Quarles Harris, Gould Campbell and Smith Woodhouse 1970 – 1994

Once again I am very grateful to the Port Forum, especially Rob Coombes, for inviting me to this triple vertical tasting of three second tier houses belonging to the Symington family. All three of these shippers have a reputation for value-for-money Vintage Port and I was interested both to see how the wines from all three houses have developed as well as to compare the style of the wines. At the end of the tasting two conclusions were immediately evident: (1) you generally get what you pay for and while there were some good wines here there were no hidden gems (except perhaps Smith Woodhouse 1977 which was corked). (2) There isn’t much in the way of a house style evident for either Quarles Harris or Gould Campbell, neither of which are attached to a particular property in the way that Dow, Graham and Warre are. I suspect that both QH and GC are an exercise in blending the leftovers after the main wines have been fine tuned and finessed. Smith Woodhouse (which usually sells for a premium) has a more definable house style. It is attached to properties in the Rio Torto, particularly Quinta de Madelena, and won this tasting hands-down although I should emphasise that none of the wines were close to what I would term as ‘classic’.   

The wines below are presented by shipper in the order they were tasted. 

Quarles Harris 1970 ***

Brick red centre with a pink amber rim; either closed or hollow on the nose?, I suspect the latter, vague milk chocolate fruit aroma; light, soft and sweet, still standing up well with good firm spicy tannins rising in the mouth. 15

Quarles Harris 1977 ***

Good mid-deep youthful colour; still quite tight knit on the nose with a character in between milk chocolate and dark chocolate, perhaps with more to give; sweet and peppery, spicy, quite dry but standing up well, attractive, fresh berry fruit character, minerally underneath slightly let down by a rather dry, austere finish. A good ‘77 but lacking length and breadth. 16   

Quarles Harris 1980 ****

Very deep opaque black colour, in common with a number of the Symington ‘80s, thin browning rim; solid, rich plum and berry fruit, quite opulent in style on the nose; rich and fleshy, lovely, sweet voluptuous fruit backed by firm tannins, not big or long on the finish but well balanced. 17

Quarles Harris 1983 ***

Mid deep, youthful colour, pink-purple rim; not much on the nose, rather flat with some underlying minerally fruit; well developed, still firm and spicy with good tannic grip mid-palate (in common with many ‘83s), tight knit towards the finish but rather boney and lacking flesh. Short. 15.5

Quarles Harris 1985 **

Looking more mature than the ’83, mid-deep with a broad browning rim; rather cooked aromas, liquorice both on the nose and palate, full and sweet but now starting to fall apart. Short but correct (given the tendency for this vintage to throw up some volatile, out of condition wines). 14

Quarles Harris 1991 *

Pale to mid deep in colour, pink rim, just on the turn; hot and rather lumpy on the nose, not very well knit together; again rather hot and spirity on the palate, spirit showing right through to the finish, perhaps just a phase (but I doubt it), not a very enjoyable drink. 12

Quarles Harris 1994 *** / ****

Good, deep centre, thin purple rim; still closed with underlying ripeness evident, showing off the heat of the year; soft, sweet and fleshy, just as you would expect from this vintage, rich plummy flavours with good breath and depth, ripe tannins to back it up, looking good now but would benefit from another five years in bottle. 16.5

Gould Campbell 1970 **

Brick red centre, browning on the rim; even more subdued on the nose than the QH 1970, hollow; quite light but sweet and gentle with milk chocolate intensity, some charm but without much depth or power and rather short. 14

Gould Campbell 1977 (bottle) ****

Very good colour, still deep and youthful; dense on the nose, suggests that there may be more to give; still firm with lovely fleshy fruit and ripe, dusty tannic grip rising in the mouth, big, solid foursquare finish, quite dry in style but tight-knit and firm. A good 1977 with more to go at. 17

