Tasting Graham’s port wines in flights – groups of several different wines – is the best way to compare and learn more about port wine. At the Graham’s Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia for all our visitors, at special tastings organised for our trade partners, and even in the tasting rooms while developing our blends, we prefer to try our wines in groups of three, at least, in order to better understand and evaluate the qualities of each wine. Whatever may be your impressions of a wine tasted in isolation, trying it again alongside another wine or two can highlight flavours or sensations, because of the force of contrast with the other wines.
The best introduction to port, which we use at the Lodge, is a classic line up of a Late Bottled Vintage, our Finest Reserve Tawny, and a 10 Year Old Tawny. These three illustrate perfectly how the aging process changes a port wine through its first decade or so.
The first thing to look at is the development of colour – if you can hold the glass at an angle against a white surface, so much the better to see the differences. The LBV will have aged in immense vats of tens of thousands of litres for four to six years before bottling. With relatively little exposure to air or wood the colour is an intense, impenetrable, deep ruby red. The Graham’s Finest Reserve Tawny port is a blend of wines that have been aged in small pipes of 550 litres from a very young age. The greater contact with wood and air means the wine has begun to change colour, however, as this is a blend of relatively young wines, the colour is tawny but still rather red-toned, like cedar wood. Finally, the 10 Year Old Tawny is deep classic tawny colour – a deep golden honey shade with little to no trace of red remaining.
The next thing to consider is the nose of each wine. Give the glass a good swirl and then really bury your nose in it and inhale. Give yourself a moment to consider, perhaps sniff your wrist to clear your nose (never wear perfume when assessing wines), and then do the same with the next glass. The hallmark of a Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage is its very rich jammy red-fruit nose, though occasionally a particular year may lend a whiff of black fruits or pepper and spice. Our LBV style is intended to retain the wonderful fruit flavours of the young wine, but has just enough age that the fruit scents have ripened to a jammy quality. In contrast, the Finest Reserve Tawny will have a more muted fruit character, balanced and complemented with a distinct nuttiness – almonds or hazelnuts – on the nose. That nuttiness is one of the indicators of aging in small casks. Finally, in the 10 Year Old Tawny, any trace of red summer fruit will be gone and replaced with scents of dried fruits or possibly ripe figs, and there will be a distinct honey scent as well as the continued development of the nutty aromas.
When you taste the wines, take a sip and really swirl it throughout your entire mouth; different types of flavours register best in different zones of the mouth. You will find the flavours on the palate fulfill the promise of the nose, with perhaps some additional flavours coming in, for example a possible touch of chocolate in some LBV years. But what is really interesting is to think about the sensations, not just the flavours – how does the wine feel in your mouth, what about the finish?
Graham’s Late Bottled Vintage is always very full bodied – though the quantity of liquid in your mouth may be small, the sensation will be mouth-filling. Tasting actually engages your sense of smell, so a very richly aromatic wine will produce that sensation of fullness and body in the mouth. The LBV will be distinctly sweet and luscious, but the Finest Reserve Tawny will be a contrast – seeming more dry. As ports age in small casks, and the fruit character becomes muted and nutty flavours develop, the drying effect of the tannins come through, ever so slightly, to create that impression of relative dryness. The Finest Reserve Tawny will strike you as elegant, even restrained after the fruit exuberance of the LBV. And finally, the 10 Year Old Tawny is very mellow – imagine a mellow warm late autumn day in a liquid form – and will have a luscious finish, the flavours and sensations lingering long after the wine has gone from your mouth.
There you have the magic of Graham’s port and our winemakers’ skills in ageing and blending, summarised in three glasses!