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Wine Reviews
A Port Tasting with Rupert Symington

© Sue Courtney, 28th February 2002


Rupert Symington

I'm the kind of person who has never really been into Ports. Blame it on ignorance and the failing to ask 'Will the real Port' stand up. My introduction was to the imitators, to the 'Dally' style of fortified port-like wine so prevalent in New Zealand in the 1970's and early 80's. Not the kind of drink a young girl should be drinking. And so after a couple of intrepid excursions, that was it for me.

The problem with imitators and with experiences that you want to put a memory block on, is that it puts one off trying the real thing. And when I did try the real thing, such as at those late winter night after dinner sessions down at the ski house, the wine was not really appreciated for its fineness. It was looked at with disdain from an ignorant chick and the high alcohol went quickly to the head, ensuring a sound sleep.

Fortunately, with a more 'mature' outlook, I'm prepared to forget the past and look at a Port tasting as an educative experience. So when the invitation is extended to taste some wines from the Symington Family, one of the oldest families of Port producers, to be hosted by 4th generation Symington family member, Rupert, I accept.

Port is a wine style 'invented' by the British wine merchants for the British market in the 1600-1700's. They added brandy to the still wine to aid preservation it as it travelled by sea. By the mid-1800's the styles of Port that we know today had evolved.

Grapes for Port are grown on the banks of Portugal's Douro River Valley. The schist soils and the climate are the unique factors in the viticultural area.

Grapes are picked with about 13.5% - 14% natural alcohol off the low yielding vines then fermented by vigorous fermentation techniques to about 7%. After 48 hours, brandy is added. A year later, the maturing wines are transported down the river to Oporto, on the Atlantic coast, for storage.

The youngest ports are sold at 2-3 years, but they could be stored for up to 40.

The tasting begins. A quartet of Vintage Character Ports make up the first flight. Vintage Ports, Vintage Character Ports and Ruby Ports are bottled young, which retains the colour and traps the 'flavours' in the bottle.

Warres Warrior Finest Reserve is the Warres 'House Blend', a vintage character Port bottled at about 4 years old. It's an aromatic wine with rich brandy fumes and the scent of violets. This is a good 'everyday fruity style of port' with medium sweetness and a nice port character to the finish. RRP NZ$42.

The richly coloured Grahams Six Grapes Port has a rich grapey, licorice-influenced opulent nose. It is sweeter than the Warres but not so sweet that it is sugary. I like the appealing porty licorice flavour, huge body and structure and fruity plum that lingers with spice on the raisin fruit finish. RRP NZ$48.

Also richly coloured and richly fragrant is the Graham's LBV 1996. And it is rich in the palate too. Sweeter than the Six Grapes, it is dense, powerful and nutty with hints of musk, sweet raisined fruit cake and brandy flavours and a spicy lift of alcohol on the raisin fruit finish. All the components are well in balance. RRP NZ$46.

The Dow's LBV 1995 is slightly browner in colour and is the driest in style of the first flight of fours wines. There's brandy and nuts on the nose while in the mouth are powerful marzipan and nutty flavours. Sweet fruit comes through with a nice hot dry spiciness. This is a maturer and more restrained, elegant style. RRP NZ$36.

Tawny Ports are blended from wines aged in barrel over a number of years. Tawny Ports are light in depth of colour, compared to the vintage styles which are opaque, as the longer the wine stays in barrel the more the colour and fruit disappearsm while developed honey and caramel flavours emerge.

A trio of Ports in the 10 Year Old Tawny category made up the second flight of wines and we are able to appreciate the Port Blender's art. The 10 year olds actually have wine that averages 10 years or older. A younger 7 to 8 year old component adds the fruitiness while a 12 to 14 year old component adds an aged character and a dash of 20 year old adds complexity.

Graham's 10 Year Old, with its 'rose' hues, is darker in colour than the other two in the flight, The fruity spicy nose has a Muscat character with floral notes. There's a touch of musk in this nutty, spicy wine that has an elegant richness. RRP NZ$65.

Dow's 10 Year Old has a wonderfully complex nose - it's rich and heady with nuts, honey and an orange peel-citrus note. It's more opulent and full than the Graham's in the palate with flavours of nuts, dried fruits, citrus peel and raisin richness. RRP NZ$50.

