Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port

W Graham Ruby 2018Ruby Port from Vila Nova de Gaia, Douro Valley, Portugal

Main Grapes: touriga franca – touriga nacional – tinta roriz – tinta barroca

Secondary Grapes:  tinta amarela – tinta cao – souzao – tinta francisca

19.5% alcohol

Purchased:  6 March 2017  –  $19.99

Opened:  31 March 2018

els:  9.0/10

Decanter:  95

Wine and Spirits:  91

Wilford Wong:  91

Falstaff Magizin: 91

Wine Enthusiast:  89

Wine Spectator:  87

Cellar Tracker:  87

Grapes in Portugal extend back 4000 years to the times of the lost civilization of Tartesso, with vineyards being established in river valleys along the southern Iberian Atlantic coast. Tartesso is thought, by some, to be synonymous with Atlantis or at minimum, a contemporary cousin and both are now believed to be drowned, sunken cities, possibly somewhere on the southern Iberian continental shelf. The Phoenicians, who began arriving in 12th century BC, followed by the Celts in the 8th century BC, and the Greeks a century later, all likely contributed to increasing the plantings, production, and trade of Iberian wine. The first real evidence of wine production comes from the 5th century BC and the arrival of the Carthaginians, who replaced the Phoenicians and closed the Gibraltar Straits to the Greeks. Meanies. Then the Romans came, gaining partial control of the Iberian Peninsula from the Carthaginians after the first Punic War in the 3rd century BC, and cementing their control by the conclusion of the second Punic War.  The Romans were instrumental in expanding the vineyards of southern Portugal and establishing the first vineyards in northern Portugal, including the Douro River Valley. The Christians and the barbarians continued the wine making and trade after the Romans left until the 8th century AD, Arab conquest of the peninsula ended their reign. This caused the wine industry to experience setbacks and difficulties, mainly in the 12th century, but everything returned to normal after they were expelled from Portugal in the 13th century.  Beginning in the late 14th century, the British, in their thirst for wine, slowly took control of Portuguese wine industry, and trade between the two countries thrived.

Portugal is the 11th largest producer of wine by volume, behind Germany and ahead of Russia.  In 2015 the country produced 177 million gallons of wine or 2.4% of the world-wide total. The country is the 9th largest exporter of wine, by volume, shipping 74 million gallons or about 2.7% of the total world-wide exports, behind Germany and ahead of Argentina.  Fortified wines accounted for 19 million gallons of the 74 million exported. Their exports rank 10th in the world by value, shipping $805 million worth or 2.5% of the world total, behind Argentina and ahead of Hong Kong.  Their vineyards exceed 550,000 acres planted in grapes, about 2.5% of the world-wide total.  France, UK, and Angola are the top markets for Portuguese wines.  There are more than 2900 wine producers growing in excess of 250 types of grapes in the country.

Portugal’s wines are categorized into 3 different levels of quality. At the upper end of quality scale are 31 DOCs (Portuguese label) or DOPs (European Union label), with clearly defined geographic limits and strict rules for grape usage, and yield. The mid-level quality wines are the 14 large regional areas labelled as VR, IG, or IGP; 12 on the mainland and the 2 island regions of Madeira and the Azores. The rules for these wines are less strict than DOCs but details such as grape varieties and alcohol content are still prescribed. At the bottom of the scale are table wines, which are not necessarily bad wines, but this level has no rules to constrain the artistic impulses of the area’s wine makers.

The Porto and Douro DOC, with a bit more than a 100,000 acres of grapes under cultivation, occupies the valley created by the 550 mile long Douro River, its headwaters near the small Spanish town of Duruelo de la Sierra at 7300′ above sea level. The Portuguese portion of the river flows westward about 90 miles through the Mountains of Leon from the eastern Spanish border to the  Atlantic coastal city of Porto. The DOC’s geographical limits in the valley stretch from the Spanish border and continue westward about 60 miles to the small city of 4500 inhabitants: Mesao Frio, an ancient shelter along a Roman road and the Douro River dating back to the 3rd century AD.

