Roy’s Note: This month’s Guest Corner contribution is made by FTLOP’s Andy Velebil who has previously penned articles for this area of the newsletter. Andy recently traveled to the UK to hang out with friends and take part in this historic vertical tasting of great Vintage Ports. I am sure you will find it entertaining and his tasting notes insightful.
Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos Tasting
Royal Air Force Club, London, England
March 22, 2010
Article © Andy Velebil - 3/22/10
In August 2009 some friends and fellow Port lovers in the UK proposed doing a tasting of Ports from Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos. Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, this would eventually morph into the largest and most complete tasting of Ports from Quinta dos Malvedos ever known to have taken place. With Ports starting from the 1955 vintage and ending with a “work in progress” sample of the 2008 vintage, a staggering total of 29 vintages.
Living half way around the globe I figured there was no chance of my being able to take part in this tasting. So in September 2009, while speaking to Derek T., I mentioned I had a rare bottle from the 1962 vintage. Since no other bottle was available in the world at the time, I offered it to Derek to help complete their lineup. I had never had that specific vintage before and it was the sole bottle I owned. But I decided I would rather other Port lovers be able to taste it along side its brothers from the same Quinta than for me to drink it alone. So later that month Derek and I met in Oporto and I handed over the bottle. Little did I know then, that many months later a turn of events would occur that saw me flying to London for this remarkable tasting.
A little history of Quinta dos Malvedos is in order before I get to the event. William and John Graham founded Graham’s Port, now owned by the renowned Symington family, in Oporto in 1820. In 1890 the company purchased Quinta dos Malvedos, in the Douro region of Portugal, from Jose Ferreira Pinto Basto. What very few people know is Jose Ferreira Pinto Basto was Paul Symington’s grandmother’s Great-Grandfather.
As fate would have it some 80 years later Quinta dos Malvedos would again be in the possession of a relative of the original owner. The Quinta sits on the north bank of the Douro River where the Tua River intersects the Douro River. It’s a stunning property with magnificent views and is about a 10-minute boat ride up-river from Pinhao, or for those who want to see the countryside, about a 2-hour drive from Pinhao.
A book published in 1899 describes Quinta dos Malvedos as “Considered to be of the very first quality among the best in the Douro. The kinds of grapes predominating there are the Touriga, Sousao, Tinta Lameira, and Mourisco for the red wines.” It wasn’t until 1970 when the Symington family was finally able to buy the Quinta back. The first vintage the Symington’s produced was the highly regarded 1970 Graham’s Vintage Port.
There is sometimes a bit of confusion about why older labels simply state “Malvedos” on them and the newer vintages state “Quinta dos Malvedos.” It’s actually quite simple as laws prevent the term “Quinta …” to be used on a label unless all the grapes used in that particular Port come from one single Quinta. Originally Quinta dos Malvedos was much smaller in size than it is today. When sold in 1890 the Quinta was only 43.9 hectares (108 acres), and it used grapes from the adjoining three vineyards (Valdossa, Albano, and Assuncao). Over the years these three vineyards were purchased and incorporated into what is the present day Quinta dos Malvedos. This more than doubled the size of Quinta dos Malvedos to its current 108 hectares (266 acres), of which 70 hectares (173 acres) is planted with vines. It wasn’t until the mid-1990’s where all the grapes finally came from the Quinta, and in 1998 the label was changed to “Quinta dos Malvedos” to reflect that.
Having passed by the Quinta, either by train or boat, numerous times I’ve only been fortunate enough to visit it on one occasion, during the Port Harvest Tour in 2007. It was a remarkable time and the property is even more beautiful than it looks on passing, from the white wash walls of the main house, to the vintage years on bedroom doors, to the magnificent views of the Douro River. It’s a place I one day hope to visit again as I’d love to walk through the vineyards and discover the different views the property has to offer.
