Tag Archives: Johnny Symington

1965 Revisited

In 2015, to mark 125 years since Graham’s first acquired Quinta dos Malvedos, a very limited quantity of Graham’s 1965 Quinta dos Malvedos Single Quinta Vintage Port was released. Now 50 years old, this exceedingly rare wine is as much a part of the history of one of the Douro’s greatest quintas, as it is proof of the remarkable longevity of Vintage Port. What better way to celebrate the wines of one of the greatest Douro Valley quintas than with a vertical tasting of some of the vineyard’s greatest wines of the last 50 years?

Organised to coincide with one of the most important Portuguese wine fairs, Encontro com o Vinho e Sabores, which takes place in Lisbon every year, a small group of journalists and wine enthusiasts assembled to taste nine wines produced at Quinta dos Malvedos between 1965 and 2014. However, before any event of this nature, a certain amount of preparation must be done.

Malvedos tasting
Johnny Symington examines the colour of the Quintas dos Malvedos 2014

A week before the tasting in Lisbon was due to take place, Johnny Symington spent an afternoon in the Graham’s tasting room in Vila Nova de Gaia tasting a number of Malvedos Vintages from the last half century. After much deliberation eight of the most representative examples of the unique terroir of Quinta dos Malvedos were selected join the 1965 at the tasting. From the most recent, the young and intense 2014, through the minty elegance of the 1995, and the surprising powerhouse of the 1986, the culmination of the tasting would undoubtedly be the fifty-year-old 1965.

A full house at the Quinta dos Malvedos vertical tasting in Lisbon
A full house at the Quinta dos Malvedos vertical tasting in Lisbon

Led by Johnny Symington and Henry Shotton, the winemaker at Malvedos, the tasting in Lisbon was a huge success, and both professional wine journalists and enthusiasts alike felt privileged to have the opportunity to experience some of the history of both Quinta dos Malvedos and of one of the world’s classic wines.

The power of the young Malvedos Vintage Ports, combined with the growing complexity of flavours and aromas found through the older wines was a tremendous experience, and when the tasting reached its pinnacle in the 1965, it was summed up in one word by Johnny Symington when he said, “paraíso” (paradise).

Johnny Symington and Henry Shotton presenting the Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Ports

The full list of wines tasted was:

2014, 2010, 2004,1999,1995,1986,1982,1976,1965.


Vintage Port’s standing as one of the world’s great classic wines was confirmed and strengthened at Christie’s Fine Wine Auction held in London on October 23rd, 2014. The majority of the Vintage Port lots submitted for auction achieved prices above Christie’s High Estimate price markers, reflecting the great interest generated by some very rare lots of wine that attracted high bids.

Cover Christies WJG45_AmsThe auction revealed Vintage Port’s relevance in today’s market for fine wines with bidders willing to pay final hammer prices, which in many cases were well above the High Estimate price. An apt example of this was provided by an auction lot of 6 bottles of Graham’s legendary 1945 which went for £6,500, well above Christie’s indicated High Estimate of £4,800 and also — very significantly — 30% more than an identical lot of Graham’s ’45 that was auctioned at a Christie’s Fine Wine Sale two years ago in Amsterdam. A reminder if one were needed that the 1945 Vintage Port, one of the twentieth century’s finest, is now extremely rare.

Cover Christies WJG45_LonThe Graham’s 1963 also achieved a magnificent result with an auction lot of 6 bottles going for £1,800, again well above Christie’s High Estimate indication of £1,100 (or 64% more than the High Estimate marker).

Graham’s Johnny Symington who attended the auction was very pleased with the outstanding performance of Graham’s Vintage Ports, not just with regard to the older wines but also more recent Vintages such as the 2011 (Graham’s The Stone Terraces Vintage Port) and the 2000. Johnny and his cousin Clare were invited to host a pre-sale dinner at Christie’s attended by Christie’s guests on the night before, and this proved an equally successful event, which paved the way for the auction itself.

Edwin Vos, Christie’s International Senior Wine Specialist, wrote to Johnny the day after the auction: “I guess we have shown that vintage port is very much alive. The interest the Symington wines received from our dinner guests and during the sale was encouraging.”



We thought that we were almost home and dry (literally) but following a welcome spell of three days in a row with no rain and quite a lot of sunshine, the rain put in an appearance again yesterday (Saturday). Thursday and Friday started off with crisp, sunny conditions, the maximum temperature reaching a balmy 28ºC on Friday and although yesterday was still quite warm (26ºC) the rain returned, dashing our hopes of a final stretch of harvesting under completely dry conditions. We were counting on no more rain in order to give the late ripening Touriga Franca a chance to dry off and ripen completely. Alas it was not to be.