Wine in the Douro region is known from at least the time of the 3rd century Roman occupation but likely goes back to the beginning of the first century AD. It is the oldest region in the world with a formal demarcation (appellation) for making wine.  A royal Portuguese edict in 1756 stipulated the geographic boundaries for Port wine. Two other less formal wine region declarations in the world preceded Douro: the 1716 Lega del Chianti which defined the geographic area for production of Chianti wines in Italy, and the 1730 Hungarian vineyard classification in the Tokaj region which used soil and the propensity for the grapes to rot as an area specific guide.

The wine region’s vineyards are terraced into the steep slopes of the mountains, planted in man-made soils of broken up schist and granite.  The schist soils are usually reserved for grapes used in the production of Port while the granite soils grow grapes for table wines. The mountains protect the grapes from the full climatic effects of the Atlantic Ocean’s cold winds.  The DOC is divided up into 3 sub regions: Baixo Corgo, the cooler, wetter, western-most area with the most vineyards, 35,000 acres, but with the generally the lowest quality wines; Cima Corgo or Upper Corgo, the heart of Port wine production with 47,000 acres planted; and the eastern-most Douro Superior, having the coldest winters and hottest, driest summers. This latter area is currently experiencing rapid growth in grape plantings and wine production but currently only 21,000 acres are cultivated. Temperatures in the valley during the growing season range from 45-90°F with rainfall averaging 0-2.3″ per month. There are 5 main Port grapes grown in the area: Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, and Tinto Cão, all usually planted together in the older vineyards but the modern method is to plant single varietals. The Sousão grape is also gaining popularity in the Douro vineyards.

Port, a fortified sweet wine, takes its name from the northern Portuguese, Atlantic coastal city of Porto, the main export center for the valley’s wines. The grapes are grown, and the wine is produced upstream in the Douro Valley while the blending and ageing generally occurs across the river from Porto in the sister city of Vila Nova de Gaia. No one really knows exactly when Port wine was created but is believed to have its genesis in the later part of the 1600s or the beginning of 1700s, and as legend has it, the monks in the Douro Valley monastery of Lemago were responsible for its inception.

Port is made by adding a neutral grape spirit, sometimes referred to as brandy, to the wine before the fermentation process has completed.  The grape spirit stops the fermentation leaving residual sugar and boosts the alcohol content and sweetness of the wine.  The addition of the grape spirit, was to ‘fortify’ or protect the wine for its trip to England. There are numerous styles of Port including: Ruby, a young, blended wine of  different vintages and varietals, aged for less than 3 years; Tawny is a blended wine that is aged in wood for more than 3 years and sometimes up 40 years; Vintage is a single, exceptional year harvest, allowed to age in a barrel for 2 to 3 years and then bottled. Not all years produce a Vintage Port.  Vintage Ports should be allowed to age for 15 years or more in the bottle before drinking.  They can take up to 60 years to fully mature. The six most widely used grapes for Port wine are Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão, and Tinta Amarela.

Touriga Franca is the most commonly planted grape in the Douro DOC, accounting for about 20% of all acreage planted. The wines are  dark and dense with aromas of black fruits and flowers. The tannins are high which provide for excellent aging potential.  For Ports and red blends it is commonly mixed with Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional wines.  The grape is almost exclusively grown in Portugal, accounting for 99.97% of the world-wide plantings.  It is the 59th most commonly grown grape in the world, planted on 28,600 acres world-wide.

Tinta Roriz, also known by its more familiar name, Tempranillo, is a black grape used to make full-bodied red wines, or in Portugal, one of the main varietals used to make Port.  The grape is believed to have existed on the Iberian Peninsula since the time of the Phoenicians. It produces a ruby-red wine with flavors of berries, plum, tobacco, vanilla, and herbs. Tempranillo is the 4th most common grape grown in the world.  In Portugal it is grown on 41,300 acres versus 575,000 acres world-wide.

Tinta Barroca is another commonly planted vine in the Douro area and is almost exclusively grown in Portugal. It is seldom used as a single varietal wine. It is a thin-skinned grape that adds dark colors, the tannins are few, with flavors of plums and cherries. The grape does poorly in high temperatures or excessively dry conditions. This varietal is the 96th most common grape in the world being grown on 15,250 acres world-wide of which 14,675 acres are planted in Portugal.

