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.
This year the west facing slope of the iconic “Port Arthur” stone terraces of Quinta dos Malvedos has been replanted. It will take some three years until the stone terraces, now planted with Touriga Franca and Alicante Bouschet, will once again produce fruit of sufficient quality to be part of Graham’s Port.
In the meantime, the east facing side of the terraces has been producing excellent grapes and has been the source of some of the best Port ever produced in the quinta.
In the Douro Valley vines were traditionally planted on terraces supported by large dry stone walls known as socalcos. They serve to support the soil and to create a flat place to work, enabling the cultivation of the steep hillsides of the Douro region. It is for these stone walls, which demonstrate the level to which human activity has shaped and sculpted the natural beauty of the area, that the Douro Valley was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.
But why are the stone terraces of Quinta dos Malvedos known as the “Port Arthur” terraces?
The hallmark of the iconic quinta, the concentric walls of the stone terraces, particularly evident on the west facing side, tower over the Douro River like a citadel. While these terraces are known as “Port Arthur”, not everyone knows why.
The most likely answer is that they were named after the heavily fortified Chinese city of Port Arthur (now known as Lüshunkou or Lyushunkou District). Port Arthur was an important deep-water harbour for both military and trade, and from the end of the 19th into the 20th century was leased to Russia by China. As Russia’s only warm water port in the Pacific, control over it was essential, and the cities defences were bolstered by heavy fortifications and the presence of a garrison of 50,000 men and 506 pieces of artillery.
Im 1904 these defences would come under attack as Port Arthur became a fundamental point of contention in the Russo-Japanese War. The brutal Siege of Port Arthur (April 1904-January 1905), and the ensuing battles, saw the Japanese Third Army assault the concentric lines of defensive fortifications built on the three hills that protected the harbour. The siege and the battles that followed ultimately resulted in the the destruction of the Russian Pacific Fleet, the loss of Russian influence in the region, and increasing political unrest in Russia itself. This would have placed Port Arthur, and its colossal fortification very much in the public consciousness, and it is very likely where the stone terraces of Quinta dos Malvedos got their name.
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.
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.
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 Bonds, 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.
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.
W & J Graham’s 1890 Lodge has once again received international accolades, this time from the “Great Wine Capitals”, a network of ten major cities around the world which aims to promote travel, education, and business exchanges between the most prestigious wine regions in the world. The Graham’s Lodge was awarded the “Best of Wine Tourism 2015” in the category of “Wine Tourism Services” for outstanding offerings in the fields of service, innovation, creativity and authenticity.
Coupled to that, the well known Spanish wine enthusiasts website, Vinopack.es has listed Graham’s Lodge shop as one of the twelve most spectacular in the world. The list, featuring architecturally diverse spaces from around the world specifically praises the historic lodge, whose renovation was overseen by the architect Luis Loureiro and designer Nuno Gusmão. Their work has been recognised for its minimalist style which has successfully transformed the historic building without losing the authenticity or uniqueness of the space.
Also mentioned in the list are the flagship of the Société des alcools du Québec in Montreal, Vintage Fine Wines of Manhattan, New York, and Altaya Wine’s “Etc” in Hong Kong. It is an honour to see Vila Nova de Gaia among the names of some of the world’s greatest cities.
The lodge is going from strength to strength since opening its doors only two years ago, also receiving a “Certificate of Excellence” from “Trip Advisor” for consistent excellent reviews from local and international visitors.
The news of the award from “Great Wine Capitals” comes only a year after the restaurant and wine bar Vinum, located in the heart of the Graham’s lodge, was awarded the “Best of Wine Tourism 2014” in the “Wine Restaurants” category. Vinum has also been voted the “restaurant revelation” of the year in the “best of 2014” by the readers of the highly influential Portuguese food blog, “Flavors & Senses”, and was distinguished by one of Portugal’s leading wine magazines, “Revista de Vinhos”, in the restaurant category of its “best of 2013”.
A special mention must be made of the multi-national team of expert guides without whom this award would not have been possible. In constant training with both our viticulture team in the Graham’s quintas and our wine makers, the staff have first hand knowledge of all aspects of port. Our team is currently comprised of 11 different nationalities: Portuguese, English, Spanish, Italian, French, Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Danish, German, and Dutch.