Picking the Touriga Franca from parcel 15 at Quinta dos Malvedos.
Picking the Touriga Franca from parcel 15 at Quinta dos Malvedos.

On Thursday, as planned we started bringing in the Touriga Franca (TF), initially from Quinta do Tua and then from Malvedos as well. The first lagar of TF from Tua gave 12.5º Baumé, evidently reflecting some dilution resulting from the wet as well as humid conditions of the last week or so. Subsequent loads began to show improved Baumés of around 13 and 13.5º. In the vineyards our pickers have been quite selective and this has meant we have been receiving good fruit in the winery. Objectively however, we have to accept that the rain that arrived about halfway through our vintage here at Malvedos did have some adverse effects on the Touriga Franca. But we count ourselves lucky because we have faired much better than many other Quintas, particularly downriver from us.

Picking the Touriga Franca above the house at Malvedos, while clouds laden with rain loom overhead.
Picking the Touriga Franca above the house at Malvedos, while clouds laden with rain loom overhead.

Charles pointed out that Malvedos has had by far the least amount of rain of any of the vineyards owned by the Symington family and he can categorically say that the wines made so far (in particular before the Franca was harvested) here at Malvedos have been exceptionally good. The weather really has been totally unpredictable and the fact that Malvedos has had comparatively less rain is indicative of just how localized some storms have been. And then there’s rain and there’s rain…Charles explained that whereas at Malvedos and further upriver into the Douro Superior the rain has come mainly in the form of sudden concentrated downpours which run off quite easily down the vineyard slopes, the persistent rain in the lower Douro that has fallen on and off has created a situation of continuous humidity with inevitable results. In Charles’s opinion, this difference in the way the rain has come down in certain areas will almost certainly prove decisive in the outcome of this vintage.

Quinta dos Malvedos looking towards the West.
Quinta dos Malvedos looking towards the West.

Johnny Symington, one of Graham’s three Joint Managing Directors came by Malvedos on Wednesday on his whistle-stop tour of some of the family’s Douro wineries. Johnny tasted the newly made wines at each Quinta visited. He started at Vesuvio and wound his way down the valley to Senhora da Ribeira, Canais, Malvedos, Bomfim and ended up at Sol. He was accompanied by Paula Pontes, who was reviewing the telecommunication systems at the various adegas (wineries), ensuring the systems were functioning well and seeing what improvements can be made for the future.

Johnny and Paula tasting a Touriga Nacional - Sousão co-fermented wine.
Johnny and Paula tasting a Touriga Nacional – Sousão co-fermented wine.

Johnny was especially impressed with the excellence of the wines from Malvedos and from the Douro superior Quintas. Of exceptional note, were the Touriga Nacional wines, some of them fermented together with Sousão grapes (including some of the lots vinified at Malvedos). They were very impressive. “It is certainly a great Touriga Nacional year from what I have seen”, said Johnny.

Paula and Johnny joined Charles Symington, Henry Shotton and the winery teams from Malvedos and Tua for lunch in the Tua canteen. They seemed equally impressed with the excellence of the lunch.  A healthy black bean stew with grilled pork, rice and plenty of vindima banter round the table. It was a welcome break during their whistle-stop tour. Johnny said it was magnificent to see the Bomfim lagar winery up and running and making some excellent wines. Again, it was two Touriga Nacional wines that won the day from this impressive new facility.

Finishing off at Sol, presented an opportunity to taste the Douro DOC wines the Symington family also produces. Pedro Correia tasted with Johnny three beautiful Vesuvio lots that show real potential. A quick visit to the Sol canteen (not to eat this time!) to see how the cooks, Filomena and Adelina, were coping with the 120 meals served at breakfast, lunch and dinner each day to the winery and administration teams. As usual, they were full of beans as were the extra-large cooking pots. The excellent aroma of the evening barbeque was proof enough that the old military adage “An army marches on its stomach” is equally applicable to the good functioning of a winery team.


Which Port Did Johnny Symington Enjoy This Christmas?

Johnny Symington at the launch of the Graham's 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port earlier this year
Johnny Symington at the launch of the Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port earlier this year

Just before Christmas our Vintage Port Site blogger asked the Symingtons and colleagues around the office what Ports they would be enjoying with their holiday feasts.