Touriga Nacional is Portugal’s finest red grape and is planted throughout all 14 of the country’s regions but is believed to have originated in either the Dao or Douro areas. It is a low yielding, thick-skinned grape, high in tannins, with intense flavors of  black currants, raspberries, and liquorice. The varietal is the 67th most common grape in the world, planted on 25,800 acres world-wide, of which 25,000 of those acres are in Portugal.

Tinta Cao dates back to the 1700s in the Douro Valley. The thick-skinned grape has great balance between tannins, acidity, and sugar. It has floral aromas, is well-structured, and is frequently blended with Touriga Nacional and Aragonez wines. The grapes produce very low yields making them very difficult to justify, economically, in the growers’ vineyards. This varietal is ranked 411th in the world and is only found in Portugal.  It is grown on about 900 acres and may soon be extinct.

Tinta Amarela is a difficult grape to grow, doing best in hot, dry climates.  The grapes are full of tannins producing dark, full-bodied wines but are primarily used in Ports.  The grapes are fairly high-yielding, producing aromas of blackberries, flowers and herbs.  The berries are susceptible to rot in wetter climates and have a harvesting window of just a few days. This grape ranks 75th in the world and is almost entirely grown in Portugal. In Portugal it is planted on 22,850 acres with only about another 60 acres grown in the rest of the world.

The brother’s Graham, William and John,  British mercantilists, founded their firm along the banks of the Douro River in Porto, Portugal. There initial business was to trade in textiles but in 1820 they bartered twenty-seven barrels of Port for textile debt. From that point forward they decided that making the best port in the world was much more interesting and enjoyable than buying and selling patterned cloth.  The brothers bought their own vineyard in Douro Valley in 1890.  That same year they also built their Vila Nova de Gaia lodge, across the river from Porto.  The lodge is still used today to blend and age their ports. The cellar contains 2000 pipes (126 gallon wooden barrels), and 40 tonels (cement vats) and balseiros (large wooden, vertical vats).

In 1970 the Symington family fortuitously took control of the company with that year’s vintage being considered one of the greatest in the century.  The families Portuguese heritage dates back to the arrival Andrew Symington, arriving in Porto from Scotland in 1882. Today, 5 Symington cousins run Graham’s, along with Warre’s, Dow’s, Blandy’s, Leacock’s and many others. They are the largest owners of vineyards in Douro which today amounts to about 2300 acres.

Graham’s has 5 terraced vineyards in the Douro Valley; all with well-drained, unirrigated schistose soils, growing in a hot dry climate: 1) Quinta Dos Malvedos, the original Quinta, in the Upper Corgo grows 4 different grapes: 35% Touriga Franc, 29% Touriga Nacional, 18% Tinta Barroca, and 13% Tinta Roriz. 2) Quinta Das Lages in Rio Torto, a northern tributary of the Douro River, grows 38% mixed varietals (it is quite common in the valley for growers not to know exactly what varietal is growing) 22% Touriga Franca, 21% Touriga Nacional, and 14% Tinta Barroca. 3) Quinta Da Vila Velha in the Upper Corgo, produces 38,000 gallons of wine each year from 4 varietals: 33% Touriga Franc, 17% Tinta Roiz, 13% Touriga Nacional, and 12% Tinta Barroca. 4) Quinta Do Vale De Malhadas in the Douro Superior grows 3 varietals: 55% Tinta Roriz, 24% Touriga Franca, and 15% Touriga Nacional.  5) Quinta Do Tua in Upper Corgo has some of the oldest vines, growing 4 varietals: 28% mixed varietals, 21% Touriga Nacional, 17% Touriga Franca, and 17% Souzao.

Six Grapes, Graham’s short hand for their best grapes, sources them from the same 5 vineyards that produce its Vintage Ports. Approximately 35% of the best grapes from the vineyards are set aside each year to potentially source their Vintage Ports. Only a small percentage, if any, of those grapes eventually are bottled as Vintage Ports with the remaining being used to make Six Grapes Port.

The grape varietals are fermented separately at the company’s Quintas and are brought down river to Vila Nova de Gaia to be aged 1-2 years in the cellar’s seasoned, wooden barrels.

