Symington Family Estates: first taste 2008 ports & wines

Symington Family Estates are easily the Douro’s largest landowners with no less than 25 quintas (estates) totalling 1,769 hectares, of which 940 are under vine.  It reinforced what miniscule amounts of even Single Quinta Vintage Port (SQVP) are released when, several weeks ago, they announced that they’d decided to bottle 600 cases of Quinta de Vesuvio2008 and a paltry 300 cases of Dow’s Quinta da Senhora de Ribeira 2008.

These wines have just been released for sale and I tasted them at London Wine Fair.  You’ll find my tasting notes below, together with notes on their latest table wine releases.  First, there follows the Symington’s summary of a vintage which Paul Symington confessed had briefly turned heads though they, like most, elected instead to declare 2007 for classic vintage status.

The Ports

The 2008 vintage

“Although it rained more than in 2007 and 2006, this was another dry year in the Douro, with just 542 mm (average 751 mm). April was unseasonably wet and caused quite severe ‘desavinho’ (coulure). Bur rather like in 2007, we then had a mild summer with August temperatures a full degree centigrade below the average. This resulted in late and gentle ripening. Rain on the 4th and 6th September followed by good weather performed a small miracle in the vineyard.

Late picking was important in 2008, the vines needed time to mature and they really enjoyed the early September rain. We only finished picking at Senhora da Ribeira on the 13th October and at Vesuvio on the 15th. One of our wine makers wrote ‘without a doubt this serene autumn saved the harvest’.”

Dow’s Quinta da Senhora de Ribeira 2008

Tasting note: a lifted nose shows parma violets.  In the mouth, it’s characterised by sappy, wild Morello cherry and dried sage.  Less exuberant than the Vesuvio, it finishes drier with firmer, leaner tannins.  Needs more time to reveal itself, but lots of potential here.

Notes on the vintage for this wine: a very rigorous selection from vines, much of which were planted between 1912 and 1925:

  • Touriga Nacional came from the high ‘Vinha Grande’ vineyard which contributed 40% of the wine.
  • Touriga Franca came from plots 19 and 36 on the lower vineyard (a further 40%).
  • The final 20% (cropped at 0.46 kgs per vine) came from the ancient vineyard of mixed plantings to the left of the dust road into the Quinta.

Quinta de Vesuvio 2008

Tasting note: inky black with sweet ripe blackcurrant/cassis and a chiselled mineral quality, this has lovely freshness and definition, underpinned by textured, velvety tannins.  Excellent.

Notes on the vintage for this wine:

  • a year for Touriga Nacional, which yielded only 0.86 kgs per vine at 13.6 Baumé. Three riverside plots of this variety were used and they make up 70% of the wine.
  • Touriga Franca (20%) hailed from the higher Teja valley vineyard on the Quinta.
  • Tinta Barroca from plot 60 added structure and body to the wine.
  • All were 100% trodden in the stone lagares at Vesuvio which, I discovered during the 2007 vintage, is a pretty full on exercise for which you are kitted out in red check shirts and blue shorts…nice.

On the face of it, Vesuvio’s cooler north-facing site might be expected to produce a less ripe style than the south-facing Dow’s Quinta da Senhora de Ribeira just over the river.  However, Paul Symington reckons that, because temperatures are not so high at Vesuvio, the ripening process there is uninterrupted, while south-facing vines are more vulnerable to shutting down under heat stress, (which halts the ripening process).

The wines

Altano 2008 – for the first time, this is made from 100% estate grown fruit, sourced from  three Vilariça valley vineyards,  Quinta do Atayde (94 ha), Quinta de Assares (29 ha) and Quinta da Canada (23 ha).   Soft, ripe, slightly baked, spicy damson fruit this is an easy drinking, good value Douro red at around £6.

Altano Organically Farmed Red 2008 – part of Quinta de Assares has been certified organic for some years but this year, Paul Symington told me that the entired hectarage in Vilariça valley will obtain certification.  This is a spicier, more peppery expression with ripe but juicier fruits – more characterful and better balanced than the straight Altano and, though young, I’d prefer to see a tad less vanilla/toasty oak.  It spends 9 months in oak and retails for around £8-9 – a nice wine and pretty good value for money again.

Vesuvio Pombal 2008 – as with the 2007 maiden release, this is a supple, charming wine with cinnamon edged, well-defined fresh blackberry fruit and, though a touch creamy on the mid-palate, it has firm (ripe) tannins behind.  Well done.

Quinta do Vesuvio 2008 (80% Touriga Nacional, 10% Touriga Franca, 10% Tinta Amarela) – with an oakier nose (this wine spent 12 months in new oak), in the mouth it shows the melange of minerals and fruit that I so enjoy about Vesuvio Single Quinta Vintage Port.  Bony tannins are fleshed out by raspberry, black cherry and cherry stone; the finish is layered, with that chiselled mineral quality.  Very good.

Prats & Symington Post Scriptum 2008 – I’ve always liked the elegance of this wine and the 2008 vintage is no exception.  Mineral with present but firm tannins it shows well-defined red berry fruits and liquorice with a salt lick, mineral note to the finish.

Prats & Symington Chryseia 2008 
– creamier and riper with a generous girth of black fruits, this is a rich, concentrated wine, with powerful ripe tannins and toasty oak.  Incidentally both this wine and Post Scriptum 2008 will be the last vintages to use fruit exclusively from Quinta da Vila Velha, Quinta do Bomfim and Quinta do Vesuvio. From 2009, Quinta de Roriz has been designated as the new Quinta for the Prats & Symington project and the backbone of these wines will comprise Roriz fruit, vinified at Roriz.

Finally, in several years, the Symington Family also plan to release Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos 2008 and Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim 2008, no doubt in equally small measure.  I hope to get to taste these when I visit next month and will keep you posted!

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