There is a saying in the Port trade that whereas ‘vintage Port is made in the vineyard, tawny is made in the tasting room’. This tasting led by Paul and Johnny Symington marks a subtle change in direction for Graham’s as a producer of tawny Port. The change is in the tasting room where Charles Symington is now in charge. There is no longer any mileage in the rather patronising categorisation of British houses as vintage Port shippers and the Portuguese houses as tawny shippers. Forward thinking shippers of any nationality have to be capable of both.
There are however stylistic differences between houses, as was very apparent in 20 year old tawny tasting that I recently undertook for Decanter magazine. Graham’s seem to make tawny in a fuller, richer style than some other shippers with new emphasis parton the second part of the palate and finish. Johnny Symington explained ‘we are seeking balance which means less sweetness, less sugar leading to a cleaner sharper finish.’ This change of direction applies across the range of aged tawnies, from 10 year old to the 30 and 40 year olds, some of which have had a tendency to be cloying and unbalanced in the past.
Aged tawny is still a tiny part of the UK market for Port. Out of a total of nearly 1 million cases, just 38,500 are 10, 20, 30 and 40 Year old tawny or 3% of the market. But Paul Symington was keen to point out that tawnies ‘are very relevant to the future of Port.’ They are wonderful served chilled in the summer months without any need to decant and can be kept on ullage in the fridge for weeks or months without suffering the oxidation of an LBV or vintage Port. To back this assertion, 23% of Graham’s total stocks are old tawnies, all ageing in the so-called 1890 lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia. Unlike Dow or Warre, none of Graham’s tawnies are aged in the Douro where evaporation rates are higher. Nonetheless 2.5% of the wine is lost to the atmosphere each year amounting to a loss of 22% over ten years.
The following wines were shown at the tasting including three components, A, B and C that make up Graham’s 20 Year Old:
Graham’s 10 Year Old ****
Brick-red centre to tawny-amber on the rim; rich and fruit-driven on the nose, mellow summer fruit character; rich, full and spicy in style, broad and figgy, sweet and peppery on the finish, very clean and long, in no way sticky or cloying. 17.5
Graham’s 20 Year Old **** / *****
Mid-deep brick red to amber tawny; very elegant nutty aromas, soft and mellow; lovely dried fruit character, silky smooth initially with a touch of peppery tannin towards the finish, long and lovely, not especially smooth or suave on the finish but fresh and spicy. 18.5
The above wine, averaging 24 years in age, is made up the following components that are themselves blends:
A (15%) Deep in colour, still mid ruby with a thin browning rim; prunes and plums, quite rich and weighty, still loaded with spicy tannin, a little short in context. (14-15 years in wood)
B (15%) Brick red, broad browning rim; softer, more mellow woody/nutty in character; soft and rich, dried apricots, with more complexity and length (25 years in wood)
C (70%) Pale amber-orange tawny; lovely, gentle mellifluous secondary aromas, nuts, caramel and toffee with much less fruit evident, quite sweet in style with a delicate finish.
Graham’s 30 Year Old *****
Pale amber / orange tawny; orange peel and marmalade on the nose, very mellow but still wonderfully fresh and delicate in style; sweeter (4.1baumé compared to 4.0 baumé for the 20 year old), delicate but not fragile, mellifluous, long, gentle and suave. Great poise. Outstanding for a 30 year old. 19
Graham’s 40 Year Old **** / *****
Mid-pale amber, though slightly deeper than the 40 year old, touch of olive green on the rim; soft honeyed aromas, suave, complex and polished; lovely sweet, soft, sexy style, still very fresh with a savoury, woody character, raisins and almonds, nothing at all rustic about this (cp. some other 40 year olds), very smooth and dry on the finish, nothing cloying or funky! (4.3 baumé) 18.5
Graham’s 1969 Single Harvest ****
Mid-deep, touch of mahogany with a green tinge to the rim; very slightly lifted on the nose, dried fruit and a touch of roasted coffee bean; quite rich, sweet and concentrated initially, coffee again, toasty, smooth yet retaining some peppery spice mid-palate, rich and honeyed on the finish. A lovely wine but not quite so well poised as the blended wines. 18
Location: Fulham Road Wine Rooms, London
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