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Memories come in many forms… Graham’s Ne Oublie Very Old Tawny Port

Three generations of the Symington Family (the custodians of Graham’s Port since 1970) have been launching Graham’s rare Ne Oublie Very Old Tawny Port: a wine dating from the time Andrew James Symington arrived in Portugal to work for Graham’s in 1882.

The wine was bought to commemorate the year of AJS’ arrival in Portugal and what would become the beginning of his family’s commitment to Port, the Douro and Portugal. This wine has become symbolic of the family’s legacy.

27 members of the Symingtons gathered at Christie’s in London for the official launch in the UK, followed a week later by the official event in the Graham’s 1890 Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia to reveal the wine in Portugal.

27 members of the Symington family at Christie's, London

Graham’s Ne Oublie has a touching story, which is told in every detail. The blood of three nations flows in the veins of the Symington family; so, it was only fitting that artisans from these three, Portugal, Scotland and England, should craft the packaging for this very rare, very special wine. The wine is bottled in an individually numbered, handmade crystal decanter designed by Portugal’s leading glass manufacturer Atlantis. Three sterling silver bands adorn the glass, moulded and engraved by Scottish silversmiths, Hayward & Stott and carrying the mark of the Edinburgh Assay office.

The leather case has been handmade by Smythson’s of Bond Street, luxury British leather craftsmen. This is a peculiarly apt expression of the family’s history, since Maurice Symington, grandfather of the current generation of directors, recorded his thoughts and experiences in leather diaries handmade by Frank Smythson himself.

When the small bottles of Ne Oublie were opened at Christie’s and at Graham’s Lodge to give journalists and fine wine merchants their first taste of this remarkable wine the whole room was filled with the wine’s complex perfumes.

Victoria Moore at The Telegraph described the experience:

“It’s an incredible piece of history… I could smell it a foot away from the glass, curling, intense, like bitter orange peel and caramelized clementines, then tasting rich with dried fruit and toasted almonds underneath it. Not like wine at all, really, but delicious. I was still enjoying the nose before I washed up this morning, emailed a friend who had poured a tiny glass the night before. That is some wine. And it will go on.”

After enduring over 130 hot summers first in the Douro and then in the cooler maritime climate of Vila Nova de Gaia on Portugal’s Atlantic coast this wine is something special.

Andrew Jefford in his article in World of Fine Wine captures this wine’s story:

“You simply can’t create complexity of this order in under a century or so, I suspect… There was a cleanliness and a precision about the wine, though, that was a testament to 130 years of exemplary stewardship… a synopsis of life and time.”

In their blog, Lea & Sandeman, ruminate on the impact that Ne Oublie might have: “As an exercise in shining a light on Port, Paul hopes this extravagant release will turn heads – and it certainly should, this is a fabulous, fascinating drink which illustrates brilliantly the remarkable potential and fascinating complexity achievable in this historic wine region.”

There is certainly a lot of excitement around this wine. Those present at these two launch events were privileged to witness the preview of a specially commissioned short film, directed by the Portuguese filmmaker Artur Serra Araújo, which you can see here. You can also read more information about the people and the stories behind this remarkable and rare treasure here.

The Symingtons have neatly summarised what this wine means to their family: Memories come in many forms; ours just happen to be in wine.

The best 2011 red wines anywhere

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.