The award winning Vinum Restaurant and Wine Bar, located in Graham’s historic 1890 Lodge in V. N. de Gaia, has once again been honoured by being named as the “Portuguese Restaurant with the Best Wine Service”. The award, conferred by the Portuguese magazine Wine in their “Best of 2014 Awards”, singled Vinum out from among some of the most prestigious restaurants in the country, further confirming its reputation as one of Portugal’s best.
Opened in 2013 as part of the renovation of the Graham’s 1890 Lodge, the partnership between the Symington family and the Basque restaurateurs Sagardi has been going from strength to strength, already having received several national and international awards and acclaim from both critics and the general public alike.
The year 2013 saw the restaurant granted the title of “Restaurant of the Year” by the magazine Revista de Vinhos, which was followed in 2014 by the attribution of an award for the “Best of Wine Tourism” in the category of wine restaurants by Great Wine Capitals (a network of 10 major cities in the worlds best wine producing regions). This accolade not only secured Vinum’s reputation in the Douro region and Portugal, but also among the greatest wine regions of the world.
A promising start to 2015, the most recent award from Wine magazine has praised Vinum for the quality and selection of the wines on offer, which represent not only the best of Douro DOC and Portuguese wines, but also of Port and international wines from other Primum Familiae Vini (an association of wine producing families) producers. The food was also commended for being seasonal and variable, with some dishes, like the T-bone steak from 7/8 year old field raised cattle from Trás-os-Montes (a region in northern Portugal), quickly becoming classics.
When combined with the incredible surroundings of the recently renovated Graham’s Lodge, the spectacular views of the Douro and the city of Porto, and the impeccable service and knowledge of the Vinum staff, the restaurant comes highly recommended at any time by Wine magazine’s “Best of 2014” awards.
The mesmerizing Salão Arábe in Porto’s Palácio da Bolsa was the perfect setting for this special tasting. Framed by the intricately carved walls and stained-glass windows of this sublime room the Mayor of Porto and Rui Falcão, one of Portugal’s top wine journalists, introduced Paul and Charles Symington and the family’s 2011 Vintage Ports.
The 2011 Vintage Ports have made a lot of noise in the wine world since they were declared earlier last year. Jancis Robinson, wine-writer for The Financial Times, praised them as, “The best 2011 reds anywhere”. These wines, she said, have put Vintage Port firmly back on the world’s fine wine map. Proof of this, some other influential people were in the audience, amongst them Manuel Moreira, former sommelier of the year, and André Ribeirinho, the food and wine journalist.
Charles and Paul talked eloquently about the wines their family had made. A Port Winemaker, they explained, is like a painter who needs to have a whole array of colours before him on his palate to choose from. Vintage Port is a wine made from the grapes of multiple complimentary vineyards; the result is that the final wine achieves a balance and complexity that surpasses any of the individual lotes. This makes Vintage Port unique amongst the fine wines of the world.
“Charles came to me some years ago saying, ‘I need more small tanks,’” said Paul. The reason for this, he explained, was to allow Charles to store small quantities of wine separately, thereby avoiding the need to blend the wines from different parcels of vineyard at 3am during the Vintage time when there was no conceivable way of properly assessing the wines. Simply put, this expands the ‘palate’ of wines available to Charles and his winemaking team.
The skill and precision that this process involves was demonstrated in the first part of the tasting. Charles guided the audience through a tasting of the component wines in Graham’s 2011 Vintage Port from each of Graham’s five Douro Quintas. Each property has distinctive characteristics, which these wines expressed. And the job of the winemaker is to marry them together to create the perfect balance. (More detail on this part of the tasting and the individual characteristics of the component wines from Graham’s Quintas will be published here soon.)
There was still more to come, though. Graham’s Stone Terraces 2011 Vintage Port was next on the stage. This year was the first in which this wine was made. It is a very specific expression of micro-terroir, made only from two small old terraced vineyards next to the river, below the house at Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos, one North-facing and the other South-facing. It couldn’t be more different, in terms of the approach to winemaking, to the Graham’s Vintage Port.
The success that this potentially quite challenging wine has achieved since it was made has been amply demonstrated by the awards lavished upon it. It was voted amongst the Top 10 Portuguese Wines by a panel of 18 international journalists at Essência do Vinho and subsequently selected as the Best Port Wine. Revista de Vinhos gave it 19/20 points. Jancis Robinson gave it 18.5/20 describing it as “stunning…racy…distinctive”. While James Suckling and the Wine Spectator each gave it 97/100 points.
No one was left in any doubt by the end of this tasting as to the appropriateness of Jancis Robinson’s remarks: “the best 2011 reds anywhere”. But more than anything, it was quite clear that there was a lot more to come from these wines … Stay tuned to find out more.
