Port Tasting at Bonham’s

Last night, 21st October, a tasting was held at Bonham’s, New Bond Street, London of Graham’s and Taylor’s Ports from 1970 to 2007.

I presented my family’s Graham’s Ports and Adrian Bridge presented Taylor’s.  Richard Mayson, well known writer on Port and Portuguese wines was the ‘moderator’.  Anthony Barne and Richard Harvey of Bonham’s had organised the tasting and some 50 people were present.

The extraordinary terraced vineyards of the Douro - here at Graham's Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto

We started with a brief presentation of what the Douro is all about, its geography, its special weather conditions and its unique grape varieties.  Many present had never been to the Douro and therefore had little idea of our terraced vineyards and the challenges that we face in not only building them but also in maintaining them, so showing a map of the Douro and locating the key vineyards was an important starting point.  We then showed pictures of the vineyards.  I showed pictures of Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua, although of course our best Graham’s Ports also come from Quinta da Vila Velha, Quinta Vale de Malhadas in the Douro Superior and Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto.

The tasting was very interesting as we compared the Graham and Taylor 1970, followed by the 1977.  Both of these two years showed lovely maturity and are clearly at their very best, although neither will fade anytime soon; on the contrary they will age superbly for many years.  There was general agreement in the room that the 1970 was one of the very greatest Vintage Ports produced in the last half-century and a wine well worth seeking out.

We then tasted the 1985’s which showed more youth and depth, although at 25 years old, they are wonderful for drinking now.  The 1994’s were, as usual, a revelation.  At this stage many Vintage Ports are going through their late adolescence and can be slightly awkward, but neither of these two 94’s showed anything other than deep, complex ripe fruit flavours. This is destined to be one of the very greatest years.

The final flight consisted of the 2000 and the recently bottled 2007.  The former were outstanding youngsters after just 8 years in bottle and showed the luck that we had in the Douro in this, the millennium year.  Again this is a wine that any decent wine-lover ought to have in their cellar as it will make wonderful drinking at any time over the next 10 to 40 years and beyond.

The 2007’s, bottled just over 12 months ago in the spring of 2009, were superb.  The mild summer of 2007 produced wines with very precise fruit flavours and a fine acidity, there is no doubt that these wines will take their place amongst the greats.  Those who had kept some of the 1970 on their tables, were able to appreciate how a great Vintage Port can evolve from the deep tannins and muscular structure of the 2007’s to the superb and delicate balance of the 1970’s over nearly 4 decades.

At the end of the tasting I made an appeal for Port to be served in decent sized wine glasses.  In the UK Port is often served in small and very inappropriate glasses, where it is difficult to appreciate the colour and the aroma of these great wines.  I also suggested that Vintage Port could be served at less formal occasions.  Too often Vintage Port in the UK is associated with formal dining, when these wines can equally be enjoyed round a kitchen table with fine food at any informal lunch or dinner with friends.  Few wines give such intense pleasure as Vintage Port, so they should not be kept only for formal occasions.

The Bonham’s team then gave us a small dinner at the end of which they served a Harvey’s 1897 Vintage Port that was quite astonishing.  The wine had its original cork and was still in excellent condition, pale, delicate but in perfect balance.  I have three times in my life tasted the Dow’s 1896, but never had an 1897. So thank you Bonham’s.

Paul Symington 22nd October

2 thoughts on “Port Tasting at Bonham’s”

  1. You aren’t the only person to have been a stranger to 1897.

    André L. Simon, The Gourmet’s Week-End Book (1952), describes a dinner of 6 February 1940 at The Caledonian Club hosted by “Sir Francis Colchester-Wemyss, K.B.E.” at which Sandeman 1897 was served. “I had not to my knowledge tasted a ’97 before and, judging by my recent experiences with the ’96’s, I expected a fading wine. Not a bit of it! The Sandeman sweetness predominated, and there was a slight weakness of vinosity; but that old warrior will do another forty years with comfort, and will, I hope, give as much pleasure to others as it gave to us.”

  2. Julian, you are fast turning into the font of all wisdom on Vintage Port. I will have to do a bit more studying before the next tasting I do with you, or bring my entire family along to back up my knowledge…
    Paul

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