I would be negligent if I didn’t mention Quinta dos Malvedos was also the birthplace of the Symington’s use of mechanized treading. After several years of development it designed a system of rubber “feet” that simulate a human’s foots gentle treading in an old traditional lagar. It’s quite a sight to watch this large machine in action and the sound it makes is eerily similar to the sounds whales make in the wild.
But back to the present day; with partly cloudy skies and a nice breeze blowing the day for this historic tasting arrived. Early in the morning Derek and I took a walk around central London to clear our heads of the previous nights Port and Douro wine drinking at a mutual friend’s house. While on this walk we stumbled into a wine store and saw a bottle of 2003 Graham’s Vintage Port on the shelf. Derek quickly looked at me and stated, “We don’t have a Graham’s VP from this decade, should we get it?” It took me all of a split second to say, “Yes!” We bought the bottle and off we went back to the RAF Club smiling like two schoolboys planning some trouble.
At about 11 a.m. Derek and I started getting things ready at the RAF Club, decanting the younger Ports, washing 400+ glasses, and of course enjoying a pint or two of beer to quench our thirst. A few others arrived later in the afternoon and provided some well needed help. Decanting over 30 bottles (we had a few 375ml bottles) is no easy task and a messy job at that. At one point I had to leave the room and I noticed the entire hallway of the Club had this lovely smell of Port drifting through it. I was getting excited and so were the others. In just a few short hours the fun would begin.
While the group of attendees was mostly made up of those from the UK there were also attendees from Germany, Portugal, and me the sole representative from the USA. I say Portugal as I think it’s safe to say Paul Symington spends more time in Portugal than the UK. Along with Paul renowned Port writer and lover Richard Mayson was able to attend as well. It was a pleasure to finally meet Richard as I’ve read his books but never had the opportunity to meet him. Since there was still a lot of work to be done even Richard and Paul were put to work helping get things set up. They both rolled up their sleeves, tucked in their ties, and graciously helped out.
Finally, after months of planning, things were about to get underway. Jacob started things by giving a quick opening statement welcoming everyone. After Jacob’s opening remarks Paul was put on the spot and provided some seriously detailed background information about Malvedos.
While this was centered around the Single Quinta Ports from Malvedos, we also tossed in a few of the regular declared Graham’s Vintage Ports to help compare and contrast any potential style differences between a fully declared year and the SQVP’s. Those regular Graham’s vintages being the 1955, 1966, 1970, 1985, and 2003. After tasting our way through part of the first flight, 1955 to 1968, we realized we were far behind our original schedule of stopping for a dinner break after the 1979 Vintage.
But dinner was ready so we retired to the dining room for a traditional British dinner of Pea and Mint Soup, Herb Polenta Cakes with Asparagus and Cheese Gratin, Steak and Kidney Pudding, Sherry Trifle, and Coffee and Petits Fours. The food was very well prepared and quite tasty. There wasn’t much left as everyone filled their bellies to prepare for the huge amount of Ports still awaiting our return to the tasting room. After washing dinner down with a few pleasant bottles of claret, as if we didn’t have enough Port awaiting us, it was time to start round two.
We headed back to the tasting room and started where we left off. Paul finished off the evening by bringing a “work in progress” cask sample of the 2008 Quinta dos Malvedos Port with him from Portugal. If this ends up being the sample they choose to produce, all I will say is you should start saving your money now, it was that good. And it wasn’t just me, but almost all in the group loved this very young Port.
Throughout the evening Paul provided some very detailed vintage information about each bottle, some of which I’ve incorporated into my tasting notes below. The information was written during each vintage by a current or former winemaker and member of the Symington family. Richard Mayson also provided his insight of drinking many of these when they were very young.
The conversations throughout the evening were boundless and I dare say quite nerdy as well so I won’t bore you. Then again, this is a group that lives and breathes Port so it’s not hard to understand. We talked and drank till the wee hours of the morning when the well stated guests slowly started drifting off to their rooms. This truly was one of the most remarkable tastings I’ve done and easily the largest and most complete for a single Quinta let alone a single Producer. I must thank Paul and the other Symington’s family members for helping make this event such a monumental and historic tasting. And all the participants for digging deep in their cellars to provide some rare bottles. And of course I can’t forget Jacob and Derek for all their work organizing this event.
