With temperatures already reaching the 40s in the Douro Valley, it is now the time of year when the grapes change colour from a light pea green to the various tones of dark red that signify that veraison is well and truly underway.
Veraison, a French loanword, describes the phase in which the grapes ripen and become sweet. At the same time the fruit also becomes softer and begins to plump due to the concentration and accumulation of sugars under their thick skins.
The most common phrase heard in Portuguese vineyards at this time of year must be “o pintor chegou”, which means “the painter has arrived.” The fruit starts to change colour relatively quickly, although not uniformly, and it is normal to find a palate of different colours present on just one single bunch of grapes.
This year veraison began about 10 days early due to the dry, warm weather since the spring, and the grapes are already unusually sweet.
This year veraison was about 10 days early due to the dry, warm weather since the spring, and the grapes are already unusually sweet.
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.
The Grand Tour is a motoring event that is neither a race nor a rally. The meeting sees its participants drive some of the most breathtaking roads in Europe while deciphering cryptic clues in an attempt to win points. The team with the most points at the end of the five day journey wins the year’s Grand Tour.
Now in its 26th year, this time the Grand Tour passed through Porto on its way from León, in the north of Spain, and onwards to Sagres, in the south of Portugal.
On the first stop of the trip that will see the drivers travel the length of the Iberian Peninsula, the Grand Tour set up camp in the 18th century Palácio do Freixo where they were greeted by a tasting of several of Graham’s Ports. What better way to unwind after a hard day on the road!
The next day, the procession of classic cars continued on their way south and to their next stop, Cascais, near Lisbon.
Have a look at the tasting and some of the fantastic cars that made up the Grand Tour 2015 below:
TripAdvisor has once again awarded Graham’s 1890 Port Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia with a “Certificate of Excellence” for receiving consistently good reviews from its visitors on the online platform.
TripAdvisor is a travel website that provides user-generated reviews of places and attractions worldwide and besides awarding Graham’s with the Certificate of Excellence, TripAdvisor have also rated Graham’s Lodge as the number one “thing to do” in Vila Nova de Gaia.
Although now open to tourism, Graham’s Lodge still plays a fundamental part in the ageing of all of the company’s Port, as it did when it was built in 1890. Situated on a hilltop overlooking the twin cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, a trip to the region is not complete without a visit to the lodge and a tasting of Graham’s Port.
It was with great pleasure that we saw Graham’s Ne Oublie awarded across four categories at the Clube de Criativosde Portugal 17th annual award ceremony in May. The Clube de Criativos is a non-profit organisation that aims to recognise, promote and award the best of commercial creativity in Portugal.
A truly rare, very old tawny Port, Ne Oublie (which means never forget, and is the motto of the Graham family) was released in 2014. Dating to 1882, the wine was purchased by Andrew James Symington in the 1920s to commemorate his arrival in Portugal, and has been passed down through generations of the Symington family. Find out more here.
Bottled in crystal decanters, made by Atlantis in Portugal, wrapped by silver bands made by the Scottish silversmiths Hayward and Scott, and presented in a handcrafted leather box by Smythson of London, Ne Oublie is beautiful to behold.
The launch of the wine was accompanied by the creation of an online platform dedicated to the Port and a film, directed by Artur Serra Araújo, which captured the essence of the Douro and Ne Oublie. The film can be seen here. It was awarded gold for both “Best Brand Entertainment Film” and “Best Direction”. The project was also distinguished in the “Digital and Interactive” and “Overall Project” categories.
From the 14th to the 16th of April, Graham’s received 19 students from the Institute of Masters of Wine. The students, of 7 different nationalities, spent time in Porto where they visited several Port lodges before travelling upriver to the quintas of the Douro Valley.
Founded in 1955, the Institute of Masters of Wine is a respected community of wine professionals, and one of the most prestigious wine qualifications in the world. To become a Master of Wine you must undertake an in-depth three-year program of study, followed by practical and written exams, and the completion of a paper based on original research. Because of the difficulty of acquiring the qualification, there are currently only 318 Masters of Wine worldwide, and it was with great pleasure that we received some of the current candidates in Porto.
Arriving on the evening of the 14th, they barely had time to set down their bags before they were on their way to the Vinum restaurant in the Graham’s Lodge for dinner. After being welcomed by Paul Symington, the group settled into a dinner accompanied by Altano, Chryseia 2012, and a tappit hen of Graham’s 1970 Vintage Port.
The next morning the group had an early start, being greeted by Paul Symington, Antonio Agrellos (Noval), and Nick Heath (Taylor’s) at nine o’clock in the morning in the historic Porto Factory House. The hub of the Port trade for more than two centuries, it was in these surroundings that the group tasted a variety of Ports from the different houses before departing to visit several of Vila Nova de Gaia’s Port lodges.
By two o’clock the group were at the Graham’s Lodge for another tasting, this time led by Dominic Symington. Here they tasted wine from several of Symington Family Estates Port houses, such as Graham’s, Dow’s, Warre’s and Cockburn’s, finishing with a magnificent Graham’s 1955 Vintage. This tasting, which consisted of wines from 2011 to 1955, demonstrated how Vintage Port evolves and matures, and the various stages it passes through in this process. Not a group to stay in one place to long, they then set off for the Douro and Quinta dos Malvedos.
