Graham's Ne Oublie next to the three original barrels

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.

Planting the Sousão at Quinta dos Malvedos

A vineyard in balance – May 31st 2014

Alexandre Mariz, the viticulturist responsible for Malvedos is pleased with the vines’ development at the Quinta; the vineyard is thriving and everything is in balance at this stage in the viticultural cycle. It is some years since everything has appeared to be developing so well — at this particular stage in the season. It is a precocious year with bud-break and flowering coming two weeks earlier than usual at Malvedos; not unexpected given the abundant winter rainfall and the unseasonably warm conditions through the spring. April brought a heat wave with temperatures at Malvedos reaching 30ºC on the 10th, 15th, 17th and 18th. During two consecutive months (March and April) the highest temperatures in the whole of Portugal were recorded in the Douro region by the Portuguese Met Office.

Fruit set is advancing very favourably with beautifully formed clusters developing evenly on the vines throughout the Quinta’s 89 hectares (220 acres) of vineyard. Given the conditions mentioned above vegetative growth has been quite vigorous and a team of 16 skilled vineyard workers has been working flat out under the watchful eye of Sr Arlindo, the vineyard manager, curtailing excessive shoot growth whilst at the same time taking the opportunity to guide the shoots (those that they choose to leave on the vines) between the trellis wires. This is an entirely manual operation and it is a testament to the labourers’ skill to witness just how speedily they progress through these tasks, which are essential in ensuring that the vines channel their energies into berry development rather than excessive vegetative growth.

The Touriga Nacional and Sousão vineyard parcels, planted during the spring of 2013 are flourishing and it seems incredible that they are just one year old. The Sousão is a heat sensitive variety and was therefore planted on one of the Quinta’s highest vineyard parcels located at 350 metres (1148 feet) altitude to benefit from the cooler conditions that elevation bestows. Besides this, the Sousão is laid out in a west facing amphitheatre-like bowl where conditions are relatively cooler than the predominantly south facing Malvedos vineyard. Furthermore, this bowl faces the valley formed by the Sibio stream which provides some additional humidity.

The view from the new Sousão vineyards at Malvedos

Facing this new Sousão parcel across the valley is the Sibio vineyard which was incorporated into Malvedos in 2012. Sibio has a combination of vertically planted and terraced vineyards, some of which are old, mixed vineyards whose organic certification is imminent. If all goes according to plan, Charles Symington, Graham’s head winemaker may have at his disposal during the 2014 vintage the first organically grown grapes from Malvedos. He can choose to use these together with the organically grown grapes from Graham’s Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto Valley.

On the Quinta’s western extremity on high ground overlooking the sharp curve in the River Douro, machinery is at work preparing the terrain for replanting during the spring of 2015 (grape variety/ies to be decided). The terraces here had fallen into disrepair (they formed part of the Sibio parcels) and the vines planted on them were in a sorry state. The opportunity is being taken to lay out the new terraces (known locally as patamares) using the latest techniques which involve sculpting the earth-banked terraces with a slight inward and longitudinal cant. This helps retain just the right amount of water from rainfall, long enough for it to seep into the ground whilst simultaneously allowing the rainwater from heavy downpours to drain off expeditiously but without eroding the soil (sometimes provoking the collapse of the terraces themselves).

Not far away a stone ‘shredder’ towed by one of the Quinta’s small tractors has been busy breaking up the larger stones and rocks on some terraces, leaving behind what looks like powdered schist soil. This operation brings with it several advantages: it avoids having to physically remove the larger rocks (saving in fuel emissions and costs); it resolves the problem of where to physically store or dispose of these rocks; the break-up of the soil top layer improves its aeration and drainage; it facilitates the passage of small tractors through the narrow terrace platforms, and makes it easier for vineyard workers to work on the vines (not to mention picking during the vintage); and of course it adds to, rather than subtracts from, the soil top layer.