We only heard from Johnny Symington the morning after Christmas, but wanted to share his story with you:

Sorry not to reply earlier, I only decided on Christmas eve.

Having had a Pre launch taster of the Graham’s 1952 at last years Christmas lunch (before it was the Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port and before it was approved by the palace and served at the Sovereign Heads Lunch at Windsor Castle). I decided on Christmas Eve this year that I would finish the Diamond Jubilee year with the same wine and celebrate and reflect on the outstanding PR success  that this wine has had for Graham’s.

The Graham's 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port
The Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port

So as I sipped and reflected at our Christmas Dinner this year the overwhelming thought was “no wonder it was such a success, the wine is so delicious and over delivers in every respect”.

As we go into 2013 this wine becomes a collectors’ item of great rarity and significance.

You can read more about which Ports we enjoyed during our holiday festivities on The Vintage Port Site blog.

How about you? What Ports have you enjoyed this holiday season, or are looking forward to in the coming week?  We would love to hear from you!

Berry Bros. & Rudd and Graham’s

For generations the Berrys, of London wine merchants Berry Bros. & Rudd, and the Symingtons have worked together to bring Graham’s Ports to England, the oldest and still one of the strongest markets for fine Port wines.  Every harvest season we enjoy hosting members of BBR’s team in the Douro so they can better understand the region and winemaking behind these superb Ports.

This year, as is customary, our guests stayed at Quinta dos Malvedos and Graham’s winemaker Henry Shotton showed them over the winery and then took them up into the vineyards.  With Malvedos as their base of operations Johnny Symington led the group on visits to Dow’s Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira, Quinta do Vesuvio and to Quinta de Roriz, where in collaboration with Bruno Prats we make our finest Douro DOC wines, Chryseia and Post-Scriptum, as well as a Vintage Port in extraordinary years.

The highlight of the visit, however, was a celebratory dinner at The Factory House hosted by Graham’s to thank Berry Bros. & Rudd as well as the SFE team who contributed in their respective ways to the outstanding success of the Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port in the UK market.

Berry Brothers & Rudd and Graham’s celebratory evening at the Factory House

Left to right, back row:  Richard Girling, John E Fells & Sons; Johnny Symington, Joint Managing Director, SFE; Charles Newman, Sales and Services, BBR; Jonathan White, Direct & Interactive Marketing Manager, BBR; Euan Mackay, Sales Director, SFE; Miguel Potes, Communications Manager, SFE; Henri Sizaret, Vice President, Marketing, SFE; Left to right, front row:  Jackie Thurn-Valsassina, Event & Visits Manager, SFE; Vicky Williams – PR Manager, BBR; Irene Fernandes, Market Assistant (UK), SFE; Laura Atkinson – Fine Wine Private Account Manager, SFE; Anabela Mouta, PA to Johnny Symington & Vintage Port Management, SFE; Eliana Soares, Graham’s Marketing Manager, SFE; Corinne Graham – Cellar Plan and Wine Club Administrator

The evening at the Factory House began with cocktails, and Euan Mackay, Graham’s Sales Director, explained the history and significance of The Factory House as the home of the Port trade and Vintage Port.

Dinner naturally featured our Altano and Chryseia wines with the main courses before moving on to a spectacular succession of fine Ports.  The Graham’s 30 Year Old Tawny was served with a chocolate fondant with tangerine sorbet and mascarpone, perfect to enhance the complex flavours of this old Tawny.

As is traditional at the Factory House, the guests then moved through to the second dining room, the better to savour their after-dinner Ports away from any lingering aromas of food.

Johnny Symington raised a toast to Her Majesty the Queen of England and The President of Portugal, with a glass of the 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port.  He went on to make a brief speech thanking Berry Bros. & Rudd for the long association and friendship we have shared for generations, and the role BBR has played in establishing Vintage Port as one of the world’s greatest wines.  Johnny went on to thank all present from both Berry Bros. & Rudd and Graham’s for their various contributions to the success of the 1952 project in the UK.

Vicky Williams, Public Relations Manager for Berry Bros. & Rudd, responded with a toast to friendship.  The evening continued over a superb bottle of Graham’s Vintage Port 1970.

