GRAHAM’S MARKS THE QUEEN’S 90TH BIRTHDAY WITH SPECIAL COMMEMORATIVE PORT

Hosted by Berry Brothers & Rudd at their historic St. James’s Street offices in London, on Wednesday March 30th four members of the Symington family, together with their friends at Berrys, launched Graham’s 90 Very Old Tawny Port, a limited edition of 500 bottles to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s forthcoming 90th birthday. Paul, Johnny, Rupert and Charlotte Symington presented the special commemorative Port to a group of UK wine writers and journalists, as well as two of Portugal’s leading wine writers. The Portuguese Ambassador to the United Kingdom, João de Vallera, was also present.

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Charlotte Symington pours the Graham’s 90 component wines in readiness for the tasting.

Paul introduced the three venerable cask-matured wines of which the Graham’s 90 is composed. He took with him from Portugal the original vintage records for those years, one of which written by his great grandfather Andrew James Symington. He read the entry dated 14th October 1935, the year in which one of the component wines for the Graham’s 90 was made. Andrew James Symington describes the quality of the year and alludes to the reigning monarch of the day, King George V (the Queen’s grandfather): “I am inclined to think that the quality and good colour inspires hope that the 1935 may prove good enough to make a Jubilee Vintage – quantity is less than last year – but quality appears to be better.”

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Paul (left) guides the Symington family’s and Berry’s guests through the tasting.

Johnny went on to explain that Port has long been used to toast royal and historic occasions by every conceivable British institution for centuries and this seemed an entirely appropriate association. This isn’t the first time that the Symington family and Berry Brothers have come together to mark a royal occasion. In 2012 they jointly launched the Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port, which celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne. Again the challenge was to create an exceptional Port to pay a fitting tribute to the Queen’s dedicated lifetime of service to the nation. Port has always been served at every state occasion at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle during Her Majesty’s long reign and this has helped to project Port as one of the world’s premier wines.

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British and Portuguese wine writers scribble their notes as they put the Graham’s 90 component wines through their paces

Berry Bros. & Rudd, Port Buyer, Simon Field MW commented, “The prospect of working with Charles Symington [Graham’s head winemaker] is always one that we relish and when we approached Charles, Paul and Johnny for ideas for something rather special to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday we were confident that they would unearth something exceptional. They have.” These were Simon’s first impressions when he tasted this remarkable Port: “The fruits of very old casks from three venerable vintages, of which two are significantly over 90 years of age, this outstanding blend impresses immediately with its deep colour and richly generous aromas. The palate is even more intriguing, teasing initially with a beguiling cocktail of high spirits and spritely wisdom. It’s only with a little time in glass that the true greatness becomes evident…patience is rewarded. There is no substitute for experience, and our experience should be accompanied by humility and gratitude.” 

Victoria Moore in the Daily Telegraph (March 30th) also eloquently described the Graham’s 90 (“A very special toast to the Queen”) as follows: “Graham’s 90 blended by Charles Symington, is far more than the sum of its parts: a finessed, complex Port, with fine layer upon fine layer of flavour, like a mille-feuille, opening gradually, a kaleidoscope of roasted nuts, honey, raisins, tobacco and spice.”

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This rare Port will be available in the UK exclusively through Berry Bros. & Rudd as from March 30th 2016 and will be priced at £700 per bottle. From each bottle sold, a contribution will be made by Graham’s to the Patron’s Fund, which supports a collection of UK and Commonwealth charities of which Her Majesty is the patron. The minimum contribution guaranteed by the Symington family is £10,000.00. A very restricted number of bottles will be available for sale in Portugal, some of which at the Graham’s 1890 Lodge.

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GRAHAM’S VOTED THE WORLD’S MOST ADMIRED PORT BRAND

The 6th annual survey of the World’s 50 Most Admired Wine Brands was recently conducted by the Drinks International magazine. The jury consists of over 200 leading figures in the wine sector, masters of wine, sommeliers and journalists.

The 2016 survey has nominated Graham’s as the World’s Most Admired Port Brand and the 14th Most Admired Wine Brand in the world.

Dow’s Port, also owned and managed by the Symington family, was placed 31 in the World’s 50 Most Admired Wine Brands.

