, by the sheer quality of the wines, the very clear differences between properties by virtue of their terroir and most of all by Paul, Johnny and Charles’s passion for the wines and properties.

Quentin Sadler, a wine educator and consultant in England, has written a detailed review of the event and the wines, and concluded

I could happily pull the cork on any of these and sit in a garden enjoying these wonderfully complex and fascinating wines.

Jane McQuitty of The Times (29 October, her column in The Weekend section) wrote to recommend the Malvedos 1999 to her readers:

The best and best-value single quinta port available at the moment is the utterly gorgeous, luscious, floral, mint and cabbage rose-scented 1999 Quinta dos Malvedos.

Wine writer and event organiser Heather Dougherty wrote about Wines That Look Good at Fifty in her blog Liquid Assets to recommend the Malvedos 1999 as well:

This is beautifully perfumed, incredibly rich and sweet. There are flavours and aromas of pipe tobacco and sweet spiced cherry. Malvedos is famous for producing opulent, sweet ports and this certainly fits that profile. The sweetness would make it a great match for desserts – sticky toffee pudding or crème brûlée could be naughty but nice.

One of the last three bottles of 1950 Quinta dos Malvedos served in Lisbon

In the on-line edition of the trade magazine Harper’s Wine and Spirits, Anne Krebiehl made a thought-provoking observation

… the older vintages were a marvel: a thoughtful reminder that we are apt to miss a lot by just concentrating on the ‘finest’ vintages or the highest scores.

Perhaps wine writer Joanna Simon summed it up best with her comment

It was a tasting that demonstrated the longevity and quality of these single quintas and their very different and distinct characters.

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