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Breaking with tradition for Queen & country: Graham’s 90 Very Old Tawny Port

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“The idea came from the other end of the table,” said Graham’s Paul Symington, gesturing at Simon Berry (pictured), Chair of Berry Bros & Rudd, whose family have been purveyors of fine wine to the British Royal Family since the reign of King George III.  For Graham’s Limited Edition 90 Very Old Tawny Port was produced specifically to celebrate Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday and her lifetime of service to the nation.

It may be traditional to serve Port at State banquets and for the loyal toast to The Commander-in-Chief of the British Armed Forces (H.M. the Queen), but it is certainly not traditional to bottle a 90 Year Old (non vintage) Port.  The only permitted categories for age-dated (non-vintage) Tawny Ports are 10 Year Old, 20 Year, 30 Year Old and 40 Year Old.

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Johnny (l) and Paul Symington at the launch of Graham’s 90

So what’s a chap to do to when tasked with producing a 90 Year Old Port? Symington joked he had to go down on bended knee and tug his forelock.  Not to the Queen, you understand.  No, no. But to the Institute of Port Wine (IVDP), whom Symington describes as “a very traditional and strict official body.” Its role is to regulate and certify Port and Douro wine, so the decision as to whether they would make an exception for this special bottling lay entirely in their hands.

In fact, he told me, “they could not have been more helpful and positive” given how consistently the Queen has placed Port in a rarified environment.  The IVDP granted special dispensation for just 500 bottles of Graham’s 90.  A tiny bottling which suited Charles Symington well.   The master blender was worried about the limited resources at his disposal since, Symington (Paul) explained, “we are at the end of what we have of wines of this age.” (Which presumably also explains why the family did not go down the Colheita route and make a 1926 Colheita Tawny Port, for which no special dispensation would be required).

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Teeny tiny samples of Graham’s 90

Just six vintages were in the frame.  Yet Charles Symington has very successfully scrimped and scraped together a quite superb, not-to-be-repeated blend from just three vintages – Graham’s 90 is a blend of 1935, 1924 and 1912 Tawny Ports.  It’s not only a tribute to the Queen, but also to the art of blending at which Portugal, especially its Port wine and Madeira makers, excels.

Precision pour, percise Port - Graham's 90

Precision pour, precise Port – Graham’s 90

Here are my notes on Graham’s 90 Very Old Tawny Port, plus the three component parts (all of which were aged in seasoned oak casks for several decades at the Graham’s Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia).  Graham’s 90 Very Old Tawny is available exclusively from Berry Bros & Rudd (BBR) at £700.00 per bottle and, according to the Symington’s/BBR’s press release, a charitable contribution will be made by Graham’s for each bottle of Graham’s 90 sold. The money thereby raised will go to The Patron’s Fund, which supports a collection of UK and Commonwealth charities of which Her Majesty the Queen is the patron. A minimum contribution of £10,000.00 is guaranteed.

Graham’s 90 Very Old Tawny Port – 1935 component

Vintage & provenance: the 1935 tawny – 40% of the blend – is the only one of the three component parts whose vintage was officially registered by the IVDP at birth (the other two were produced before the IVDP’s foundation in 1933).  It came from (Dow’s) Quinta do Bomfim where Andrew James Symington recorded on 14th October 1935 “I am inclined to think that the quality and good colour inspires hope that the 1935 may prove good enough to make a Jubilee vintage [King George V’s jubilee] – quantity is less than last year – but the quality appears to be better.”  As it transpired, the Symingtons declared the 1934 (while other producers declared the 1935) but, in the end, the ’35 still has the distinction of marking a royal celebration.

Tasting note: A deep honeyed nose with dried apricot and dates, which follow through on a vigorous, spicy, generously proportioned palate, still silky, juicy even, layered with orange peel, toasted almonds/almond tuile, singed tatin caramel, carraway, clove and black cardamom notes.  The finish is long and very balanced, with just a hint of the sea (salt and iodine).  Impressive.

Graham’s 90 Very Old Tawny Port – 1924 component

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The blending components

Vintage & provenance: the 1924 – 20% of the blend – was one of the best inter-war vintages and widely declared.  An unusually cool summer produced wines with very good acidity, like this wine.  It probably also explains why it is paler than the younger 1935 tawny.  The Port originated from Quinta do Bom Retiro Pequeno in the Rio Torto which, for many years produced fruit for Warre’s Vintage Port.  It was acquired by the Symingtons from the Serodio family in 2006 and re-named Quinta do Retiro Antigo.  The 1924 Tawny Port was matured in the Douro until the 1960s when it was transported to Vila Nova de Gaia.

Tasting note: this tawny, the palest of the three, has remarkable elegance, orange peel lift and finesse.  Zesty, citrus acidity teases out wave upon wave of flavour, with peach, textured dried pear, cinnamon spice, cafe creme cigar, toasted almonds and richer roasted hazelnut oak.  Very persistent, yet retains a delicacy throughout.

Graham’s 90 Very Old Tawny Port – 1912 component

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From left to right the 1935, 1924 & much darker 1912 blend components

Vintage & provenance: the 1912 – 40% of the blend – was the last very good, widely declared year prior to the outbreak of The Great War.  This Port was bottled just a few months before the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914. To mark the partnership of Dow’s and Warre’s in 1912 (the former owned by Andrew James Symington), a small parcel of 1912 Port was set aside in cask and now surfaces in Graham’s 90 Very Old Tawny Port.

Tasting note: the 1912 could not be more different from the 1924,  It is easily the darkest of the three wines – mahogany rather than tawny in hue.  A sure fire sign of its density and concentration in the mouth. A concentration which extends to its acidity, which spears through a dense, viscous palate of dark toffee/treacle-edged prunes with black cardamom and Madeira honeycake, making for a surprisingly dryish sensation to its very long, resonant finish.

Graham’s 90 Very Old Tawny Port

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The art (or one might say alchemy) of blending has produced a Port of beautiful precision, potency and persistence. A tangy nose has caramelised orange and spicy orange peel lift.  In the mouth incisive but well integrated acidity keeps the sweetness in check and produces a silky, seamless flow of delectable flavours – fleshy dates, dried apricot, tangy citrus, toasted almond, cinnamon and deeply flavoured wild honey (Mel das Terras Altas do Minho?)  Very finely executed, with great energy and focus.  Stunning.  £700/bottle at BBR

Click here for posts on other stunning Very Old Tawny Ports, including Graham’s Ne Oublie.







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