Chef Mike Colameco in the Vintage Room at Graham's Lodge

Mike Colameco Visits Vinum Restaurant on His Food Tour of Portugal

Sitting in the Vintage Room at Graham’s Lodge earlier this week, Mike Colameco, American celebrity chef, tasted Graham’s 20 Years Old Tawny Port and groaned with delight. “My mind just started racing with ideas for food pairings,” he said afterwards. He listed a series of exquisite dishes that he thought would pair well with this port, including lentil-based dishes, succulent meats and other savoury dishes. This was a real revelation. The joy of the world of food and wine is that the possibilities are endless and always changing.

Mike Colameco, is host of ‘Mike Colameco’s Real Food’ and ‘Weekend Food Talk’, which air on TV and radio across America. He visited Vinum Restaurant this week as part of his tour of Portugal in order to cook with Head Chef Celme as part of a new series of programmes he is filming.

His trip is in partnership with Wines of Portugal (Vini Portugal), who have ensured that Mike is introduced to the top food and wine spots across the country. His next engagement was to catch a boat to take him up the Douro Valley but not before he had got in the kitchen with the award winning Vinum team.

Celme introduced Mike to some typical Portuguese dishes and house specialities. He expressed his admiration for the Vinum kitchen, murmuring on one occasion, “I wish I had a kitchen like this.” On the menu were ‘Alheira’ (Portuguese smoked sausage) with roasted peppers, Bacalhau (Cod) steaks in kale soup, and Vinum’s signature prime rib-eye steak grilled on the open fire.

Mike’s dynamism was infectious. He enthused about the supreme quality of the cod and the beef, massaging it and exclaiming, “just look at that marbling.” He spoke very highly of all the ingredients in the kitchen as he was introduced to the delights of Portuguese cuisine.

After his work in the kitchen he settled back with Rupert Symington on the terrace at Vinum with a glass of Graham’s Six Grapes and some dark chocolate truffles. This popular pairing was, he said, perfect – and we would happen to agree. It is also exciting to hear though that one of America’s top chefs sees the opportunity for an innovative and exotic future for Port and food pairing. Our mouths are watering with anticipation.

Birth of a Region

Originally posted on Quentin Sadler's Wine Page:

We live in a golden age for wine, it has never been better made, more exciting or as affordable as now.

I often think though how much more thrilling it must have been to have been around while the great regions were emerging and while their reputations were being originally earned. All the truly great wine regions that we talk about in reverential and hushed tones – in the old world anyway – were established long ago and so now have something of the past about them. This is not to be critical by the way, merely acknowledging that these places are often steeped in tradition.

Of course what constitutes a great wine region can vary from opinion to opinion, but I am pretty sure there is a broad agreement about the very best wine regions. They must produce wines that talk of that place, be terroir wines, they must…

View original 2,363 more words

Charles and his team assessing the wines from last year's harvest in the Tasting Room.

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.

Graham's Vintage Port

The best 2011 red wines anywhere

The mesmerizing Salão Arábe in Porto’s Palácio da Bolsa was the perfect setting for this special tasting. Framed by the intricately carved walls and stained-glass windows of this sublime room the Mayor of Porto and Rui Falcão, one of Portugal’s top wine journalists, introduced Paul and Charles Symington and the family’s 2011 Vintage Ports.

The 2011 Vintage Ports have made a lot of noise in the wine world since they were declared earlier last year. Jancis Robinson, wine-writer for The Financial Times, praised them as, “The best 2011 reds anywhere”. These wines, she said, have put Vintage Port firmly back on the world’s fine wine map. Proof of this, some other influential people were in the audience, amongst them Manuel Moreira, former sommelier of the year, and André Ribeirinho, the food and wine journalist.

Charles and Paul talked eloquently about the wines their family had made. A Port Winemaker, they explained, is like a painter who needs to have a whole array of colours before him on his palate to choose from. Vintage Port is a wine made from the grapes of multiple complimentary vineyards; the result is that the final wine achieves a balance and complexity that surpasses any of the individual lotes. This makes Vintage Port unique amongst the fine wines of the world.