The “Best of Wine Tourism” awards are internationally renowned as a celebration of excellence and innovation in worldwide wine tourism. And so it is with great pride that Graham’s receives these honours, as they bear witness to the hard work and effort put into the W & J Graham’s 1890 Lodge since its refurbishment.
On the 12th of November the restaurant and wine bar Vinum, located in the heart of W & J Graham’s historic 1890 Lodge, launched the second edition of the gastronomic event Jornadas do Boi.
Aiming to celebrate the autumn flavours found in the traditional cooking of Trás-os-Montes, one of the inland provinces of Northern Portugal, the menu is composed of the strong, hearty flavours that make the food from this region famous.
The centrepiece of the menu is the boi velho, 7 to 8 year old field reared cattle The two animals, weighing 1278 and 1330kg, were selected because of their exceptional quality by Imanol Jaca, one of the worlds most respected butchers, having worked with chefs and restaurants worldwide. The aged meat, from extraordinary animals, is lightly salted and grilled. Served with red peppers, the simplicity of the dish is captivating, as is the taste.
Of course, the ingredients in the rest of the menu are also exquisite, from the fresh cannellini beans, to the stone milled flour that makes Vinum’s bread, each element of the meal is the best there is to offer.
The wines suggested to accompany the meal are the Altano 2013 white, Quinta do Vesuvio 2009 red, and to finish, the Quinta dos Malvedos 2001 Vintage Port. Of course, as Vinum is situated literally meters away from 3,500 ageing casks of Graham’s most precious wines, the exceptional Portuguese cheeses (and English Stilton) and chocolate truffles can be accompanied by a port of your choosing, served by the cup.
Available every day until the 5th of December, the complete menu, consists of:
Dried codfish (bacalhau) salad,
Stewed Iberian pigs trotter and ear with cannellini beans,
Trás-os-Montes rib steak with seasonal red pepper,
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.
The 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.
The 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.”
Paul Symington sums up the 2014 Douro harvest. From the Douro, October 13th, 2014 —
This was a challenging year in the Douro. We had a very wet period from December through to February with 44% more rain than normal. Apart from the difficulties encountered by those engaged in replanting vineyards, this rain was most welcome. It was coupled with mild temperatures that encouraged early bud-break in the first week of March at Malvedos. The weather remained unsettled through the early summer and on 3rd July a huge rainstorm hit parts of the Douro, with over 80mm falling in a few hours, mainly around Pinhão. This caused extraordinary damage, flooding the local railway station and precipitated an avalanche of rock and mud that destroyed the car of a well-known wine maker in the village (fortunately nobody was in the car at the time). Many farm roads were ruined and for a few days the River Douro ran golden yellow with the large amounts of precious soil that had been washed off the hillsides, once again highlighting the challenge of farming in the largest area of mountain vineyard on earth. Thankfully no hail fell and the vines themselves were largely unharmed, but the farmers had the unwelcome added expense of getting JCB’s in to re-build their farm tracks.
Once the mess caused by this July storm was cleaned up, it became clear that the vines were enjoying the cooler weather which persisted through August. In fact we all began to think of 2007, when an equally cool August delivered some stupendous quality grapes to our wineries.
The maturation continued some two weeks ahead of last year and picking started on 11th September at Malvedos, earlier at our more easterly vineyards. The grapes were in really lovely condition; soft skins, full berries and balanced sugars and acidity, perfect for making great Port and very good Douro wines. But Mother Nature was not in a mood to help us and the weather remained unsettled. In some areas this caused problems, in others the rain made little impact. It is clear that some extraordinarily good wines were made in the Douro Superior which had only occasional rainfall and that was of short duration and therefore ran off quickly.
Parts of the Alto Douro had an excellent vintage, other areas less so, and unfortunately parts of the Baixo Corgo had a difficult time. Charles Symington commented: ‘It has been an extraordinary vintage, the difference in rainfall between Pinhão and Tua being almost hard to believe’.
Touriga Nacional was consistently good this year, showing its undoubted class. But what was surprising was how very well Touriga Franca performed. This variety ripens late and its tight bunches and thin skins are a recipe for danger in a year like this. Nevertheless some wonderful wines are emerging from this variety. Souzão was also a star of this vintage.
