Asked about Port, most consumers are familiar with Graham’s Vintage Ports or relatively young Ruby styles such as Six Grapes or Late Bottled Vintage, and they think of Port as being rich and flavoured of red and black fruits.
But when Graham’s ports are aged in wood to create Tawny Ports, they develop a completely different character, redolent of dried fruits, nuts and spices. Tawny Port can be a revelation, from its beautiful honey colours to its versatility as an aperitif or partner with food.
Whereas all wines derive their fundamental character from the work of the viticulturists and winemakers during their harvest year, Tawny Ports are unique in requiring the care of many more craftsman for years, even decades and generations after harvest. The evolution in the expression of the style of these wines is based on valuing the three traditional arts that are at their core: the art of cooperage, the art of ageing and the art of blending. Graham’s Tawny Ports are also the product of all the blenders, coopers and cellar masters who have worked for us over the past century.
After each harvest our head winemaker and master blender, Charles Symington, assesses each lot of wine and decides how it will be aged, according to its likely use for a finished Port style. His father, uncles and grandfather before him did the same, and Charles continues to taste and assess the wines they set aside in small casks for ageing for Tawnies. Every time we need to bottle one of our Tawnies Charles selects lotes and develops a blend which is consistent with Graham’s tradition of excellence and the unique flavour profiles for each The Tawny, 10, 20, 30 and 40 Year Old Tawny Port styles.
Key to the ageing process is the use of wooden casks. Graham’s has 3,500 oak “pipes”, the traditional long narrow casks which hold just 550 litres of port. The vast majority of our pipes are between 75 and 100 years old so they impart no “wood character” to the wines in the sense of oakiness such as you might find in a table wine. What they do to perfection is allow the micro-oxygenation and slow evaporation and concentration of our Tawnies, which is what creates the extraordinary colour, flavour and complexity of these ports. Our master cooper Emílio Oliveira has 50 years experience and together with his team knows and cares for every cask in our Lodge.
Our cellar master, António Monteiro, is responsible for the handling and storage of all the wines at Graham’s Lodge: from the new harvest wines less than six months old when they arrive, to lots which have been in cask 100 years old or more. When Charles has decided a Tawny blend, António and his team are responsible to combine the chosen wines in the correct quantities, moving them out of the small pipes where they have aged into a larger tonel or balseiro where the blended lot will rest for a year so the wines can marry before bottling.
In the coming weeks we will talk more about how Graham’s Tawny Ports are made and how each style can best be enjoyed.