Graham’s Ports Leave Their Mark in Memorable Tasting

10th EDITION OF ESSÊNCIA DO VINHO ‘ ESSENCE OF WINE’ FESTIVAL

The Essência do Vinho, now in its tenth edition, is the principal wine event held annually in northern Portugal, and generates ever increasing interest not just from the trade — wine professionals, sommeliers and restaurateurs — but also from consumers (Portuguese and foreign) as well as journalists from Portugal and from farther afield. The organizers prepared a very comprehensive and interesting programme for the 2013 edition, featuring a number of tutored tastings, which revolve around varied themes, involving both Portuguese wines and wines from other countries. More than 20,000 visitors are expected over the four-day event (7th – 10th February).

Porto's old stock exchange, the venue for the 10th edition of "Essência do Vinho."
Porto’s old stock exchange, the venue for the 10th edition of “Essência do Vinho.”

The venue is the magnificent old Stock Exchange building in Porto (the Palácio da Bolsa) and under its covered, lofty courtyard, 350 wine producers are showing visitors over 3000 different wines. This has always proven one of the reasons for the event’s great popularity: the fact consumers, and wine enthusiasts generally, can discuss their favourite wines directly with the producers and winemakers themselves. The atmosphere is very relaxed and very rewarding for the scope it allows visitors in tasting wines from Portugal’s varied and rich wine heritage, ranging from the country’s great fortified wines (Port and Madeira) to the up-and-coming dry wines from the Douro, Alentejo and the Dão, as well as those from other less well known regions.

The covered courtyard where exhibitors show their wines.
The covered courtyard where exhibitors show their wines.

One of the themed tastings that has generated greatest interest over the last few days has been Symington Family Estates’s ‘Voyage in Time: 3 Centuries – 10 Wines’ — a tutored tasting hosted by Paul Symington on Saturday, February 9th. Indeed as soon as it was announced, it was almost immediately sold out and the organizers approached the family asking if it were possible to accommodate more people (from the original starting figure of 25). This isn’t quite as simple as it sounds, because when you’ve only got a few dozen bottles of the legendary Graham’s 1948 left in your private family cellar, it isn’t a mute point!  In the end, a few additional people were accommodated and they were very grateful that they managed a place because the tasting proved to be indeed memorable.

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Manuel Rocha (left), fourth generation blender at Graham’s and Henry Shotton (our winemaker at Quinta dos Malvedos) comment the 1948 Graham’s they have just decanted

Of the 10 Ports tasted, Graham’s provided the main offering, showing 5 wines; the 1948, 1963 and 1970 Vintages, as well as the 1952 (‘Diamond Jubilee’) and 1935 Colheita, or Single Harvest Tawnies. Landmark Vintage Ports from the family’s three other Port marques (Cockburn, Dow and Warre) were also present and the tasting culminated on a very high note with the unprecedented opportunity of sampling a treasured family heirloom, a very old family reserve (cask-matured) Port dating from the late 19th century. The tasting was held in the ‘Arab Salon’ — an exquisitely decorated chamber of the old stock exchange well known as a venue for ceremonial events.

The tasting gets off to a start in the magnificent 'Arab Salon' of the stock exchange
The tasting gets off to a start in the magnificent ‘Arab Salon’ of the stock exchange

The first Graham’s wine shown was the 1970, heralded as one of the finest Vintage Ports of the second half of the twentieth century. Paul commented to the captive audience of tasters that, in his opinion, this is indeed one of the finest 3 or 4 Vintages of the last half-century. The 1970 holds a particular significance for Paul and his family as it was the first Graham’s Vintage made by them, shortly after acquiring the famous Port house. Paul’s father and his cousins, who made the wine, couldn’t have wished for a more auspicious start. One could say this Port is 43 years young, such is the evident capacity of this impressive wine to carry on developing still further (years? decades?). But if you are fortunate enough to have this gorgeous wine in your cellar, why wait any longer to enjoy it?? It is drinking magnificently well right now.

Paul Symington enthuses the virtues of the legendary Graham's 1948
Paul Symington enthuses the virtues of the legendary Graham’s 1948

The next wine sampled was the 1963, and once again one could be forgiven for heaping superlatives on this half-century old Port. As Paul pointed out — just how many of the world’s fine wines can reach 50 years of age and still show such balance, complexity, sheer completeness? The 1963 was a landmark Vintage; it marked a turnaround in Port’s fortunes following the post world war II era when sales of Port took a long time to recover.

Only two bottles of the 1948 were made available by the family for this tasting.
Only two bottles of the 1948 were made available by the family for this tasting.

The legendary Graham’s 1948 was next and it proved one of the several high points of the tasting. As Paul remarked, “this is a wine that commands respect and admiration”. The wine showed an ethereal quality, with hints of mint, cinnamon and nuances of coffee (a distinctive hallmark of the 1948). A superbly refined wine with ripple after ripple of flavours and sensations, culminating with an endless, persistent aftertaste. Recovering from flu, Paul told the audience that he was feeling much better for sampling all these superb wines — the very best medicine he could take for a speedy recovery! This is a wine that deserves to be enjoyed on its own, without any unnecessary distractions.

Following this majestic trio of Vintages, Paul guided the gathered tasters through the other great interpretation of the art of Port: the cask-matured wines. The exquisitely elegant and charming Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee surprised the tasters with its vitality and freshness, belying its 60 years of age. The subtlety of the 1935 enchanted all those present, but the best was kept till last: the family reserve dating from the late 19th century. The concentration and complexity of this exceptional wine left everyone spellbound by its sheer intensity and presence. Layer upon layer of flavours teased the assembled palates, leaving everybody enchanted. The aftertaste will linger for a long time in the memory of those who were privileged to take part in this tasting.

To learn more about all the Vintage Ports shown at this tasting, read  the blog on The Vintage Port Site.

The trio of Graham's Vintage Ports tasted; they provided the tasters with a memorable experience.
The trio of Graham’s Vintage Ports tasted; they provided the tasters with a memorable experience.

3 thoughts on “Graham’s Ports Leave Their Mark in Memorable Tasting”

  1. One never forgets where they were and whom they were with when having their 1st sips of 1948 Graham’s Vintage Port. This sounds like an extraordinary tasting. Thanks for the report and photos!

  2. Fabulous write up and pictures. Thanks for sharing a bit of the sights and sounds with those of us who would love to have been with you but just couldn’t be there.

  3. I agree Roy. I believe i have tasted many fine wines, but the 1948 is always the clearest in memory. (even if they have a Warre vintage 1960 cork… :-)
    And indeed nice to see, that Grahams (and the rest of Symingtons), makes their port to be enjoyed, and not hidden for the family alone.
    Thanks for your always great hospitality and time to us “crazy” portlovers.

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