10th EDITION OF ESSÊNCIA DO VINHO ‘ ESSENCE OF WINE’ FESTIVAL
The Essência do Vinho, now in its tenth edition, is the principal wine event held annually in northern Portugal, and generates ever increasing interest not just from the trade — wine professionals, sommeliers and restaurateurs — but also from consumers (Portuguese and foreign) as well as journalists from Portugal and from farther afield. The organizers prepared a very comprehensive and interesting programme for the 2013 edition, featuring a number of tutored tastings, which revolve around varied themes, involving both Portuguese wines and wines from other countries. More than 20,000 visitors are expected over the four-day event (7th – 10th February).
The venue is the magnificent old Stock Exchange building in Porto (the Palácio da Bolsa) and under its covered, lofty courtyard, 350 wine producers are showing visitors over 3000 different wines. This has always proven one of the reasons for the event’s great popularity: the fact consumers, and wine enthusiasts generally, can discuss their favourite wines directly with the producers and winemakers themselves. The atmosphere is very relaxed and very rewarding for the scope it allows visitors in tasting wines from Portugal’s varied and rich wine heritage, ranging from the country’s great fortified wines (Port and Madeira) to the up-and-coming dry wines from the Douro, Alentejo and the Dão, as well as those from other less well known regions.
One of the themed tastings that has generated greatest interest over the last few days has been Symington Family Estates’s ‘Voyage in Time: 3 Centuries – 10 Wines’ — a tutored tasting hosted by Paul Symington on Saturday, February 9th. Indeed as soon as it was announced, it was almost immediately sold out and the organizers approached the family asking if it were possible to accommodate more people (from the original starting figure of 25). This isn’t quite as simple as it sounds, because when you’ve only got a few dozen bottles of the legendary Graham’s 1948 left in your private family cellar, it isn’t a mute point! In the end, a few additional people were accommodated and they were very grateful that they managed a place because the tasting proved to be indeed memorable.
Of the 10 Ports tasted, Graham’s provided the main offering, showing 5 wines; the 1948, 1963 and 1970 Vintages, as well as the 1952 (‘Diamond Jubilee’) and 1935 Colheita, or Single Harvest Tawnies. Landmark Vintage Ports from the family’s three other Port marques (Cockburn, Dow and Warre) were also present and the tasting culminated on a very high note with the unprecedented opportunity of sampling a treasured family heirloom, a very old family reserve (cask-matured) Port dating from the late 19th century. The tasting was held in the ‘Arab Salon’ — an exquisitely decorated chamber of the old stock exchange well known as a venue for ceremonial events.
The first Graham’s wine shown was the 1970, heralded as one of the finest Vintage Ports of the second half of the twentieth century. Paul commented to the captive audience of tasters that, in his opinion, this is indeed one of the finest 3 or 4 Vintages of the last half-century. The 1970 holds a particular significance for Paul and his family as it was the first Graham’s Vintage made by them, shortly after acquiring the famous Port house. Paul’s father and his cousins, who made the wine, couldn’t have wished for a more auspicious start. One could say this Port is 43 years young, such is the evident capacity of this impressive wine to carry on developing still further (years? decades?). But if you are fortunate enough to have this gorgeous wine in your cellar, why wait any longer to enjoy it?? It is drinking magnificently well right now.
The next wine sampled was the 1963, and once again one could be forgiven for heaping superlatives on this half-century old Port. As Paul pointed out — just how many of the world’s fine wines can reach 50 years of age and still show such balance, complexity, sheer completeness? The 1963 was a landmark Vintage; it marked a turnaround in Port’s fortunes following the post world war II era when sales of Port took a long time to recover.
The legendary Graham’s 1948 was next and it proved one of the several high points of the tasting. As Paul remarked, “this is a wine that commands respect and admiration”. The wine showed an ethereal quality, with hints of mint, cinnamon and nuances of coffee (a distinctive hallmark of the 1948). A superbly refined wine with ripple after ripple of flavours and sensations, culminating with an endless, persistent aftertaste. Recovering from flu, Paul told the audience that he was feeling much better for sampling all these superb wines — the very best medicine he could take for a speedy recovery! This is a wine that deserves to be enjoyed on its own, without any unnecessary distractions.
Following this majestic trio of Vintages, Paul guided the gathered tasters through the other great interpretation of the art of Port: the cask-matured wines. The exquisitely elegant and charming Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee surprised the tasters with its vitality and freshness, belying its 60 years of age. The subtlety of the 1935 enchanted all those present, but the best was kept till last: the family reserve dating from the late 19th century. The concentration and complexity of this exceptional wine left everyone spellbound by its sheer intensity and presence. Layer upon layer of flavours teased the assembled palates, leaving everybody enchanted. The aftertaste will linger for a long time in the memory of those who were privileged to take part in this tasting.