A few weeks ago I was kindly invited by Graham’s to attend their Tawny Ports relaunch. It’s a Port tasting (and a good one!) so I could never say no. I’m even in Porto that week for another Port Wine event (more on that in another post). It seems the stars are all aligned and I’m eager to get there.
I get to Symington’s HQ in Gaia to join the Symingtons and other guests in a small welcoming lunch. Between a bite or two of great food, I tasted a crispy and fresh Douro white with a lovely acidity (Altano 2011) and also a yet-to-be-released, powerful and concentrated Douro red (Quinta do Vesúvio 2009) that is showing great elegance and finesse. A promising start.
Lunch is over and it’s time for some Port, after all I’m at a Port House! I glimpse over the table and notice the magnum (1.5L) of Port being poured. OMG! It’s the legendary Graham’s 1966 Vintage Port. I head over, pour myself a glass of liquid gold and start a journey of aromas and flavors through one of the best Port wines I’ve ever tasted. Layers and layers of complexity. Literally a never-ending finish. Smooth like only a truly great Vintage Port can be. Very Special.
Peter Symington, Graham’s legendary winemaker, is in the room and is a true gentlemen. What an honor to be talking to him (about wine and online) while sipping through a glass of one of his best creations and one of the world’s best wines. Thank you.
Lunch with Douro wine. Done. Epic Port Wine done. Now what?
I follow the other guests in a visit to Symington’s Cooperage operation. This is the place where Symington repairs and maintains its more than 3500 oak “pipes” (550 litres oak casks), many of which are between 75 and 100 years old and require a regular look.
Emílio Correia (the Master Cooper) is there to explain how he leads a team of men dedicated exclusively to this hard job. This is critical stuff to the world of Port Wine and the Symington’s pay special attention to their Coopers team and facilities. Perfection is in the details.
The group finally heads to the Graham’s Port Lodge where the Tawny Ports tasting is going to happen.
The tasting is going to be headed by Paul Symington (Managing Director) who’s joined by Charles Symington (Master Winemaker and Master Taster) and Peter Symington (ex-Master Winemaker and ex-Master Taster) in leading the group (see top photo) through the upcoming Ports tasting. Only a few words have been said and wine is already being poured. Time to taste!
First things first. The Tawny is Graham’s entry level premium Tawny. It is made from a blend of premium wines that have been aged from 7 to 9 years in old wood casks. It’s a lovely Tawny with a good balance of fruit and acidity. Quite sharp. This Tawny is currently my choice for a good but not too expensive Tawny Port to bring to a party. It’s easy to enjoy, it’s delicious and slightly chilled it will make for a very fun night. Plus, like all the other Tawny Ports in this lineup, it uses a special new bottle which is quite cool.
The 10 Years Old Tawny is next. A tasty old Tawny Port with a lovely nutty nose, nice complexity and a pleasant long finish. Things are starting to get interesting!
As the 20, 30 and 40 Years Old Tawny Ports are being poured, Paul Symington warns the group that the 30 and the 40 are produced in very little yearly quantities, meaning a few hundred cases for some of them.
I go ahead and start tasting the 20 Years Old Tawny which is just stunning. 20 Years Old Tawny Ports are usually, for me, the best balance between the energy and the fruit of a young Tawny Port and the complexity of an old one. This Graham’s 20 Years Old is one the best examples of this, perfect balance between old & new. It’s definitely one of the best Tawny Ports on the market and it doesn’t cost the earth.
The tasting moves on and I’m poured two new glasses of Port. One with a 30 Years Old and another with a 40 Years Old. I can already feel the aromas from a distance as the wines are being poured. We’re talking seriously complex stuff here. I quickly dive my nose in the glass and Wow! The aromas start rushing through so hard that I’m not even tempted to sip the wine. The layers and layers of complexity are just too exciting and fun to play around.
Finally I taste both wines and the complex aromas and converted into a chain of chemical reactions. Acidity and sweetness in great balance. An ending that doesn’t arrive. Purely Ad infinitum.
As the tasting goes on the wines keep evolving, partly through air contact and partly through the temperature raising in the glass. I could easily spend a night with each of these beauties and wonder endlessly about where they’re going and what makes these live creatures so delicious.
I’m still trying to understand what happened and I’m already being poured an 1952 Single Harvest, an 1969 Single Harvest and an 1882 Single Harvest. Three crown jewels that are as much very fine drinks as authentic pieces of history. Pure gold in liquid form. All very special wines and each one deserving their own very special tasting event. Unfortunately, today, we’ll have to stop here.
This was a great opportunity to taste one of the best lineups of premium Tawny Ports on the market and confirm the quality work that the Symmington’s continue to do generation after generation. It was also a rare opportunity to taste some unique wines and confirm once more that Port Wine is one of the finest and most exciting wines of the world.