When the group arrived at the quinta they were greeted by a meal accompanied by Quinta do Vesuvio Douro DOC, followed by Graham’s 1977 Vintage Port, before retiring for the night in preparation for a technical tour of Quinta dos Malvedos and its winery the following morning.
Waking up to a pleasant spring morning in a Douro Valley quinta is not something everyone gets to experience, but so it was that the Master of Wine candidates started their day. Met by Charles Symington (head winemaker), Henry Shotton (Vintage manager), and Charles’ dog Simba, (who as Charles himself says “gets more attention than the wine”), the group were shown around the famous quinta and its lagar winery, seeing first hand what they have been hearing about for the past two days. The visit to Quinta dos Malvedos came to an end with a tasting of five Quinta dos Malvedos Single Vintage Ports from 2009, 1996, 1988, 1979 and 1965. The group then departed for Porto, stopping off at several other Douro quintas along the way.
It was great to meet the candidates for the distinguished qualification of Master of Wine, and we hope that the information we imparted helps them to reach their goals. We wish them the best of luck in their studies.
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.
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.
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.
The award winning Vinum Restaurant and Wine Bar, located in Graham’s historic 1890 Lodge in V. N. de Gaia, has once again been honoured by being named as the “Portuguese Restaurant with the Best Wine Service”. The award, conferred by the Portuguese magazine Wine in their “Best of 2014 Awards”, singled Vinum out from among some of the most prestigious restaurants in the country, further confirming its reputation as one of Portugal’s best.
Opened in 2013 as part of the renovation of the Graham’s 1890 Lodge, the partnership between the Symington family and the Basque restaurateurs Sagardi has been going from strength to strength, already having received several national and international awards and acclaim from both critics and the general public alike.
The year 2013 saw the restaurant granted the title of “Restaurant of the Year” by the magazine Revista de Vinhos, which was followed in 2014 by the attribution of an award for the “Best of Wine Tourism” in the category of wine restaurants by Great Wine Capitals (a network of 10 major cities in the worlds best wine producing regions). This accolade not only secured Vinum’s reputation in the Douro region and Portugal, but also among the greatest wine regions of the world.
A promising start to 2015, the most recent award from Wine magazine has praised Vinum for the quality and selection of the wines on offer, which represent not only the best of Douro DOC and Portuguese wines, but also of Port and international wines from other Primum Familiae Vini (an association of wine producing families) producers. The food was also commended for being seasonal and variable, with some dishes, like the T-bone steak from 7/8 year old field raised cattle from Trás-os-Montes (a region in northern Portugal), quickly becoming classics.
When combined with the incredible surroundings of the recently renovated Graham’s Lodge, the spectacular views of the Douro and the city of Porto, and the impeccable service and knowledge of the Vinum staff, the restaurant comes highly recommended at any time by Wine magazine’s “Best of 2014” awards.
Mesa Marcada, a renowned Portuguese food blog, announced the winners of it’s “10 Preferidos Restaurants e Chefes” (10 best restaurants and chefs) of 2014 last Monday at an award ceremony in Lisbon. Graham’s had the pleasure of sponsoring the illustrious event, which saw the best of the Portuguese culinary world evaluated by an international panel of judges.
First prize, for both best restaurant and chef, went to José Avillez, for his restaurant “Belcanto” in Lisbon.
An honourable mention must also go to Pedro Lemos, who won the “Chef Revelação” (chef revelation), and André Magalhães from A Taberna das Flores.
On the 24th of October, three Portuguese journalists travelled to London to visit the world famous purveyor of luxury stationary and leather goods, Smythson of Bond Street. The objective of the visit was to gain an insight into both the design and production of the Ne Oublie presentation case and decanter. Ne Oublie, a very special and rare port wine dating from the arrival of Andrew James Symington in Portugal in 1882, was released this year and is contained in a crystal decanter (by Atlantis of Portugal) adorned with silver bands (by Hayward & Stott of Scotland), and housed in a presentation case by Smythson of Bond Street.
The journalists present were: Sandra Gato, director of the Portuguese edition of Elle magazine; Bruno Lobo, writer of the Diario Economico supplement, Fora de Série; and Vanda Jorge, a presenter from the TV program Imagens de Marca on the Portuguese television channel SIC Noticias.
The journalists were introduced to the Smythson brand and the concept of Ne Oublie with the Smythson designers in their flagship store at 40 Bond Street. They were also able to interview Gordon Smith, of Smith & Co., who designed the Ne Oublie decanter and came up with the initial concept for the presentation case. Graham’s partnership with Gordon Smith began in 2011 with the redesign of the tawny range, and the development of a limited edition tawny port bottled to commemorate the diamond jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. After the interviews they spent some time with the craftsmen at Smythson and had the opportunity to see the fabrication of one of the presentation cases.
Afterwards, it was revealed that Graham’s Ne Oublie would be proudly displayed in the museum section of Smythson in an exhibition focusing on the bespoke box work undertaken by the company throughout the years. Also displayed with Ne Oublie are a Post Box from 1902, a 1909 bridge card box, a 1902 Smythson workbox, the company’s founder Frank Smythson’s personal trinket box, and a Whiskey & Soda box from 1920.
The connection between Smythson and the Symington family goes back a long time as the grandfather of the current generation of the family, Maurice Symington, recorded his thoughts in leather diaries handmade by the founder Frank Smythson himself. The company was founded in 1887 by Frank Smythson, and throughout the years has produced leather goods for people such as Queen Victoria and Sir Edmond Hillary, among other illustrious clients.