Friday, December 16, 2011

Port Master Class with Paul Symington, CEO Symington Family Estates: Decanter Great Port Wine Weekend

I will use the Douro soil discussion from my previous post as a springboard to launch me back to Portugal and the events surrounding Decanter's Great Port Wine Weekend.  It has been awhile.  On Friday morning we were scheduled to tour and taste at both the Taylor's and Graham's Port Lodges.  The tasting at Graham's was led by Paul Symington, CEO of Symington Family Estates, and I report on that event in this post.

The Symingtons have been involved in the Port business through their grandmother's line since 1652 and in Port production since 1882.  The family is the largest vineyard owner in the Douro with 947 hectares under vine in 27 separate estates.  The family has direct ownership of five Port Houses (Graham's, Cockburn's, Dow's Warre's, and Smith Woodhouse) and the fabled Quinta do Vesuvio.  The family is currently responsible for 30% of the world's production of Premium Port.

After completing the tour of the Graham's Lodge, we were led upstairs to a light, airy room with a long table  running down the center.  Ten glasses, each with a tasting portion of wine, stood at each seating position.

According to the sheet lying beside the glasses, we would be tasting: Graham's Six Grapes, Graham's Late Bottled Vintage 2006, Graham's 10 Year Old Tawny, Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny, Graham's Crusted 2004, Graham's Quinta dos Malvedos 1999, Graham's 2007 Vintage Port, Dow's 2007 Vintage Port, Warre's 2007 Vintage Port, and Warre's 2009 Vintage Port.  Based on the lineup, this was a Graham's tasting with the Dow's and Warre's 2007 Vintage Ports thrown in for comparison with the 2007 Graham's Vintage Port.  The Warre's 2009 Vintage Port was a limited-edition bottling which commemorated the liberation of Oporto in 1809.

Graham's, with its acquisition of Quinta dos Malvedos, was one of the first Port companies to invest in the Upper Douro.  Today Graham's is considered one of the top Port houses in the world. Its complement of estates, their sizes, and the distribution of varieties grown are shown in the figures below.

Source: W. and J. Graham's Port
The characteristics of the Douro region, in general, and the soil, in particular, have been described previously, as has been the viniculture as it relates to Quinta do Vesuvio.  The vinicultural processes for Graham's is similar to Quinta do Vesuvio except for the widespread use of mechanical treaders in lieu of foot-treading.  Graham's feels that mechanical treading allows better temperature control during the fermentation process and is more reliable in a time of diminishing availability of human resources.

The first wine tasted was the Graham's Six Grapes.  According to Graham's, this wine is sourced from Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta das Lages, the source for Vintage Port in declared years.  These wines are bottled young in order to present a profile that is not dissimilar to a young Vintage Port.  This wine has been aged in wood.  Pepper on the nose.  This wine is smooth, elegant, balanced with great structure and acidity.

Next up was the Graham's Late Bottled Vintage 2006.  LBVs mature for an average of 5 years in seasoned oak casks prior to bottling.  The grapes for this particular wine is sourced mostly from Quinta dos Malvedos.  This wine has a rich, structured, perfumed nose accompanying elegance and restraint.  Good acidity, caramel, butterscotch and a nice clean finish.

Graham's Tawny Ports, according to Paul Symington, are made in an "old woody style" through being aged in 534-liter oak casks.  The wines are a blend of several years production and generally present with a light amber color.  The 10 Year Old Tawny was pale in color and had hints of almond, cinnamon, honey and butterscotch on the nose.  Unctous and rich on the palate with great acidity.  Delicate, clean finish.  The 20 Year Old Tawny had a green tinge on the nose along with walnut, almond, cinnamon, and vanilla.  Some oxidation.  Rich, syrupy, slight medicinal quality, buttered popcorn, and nuttiness on the palate.

According to Graham's, its Crusted Port is made from a selection of young ports from two to three harvests from Quinta dos Malvedas, Quinta das Lages, Vila Velha, and Vale de Malhadas.  The wines are blended, assigned to oak casks, and are then bottled and stored for a further three years of maturation prior to sale.  The Graham's Crusted 2004 had a deep dark nose of purple fruit and molasses along with butterscotch and almonds.  A lot of fruit and power on the palate.  Good acidity.  Bitter finish.

In declared years, the wines from the Malvedos vineyard serve as the backbone for the Vintage but in non-vintage years they serve as the basis for a single-vineyard vintage offering called Graham's Quinta dos Malvedos.  The Graham's Quinta dos Malvedos 1999 had an elegant, restrained nose with hints of cinnamon, vanilla, and spice.  On the palate it was rich and creamy with dark chocolate flavors.

The 2007 Vintage was widely hailed by all members of the Port fraternity.  Conditions were sunny but relatively cool and the resultant even and balanced ripening produced, according to 2007 Vintage Ports, "... wonderfully elegant wines, with superb vibrant fruit quality as well as the crisp acidity and firm tannins required for a long life in bottle."  The Graham's 2007 Vintage Port was elegant, with rich ripe fruit.  Clean taste with some drying on the finish.  The Dow's 2007 Vintage Port was edgy and full-bodied.  Dark fruit and good acidity.  Warre's 2007 Vintage Port was elegant with a spicy bite and good acidity.

The year 2009 was very interesting in the Douro.  Taylor Fladgate declared vintages for Taylor, Fonseca, and Croft but Symington refrained from doing so for any of its major houses with the exception of one.  In an email exchange with Adrian Bridge, Managing Partner of Taylor Fladgate, Paul Symington referenced his family's pedigree in the Port trade and the reputation of his company as being key reasons for only declaring a vintage when he has produced a truly exceptional wine.  The implication was that such was not the case for the 2009 vintage.  In that same communication he did mention that the company would be declaring a 500-case Warre 2009 Vintage in honor of John Warre, a Major in the Portuguese wing of Wellington's Anglo-Portuguese army that faced Napolean, who played a key role in the 1809 battle that liberated Oporto.  A portion of the proceeds from each case (₤48) would be donated to a fund for soldiers wounded in the war in Afghanistan.  The Warre's 2009 Vintage Port exhibited a perfumed nose and dark fruit and dark chocolate on the palate.

This was a special treat in that it was supposed to be a tasting but quickly became a master class.  Paul's wide-ranging knowledge of the history of the region, the Port trade, and his wines, coupled with his tasting capability, resulted in an exceptional experience for the Decanter readers.

No comments:

Post a Comment