A dark, inky wine with flavors of plum and sweet cherries. A great structured wine with a very elegant, lasting finish.

Although there is some movement to serve Port with a meal containing beef, I find this difficult to pursue or appreciate. I believe there are only a few options for enjoying Port, either as an after dinner digestive, by itself as an after work or late night restorative, or with chocolate.  My preference is to have a few Godiva raspberry truffles on hand when drinking this Port.  They were absolutely made for each other.

An outstanding ruby port at a fair price. Drink this year but will be good for many years, decades even, after buying.

$19.99 wine.com

Visions of the End

Apocalypse M Apocalypse 2015

Theaters:  NA (TV Movie – 2000)

Streaming:  April, 2004

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  96 minutes

Genre:  Drama – Faith – Religion

els:  3.0/10

IMDB:  6.4/10

Amazon:  4.3/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  NA/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  2.9/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Raffaele Mertes

Written by:  Francesco Contaldo, Raffaele Mertes, Gianmario Pagano

Music by:  Marco Frisina

Cast:  Richard Harris, Vittoria Belvedere, Benjamin Sadler, Bruce Payne

Film Locations:  NA

Budget:  $ NA Low-Budget, Made for TV

Worldwide Box Office:  $ NA

St. John, John the Apostle, John the Evangelist, John of Patmos, John the Elder (Harris) is held in the Aegean island prison of Patmos as a scribe for his Roman jailers.   God speaks to John and commands him to disseminate, as letters, the visions he sends him. The letters are be sent to the 7 churches of Asia Minor.  The visions include truths and admonishment to the churches and how the beginning of the end of times will transpire.

This is a made for TV movie that exhibits its low-budget pedigree in almost every scene.  But the movie wasn’t made to garner any awards, rather it was made to educate the public about the Book of Revelations, the last book of the Bible. It does accomplish this but the story is out of sequence and the method is clunky and amateurish.

The supporting actors are all bad with the atrocious acting trophy going to the Bruce Payne playing the Roman Emperor Domitian. Moving from bad to worse, the special effects were categorically dreadful.  If there is an award for worst special effects this movie would win. The movie’s effects were on par with what passed as realistic in the 1958 movie: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor. Spending a few dollars more on marginally better special effects very likely would have taken this movie from ugh awful to mildly entertaining.

The only true shining light in this movie is Richard Harris, he can’t save the movie, but he is a joy to watch.  The kindly Dumbledore persona comes through in every scene. A natural teacher with a gentle soul.  Interestingly, his full name is Richard St John Harris.

 

A Little Package of our Past

World History: 50 Key Milestones You Really Need to Know B 50 History

Written by:  Ian Crofton

Published by:  Quercus

Copyright:  © 2011

Attempting to describe 12-15,000 years, since the big ice fields melted, of human endeavors in 200 pages and 50 topics would seem presumptuous and futile, and you would be right, but one has to start somewhere and the first steps can and should be small but decisive.  One can quibble about the exact 50 topics, and I will do just that in a bit, but the author, Ian Crofton, performs the task with aplomb, and provides the maximum amount of useful information possible given the limiting format.

This book is a quick and fun read for both those without a broad or deep introduction to human history or those that just want to refresh their memory on once familiar, but long forgotten topics. Even if you are familiar with all the topics in the book there will be a sufficient amount of new informational tidbits to make it worth your time. For myself, as one example, I found the observation that our ancestral hunter-gather cousins versus the first cereal grain farmers, were healthier, due mainly to their higher protein intake from a meat rich diet, was new and interesting.

Each “idea” or event is developed, chronologically, over 4 printed pages that includes a short thesis, an expansion of that thesis, a timeline of notable events, a famous quote(s) and an ending synopsis of the discussion.  The publisher of this book, Quercus, has published at least 27 other books of a similar nature and format that explore the great topics of the human experience including: architecture, art, astronomy, big ideas, biology, chemistry, the digital world, earth, economics, ethics, the future, genetics, the human brain, literature, management, math, philosophy, philosophy of science, physics, politics, psychology, quantum physics, religion, science, universe, war, and world history. I believe they continue to add more topics as the years go by.  I have several of the topics, listed above on my already too fat reading list.