Before I end I wanted to share a few quick personal discoveries about Malvedos. First, these vintages really showed a lot of cigar/cedar that showed up late on the finish. Something Paul mentioned was a trademark of Graham’s and in particular Quinta dos Malvedos’ Vintage Ports. Second, Graham’s is typically associated with being sweeter tasting Port. While it’s true some vintages have higher sugar content than many VP’s, in this line up they often showed drier on the palate with the sweetness only coming later in the finish.
Finally, this tasting reinforced my original views that Graham’s and Quinta dos Malvedos make the most consistently well-made Vintage Ports year in and year out. Even in years that are considered very poor overall, Ports from this Quinta stand out. A true testament of not only the Quinta but the people who tend to the grapes before, during, and after the harvest. It was an honor to have been invited to this historic event and surely one I will never forget.
1955 Graham’s Vintage Port: A light brown ruby color is starting to show some age. Plenty of cinnamon, rose pedals, and violets on the nose. Initially, a bit of spirit also expressed itself, but it went away the longer this got air in the glass. Like the nose, the palate was initially showing some heat. This also went away as it aired out and left the spices, and cinnamon to dominate. This bottle came off a little lighter bodied and drier than I expected for a Graham’s. However, as the evening went on this did put on more weight and I liked it much better several hours later as it became more expressive and filled out. Interesting to note this had a 3.6° Baumé. 94 points
1957 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: The color was slightly lighter brown than the 1955 Graham’s VP and had a sweeter nose as well. The fruit was starting to show signs of drying out leaving this just a touch out of balance with some excessive heat showing as a result. But a solid sweet finish really saved this one from a lower score. It was interesting to note that later in the evening a distinct note of tobacco showed up rather late on the finish. Based on this bottle, I’d say this is just past its prime and should be consumed sooner rather than later. 90 points
1958 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: Showing pretty much the same color as the 1957 was the only thing these two had in common. The ’58 had a beautiful rose pedal and violet nose which captivated me. With its sweet fresh fruit this delivered a better bodied and balanced Port than the 1957. I enjoyed the elegant finish that seem to caress the throat and again noted some cigar box which came late on the finish. It seemed a divided group, with some preferring the 1957 and some this one. Quite funny to read how on October 5, 1958 Ronald Symington wrote, “I think possibly in the better districts some quite good wines will be made but I doubt if any will be outstanding.” Looks like Malvedos made the cut! 92 points
1962 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: This was the year of the worst flood in the Douro since 1909, with the harvest starting on September 10th. A light brownish tan with a sweet nose. There was still plenty of sweet fruit up front which quickly gave way to lots of tobacco on the mid palate and finish. Some caramel notes showed up on the finish and left me with the impression this bottle is on a slow downhill walk. 89 points
1964 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: I was amazed this was still showing some dark ruby colors. An amazingly youthful nose full of strawberries, tobacco, and eucalyptus. I immediately noticed how full bodied and youthful this was on the palate, which treaded a nice balance of sweetness to fruit. The fruit seemed to dry out a little on the medium length finish. This was a very hot vintage with no rain during harvest. Ronald Symington stated, “…Rarely have weather conditions varied to such extremes during a vintage.” 90 points
1965 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: Another bottle that seemed to divide the group between those that preferred the 1964 and 1965. Lighter in color and with more cedar on the nose than the ’64 this initially showed more age. Yet the palate still had lots of tannins, better acidity, dried strawberries and figs later in the finish. I liked the youthfulness of the palate better on this than the 1964 and although close, my preference was for this vintage. This was another long hot and dry vintage with only a little rain during the harvest that did little good. Yet despite those conditions this has held up quite well. 91 points
