The Tasting Panel magazine

October 2014

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Page 59 of 132

october 2014  /  the tasting panel  /  59 G raham's Six Grapes, one of the most successful reserve ports ever created, has rightfully been referred to as the non-vintage port for vintage port connoisseurs. There is a reason for that comparison, for unlike other port producers, Graham's chooses the wines for its Six Grapes blend from those that were initially selected for their vintage ports. No wonder Six Grapes was served to first-class passengers aboard the Queen Mary during her maiden voyage in 1936. The Six Grapes logo itself dates from the early 1900s, when W & J Graham decided to use a stylized symbol of six three-grape clusters to burn—and later, stamp—onto casks that contained wines with the potential of becoming vintage ports. That distinction continues with Six Grapes today, thanks to its full, deep and almost brash fruitiness. In fact, Rupert Symington, fourth generation and joint CEO of the founding Symington Family Estates, of which Graham's is a part, refers to Six Grapes as "a massive, over-extracted fruit bomb, a ruby Port on steroids." And yet, within all this concentration, there is an even more pronounced—albeit rarer—version of Six Grapes that is now making a limited-edition appearance: Six Grapes Old Vines Special Edition. Created to pay homage to grapes harvested from the oldest vines on the Graham's quintas, the original Graham's Old Vines label from the early 1900s was imprinted with the words "Fine Old Port Matured in Wood," as the "old vines" designation wasn't yet in vogue. It was the vintage character of Six Grapes that set the stage for the current limited release of the Old Vines Special Edition, of which only 6,000 bottles were produced, priced at $42 each (compared with an SRP of $24 for the standard Six Grapes). Just 400 cases have been reserved for the United States. In addition to Graham's stellar 2011 vintage port, their 2012 harvest was spectacular. As a result, this left Graham's winemakers Charles Symington and Henry Shotton with some small batches of superb wines—pri- marily from the 2011 vintage, and barely enough to fill a lagar—from their oldest vines, with many going back 40 years or more. Although yields were small, these gnarly old vines pro- duced very tight clusters, with grapes that were extremely dense in color and flavor. This, in turn, inspired Symington and Shotton to blend these wines into an Old Vines Special Edition. The wines selected came from only five quintas: Quinta do Tua and Quinta do Vila Velha in the Cima Corgo; Quinta do Vale de Malhadas in the Douro Superior; Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto Valley; and Graham's original Quinta dos Malvedos, which is opposite Tua in the heart of the Douro Valley, and where some of the vines are over 50 years old and date from a time when they grew as bushes, rather than on trellises. As expected, the deep inky color of the Old Vines Special Edition is but a prelude to its ultra-concentrated flavors of black plum, licorice and succulent tannins. It is interesting to note that Peter Scott, President of Premium Port Wine (U.S. importer for Symington Family Estates), along with Rupert and Charles Symington, did a side-by-side tasting of Graham's Six Grapes, Graham's Old Vines Special Edition and Graham's 2011 vintage. "I think it was a very compelling tasting," Scott said, "showing the thread between these three wines." Like Six Grapes, the Old Vines Special Edition spends about two-and-a-half to three years in cask, to keep it fresh and vigorous. Jennifer Gomez, Wine Director for Traci Des Jardins's highly-acclaimed Jardinière restaurant in San Francisco, is an avowed fan of Graham's ports and currently stocks Graham's 2000 Vintage, Graham's 40 Year Old Tawny, Warre's Warrior, Dow's 1985 Vintage and, of course, Graham's Six Grapes. Consequently, she is planning on stocking Graham's Old Vines Special Edition when it becomes available this month. "I find it fascinating that the older parcels of the five quin- tas that go into the Six Grapes are now vinified separately," she says. "The Old Vines Special Edition is more concen- trated and silkier, but it still shows all that lively acidity and freshness that is Six Grapes." In that respect, like Six Grapes itself, Graham's Old Vines Special Edition is ready to be poured upon purchase, and once opened, it will keep for weeks. Nor does it need to be decanted. And with its stoppered cork, presentation is effort- less. All of which were attributes no doubt enjoyed by waiters aboard the Queen Mary, and which continue today, but with the added depth of Graham's Old Vines Special Edition. Graham's Six Grapes Old Vines is a special edition made from older parcels of the five quintas that go into Six Grapes.

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