Inevitably our wine makers had to make difficult choices, so the less blue-eyed varieties had to take second place and some suffered. Various vineyards located near water courses and in the tighter and lower valleys were damaged, as was predictable. The hand-picking that predominates in the Douro, with increasingly heavy cost implications on producers, delivered a huge advantage to us in our winemaking in 2014 as a crucially important selection is made by the pickers, something that is impossible in a machine-picked vineyard.
In a region that is over 90 km long and with an average annual rainfall that varies from nearly 1,000 mm in the west to under 400mm in the east, it is simply not possible to give a blanket assessment of any year and in particular this year. What is certain is that it was not a glorious harvest right across the region as it might have been if the weather had held during September and overall yields will be down, possibly by a significant amount. But equally certain is that in such a diverse region some real gems will have been made as the grapes were in such lovely condition at the outset. The vineyards that were lucky enough to escape the rain, and many did, will have made some really lovely Ports and Douro wines.
Furthermore those winemakers lucky enough to be able to get grapes from various locations across the Douro will certainly have made some brilliant Ports and wines. It was a year to take full advantage of judicious vineyard investment in the best sub-regions.
As if to force home the point about the weather and just as the harvest was being wound up, another astonishing rain storm hit at about 7.00 AM last Wednesday 8th October. In just two hours over 80mm of rain fell in parts of the Douro, again causing extensive damage to farm tracks (some just recently rebuilt after the July storm) and causing great difficulties to those still harvesting and making the river run golden yet again.
Why ‘The Year of the Fox’? The fox is a wily creature and this year it was necessary to be wily (and lucky) and also because our wine maker at Malvedos, Henry Shotton, was fast asleep and alone one night on a mattress in the darkened winery, waiting for a lagar of must to be ready to run off sometime in the night. He awoke to feel something tugging at his boot laces. His fear can only be imagined, and when he sat up he saw that a small fox was trying to steal his boot. Very early the next morning the fox returned, this time to try and eat the fresh bread just delivered by the Tua baker that was hanging on the vineyard trailer…
Henry’s Malvedos winery team was recently reinforced with the arrival of Oscar Symington one of the 5th generation youngsters of the family which owns and runs Graham’s. Oscar’s father, Rupert, is one of Graham’s three Joint Managing Directors. The 18 year old lost no time mucking in, carrying out the multitude of tasks required of him, from helping to unload the trailers of grape laden boxes, taking his turn on the sorting table as well as helping out with the envasilhamentos (running off the must from the lagares for fortification). Oscar soon discovered that this particular task is a bit like doing your watch on a ship, involving as it does taking turns with your colleagues in this round-the-clock activity which can happen anytime — day or night. The eight-strong winery team are glad to have this extra pair of hands to lighten their burden; they have all been working continuously for three weeks since the vintage began at Malvedos on September 11th.
Oscar himself has barely had a chance to catch his breath since beginning his gap year; before coming to help out at Malvedos he had already worked for 10 days at the family’s Quinta do Sol winery followed by another 10 days at Quinta de Roriz jointly owned by the Symingtons and the Prats family of Bordeaux and where they produce one of the Douro’s iconic table wines — Chryseia. The majority of the grapes for Chryseia are sourced from the Roriz vineyard but an important element has always been drawn from the neighbouring property of Vila Velha, owned by Oscar’s grandfather, James Symington. Besides the contribution Vila Velha provides for the landmark Chryseia Douro red, the finest production is also supplied to Graham’s, making important contributions to the premium Ports it produces. The highly acclaimed Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port was comprised of components from all five Graham’s Quintas; Vila Velha making up 18% of the final lot.
Like his siblings and cousins, Oscar is following in the tradition of young members of the family working a vintage at the family Quintas, during school or university holidays. Graham’s is a family wine business through and through and it is very much part of the philosophy to let the youngsters gain practical experience in what is after all the family’s lifeblood: producing the great wines of the Douro Valley. Oscar’s great-grandfather, Ron Symington who like his twin brother John and first cousin Maurice was passionate about the Douro is known to have often said, “You have to let the dog see the rabbit” by which he meant that the older generation had to give the younger members of the family a chance to get involved. We’re not sure whether Oscar is comfortable with the metaphor but we are sure that he understands what his ancestor meant. Following his gap year Oscar will continue his higher education at Durham University in northern England.
Ron Symington, Oscar’s great-grandfather would often say, “You have to let the dog see the rabbit” — and he wasn’t referring to his gun dog!