Tag Archives: Quinta das Lages

The Five Components of Graham’s Vintage Port

If you were to ask Charles Symington, Graham’s Head Winemaker, what makes Vintage Port special amongst the fine wines of the world he would tell you that it is the harmony created by the combination of wines from different vineyards. There is no other fine wine in the world that uses the grapes from multiple properties, each with different characteristics, to make their greatest wine.

Graham’s wines are all made from grapes taken exclusively from five mountain vineyard estates spread across the Douro Valley. Each one has a unique aspect, soil composition and microclimate. The five properties are Quinta dos Malvedos and Quinta do Tua (both in the heart of the Douro Valley on the north bank), Quinta das Lages (in the famous Rio Torto Valley), Quinta do Vale de Malhadas (high up the Valley in the Douro Superior) and Quinta da Vila Velha (on the south bank of the River). Charles talks eloquently about the different characteristics that each one of these Quintas (vineyard estates) brings to Graham’s Vintage Port.

The wines from Quinta das Lages are lighter, more ethereal, with floral, slightly resinous aromas: they are important for the elegance they bring to the wine, rather than their structure. The Rio Torto Valley is one of the greatest sub-regions of the Douro, famous for producing some of the finest Vintage Ports in history. Lages is the only one of the five Quintas not owned by either Graham’s or a member of the Symington Family. But since 1927 Graham’s has had very close relationships with this property, buying all its production and personally farming it.

Quinta da Vila Velha is predominantly north facing. It brings finely balanced acidity to Graham’s Vintage Port. And in particularly hot years the higher altitude and the cooler north facing vineyards can be a distinct advantage.

Quinta do Vale de Malhadas has only 400mm of rainfall a year: two-thirds of what falls at Malvedos. The property is also north facing: an advantage here because it keeps the vines cooler, not being exposed to direct sunlight in the middle of the day. Establishing vineyards here is the viticultural limit. But the wines are worth it. Typically, Malhadas wines have chocolate, blackberries and very ripe, smooth tannins. Charles notes that climate change will have a profound impact on vineyards such as Malhadas, which is already right at the extremes of survivability.

The wines from Quinta do Tua have powerful aromas, concentration and length. They are not as elegant as others, being noticeably more rustic in style. But they contribute good body and structure. This is a result of the high proportion of old vines on the estate, which have tiny yields, between 300g and 500g per vine.

Finally, there is Quinta dos Malvedos, Graham’s original Quinta since 1890, in one of the best locations in the Douro Valley. The Malvedos wines are usually the main component in Graham’s Vintage Port and are perfectly balanced and refined in their own right. Malvedos adds profound aromas of Esteva, or gum cistus flower, redolent with mint and eucalyptus. It also has powerful but ripe and velvety tannins and a great complexity of black fruits.

The process of making Vintage Port is a fine-tuned art. Charles selects specific parcels of vines from each of these properties to create a perfect harmony and balance. The proof is in the tasting. Graham’s Vintage Port is more than the sum of its parts. If you’ve tasted any, we think you’ll agree.

Malvedos Harvest Update: ‘The Touriga Franca Week’

This week we checked on progress in Graham's other  vineyards. Here, pickers in action at Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto Valley.
This week we checked on progress in Graham’s other vineyards. Here, pickers in action at Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto Valley, harvesting Touriga Franca from the Telheira block.

Henry Shotton gives his latest report from the Malvedos winery:

Henry shows Yusen Lin (Taiwan's leading wine writer/critic) freshly made Ports in the Malvedos winery.
Henry shows Yusen Lin (Taiwan’s leading wine writer/critic) freshly made Ports in the winery.

I’m tempted to call this last week the ‘Touriga Franca week’, so encouraged are we by the quality of the grapes as seen coming into the winery these last few days. The Touriga Franca is a late – ripening variety because it needs a great deal of sun and heat to fulfil its full maturation potential. This vintage began unusually late but that didn’t mean that we could start picking the Franca almost straight away — both because grape maturations generally were running late this year anyway (hence the delayed start to the vintage) but also because of the rainfall that visited when we were about a week into the vintage. That set back even a little further the completion of the full maturation cycle of the Touriga Franca.

Henry proudly shows us the  incredibly concentrated colour of the Touriga Franca lagar.
Henry proudly shows off the incredibly concentrated colour of this Touriga Franca lagar. The Baumé reading was a remarkable 14.5º and Henry was also impressed by the expressive floral aromas.
Freshly crushed Touriga Franca grapes about to be trodden in the lagar.
Freshly crushed Touriga Franca grapes picked at Malvedos about to be trodden in the lagar. The colour is remarkable and it put a big smile on Charles’s face.

