Graham’s 2009’s – Where Are They Now?

Readers of the Graham’s Port blog during the 2009 harvest may recall that on 9 October our Malvedos winemaker, Henry Shotton, signed off, saying the wines were all fortified and resting in their winter homes in the Douro, to “fall bright” before transport to Gaia in the spring.  So… where are those wines now?

At the end of the harvest, Malvedos had created 12 lotes, or batches of wine.  Some were vinified as single-varietals, for example we had three different pure Touriga Nacional wines, from parcels which, according to their location within the quinta, yield very different flavour characteristics.  One blended wine was of course made from the vinhas velhas, or old vines, which is a vineyard planted years ago with the traditional Douro mixture of a dozen or more varieties of grapes.  Several more lotes were blends created for reasons of lagar capacities versus parcel yields, for example a blend of two small parcels of Tinto Cão and Tinta Roriz.

In December the first post-vinification samples were taken from all 12 lotes and sent to Gaia for tasting and analysis.  Charles Symington, our head winemaker, and the tasting room team together assess each wine, with the focus at this time being primarily on quality.

Thereafter, the wines are tasted monthly, and other Symington family members join the review process.  Decisions may be made to blend some lotes together, and some wines may be designated as potential candidates for vintage or single-quinta vintage.  Wines will change character after time in wood, so it is not unusual for a wine to open up and develop a greater complexity or flavour quality that might move it into the “watch for potential vintage” list, and others initially flagged for possible vintage can develop a flavour character that makes them better candidates for another style of port.

Right now, after taking several decisions to begin blending lotes, there are 7 Malvedos 2009 wines being monitored monthly.  Don’t forget though, Graham’s wines are blended from the products of four other quintas, as well.  At the end of harvest, those four quintas together had produced 30 lotes of wine, and those have also been rigourously reviewed and subject to decisions about blends, and possible use for vintage or other styles of port.

2009 sample wines from four of the Graham's quintas (two different samples from Malvedos)

All these wines were transported to Gaia in the spring and are now in large wooden vats, where they will continue to age and be assessed monthly.  In the tasting room one recent afternoon were samples from each quinta ready for assessment.  Less than 10 months old, the wines are showing distinct aromatic characters which reflect both the typical qualities of the individual quinta and the effects of the climactic pattern of the 2009 harvest year.

What will happen next with these wines?  The decision to declare either a Graham’s Vintage or Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage would be made in early 2011, when the wine is about 18 months old, and it would be bottled at 2 years of age.  Between 2 and 3 years after harvest, a lote might be a candidate for inclusion in the multi-harvest Crusted style of port.  When a wine is between 4 and 6 years of age, we may choose to bottle it as a Late Bottled Vintage.  Up to 7 years after harvest, a lote is a candidate for blending into our Six Grapes Reserve.  At any time, the wine may be designated for tawny use and moved into pipas, to develop the colour and secondary flavours that small cask ageing imparts to a tawny, and it may remain in those pipas for years.  Finally, bear in mind that a single lote may be used in part for one wine style, and in part for another.  The possibilities are nearly endless.

Samples from as far back as 1937 ready for tasting and assessment

In the tasting room was another group of samples from various prior years ready for review – note that the word colheita in Portuguese means simply year or harvest.  In a prior post we said there would be wines as old as 60 years ageing in casks at the lodge for use in tawny blends.  In fact, if you look closely at this photo, you can see the far left bottle is from 1937.  After 73 years, this wine is still undergoing monthly assessment as a possible candidate for blending and bottling into one of Graham’s premium aged tawnies.