Other wines in the World’s 50 Most Admired Wine Brands include Vega Sicilia, Penfolds, Château d’Yquem, Château Margaux, Guigal, Château Latour, Cloudy Bay, Mateus and Cheval Blanc.

The Symington family said; ‘We are very proud to have earned this prominent position amongst the best wines in the world. This wonderful endorsement is the result of generations of work in our Douro vineyards and in our caves in Vila Nova de Gaia, as well as to the loyalty and the great skill of the people who work with us in our project of excellence.’

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1965 Revisited

In 2015, to mark 125 years since Graham’s first acquired Quinta dos Malvedos, a very limited quantity of Graham’s 1965 Quinta dos Malvedos Single Quinta Vintage Port was released. Now 50 years old, this exceedingly rare wine is as much a part of the history of one of the Douro’s greatest quintas, as it is proof of the remarkable longevity of Vintage Port. What better way to celebrate the wines of one of the greatest Douro Valley quintas than with a vertical tasting of some of the vineyard’s greatest wines of the last 50 years?

Organised to coincide with one of the most important Portuguese wine fairs, Encontro com o Vinho e Sabores, which takes place in Lisbon every year, a small group of journalists and wine enthusiasts assembled to taste nine wines produced at Quinta dos Malvedos between 1965 and 2014. However, before any event of this nature, a certain amount of preparation must be done.

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Johnny Symington examines the colour of the Quintas dos Malvedos 2014

A week before the tasting in Lisbon was due to take place, Johnny Symington spent an afternoon in the Graham’s tasting room in Vila Nova de Gaia tasting a number of Malvedos Vintages from the last half century. After much deliberation eight of the most representative examples of the unique terroir of Quinta dos Malvedos were selected join the 1965 at the tasting. From the most recent, the young and intense 2014, through the minty elegance of the 1995, and the surprising powerhouse of the 1986, the culmination of the tasting would undoubtedly be the fifty-year-old 1965.

A full house at the Quinta dos Malvedos vertical tasting in Lisbon
A full house at the Quinta dos Malvedos vertical tasting in Lisbon

Led by Johnny Symington and Henry Shotton, the winemaker at Malvedos, the tasting in Lisbon was a huge success, and both professional wine journalists and enthusiasts alike felt privileged to have the opportunity to experience some of the history of both Quinta dos Malvedos and of one of the world’s classic wines.

The power of the young Malvedos Vintage Ports, combined with the growing complexity of flavours and aromas found through the older wines was a tremendous experience, and when the tasting reached its pinnacle in the 1965, it was summed up in one word by Johnny Symington when he said, “paraíso” (paradise).

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Johnny Symington and Henry Shotton presenting the Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Ports

The full list of wines tasted was:

2014, 2010, 2004,1999,1995,1986,1982,1976,1965.

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Graham's 1970 Vintage Port in the pages of Decanter

In the pages of the current issue of Decanter (August 2015), Richard Mayson, a renowned authority on Port and author of the book “Port and the Douro” (published by Infinity Ideas) responded to a question on what vintage Ports are currently ready for drinking by naming the best wines of the early ‘90s and ‘80s before saying “If I could choose just one year to drink now it would be 1970, and if I could choose one wine it would be Graham’s.”

Coming from an exceptionally hot year, and (at the time) the first since the Symington family acquired Graham’s, the 1970 Vintage Port displays a beautiful dark amber colour, lifted floral aromas on the nose, and hints of mint and spice with a slight smokiness. On the palate it is extremely rich and structured, with a vibrancy of tannins, flavours of lovely soft leather, and some plummy black fruit flavours.

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Graham's Vintage Port Bonds

It has long been a tradition for special occasions to be marked by the laying down of Vintage Port from the year of the event. Problematically, due to the fact that a “Vintage year” is normally only declared in the second year after the harvest, the
recipient of the gift often has to remain empty handed until sometime after the celebration.Vintage Port Bond 03

In order to overcome this problem, Graham’s are now the first Port company to provide a Vintage Port bond which is available for purchase in the year of harvest. Allowing the purchase of Vintage Port while the wine is still on the vine guarantees that a certain quantity of the wine produced will be reserved for the holder of the bond.