“Charles came to me some years ago saying, ‘I need more small tanks,’” said Paul. The reason for this, he explained, was to allow Charles to store small quantities of wine separately, thereby avoiding the need to blend the wines from different parcels of vineyard at 3am during the Vintage time when there was no conceivable way of properly assessing the wines. Simply put, this expands the ‘palate’ of wines available to Charles and his winemaking team.

The skill and precision that this process involves was demonstrated in the first part of the tasting. Charles guided the audience through a tasting of the component wines in Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port from each of Graham’s five Douro Quintas. Each property has distinctive characteristics, which these wines expressed. And the job of the winemaker is to marry them together to create the perfect balance. (More detail on this part of the tasting and the individual characteristics of the component wines from Graham’s Quintas will be published here soon.)

There was still more to come, though. Graham’s Stone Terraces 2011 Vintage Port was next on the stage. This year was the first in which this wine was made. It is a very specific expression of micro-terroir, made only from two small old terraced vineyards next to the river, below the house at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos, one North-facing and the other South-facing. It couldn’t be more different, in terms of the approach to winemaking, to the Graham’s Vintage Port.

The success that this potentially quite challenging wine has achieved since it was made has been amply demonstrated by the awards lavished upon it. It was voted amongst the Top 10 Portuguese Wines by a panel of 18 international journalists at Essência do Vinho and subsequently selected as the Best Port Wine. Revista de Vinhos gave it 19/20 points. Jancis Robinson gave it 18.5/20 describing it as “stunning…racy…distinctive”. While James Suckling and the Wine Spectator each gave it 97/100 points.

No one was left in any doubt by the end of this tasting as to the appropriateness of Jancis Robinson’s remarks: “the best 2011 reds anywhere”. But more than anything, it was quite clear that there was a lot more to come from these wines … Stay tuned to find out more.

The winter pruning at Graham's Quinta dos Malvedos is still all done by hand, for good reason.

Graham’s approach to winter pruning.

As the winter pruning concludes at Malvedos, there is time for reflection. Winter pruning is often thought to be the time of year when the mind switches into autopilot. But in Graham’s vineyards this is far from the truth. Pruning, which happens between November and February, is the single most important time of year in the lifecycle of our vines.

It is at this time that micro-viticultural decisions are made, which determine the individual future of every single vine and have a fundamental impact on the success of the next year’s crop of grapes. It is this that guides Graham’s approach and why we do not carry out mechanical pruning.

The other day, one of the men had just finished pruning one vine and was moving to the next one. He stood in front of it, bent over, examined the spurs where they grew out of the main cordon branch and examined each of the canes. Then after a few moments he made a few swift clips with his secateurs and moved on to its neighbour, where he repeated this process.

In those few moments, this pruner made the crucial decisions that will influence the growth of this vine over the next year. Its fate quite literally lay in the hands (holding the secateurs) of this man. It was then that the skill, knowledge and experience that these pruners have was fully impressed on me, proving that manual pruning of this nature really is an art form.

The pruners, guided by many years of experience, employ a different strategy for each vine in each vineyard parcel. In areas of low vigour, for example, they will reduce the number of fruit-bearing buds. This ensures that the yields of each vine are controlled in order to produce grapes of absolutely optimum quality. Each year, therefore, this strategy is altered depending on the present and previous year’s conditions. It is a dynamic process, designed in real time according to the needs of each vine.

Such individual care and personal attentiveness to the vines is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

How the right glass perfects a wine.

Riedel glass tasting at Graham’s Lodge

Georg Riedel, the 10th generation of crystal glass makers in his family, held a unique tasting at Graham’s Lodge last week revealing how the shape of the wineglass influences the flavours and aromas of the wine.