Thankfully the rain did not persist and once clear blue skies and warm temperatures returned over a week ago, Charles wisely decided to hold off a few days before giving the order to start picking the Franca, allowing it time to benefit from several days of bright, warm sunny conditions. This has meant the TF (the most widely planted at Malvedos — 27% of the vineyard — and one of Port’s most important varieties) has had time to recoup it’s full potential which was showing such promise before the onset of the rain. The grapes are wonderfully ripe and concentrated, showing superb deep colour, soft skins (which eases extraction) and excellent sugar readings. The first TF grapes that we received from the Malvedos vineyard on Tuesday, October 8th were already giving us very good readings of 13.5º Baumé and as the week progressed, the values steadily increased to 14, and the latest lagar (filled yesterday, Thursday 10th) registered an impressive 14.5º Baumé. It is a pleasure to witness the deep colour of this lagar and sense its expressive, fresh and floral aromas.

Charles and Graham's head of viticulture, Pedro Leal da Costa (left) decide on the picking order of the remaining Touriga Franca blocks at Malvedos.
Charles and Graham’s head of viticulture, Pedro Leal da Costa (left) decide on the picking order of the remaining Touriga Franca blocks at Malvedos.

Charles commented today (Friday October 11th) at the winery that he is particularly impressed with the “exceptional colour of the Franca”  (not always achieved by this variety, as Charles stressed) and also by its low yields which have delivered superb concentration. He explained that when the vintage started, the TF was already well advanced in terms of the phenolics but more time was needed for the sugar levels to catch up in order to reach a full, balanced ripening. The fact we waited to start picking a few days after the rain stopped benefitted the Franca enormously by allowing it to complete it’s optimal maturation cycle, Charles explained. We will conclude picking the Franca on Monday, which effectively means we will have finished picking all the grapes at Malvedos. After that we still have a few days to conclude some fermentations in the lagares and to wind things down (post vintage cleaning, repairs and maintenance).

Charles, Henry and Pedro confer in the Malvedos winery, Friday, October 11th.
Charles, Henry and Pedro confer in the Malvedos winery, Friday, October 11th.
Meanwhile, outside the winery, Masai, Charles's faithful tawny-coloured Rhodesian Ridgeback, basks in the sunshine.
Meanwhile, outside the winery, Masai, Charles’s faithful tawny-coloured Rhodesian Ridgeback, basks in the sunshine.

Earlier in the week Charles and I also did the rounds of the two Graham’s Quintas that we haven’t had a chance to report on previously during this vintage; Vila Velha and Lages.

Lages: The caseiro (farm manager) of 24 years at Lages, Sr. António, was very upbeat about the quality of the grapes picked at the Quinta this vintage. He told us that notwithstanding the rain, the quality of the Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca was very pleasing (22 and 21% of Lages, respectively). Our winemaking team confirmed the caseiro’s optimism reporting average graduations of 14º Baumé. That’s hard to beat. The Tinta Barroca topped the scales, occasionally showing 15º Baumé, but that is not at all unusual for this variety. On the day we called, a roga (team of grape pickers) of 14 people was picking the Telheira block, vertically planted (very unusual in our vineyards) with young Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca vines. Despite the young age of the vines, the grape bunches and the berries themselves had a good size and showed wonderful deep blue-violet coloured skins.

One of the oldest mixed blocks at Lages, planted in 1985, now a full mature vineyard, providing very good quality grapes.
One of the oldest mixed blocks at Lages, planted in 1985, now a mature vineyard, providing very good quality grapes.

The last grapes scheduled to be picked at Lages on Monday, October 14th will be from the organically farmed 4 hectare block, which was planted in 1989 with mixed varieties (consisting primarily of Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz). These grapes are earmarked for Graham’s Natura Reserve Port, one of the first Ports made with organically farmed grapes.

Organically farmed grapes: we have a 4 hectares at Lages, planted in 1989.
Organically farmed grapes: we have 4 hectares at Lages, planted in 1989.
The magnificent scenery of the Douro Valley; here the landsacpe at Quinta da Vila Velha.
The magnificent scenery of the Douro Valley; here the landsacpe at Quinta da Vila Velha.
The entrance gate to the Vila Velha, one of the Douro's most beautiful River Quintas.
The entrance gate to the Vila Velha, one of the Douro’s most beautiful River Quintas.

Vila Velha: the vintage at Vila Velha finished on Tuesday October 8th, the first Graham’s Quinta to conclude its grape picking. Vila Velha has the highest percentage of Touriga Franca planted of any Graham’s Quinta (31%) and, as seen at other Graham’s vineyards, some very good lagares have been made from these grapes, although we had to be a little more selective because here, the rain did create a few problems in some of the more sheltered blocks (less exposed to the sun), of which — fortunately — there are very few.