Warres 'Otima' 10 year old is in an attractively presented bottle that hides a mellow style of wine. There's lifted, honeyed, nutty aromas that follow through with nuts, honey and candied peel in the palate. It's an elegant style with lovely muscat and raisin characters on a dry (as dry as a Port can be) balanced finish. RRP NZ$57.

"The step up in quality to a twenty year old is really worthwhile", says Rupert Symington as he introduces the next flight. And I totally understand the statement when I taste these exquisitely complex aged wines. There are only two wines to try.

The Warres 20 year old Tawny Port is amber with orange hues. There's a sweetish, honey, cedary nutty nose. In the palate it's nutty and dry, with a hint of 'rancio' character and raisin and a lovely old woody hot honey character. The wine lingers well in the mouth with a savoury, almost salty note. It has a hot spicy finish that is rich and full. RRP NZ$118.

The Dow's 20 year old Tawny Port is a fuller colour than the Warres with reddish hues to the glowing dark amber wine. Nutty, honeyed characters leap out of the nose. It's very dry in the palate with a nutty, citrus richness and a rancio character as well. It is very elegant and savoury with nuts and candied orange peel and plenty of spirituous warmth. Brandied fruitcake flavours linger and licorice emerges. I rather like this wine. RRP NZ$88.

Vintage Ports are bottled young, anywhere from 2 to 4 years. The colour is dense, so dense and red it is almost black. I find the aromas of these youthful wines just amazing. They remind me of top notch Australian Shiraz and I recall a Taylor's Vintage Port I tried last year, which reminded me of a youtful Penfolds Grange, especially on the nose.

We started with the Warre's Late Bottled Vintage 1992, bottled 4 years after vintage. "This is a true LBV", says Rupert Symington, adding that some LBV's are filtered and fined. The colour is deep black red with amazing depth and inkiness but with a lovely glow. It's a rich licorice, porty, raisiny aroma then in the mouth it's fine and silky. I just love the way the liquid floats across my palate. Just glorious. It's so beautifully balanced. The flavours are definitely raisiny, with licorice notes lingering on the finish. Great looks, great taste, great wine. RRP NZ$61.

Graham's Malvedos 1995 This is a single vineyard wine and from the flagship vineyard of the Graham's estates. 1995 was not 'declared' as a vintage year, however it was a good year for this vineyard, hence the single vineyard (or Quinta) vintage wine. Dense red and inkily opaque in colour, this is a sweeter wine with a mellow and rounded biscuity nose, licorice flavours and spice. With its rounded firm tannins, this is sweet opulence in a glass. It is an interesting wine that is in the transition between being young, fresh and fruity, and taking on a more mature character. Delicious! RRP NZ$100.

Dow's 1980 Vintage Port is from one of the classic vintages and was a great vintage for Dow's. Although over 20 years old, it seems youthful and rich with a spirituous nose that emits a thyme herb character and a 'rubbery' hot climate nuance I find in some Aus wines, then a raisiny, licorice, spirituous heady richness. In the palate it is dry and fine yet opulent and rich with beautiful balance and flavours of lavender and hot, nutty, spice and licorice characters that linger with a salty savouriness. This is a very long fulfilling wine with a lovely richness in the viscous palate and drinking very well today. RRP NZ$125.

The Warre's 1970 Vintage Port has orange hues in the pale red coloured wine. It's a classic old port we are told. It reminds me of the smoking rooms in the old boys' establishments, with that old furniture smell of leather and polished cedar. Or the leather seats of a vintage Jaguar. But there's some lovely sweet fruit in there too. There's citrus notes, spice and herbs, honey, licorice and fruitcake. What a good match this wine would be with fruitcake. It's very warming too with its hot finish. Not for sale in New Zealand, this was purely for us to taste. "Perhaps too young", says Rupert Symington, but it seemed to be about right to me.

This range of Ports offer something for everyone, from the dry elegant styles of the Dow's, to the mid sweet to dry Warre's, to the opulently sweet Graham's.

It was good to be part of this educative tasting and it was good that Symington's three New Zealand distributors came together for the experience.

Dow's is represented by Burleigh Trading Ltd;
Graham's is represented by Eurowine Fine Wines;
Warre's is represented by Negociants NZ Ltd.

Useful Links
The Symington website with links to the individual Houses.
Interested in more Port tasting notes and background information? Head over the the Wine Lovers' Page and Roy Hersch's recent article Fifty Ways to love your Porto.


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