1966 Graham’s Vintage Port: A very dark ruby with just a touch of pink at the edge. Still very youthful and fruit driven on the nose with some unmistakable amounts of chocolate also showing through. I couldn’t help but immediately notice how full bodied this was. Plenty of fruit, tannins, acidity, and structure to keep this going for at least several more decades. Even the finish was still very tannic with that signature dollop of cigar box (tobacco) showing up late. This also was quite sweet and considering it has a Bauméof 4.0 no wonder. It’s interesting to note Paul said 1966 wasn’t held in super high regard early on and this was originally considered a “Peasant vintage” in Portugal. All I got to say is the “peasants” sure must have drunk well when this was released. 96 points
1968 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: Still retaining a dark ruby color I was more intrigued by the pine resin on the nose. While this was good and sweet up front, it was quite harsh and didn’t have that elegance of the prior vintages. It also faded out rather quickly on the mid-palate and drops off sharply on the finish. It rained continuously from September 12th to the 24th and only on the 20-22nd did a strong wind blow to help dry things out. The lower regions of the Douro suffered from rot. Although things improved after the 24th, this was still a very difficult year in the Douro and this bottle shows that. 87 points
1970 Graham’s Vintage Port: Still a medium ruby I was surprised the 1966 was darker. With its complex nose full of young plums this was also a bottle I enjoyed just smelling. Like the 1966, this was full bodied and had an amazing sensation of building in the mouth as it led into a huge full finish. One of the better showing of this I’ve had recently. 95 points
1976 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: One of the driest winters on record, it rained throughout the vintage and temperatures never rose above 20/22°. Sadly this bottle was corked, yet even that couldn’t stop some of the fruit from showing through. I would love to try this again one day. N/R
1978 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: While this showed plenty of fruit, good body, and lots of tannins, it too was corked. Such a shame as it held so much promise even from a faulty bottle. N/R
1979 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: From two separate 375ml bottles. A light ruby that showed a bit advanced for its age. The nose on this smelled very pruny and almost sickly sweet stewed fruit. The palate also had lots of stewed fruit on a thin and hot body. This wasn’t pleasant at all and I scored it 81 points. However, the second bottle was quite different with its strong tannins, cherries, licorice, and menthol. 86 points
1982 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: Another bottle where I was amazed at how dark ruby this was. An interesting and soft nose full of cranberries, tea leafs, and pine resin. Quite the complex nose compared to some of the other vintages. An amazing amount of spicy up-front fruit assails the palate and really made me sit up and take notice. Still such an incredibly youthful Port that doesn’t stop giving. Along with the 1982 Niepoort VP, this is one of the best I’ve had from this rarely talked about vintage. I’ve never seen this for sale, but I would love to buy some if I could find it. Michael Symington wrote in August 1982, “…Prospect excellent” and he was right! 94 points
1984 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: Also quite dark, but a touch lighter than the ’82. Again, that tea leaf is prominent on the nose along with some flowers. A little lighter in body than the 1982, the fruit was simpler and with straight forward strawberries and only moderate tannins. A good bottle but it will be a much earlier maturing one compared to the 1982. 90 points
1985 Graham’s Vintage Port: A nice purple with some tight dark berries on the nose. Rich and dense this is full bodied from front to back. Again that trademark cedar shows late on the finish. A bottle still in its infancy so if you have them put them away. 94 points
1986 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: Still such youthful dark colors, darker than the 1985, with a tight nose only later giving up some deep dark fruit. Dense chewy tannins immediately assail the palate and never seem to stop. Lovely dark berries and pepper are still very much in their infancy. The one thing which really stood out was how fresh this was, showing more like 2000 VP. This has a long way to go before it matures and one of the better showings of this I’ve had in a while. I was torn between 95-96 points and couldn’t decide. So my score stands at 95-96 points
1987 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: Still a very deep purple and not showing any signs it’s almost 23 years old. Another sweeter vintage at 3.9 Baumé. Wow, again so young it’s amazing! Big dark cherries and pepper are offset by the large chewy tannins. Again that cedar pops up on the very long finish. This is another stunning Port and adds to my theory that 1987 should have been a declared year. This is only just a little less complex than the 1986, but that’s splitting some fine hairs. 95 points
