Wine Critics Praise the 2011 Vintage Ports

Grahams_2011_LabelThe recently announced 2011 Vintage Port declaration has met with considerable interest in Portugal and overseas. At Graham’s, we are very proud of our wines and it is very encouraging to register the excitement the 2011 Vintage is generating. This week, Jancis Robinson MW , one of the world’s leading wine critics wrote, “…anyone with an interest in superbly made top-quality red wine worth ageing for decades should arguably turn their backs on Bordeaux 2012 and look instead at Port 2011…There is little doubt that 2011 produced some stunning vintage ports, into which more effort and skill has gone than any other previous vintage in the Douro. And I find it impossible to think of any other wine region, anywhere in the world, that produced better wines.” In her assessment of 31 different Vintage Ports, Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2011 Vintage Port and Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port were among the highest ranked, deserving exceptionally high marks: 18.5/20 and 19/20, respectively.

In similar vein, Manuel Carvalho, writing in Portugal’s respected ‘Público’ newspaper on April 27th, described Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2011 as a “masterpiece”, going on to write: “For its exuberant aromas of fruit, mint and Douro shrubs, for its suggestions of black tea, for its intriguing spice notes, such is its complexity and richness. For its volume on the palate, the power of its tannins, which announce decades of longevity whilst at the same time combining with the acidity and fruit to render it immediately approachable.” His wine critic colleague — Pedro Garcias — was so impressed with the Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port that he summed up as follows, “One simple adjective suffices to describe this Port: superb”. Furthermore he predicted that the 2011 Vintage has what it takes to aspire to a legendary status in the history of Port.

The second 2011 Vintage Port tasting at the Graham's Lodge attracted 15 journalists, wine writers and critics.
The second 2011 Vintage Port tasting at the Graham’s Lodge attracted 15 journalists, wine writers and critics.

2011 Vintage Port tasting, Graham’s Lodge, April 30th: The first showing of the 2011 Vintage Ports produced by the Symington family was on April 18th (scroll down to see previous post) in which Portuguese journalists were hosted by Paul and Charles Symington. The family decided to organize a second tasting, earlier this week in response to the enormous interest shown in Portugal following the declaration, barely two weeks ago. We will spare our followers repetition, but it is worth reproducing here some interesting, complementary aspects — recounted by Paul and Charles in both tastings — that weren’t touched on in the previous post.

Paul and Charles guide the 2011 Vintage Ports tasting
Paul and Charles guide the 2011 Vintage Ports tasting
  • Paul Symington emphasized the importance that Vintage Port declarations play as personal and career-defining moments, just as they were for previous generations who are remembered very much for the Vintages that they made ‘on their watch’. Paul has been involved in 9 Vintage declarations and Charles in 5 declarations, thus far.
  • All the 2011 Vintage Ports made by the Symington family were 100% from their own vineyards, a natural development given their sustained investment in vineyards since the late 1970s (vineyard acquisitions and vineyard replanting). With a total of 965 hectares (2,385 acres) of vineyards, dotted across the finest sub-regions of the Douro Valley and representing an incredible diversity of terroirs, the family has remarkable scope in selecting wines for their Vintage Ports.
  • For the first time in half a century (specifically since the 1963 vintage in the Douro) the Vintage Ports in 2011 were 100% vinified in lagares (shallow treading tanks) and this shows through in the superb quality displayed by all the 2011 wines.
  • A point not often explained but one that has a great bearing on the family’s capacity to consistently produce outstanding Vintage Ports is the tremendous benefit of owning and operating several small micro-wineries (referred to by some as ‘boutique’ wineries) with independent winemaking teams (coordinated by Charles Symington) whose sole objective is the production of the best possible Port. There is no loss of focus in the pursuit of this goal because they are not distracted by the requirement to make styles of Port other than those with the potential to be graded as Vintage Port.
  • Leading on from the above, Charles was also keen to stress the significance of the substantial investment made over the last 10 to 15 years in numerous small storage tanks at these specialist wineries. This allows each fermentation to be kept separate until such time as the winemakers and tasters decide how to best use them. Paul reinforced that the possibility of keeping such ‘diamonds in the rough’ separately is a key contributor in the making of exceptional Ports.
  • During this second tasting session, Charles and Paul made a bit of a joke about the distinction made between old vines and the others — when describing the provenance of grapes that contribute to Vintage Port blends. The fact is that when we refer to old vines, we really should say very old mixed vines (50 years+) because ‘the others’ are 25 to 30 years old and thus, by any standard, are themselves old, mature vines (planted in single varietal parcels during the early 1980s).
The line-up of 2011 Vintage Ports made by the Symington family
The lineup of 2011 Vintage Ports made by the Symington family

Following this second tasting which involved 13 different wines (the 5 components of the Graham’s 2011 Vintage + 8 Vintage Ports; two Graham wines; two Vesuvio wines and one each from Cockburn’s, Dow’s, Warre’s and Quinta de Roriz), the 15 guest tasters were invited to lunch at the new Vinum restaurant at Graham’s where the highlight was a lovely Graham’s 1963 Vintage Port, celebrating its 50th birthday this year.

Participants in the tasting enjoy an appetizer in the wine bar before lunch at the adjoining Vinum restaurant
Participants in the tasting enjoy an appetizer in the wine bar before lunch at the adjoining Vinum restaurant