Ruby 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
Purchased: 6 March 2017 – $19.99
Opened: 31 March 2018
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.