The scene was set at the 33rd annual Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival. A gathering of consumers and media members packed the room to partake in a very special tasting of Port. Just moments before the presentation was to begin Rupert Symington approached me to join him on the podium to present a vertical of eight extraordinary examples of Graham’s Vintage Ports ranging from 2007 to 1970.
This was one of the premiere tastings featured this year, as “Fortified Wine” was one of the two main themes featured during the weeklong Vancouver wine festival. The room was filled with a mix of curious wine enthusiasts and some avid Port fans seeking to gain a greater understanding of Graham’s while sipping on some mighty impressive Vintage Ports. I felt somewhat unprepared, not even knowing what was included in the lineup; but how do you say no to Mr. Symington?
Rupert had prepared an agenda and eloquently spoke about the history of Graham’s, Quinta dos Malvedos and other vineyards involved in the mix, and he provided fine descriptions about treading in lagares, the cellar worthiness of Port and a brief discussion of the important period between 1720 and 1890, as well as what is the typical production levels for vintage releases of Graham’s. Great info!
We then turned directly to the actual tasting session, which began with the youngest Vintage Port and ended with the oldest:
2007 Graham’s Vintage Port – Opaque magenta with a purplish edge. Lush floral aromas with mocha and chocolate. Plum and boysenberry flavors with medium ripe tannins and a seamlessly, long finish. From a small crop that yielded only 72,000 bottles. I think it’s safe to say the 2007 Graham’s should age very well for 30-40 years. 94+ points 3/31/11
2003 Graham’s Vintage Port – Fantastic fragrance of freshly crushed grape exhibiting great purity and seasoned by scents of menthol and esteva. Dark fruit flavors prevail, bright, rich and concentrated. Although a powerful Port, its refined tannins and sublime texture lead up to a most stunning finish. Drink now to 2048. 9,000 cases produced. Graham’s excelled in this hot vintage! 95+ points 3/31/11
2000 Graham’s Vintage Port – Aromatically this was a bit reticent, but some coaxing allowed the red fruit notes to emerge. Medium weight and seemingly more vinous than either the 2003 or 2007. Smoky and spicy black cherry, cocoa and eucalyptus flavors melded beautifully. The 2000 is still very tannic and will support long term cellaring, improving for many years and showing more grip than either previous Port. Drink now or cellar through the middle decades of the century. A gorgeous young Vintage Port, it deserved more hours in decanter and would have performed even better. But why quibble about a great Graham’s like this? 94+ points 3/31/11
1994 Graham’s Vintage Port – Vinous, extremely balanced and offering scents of red licorice and raspberry fruit with a mocha note. The 1994 offers focused and concentrated fruit that stands out in a crowd. The acidity and ripe, round tannins deliver deft balance. This is going to reward patience and although easy to sip now, Graham’s ’94 will evolve at a high level for another 5 decades and should be permitted to improve in bottle. It’s a remarkable, classic Vintage Port. 95+ points 3/31/11
1985 Graham’s Vintage Port – The audience realized after having tasted their way through half of Graham’s stellar vintages; that they were onto something special with this 1985 offering. Great depth of color and deeply extracted, with no clue we were drinking a Port possessing a quarter century of bottle age. Great intensity and extraordinary density; this 1985 is unbelievably youthful. Spicy and sweet ripe plum and sandalwood seasoning, crisp acidity along with soft and mouth coating tannins. It is a Port for the ages; I look forward to seeing how well this will drink in 25 more years. 94+ points 3/31/11
1980 Graham’s Vintage Port – 1980 is likely the most underrated of the vintages included in this tasting. I have always been a great fan of the Dow, Warre, Gould Campbell & Graham’s Ports from this year. The Symington family seemed to “own the vintage.” Delicious, soft, classic Graham’s style; it’s still showing prominent tannins at 31 years of age. Sweet grenadine and ripe fig flavors along with eucalyptus, cocoa powder and a sublimely soft, smooth mouthfeel and persistent finish. 1980 was never considered a legendary vintage, but it just goes to show how soundly Graham’s performs even in vintages that were not appreciated by the critics when young. 1980 Graham’s will easily drink well for 15-20 more years from here. 92+ points 3/31/11
1977 Graham’s Vintage Port – I will admit when I am wrong. Throughout the early part of the 1990’s and up to the mid-point of the past decade, I was never a fan of the 1977 Graham’s. It was too hot and spirituous for my liking and I couldn’t see how after so many years, this would ever resolve itself. The last six bottles I’ve been a part of since 2005, have proved me wrong. The 1977 has finally morphed and today, it presents really well. Notes of prune, tea leaf, herbs and bouquet garni elicit an evocative aromatic profile. Delicious and finely balanced with vibrancy and round tannins providing structure at nearly 35 years of age. I see this continuing to improve for at least another 15 years before hitting a plateau. The “comeback kid” has arrived. 93+ points 3/31/11
1970 Graham’s Vintage Port – This was the first Vintage Port produced as the Symingtons purchased the firm from the Graham’s brothers in 1970. James Symington (Rupert’s father) actually made this very first vintage under the new ownership. I’ve always been a huge fan of this particular Graham’s and it is up there with other exalted Ports like Nacional, Fonseca & Taylor which is rarified territory in this brilliant vintage. This particular bottle was exemplary, a really fine showing; with an amazingly youthful appearance and a hedonistic, silky mouthfeel and great length. 96+ points 3/31/11
Graham’s has proven again, that the consistency of its Port, is its hallmark. It is my opinion, having led or participated in vertical tastings of all the major Port houses, that since WW2, no other Port producer has achieved the same level of excellence, regardless of vintage, as has Graham’s. Another remarkable quality of this shipper is the ability of its Vintage Ports to consistently age 50+ years.