The bond, which will be available from several UK wine merchants, including Berry Bros. & Rudd, Jeroboams, Selfridges, Tanners and Vintage Wine & Port, can be redeemed after 18 months, when the wine has been bottled and shipped. In the meantime, the buyer will be provided with a high quality presentation bond certificate with personalised calligraphy that can be presented to the recipient on the occasion being celebrated.

Graham’s Vintage Port Vintage Port Bond 01Bonds, limited in number due to the small amount of Vintage Port produced, are a very special and personal way to celebrate an event. Due to Vintage Port’s longevity, the wine can then be enjoyed throughout a person’s life, the qualities of the wine maturing alongside those of the drinker.

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Graham’s Port and Symington Family Estates in the New Window Display of “Garrafeira Nacional” in Lisbon

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Dow’s 2011 Vintage atop a staircase of Douro vine terraces

Earlier this month Garrafeira Nacional, one of the most renowned wine merchants in Portugal, unveiled a new window display celebrating several of Symington Family Estates Ports, focusing especially on Graham’s and Dow’s. Located in the Baixa Pombalina in downtown Lisbon, Symington Family Estates has been given pride of place in the window of the famous vintner.

Founded in 1927, and currently managed by Jaime Vaz, Garrafeira Nacional is a family run business that prides itself on having one of the finest selections of wine in Portugal. The new display, designed by Will Creative with the help of Symington Family Estates, highlights the quality of the fine Ports that the company is producing, and the reputation they are earning Portuguese wine on the world-stage.

One half of the shop’s facade is taken up by a homage to Dow’s 2011 Vintage Port, the wine named Wine Spectator’s “Number 1” wine of 2014 in their “Top 100” wines of the year. In the display, a 15 litre bottle of Dow’s 2011 Vintage is standing proud atop a staircase of Douro vineyard terraces.

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Graham’s 1969 Aged Tawny Port

Framed in schist, which divides the display and pays tribute to the Douro Valley, is a tribute to the craft of cooperage, and its contribution to fine Port. In it a series of mechanical coopers can be seen carrying out their traditional tasks, and images of several of Graham’s coopers are on display. As the only Port company with a full time team of coopers, Symington Family Estates are particularly proud of the contribution they make to the company’s aged tawny Ports.

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The art of cooperage

To see the company’s wines as the centrepiece of the window display of one of the most well respected wine merchants in the country is to see them on their ideal stage, and is a tribute to the hard work of everyone at Symington Family Estates and the wines they produce.

See the video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hd1w0biFD4

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GRAHAM'S 1945 VINTAGE PORT: ALIVE AND WELL

Vintage Port’s standing as one of the world’s great classic wines was confirmed and strengthened at Christie’s Fine Wine Auction held in London on October 23rd, 2014. The majority of the Vintage Port lots submitted for auction achieved prices above Christie’s High Estimate price markers, reflecting the great interest generated by some very rare lots of wine that attracted high bids.

Cover Christies WJG45_AmsThe auction revealed Vintage Port’s relevance in today’s market for fine wines with bidders willing to pay final hammer prices, which in many cases were well above the High Estimate price. An apt example of this was provided by an auction lot of 6 bottles of Graham’s legendary 1945 which went for £6,500, well above Christie’s indicated High Estimate of £4,800 and also — very significantly — 30% more than an identical lot of Graham’s ’45 that was auctioned at a Christie’s Fine Wine Sale two years ago in Amsterdam. A reminder if one were needed that the 1945 Vintage Port, one of the twentieth century’s finest, is now extremely rare.

Cover Christies WJG45_LonThe Graham’s 1963 also achieved a magnificent result with an auction lot of 6 bottles going for £1,800, again well above Christie’s High Estimate indication of £1,100 (or 64% more than the High Estimate marker).

Graham’s Johnny Symington who attended the auction was very pleased with the outstanding performance of Graham’s Vintage Ports, not just with regard to the older wines but also more recent Vintages such as the 2011 (Graham’s The Stone Terraces Vintage Port) and the 2000. Johnny and his cousin Clare were invited to host a pre-sale dinner at Christie’s attended by Christie’s guests on the night before, and this proved an equally successful event, which paved the way for the auction itself.

Edwin Vos, Christie’s International Senior Wine Specialist, wrote to Johnny the day after the auction: “I guess we have shown that vintage port is very much alive. The interest the Symington wines received from our dinner guests and during the sale was encouraging.”