1988 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: Still retaining a nice dark ruby with a heavily perfumed nose. Lighter in body than the ’86 and ’87 with some spicy pepper and lots of cedar across the palate and into the finish. A nice Port that is drinking well at the moment yet still has probably another 10-15 years before it plateaus. 91 points
1990 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: This bottle had signs of seepage when Derek and I decanted it and it was riddled with massive VA. I think I was one of the few who dared taste it and this bottle was badly cooked. Not a bad vintage mind you, just a bad bottle that suffered from poor storage somewhere along the way. N/R
1992 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: From a 375ml bottle. A medium dark ruby, but not as dark as the 1988. I enjoyed the youthful and expressive blackberries and prunes on the nose. Lovely blueberries were still youthful. Yet this seemed more open and approachable than the ‘86/87’s were. At 3.4 Baumé this was on the dryer side. 90 points
1995 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: From a 375ml bottle. The color was about the same as the 1992. Something wasn’t right as the nose smelled cooked and the palate was very hot, lacking fruit and seemed very off. Paul also commented there was something not right about this bottle. N/R
1996 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: A deep purple color and a tight nose that didn’t give up much. The tannins were rough and it didn’t help that the fruit was also not giving up much on the palate. I think this is in an awkward place at the moment, yet later in the evening it showed good promise for the future. Let this sleep for a while longer until it comes out of this phase it’s in. Of note, there were 487 pipes produced at Malvedos this vintage. The highest amount ever produced. 93 points
1998 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: Deeply extracted and like the 1996 the nose wasn’t willing to give up much. Big full fruit immediately charge in while the dusty tannins following close behind. While the fruit is also still tight this had an incredibly long finish. Compared to 1996 with its high production, 1998 had the lowest yields ever at only .6 kg per vine! 92 points
1999 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: This had plenty of fruit initially it was lighter in body and a bit hot with a clipped finish. Drink now – 15 years. 87 points
2001 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: Lots of rich blackberries on the nose. Another one of those bottles that grabs you by the seat of your pants from the moment you taste it. From its massive full rich fruit to its dense tannins and long finish, what’s not to love. 92-93 points
2003 Graham’s Vintage Port: This is just tittering on being Squid Ink it’s so dark. A very expressive nose of violets and blueberries that’s hard to stop smelling. This is a massive Port in all aspects and not one for the faint of heart. The massive tannins are dominating everything right now and making this hard to drink. But many decades from now this will be a beautifully mature Port. 96-97 points
2004 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: Jet black Squid Ink in every sense of the word. The nose wasn’t all that pleasant due to some tankiness still present. Have no fears, that is normal in young VP’s and will integrate shortly. While this is still very youthful and tight, it had all the right parts to make a lovely VP in time. 91-92 points
2006 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port: Another “Squid Ink” colored Port with lots of tanky notes on the nose, this is one beast of a wine. Full throttle blackberries, chocolate and a wall of tannins are amazing. But the amount of complexity on the palate is where this really shined for such a young Port. Many people have written off 2006 as being not a good year, they obviously haven’t tasted this little gem. While I put a range in, my notes state “More to 94 than 92.” 92-94 points
2008 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port (Cask Sample): I first must state that Paul Symington hand carried this over for the tasting. It is a “work-in-progress” sample and may or may not be the final blend. So this tasting note is only for this bottle and may or may not represent future bottles. Wow a lovely nose of pure violets that is so seductive. This blend is 60% Touriga Nacional and for about a ½ second after you sip it you think it will be a soft Port. Then it just hammers your mouth with massive fruit, tannins, and acidity. I felt like I went a round with Mike Tyson. Plenty of chocolate on the long finish cap off such great potential in this Port. We all loved this one and did our best to convince Paul this was the one to bottle. Again my notes state “Closer to 95.” 93-95 points