Not to detract from the topics that the author has chosen, his are all defendable, but for myself I probably would have included 5 different topics devoted to: the Iron Age, Israelites of the 12th century BC, 1st century Christianity, Sumerians development of an alphabet in 300 BC coupled with Guttenberg’s first printing press in the 15th century AD, 18th century BC Babylonian Hammurabi’s, and 7th century BC Greek Draco’s legal codifications, and finally the advent of computers in the 20th century and beyond.  Adding 5 topics requires that 5 be removed. I would likely leave out: Empires and Kingdoms of Africa, The Bubonic Plague, the Vietnam War, integral to the late 20th century US, but will likely be a footnote on communism in the future, and lastly, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the post 9-11 topics, at a minimum, combined into a topic on 21st century divisions in civilization and culture, as if that were something new. On further thought, maybe just leave those last two topics out completely, mainly because they are too fresh to decide their seminality to our future development as a species.

That leaves our list one shy of 50. What topic(s) would you add?

Arnoux et Fils Vacqueyras Seigneur de Lauris 2012

W Vacqueyras 2012Rhone Red Blends from Vacqueyras AOC, Rhone Valley, France

70% grenache

30% syrah

14.0% alcohol

Purchased:  12 July 2017 – $19.99

Opened:  29 August 2017

els:  9.0/10

Vinous:  93

Stephan Tanzer: 93-91

The Wine Advocate:  90

 

Cellar Tracker:  88

Gilbert and Gaillard:  87

France is the 2nd largest producer of wine in the world, just behind Italy and  ahead of Spain, representing about 21% of the global wine market.  The country is responsible for creating some of the most recognizable old world wines on the planet, from the bubbly Champagnes in the cool north to world-class Bordeaux along the Garonne and Dordogne Rivers to the GSMs in the warm Mediterranean south. There are 17 major wine-producing regions in the country along with another 28 smaller areas, all growing 96 varieties of predominate grapes with Merlot and Grenache the most common. Reds account for almost 70% of the 2 million plus acres planted in vines, with whites accounting for the remainder. As with the other major European wine producers, France’s vineyard acreage has been shrinking over the last couple of decades due to less demand from their home population and increased market pressures from new world producers.

The Rhone Valley wine region of southern France, extending 155 miles along  both sides of the north-south river, situated between the Massif Central to the west and the Alps to the east, produces some of the truly great red blends in the world. The wineries in this valley have practiced and perfected their craft since the Greeks came to Massilia (modern Marseille) and planted their vines in the 4th century BC. The Romans, knowing a good thing when they see it, defended Massilia from the Gaul’s in the second century BC, protecting and expanding the Rhone wine trade throughout the Mediterranean. The wines, especially from the right bank of the Rhone, have been the favorites of kings and popes since the Latin and Greek Churches parted company in 1054. In the 14th century the Latin Popes set up residency on the right bank of the Rhone at Avignon and controlled the area until the 18th century, all the while extending and perfecting the local vineyards.  In the 20th century, Rhone wineries were instrumental in codifying French laws, AOCs, to regulate the type and quality of wines produced.

Today the Rhone Valley is France’s second largest wine-producing region of over 5300 growers and producers spread over 250 communes, containing 28 appellations, and growing 27 varieties of grapes. Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre red grapes are the most common by acreage planted. In 2016 the region produced 80 million gallons and sold 372 million bottles of wine, produced from 175,000 acres of vines. More than 80% of the wine produced is red. A little less than a third of that wine is exported, mainly to the UK, Belgium, and the US.

Vacqueyras AOC, located at the foot of  Dentelles de Montmirail, is 14 miles east of the Rhone, 8-9 miles east of Orange, and 60 miles north-northwest of Marseille. The AOC sits along the left-bank of the Ouveze River, a tributary of the Rhone. Vacqueyras’ history goes back to the Romans in the 2nd century BC with first written proof of wine making recorded in the 15th century AD tax rolls. In 1937, Vacqueyras was added to the Cotes du Rhone area. In 1955, it became a Cotes du Rhone Village. In 1967, it became a named Cotes du Rhone village. Finally, in 1990, it obtained its AOC status. The area has 3500 acres of planted vines with red grapes comprising 97% of all grapes grown. Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre account for 90% of all vines planted. The area produced 12,000 gallons of wine in 2016. The soils are generally alluvial and glacial, sandy-clay with pebbles. The area enjoys a Mediterranean climate with growing season temperatures ranging from 50-80°F and rainfall ranging from 2.0-2.75″ per month.