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Memories come in many forms… Graham’s Ne Oublie Very Old Tawny Port

Three generations of the Symington Family (the custodians of Graham’s Port since 1970) have been launching Graham’s rare Ne Oublie Very Old Tawny Port: a wine dating from the time Andrew James Symington arrived in Portugal to work for Graham’s in 1882.

The wine was bought to commemorate the year of AJS’ arrival in Portugal and what would become the beginning of his family’s commitment to Port, the Douro and Portugal. This wine has become symbolic of the family’s legacy.

27 members of the Symingtons gathered at Christie’s in London for the official launch in the UK, followed a week later by the official event in the Graham’s 1890 Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia to reveal the wine in Portugal.

27 members of the Symington family at Christie's, London

Graham’s Ne Oublie has a touching story, which is told in every detail. The blood of three nations flows in the veins of the Symington family; so, it was only fitting that artisans from these three, Portugal, Scotland and England, should craft the packaging for this very rare, very special wine. The wine is bottled in an individually numbered, handmade crystal decanter designed by Portugal’s leading glass manufacturer Atlantis. Three sterling silver bands adorn the glass, moulded and engraved by Scottish silversmiths, Hayward & Stott and carrying the mark of the Edinburgh Assay office.

The leather case has been handmade by Smythson’s of Bond Street, luxury British leather craftsmen. This is a peculiarly apt expression of the family’s history, since Maurice Symington, grandfather of the current generation of directors, recorded his thoughts and experiences in leather diaries handmade by Frank Smythson himself.

When the small bottles of Ne Oublie were opened at Christie’s and at Graham’s Lodge to give journalists and fine wine merchants their first taste of this remarkable wine the whole room was filled with the wine’s complex perfumes.

Victoria Moore at The Telegraph described the experience:

“It’s an incredible piece of history… I could smell it a foot away from the glass, curling, intense, like bitter orange peel and caramelized clementines, then tasting rich with dried fruit and toasted almonds underneath it. Not like wine at all, really, but delicious. I was still enjoying the nose before I washed up this morning, emailed a friend who had poured a tiny glass the night before. That is some wine. And it will go on.”

After enduring over 130 hot summers first in the Douro and then in the cooler maritime climate of Vila Nova de Gaia on Portugal’s Atlantic coast this wine is something special.

Andrew Jefford in his article in World of Fine Wine captures this wine’s story:

“You simply can’t create complexity of this order in under a century or so, I suspect… There was a cleanliness and a precision about the wine, though, that was a testament to 130 years of exemplary stewardship… a synopsis of life and time.”

In their blog, Lea & Sandeman, ruminate on the impact that Ne Oublie might have: “As an exercise in shining a light on Port, Paul hopes this extravagant release will turn heads – and it certainly should, this is a fabulous, fascinating drink which illustrates brilliantly the remarkable potential and fascinating complexity achievable in this historic wine region.”

There is certainly a lot of excitement around this wine. Those present at these two launch events were privileged to witness the preview of a specially commissioned short film, directed by the Portuguese filmmaker Artur Serra Araújo, which you can see here. You can also read more information about the people and the stories behind this remarkable and rare treasure here.

The Symingtons have neatly summarised what this wine means to their family: Memories come in many forms; ours just happen to be in wine.

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The Five Components of Graham’s Vintage Port

If you were to ask Charles Symington, Graham’s Head Winemaker, what makes Vintage Port special amongst the fine wines of the world he would tell you that it is the harmony created by the combination of wines from different vineyards. There is no other fine wine in the world that uses the grapes from multiple properties, each with different characteristics, to make their greatest wine.

Graham’s wines are all made from grapes taken exclusively from five mountain vineyard estates spread across the Douro Valley. Each one has a unique aspect, soil composition and microclimate. The five properties are Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua (both in the heart of the Douro Valley on the north bank), Quinta das Lages (in the famous Rio Torto Valley), Quinta do Vale de Malhadas (high up the Valley in the Douro Superior) and Quinta da Vila Velha (on the south bank of the River). Charles talks eloquently about the different characteristics that each one of these Quintas (vineyard estates) brings to Graham’s Vintage Port.