The tasting showcased Riedel’s innovative Grape Varietal Specific range of glasses and was hosted at the Lodge by Portfolio Vinhos, distributors of Graham’s Port and Riedel’s glassware in Portugal.

By guiding participants through a tasting of three grape varieties, Touriga Nacional, Cabernet and Pinot Noir, Georg Riedel illustrated the crucial role that the glass plays in showing the wine at its best.

The reason for this is that the aromas of the wine are conveyed differently depending on the design of the glass and the size of its aperture: different varieties express themselves best in glasses of different shapes. Georg Riedel illustrated this by leading a tasting of the wines first in the same plastic mug, in which their characteristics were dulled and their individual expressiveness reduced. When in the glass specifically designed for them, however, each wine sang strongly and in its own unique way.

Likewise, the size of the aperture determines exactly where on the palate the wine is directed. The human palate has specific areas for sensing each of the principle components of taste. The right glass allows the natural balance of the wine’s flavours to be properly felt.

Georg Riedel held another tasting with us in Portugal a couple of years ago in a quest to discover the perfect glass to drink Vintage Port from.

Do you have any thoughts? Send us a comment.

Here's proof that the wild boar still roam in the Douro.

Wild Boar in the Vineyards at Graham’s Quinta do Vale de Malhadas

Walking through the vineyard parcel at Quinta do Vale de Malhadas early the other morning we came across proof of the infamous Douro wild boar. Proof, amidst the winter landscape, of this regions important biodiversity, which has a particular stronghold at Vale de Malhadas because of the 112 hectares of native scrubland that is conserved as a natural wilderness.

The mud on the track had frozen in the early hours of the morning preserving the hoof-prints of the wild boar that had passed through during the night.

These boars are native to the Douro and are often hunted. They can cause a lot of damage to property and vineyards, since they tend to forage with their tusks, digging up the earth like a plough.

In fact, our vineyards have previously been the victims of such damage.

Establishing new vineyards on the steep mountainsides of the Douro is a long and difficult process.

Making new patamares vineyards at Quinta da Vila Velha

Graham’s Quinta da Vila Velha is in one of the Douro’s prime locations for growing top quality Port grapes. It is almost directly opposite Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos but with its northerly aspect (being on the south side of the river) it produces wines with a distinctively different character from those of its neighbour.

For the last few months Mário Natário, Graham’s viticulturist managing this estate, has been overseeing the construction of the new earth-banked terraced vineyards, called patamares in Portuguese, which are being constructed in the vineyard parcel known as Merouços, high up near the top of the ridge.

We have decided to plant new Touriga Nacional vines in this parcel in the first few months of this year. This is partly because there is not currently a lot of Touriga Nacional planted at Vila Velha but chiefly because this particular parcel of vineyard has the potential to produce remarkable Touriga Nacional grapes.

The quality of this vineyard is immediately apparent from the colour of the soil. It is much darker, richer in organic matter and higher in clay content than many other vineyards in the region. It is at a relatively high altitude for a Douro vineyard at an average of 300 metres.

At this altitude, with the slightly cooler conditions and northerly aspect of the vineyard, the Touriga Nacional will achieve lighter, more fragrant and more aromatic characteristics compared to the richer and riper qualities that the same variety achieves in low-lying parcels next to the river. The difference really is astonishing when the two are compared in a blind tasting.

This parcel will therefore add a new component to the array of wines from which our winemakers make Graham’s Vintage Ports. The wines produced from this vineyard will bring more ethereal notes, complementing the opulence of the wines from Graham’s other great vineyards and enhancing the harmony and complexity of the wine.

The quality of Vila Velha’s vineyards is such that when the Symington family joined forces with Bruno Prats of Bordeaux to make the premier wine Chryseia and its second cousin Post Scriptum, Mr. Prats specifically chose selected parcels of Vila Velha’s vineyards for the Chryseia each year.

Crafting one of life's great traditions

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