Harvest at Quinta das Lages

Sunlight filtering through vines on the steep terraces at Quinta das Lages

One of the five quintas in the blend of Graham’s ports is Quinta das Lages, deep in the Rio Torto valley, which has been supplying grapes to Graham’s for almost 90 years.  For as long as Ports have been made this valley has been renowned for the quality of its wines.  Blessed with a microclimate that encourages a long slow ripening period, the steep, twisted valley runs south from the Douro just downriver from Pinhão.

The altitude at Lages runs from 120 metres up to 400, and with patamares wrapped around a steep hillside the exposure varies from north to south east facing, so it is a dramatic quinta.  Fully a third of its vineyards are planted with mixed vines, and of the single-varietal parcels, 22% are Touriga Franca and almost 17% Touriga Nacional, along with smaller plantings of Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão.  Half the vines have an average age of 30 years, and the Lages wines show all the intensity and complexity of mature vines, as well as the elegance that comes from higher, airier exposures and a uniquely distinct violet aroma.

Sr António and Pedro Leal da Costa
The hillside is so steep you can barely see the pickers working only four terraces above

The viticulturist with direct responsibility for Lages year round is Paulo Macedo, but during harvest he turns winemaker and runs the winery at Graham’s Quinta do Tua, so Pedro Leal de Costa, SFE’s head viticulturist, visits regularly to monitor the condition of the grapes and plan the picking order together with Sr António, the caseiro.

The harvest team had just finished the Tinta Cão on Sunday and yesterday they began picking one of the mixed vine parcels, which covers a precipitous hill side.  It was another spectacular day in the Douro, with cloudless blue skies and brilliant warm sunshine.

Pedro and Sr. António are pleased with the grapes and the progress so far, but true to form it appears they will not finish the picking at Lages until almost a week after most of Graham’s riverside properties have been completed.  Luckily the weather outlook continues favourable, so we can look forward to great wines from this marvellous quinta.

Quinta das Lages

The patamares at Lages, as seen from the entrance drive above the Rio Torto

Just west of Pinhão a river runs up from the south to join the Douro called the Rio Torto – the twisted river.  The incredible valley surrounding this river creates one of the finest microclimates in the Douro and has produced legendary ports for as long as port has been made.  For nearly a century Graham’s have sourced grapes from a quinta there called Quinta das Lages.  The agreement between the Symingtons and the family who own Lages is based on a handshake and several generations of trust between the two families.

Lages is one of the largest quintas in this valley, and all of the vineyards have the best possible “A” rating for Port vineyards, based on a combination of both topographical and viticultural features.  Half the vines have an average age of 30 years, and the areas re-planted in the past decade are now mature enough to produce good and interesting grapes.  The quinta generally is north-facing, which is a benefit in the valley, as the heat can become intense, held between the folds of the mountains.

The grape tasting team: Pedro Leal da Costa, Pedro Correia, and the caseiro António

The Tinta Barroca and the Vinhas Velhas (old mixed vine vinyards) had been completely harvested, and Pedro Leal da Costa, Graham’s head viticulturalist, together with the winemaker Pedro Correia and the caseiro Sr António were meeting to take a walk through the vineyards together to taste the grapes, and decide the best picking order for the next few days, in light of the showers Sunday and an unsettled forecast for the coming week.  There are significant plantings of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca still to go, and a small parcel of Tinta Roriz.

Asked about the rain on Sunday, the caseiro said they had not been bothered by it till very late in the afternoon, another good example of the microclimatisation in the region, as at Malvedos 13 km east northeast we had intermittent showers from morning till late afternoon.

During our visit on Monday the harvesters were working in a lower parcel of Touriga Franca, planted as a vertical vineyard.  Very vertical, as you can see from the photo.  The property has both modern (soil-banked) patamares, some incredibly steep rising 3 to 4 metres between terraces, and plots of vertical plantings at both the bottom and top of the property.  The tractors used at the quinta are all the kind with tank-like treads, the caseiro’s comment “wheels just don’t work here” seems a terrific understatement.

Altogether we had a whirlwind tasting tour of six parcels of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, and the viticulturalist, winemaker and caseiro all found reasons to be pleased with the quality of the grapes.  The vines are healthy, producing low yields of high quality grapes which are at or near perfect ripeness, and the flavours and colour extraction are all excellent.

Quinta das Lages looks set to deliver its usual intensely aromatic profile to Graham’s wines again this year.