The wines from Quinta das Lages are lighter, more ethereal, with floral, slightly resinous aromas: they are important for the elegance they bring to the wine, rather than their structure. The Rio Torto Valley is one of the greatest sub-regions of the Douro, famous for producing some of the finest Vintage Ports in history. Lages is the only one of the five Quintas not owned by either Graham’s or a member of the Symington Family. But since 1927 Graham’s has had very close relationships with this property, buying all its production and personally farming it.

Quinta da Vila Velha is predominantly north facing. It brings finely balanced acidity to Graham’s Vintage Port. And in particularly hot years the higher altitude and the cooler north facing vineyards can be a distinct advantage.

Quinta do Vale de Malhadas has only 400mm of rainfall a year: two-thirds of what falls at Malvedos. The property is also north facing: an advantage here because it keeps the vines cooler, not being exposed to direct sunlight in the middle of the day. Establishing vineyards here is the viticultural limit. But the wines are worth it. Typically, Malhadas wines have chocolate, blackberries and very ripe, smooth tannins. Charles notes that climate change will have a profound impact on vineyards such as Malhadas, which is already right at the extremes of survivability.

The wines from Quinta do Tua have powerful aromas, concentration and length. They are not as elegant as others, being noticeably more rustic in style. But they contribute good body and structure. This is a result of the high proportion of old vines on the estate, which have tiny yields, between 300g and 500g per vine.

Finally, there is Quinta dos Malvedos, Graham’s original Quinta since 1890, in one of the best locations in the Douro Valley. The Malvedos wines are usually the main component in Graham’s Vintage Port and are perfectly balanced and refined in their own right. Malvedos adds profound aromas of Esteva, or gum cistus flower, redolent with mint and eucalyptus. It also has powerful but ripe and velvety tannins and a great complexity of black fruits.

The process of making Vintage Port is a fine-tuned art. Charles selects specific parcels of vines from each of these properties to create a perfect harmony and balance. The proof is in the tasting. Graham’s Vintage Port is more than the sum of its parts. If you’ve tasted any, we think you’ll agree.

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Graham’s 2013 Harvest – Tasting the Ports for the first time

When Charles Symington is in the Tasting Room it is very difficult to talk to him. He simply doesn’t hear you: he is intensely focused. All that can be heard is the sipping of wine, the clinking of glasses being placed back on the bench, and the low murmurs of the three tasters as they compare their impressions with one another.

“You need tranquility and peace when tasting,” Charles explains. There certainly is that in Graham’s Tasting Room: it is a place of deep concentration. Over recent weeks, samples of the 2013 Port Wine from each vineyard and each fermentation have been on their way from the Douro to the Tasting Room in Vila Nova de Gaia. Charles and his team, Nuno Moreira and Manuel Rocha, have been assessing each lote of young Port Wine and determining its future.

As they work through each sample, they determine which of Graham’s Ports the wine will be suitable for. This sometimes requires that they foresee the wine’s characteristics up to 40 years into the future for Graham’s 40 Years Old Tawny Port, for example. There is one special case though and that is Graham’s Six Grapes.

Charles explains that Six Grapes is so special that you only very rarely come across a wine of sufficient quality to make it. If you go looking for Six Grapes, you won’t find it: it is something that you come across while you’re not looking – and it doesn’t happen very often.

Like in an artist’s studio, the light in the Tasting Room is also extremely important. If it is not right Charles will often postpone his team’s work, especially when tasting Vintage Ports, which because of their deeper colour require the perfect conditions to be assessed properly. For the same reason, tasting is only done in the mornings.

It is a massive logistical challenge to gather all these samples. “You can’t just email wines around,” Charles remarks.

For some months after the brandy has been added to the wine, the young Port Wines cannot be tasted. They require this period of time to “fall bright”, that is, to become fully expressive in flavor and colour. During this period, the wine actually grows darker and the aromas intensify.

Charles and his team use this period to make fresh blends of Graham’s Aged Tawny Ports, which are then allowed to marry together for at least one year.

Charles, Nuno and Manuel conduct a quick first assessment of the wines, during which they record their first impressions and organize the wines accordingly into broad categories. They then work through them much more slowly, spending a long time over each lote, before deciding on their final classification.

Charles’ general comments about the 2013 wines were that they had remarkably good colour. A Port Winemaker, he then said, has to be fascinated by colour.

Have you got any questions for Charles regarding our 2013 wines? Ask him here – post us a comment.

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