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The Spirit of Chartwell: From the Thames to the Douro

The Spirit of Chartwell, shortly after its arrival from the UK, moored alongside Oporto’s ‘Ribeira’ quarter. Photo courtesy of Adelaide Carneiro

On Friday, 14th of September, just a couple of days before the vintage started at Malvedos, the Spirit of Chartwell crossed the bar of the Douro after completing its sea voyage from Ramsgate in Kent. Readers will no doubt remember that this was the Royal barge in which the Queen and other members of the Royal Family sailed down the Thames for the Diamond Jubilee Pageant on June 3rd — the highlight of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. The Portuguese entrepreneur, Mário Ferreira, whose thriving company, ‘Douro Azul’ operates river cruises along the Douro River, acquired the Spirit of Chartwell from its British owner, Philip Morrell. The latter was unable to obtain from the relevant authorities a license to operate the vessel on a tourist route along the Thames.

The Spirit of Chartwell, in its new home: Oporto, from where it will sail up the Douro River on regular cruises from March 2013.

In a shrewd move, Mário Ferreira contacted Philip Morrell, whom he has known for a long time and made an offer to purchase Spirit of Chartwell. His approach was well timed as it pre-empted other prospective buyers and the deal was swiftly sealed in June, just weeks after the royal pageant on the Thames. The Spirit of Chartwell will join Mário Ferreira’s growing fleet of river cruisers whose customers are drawn from all over the world, attracted by the magnificent scenery of the Douro and — of course — by its renowned wines.

Mário Ferreira (left) presents a bottle of Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port to Oporto’s Mayor, Rui Rio, as Johnny Symington looks on.

The 64 metre Spirit of Chartwell, fitted with 14 luxury cabins and one royal suite, will operate exclusive luxury cruises on the Douro, whose theme will be centred very much around the valley’s fine wines, which the cruise programmes will showcase amidst the exceptional surroundings of the Quintas’ terraced vineyards. It is likely that Spirit of Chartwell will become the Douro Azul flagship vessel and given its royal associations it will undoubtedly attract a great deal of interest from travellers from around the world, keen to experience for themselves The Spirit of Chartwell’s regal comforts. According to local press reports, the vessel will begin regular cruises from March next year.

Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Colheita Port

On the evening of September 15th, Johnny Symington attended the inauguration party on board Spirit of Chartwell, which served to present the unique craft to local dignitaries and to other guests. Johnny has reached agreement with Mário Ferreira for Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port to be served and sold to guests on board Spirit of Chartwell. This will mark an interesting and meaningful association between two participants of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. During the reception aboard Spirit of Chartwell, Mário Ferreira presented a bottle of Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port to the Mayor of Oporto, Rui Rio.

Malvedos Winemaker’s Update: Saturday, 22 September

Quinta do Tua Touriga Nacional showing excellent colour even before treading
Touriga Nacional bunches are exceptionally small this year

It was another hot day at Malvedos, although in the afternoon the wind got up, stirring up some dust storms, and it does look as if the weather will change tomorrow.

Today we are began receiving Touriga Nacional from Quinta do Tua.  This is a mixture of mature plantings over 10 years old and some younger ones from 2008. When we received the first load in the lagar this morning, one could already see the intense dark colour of the juice just from the weight of the grapes, even before treading.  This is a very good sign.

As I expected the yields were low and the 27-strong vineyard team picked just 9,866 Kg today.  The grape bunches and berries are small but in very good shape. We are treading the first deeply coloured lagar tonight.

The Tua Nacional was finished today and tomorrow morning we begin with the Nacional from Malvedos.

Today we had a small problem with one of the lagares and Batista, the electrician, came round to fix some wiring that had been causing trouble with Lagar nº3, and was preventing the hydraulics from lifting it up for unloading – fortunately it is empty at the moment and it is now okay and ready to receive grapes tomorrow.

Harry Symington writes for the blog:

UK Ambassador Jill Gallard and her family with Harry, Henry and Tom
Dinner at Malvedos: Harry, Henry, Jill Gallard, and Rupert Symington with his daughter

This afternoon Johnny arrived with the British Ambassador Jill Gallard and her family. After a quick look around the winery, she was able to taste the first sample of the Barroca, whilst her two young boys charged around the lagares poking Juca with their plastic pirate swords.

In the evening Henry, Harry and Tom were asked for dinner up at the house with the ambassador.  After the sopa and bifinhos (soup and steaks) had been served, Johnny produced three incredibly special ports.  There was one Quinta vintage, a Graham´s vintage, and a very well aged tawny.  Plenty of guesses were thrown around the table until Johnny hinted that the two vintages were in honour of our guests and were quite old but still had the vitality of young wines.  This prompted the ambassador and her husband to suggest their birth years, 1968 and 1970 – the former is a 1968 Malvedos Quinta Vintage and the latter is a 1970 Graham´s Vintage.  The tawny was the Graham´s 1952 Jubilee Tawny Port, and a wonderful end to the evening.