Grenache grapes likely originated in Aragon in north central Spain. It is the 7th most commonly grown grape in the world, planted on about 455,000 acres and producing about 4% of all harvested grapes. France is the largest grower of this grape followed by Spain and is the most common grape grown in the Rhone valley. The grape is used to produce single varietals and blends. A dark-blueish, large, thick-skinned grape that produces medium to full-bodied wines high in alcohol but with medium acidity and tannins.  It is high in dark fruit and spice flavors that mellow with age.

Syrah grapes were originally thought to have originated in Persia or Syria but recent DNA analyses has shown its roots to be in Savoy, a region at the junction of France, Switzerland, and Italy, and the Ardeche region on the eastern edge of the Rhone Valley.  The grape is the 6th most grown grape in the world, planted on about 460,000 acres and producing a little more than 4% of all harvested grapes. France is the largest producer of this grape and is used to produce single varietals and blends. A small to medium-sized grape, deep purple in color, producing full-bodied wines high in alcohol and acidity with medium tannins. The wines have flavors of red and black fruits, and spice.  The wine ages well, developing aromas of leather and licorice over time.

In 1717, the Count Francois de Castellanne, de Lauris, de Vassadel, de Gerard, Chevalier marquis of Ampuis, de Lagneroux, Vacqueyras, gave Pierre Bovis, an ancestor of the Arnoux family a vineyard. Fortunately he didn’t make Pierre name the vineyard after him. Today the estate is run by Marc and Jean-Francois. Arnoux et Fils’ winery, on the right bank of the Rhone River produces it blends from low yield vineyards as prescribed by AOC rules.

The family has 100 acres of vineyards at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail, loosely translated as lacy, adorable mountains. These mountains formed from late Mesozoic to present day tectonic uplift, causing the nearly vertical placement of the originally horizontal, Late Jurassic-Oxfordian fine-grained basinal carbonates. The carbonates are the source of the poor argillaceous, limestone soil mixed with round stones  of the winery’s vineyards. The vines are more than 50 years-old. As stated above the vineyards enjoy a Mediterranean climate with growing season temperatures ranging from 50-80°F and rainfall ranging from 2.0-2.75″ per month, with the vines and soil being kept cool and dry by the strong mistral winds coming out of the northwest.

The grapes were hand-picked, partially de-stemmed, and spent 15 days fermenting in vats. The wine is then aged 18 to 24 months in oak barrels, 2/3 new and 1/3 used.  The wine is partially aged in the winery’s underground cellar for 12 to 18 months.

This wine has beautiful clear garnet hues which just beg you to enjoy outside on a Willie Nelson “Uncloudy Day“. Powerful aromas meet your nose with hints of raspberry, currant, black cherry, and prunes.  Whispers of mushrooms and cloves add to this delightful fragrance of liquid comfort. The tannins are smooth and easy, providing a nice balanced finish now and for years to come.

Enjoy while nibbling on some small chunks of pungent goat cheese or make a meal of it and grill up a rib-eye. Smother your steak with a red wine, peppercorn sauce.  Start with a tablespoon of butter, the real stuff, 2-3 tablespoons of finely chopped onions, a tablespoon of crushed peppercorns, a sloppy tablespoon of cognac (optional), a half cup of red wine, a cup of beef stock, and a quarter cup of heavy cream. Cook the butter, onions, and peppercorns over medium heat until the onions are soft, less than 10 minutes. Add in the cognac and reduce to nothing. Add the wine and the beef stock, bringing to a boil, reducing everything by 2/3. Add in the cream and allow to thicken.  Salt to taste and serve over a hot, juicy steak.

An outstanding wine at an ok price. Drink this year but likely good until 2022-2027. Decant and aerate for one hour, or more, before drinking.

$19.99 Wine.com

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