Gould Campbell 1977 (magnum) **

Deep but surprisingly showing more brown on the rim; oxidised on the nose, loose knit; soft, sweet, ripe but lacking definition, better on the palate than on the nose, liquorice, good grip but not nearly as good as the bottle above. 13.5

Gould Campbell 1980 ***

Very deep, opaque with a thin browning rim; not quite as open or as opulent as the QH, a touch of tar and heat; rich but rather soupy and lacking focus, full, sweet and round, dark chocolate depth and good grip, finishes with a punch. Quite powerful if ill defined. 16

Gould Campbell 1983 ** / ***

Very good colour, still deep with a thin pink/purple rim, deeper than the QH; closed, sullen on the nose but some underlying depth here; firm tight knit, gritty tannins, not big, quite lean and boney, upright but linear. 14.5

Gould Campbell 1985 ***

Mid-deep with a pink-purple hue; attractive, open, clear fruit, a touch floral; soft and sweet, quite light and evolved, creamy fruit with a spike of tannin towards the finish, not very 1985 in style but holding together and drinking well. 15

Gould Campbell 1991 ***

Very good colour, still deep and youthful with a purple rim; tight, sullen and withdrawn, possibly with more to give; firm, linear with gritty tannins rather dominating the fruit, firm, dry finish, rather austere but standing up well. Better than the QH. 16

Gould Campbell 1994 **

Deep centre, just starting to brown on the rim; still closed but rather soupy and stewed underneath; tastes rather coarse too, still young and vibrant, some flesh (in common with the QH) but ill-defined and baked, perhaps just an adolescent phase but flat on the finish. Difficult to mark – revisit in five years. 14+?

Smith Woodhouse 1970 ***

Good, mid-deep youthful colour, the best of the ‘70s here with a pink rim; again quite demure on the nose with none of these wines singing from the glass in the manner of say Graham ’70, just a touch of underlying floral character; soft and mature but a bit simple and one dimensional, firm, quite austere in style towards the finish and, like so many of these wines, lacking a bit of flesh. 15.5

Smith Woodhouse 1977

Very good colour, best of the 77s but this sample was badly corked. Not tasted. No mark. 

Smith Woodhouse 1980 ****

Very good colour, dark, opaque centre, just starting to brown on the rim; lovely pure berry fruit aromas, still tight-knit with plenty more to go at; rich, dark chocolate intensity, firm, solid and tight-knit with a slightly rustic foursquare finish. [Voted best wine of the night]. 17 

Smith Woodhouse 1983 ***

Another very good colour; closed on the nose, austere and / or hollow (?); firm initially, yet with some richness and depth mid-palate, plumy fruit backed by dusty tannins, a little coarse but still standing up well with another 20 years life left at least. 15   

Smith Woodhouse 1985 (Berry Bros & Rudd) ****

Mid-deep youthful colour, pink rim; fragrant, attractive, floral, showing the ripeness of the vintage; soft, sweet and fleshy with a firm tannic backbone, ripe tannins, still a relative youngster and much more ‘85 in style than the GC above. [Voted second best wine of the evening] 17

Smith Woodhouse 1991 *

Quite pale and fully mature in colour, broad browning rim; hollow on the nose and on the palate, soft mid-palate but going nowhere fast, drying out. 12

Smith Woodhouse 1994 ****

Very good colour, thin purple rim, the darkest of the three ‘94s; dense, closed, underlying ripeness; big, rich and fleshy, quite dense and still a youngster, firm, ripe tannic superstructure followed by good length. Good now but better in five years. [Voted third best wine of the evening] 17.5

Location: RAF Club, London SW1

Scoring

19 - 20 An outstanding wine (*****)

17 – 18 An excellent wine in its class, highly recommended (****)

15 - 16 A good wine, with much to recommend it (***)

13 - 14 An enjoyable but simple, straightforward wine (**)

10 – 12 A very ordinary wine without faults but with no great merit (*)

8 - 10 Disagreeable (no stars)

Below 8 Faulty