True Ports hail from the Douro valley in Northern Portugal, and have done so for over three hundred years. The region’s predominant soil is schist, composed of variousmedium-grained to coarse-grainedmetamorphicrocks with laminated,oftenflakyparallellayers of micaceousminerals. The low annual rainfall makes this probably one of the driest regions of the world where grapes are grown without irrigation. This terroir results in very low-yielding vineyards, with vines bearing only a very few small bunches of full-flavored grapes whose thick skins protect them from dehydration.
To make Port, a neutral grape alcohol is added to the wine partway through fermentation. This stops the fermentation before the yeast has eaten all of the sugars, leaving a natural residual sugar of 9 to 10 percent, and boosting the alcohol content to 18 to 20 percent. This was originally done in the early days of Port production to stabilize the wines for the long sea voyage to England, at one time the biggest market for Port. There are four basic categories: vintage, tawny, ruby, and white. Vintage Ports are of the best quality, and the most expensive, of course. They are made from grapes of a single vintage and bottled within two years. In order to maintain the highest quality standards, vintage Ports are only made in the best years, which are “declared.” These wines can age extremely well; there is an old English tradition where a vintage Port is purchased on a child’s birth year, and consumed to celebrate when he or she turns 21. Tawny Ports are a blend of fruit from many different years, and can be wood-aged for as many as 40 years. A high-quality tawny Port will always list the barrel age on the label. The characteristic amber color is the result of this wood aging. Ruby Ports are made from wines not deemed worthy of vintage classification, and are aged in wood for about two years. These youthful, fruity Ports are often the least expensive. White Ports are made like other Ports, just using white grapes. These wines run the gamut from sweet to dry, and are usually consumed as an aperitif. Continue reading “Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port”
True Ports hail from the Douro Valley in Northern Portugal, and have done so for over three hundred years. The region’s predominant soil is schist, composed of variousmedium-grained to coarse-grainedmetamorphicrocks with laminated,oftenflakyparallellayers of micaceousminerals. The low annual rainfall makes this probably one of the driest regions of the world where grapes are grown without irrigation. This terroir results in very low-yielding vineyards, with vines bearing only a very few small bunches of full-flavored grapes whose thick skins protect them from dehydration.
William & John Graham founded their eponymous company in Porto in 1820. The Symington family has owned Graham’s since 1970, although their association with the firm goes back as far as 1882.
In addition to Graham’s, Symington owns several brands of Port, Madeira, and Douro DOC wines, including some of the oldest and most well-known Port and Madeira brands. With their extensive vineyard holdings and many Port brands, the Symingtons are often described as ruling over a “Port Empire.”
In the Douro valley of Portugal, home of true Port wines, only the finest years are declared as Vintages, the best of the best. The last declared vintage was 2017. (Remarkably, this followed the declared 2016. Back to back declarations are qute rare.)
However, the grapes grow every year, of course, and the foremost houses still have a high-quality product to offer even in non-decalred years. This is usually released as a single quinta [Portugese literally for farm, but understood as vineyard or estate] bottling. These wines also receive a vintage designation, rather than being used for more anonymous blended ports.
Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos is just such a product, a ruby port expressing Graham’s finest efforts of 2009. This wine has seen two years in barrel, and although I’m sure it will age well, I suggest drinking it now. The wine is delightfully approachable, with none of the aggressive characteristics so often seen in a young Vintage Port.
The alcohol, tannins, and fruit are nicely balanced, with the palate displaying the classic port flavors of cassis and blackberries.
Enjoy this wine either as an aperitif or with dessert (blue cheese and walnuts are traditional, but chocolate mousse would be delicious as well). And, please forgo fussy liqueur glasses or port “pipes;” a white wine glass will do just fine.