The Next Generation: Tom Symington

Tom Symington in the adega at Quinta dos Malvedos

Tom Symington, Johnny’s son, is getting his gap year off to a fine start with a couple weeks in the Douro.

He began working the week of the 10th at Quinto do Sol, where he assisted in maturation studies for the second year in a row, and also spent some time assisting our research enologist Steve Rogerson with some of his microvinification projects, before coming to work in the Malvedos winery when it opened on the 17th.

The first day’s work of receiving grapes he found really hard and a bit repetitive, and he could not imagine three or four weeks of it, but once the winery was in full swing with not just grapes coming in, but fermentations to monitor, the running off and fortifications, and the full variety of tasks to do, he has found it really fun, with never a dull moment.  It helps that the team is great, he finds some of them absolutely hilarious and has really enjoyed the week here, and now wishes he could stay longer.

Tom is no stranger to the Douro of course, growing up here in Portugal.  Once he was tall enough to see over the edge of the lagar he was treading grapes every year at Vesuvio until his mid-teens, when the school years began too early for him to stay in the Douro for harvest.  He is looking forward to treading again tonight – it is traditional for the entire family to get together one night in the lagares and his parents will be there along with Paul and most of Paul’s family.

Tom (left) and his cousin Harry unloading crates of grapes

After this week at Malvedos he returns to Porto briefly and then begins an internship in the London shop of Berry Brothers & Rudd – it will be shock to go from the blinding sun and heat of the Douro to the cool quiet shop and wine cellars of London.

At the moment his plans beyond BBR are to travel for some months early next year – still trying to co-ordinate friends, transport and destination – and then study biology at Exeter.

Ultimately he would like to come into the family business, on the winemaking and research side of things, but he is realistic that there are far more candidates in his generation than likely openings in the firm, and if he cannot work for Symington Family Estates he will look for another opportunity.  Whatever happens, there is no question in his mind that he will be returning to the Douro.

Royal Ascot with Johnny Symington and Graham’s

Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip arrving at Royal Ascot
Johnny Symington (in dashing blue waistcoat) with friends enjoying Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port
Johnny and friends enjoy another glass to toast the victory of the Queen’s own horse

Johnny Symington writes: 

In typical Jubilee weather – cold wind and showers – I enjoyed a day at Ascot with the Graham’s 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port which provided a most welcome and warming accompaniment to the strawberries!  The Grahams 1952 was served to a gathering of twenty friends and family at the picnic before the arrival of The Queen and the afternoon’s horse racing.

To great excitement and ever more deafening cries from the crowds one of the Queen’s own horses “Estimate” won The Queen’s Vase Race.  As The Queen can not present the prize to herself, The Duke Of Edinburgh graciously presented it to her.

It was really the Queen’s day, so we celebrated her win with – yes, you guessed it – another glass of 1952!

Johnny Symington at The Queen’s Jubilee

Sunday 3 June marked one of the highlights of the public celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.  Johnny Symington of Graham’s was there, on a balcony overlooking the river, along with over a million people lining the banks of the Thames to watch the barge carrying Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip pass by.

The Queen waves to Johnny Symington as he toasts her with a glass of Graham’s 1952 Single Harvest Tawny Port

Johnny Symington writes for the Graham’s Blog:

Today I and my family and friends watched the magnificent Royal Pageant on the Thames.  It was the most exceptional spectacle with over 1000 boats in the flotilla, the likes of which has not happened for 350 years and may never happen again.  And of course we all raised a glass of Grahams 1952 Diamond Jubilee to Her Majesty, as she sailed by and waved to us!

The second photo is of the Queen and Prince Philip sailing past a bottle of Grahams 1952 Diamond Jubilee Port on the Royal Barge on their way to join other members of the Royal Family aboard the Sprit of Chartwell by Chelsea Bridge.

The last photo shows myself holding up a bottle of Grahams 1952 Diamond Jubilee as the row barge Gloriana passes, rowed by a crew of 18 oarsmen including 4-time Olympic Gold Medallist Sir Matthew Pinsent and 5-time Olympic Gold Medallist Sir Steve Redgrave.  They were followed by a flotilla which included row boats, boats from the evacuation of Dunkirk, musical barges and more.

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