A Fitting Send Off For Paul Symington – Tasting a Fabulous Array of Old Vintage Ports and Old Tawny Ports to Mark His Retirement…

The Symington Family Estates is one of the most famous wine and Port houses in the whole of Portugal, which has owned and operated several vineyards and wineries since the 19th century. This family run business, now run by the 4th and 5th generations, owns several prestigious brands of Port, Madeira wine and Douro DOC wines, including some of the oldest and most well-known Port and Madeira offerings.

Today there are 10 family members working across the business, none more committed and married to the business than Paul Symington. A hugely influential and charismatic figure in the Port wine trade for many decades, Paul has finally called time as one of the figureheads of the Symington group and will be succeeded by his cousin, Johnny Symington, who will become chairman while Rupert Symington, previously joint managing director with Paul, will become CEO.

Over the past 20 years that I have worked in the London fine wine trade, it has always been Paul with his cool, calm, measured approach that has been the banner man and figurehead of the Symington Family Estates’ portfolio. So to mark this obviously sad but momentous decision, Paul, along with his long time importer in the UK, John E Fells, decided to go out in style with one of the most incredible Port tastings at the Armoury at the Tower of London.

With the veritable who’s who of the wine trade in attendance, we were treated to a tasting of some of the estate’s greatest wines over the past 100 years. The company is of course in safe hands but Paul will be missed by myself and many in the UK wine trade. Bon voyage et bon chance!

 

Graham 1994 Vintage Port

With 22 years in bottle, this is considered one of the best 3 or 4 post war vintage Ports according to the Symingtons. A classical beauty that is starting to reach a semblance of maturity showing an attractive bouquet of earthy beetroot, milk chocolate, aniseed root, dusty crushed granite, spicy black berry and sweet tobacco. Palate is dense and cool, creamy and sensual with an underlying backbone concealing incredible depth and power, fresh acids and wonderful harmony and balance. Utterly stunning but decades of life ahead of this wine.

(Wine Safari Score: 98/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Graham 1963 Vintage Port

An iconic vintage, this was marked as the first vintage in many years that actually made the family some decent money. At over 50 years old, there is a complexity of burnt brown sugar, polished oak, botanical herbs, oranges soaked in cognac and exotic wood spices. The palate shows creamy sweetness, caramelised depth, orange peel, bergamot, cinnamon spice and a spicy salted caramel finish. Mature but certainly delicious.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Dow 20 Year Old Tawny Port

A very different wine to the Graham 20 year old, this tawny shows an exotic spicy lifted nose with dusty minerality, dried orange peel, aniseed root, caramelised figs and cherries in cognac. Incredible tension and core power, fantastic textural precision and balance with an overall drier finish with complex notes of burnt sugar, spicy almonds, pistachio and salted liquorice. Tannins are beautifully elegant and lend a fine gravitas to the long, dry, mineral finish with the most subtle kiss of sweet tobacco and red bramble berry. A finely matured, mellow tawny that is very distinguished.

(Wine Safari Score: 96+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Graham 1982 Single Harvest Tawny Port

A wine released to commemorate the marriage of HRH Prince Harry to Meghan Markle in 2018. Aged in oak for over 3 decades at Graham’s 1890 Port lodge. 6 Pipes were selected for this exclusive bottling. The nose is very restrained and subtle, with interesting lactic notes of polished oak, butterscotch, pithy red cherry and dusty gravelly minerality. A striking wine that whispers its class, glides across the palate and lingers persistently in the mouth with notes of spiced oranges, cognac spice and vanilla pod. Liquid silk, this wine is as regal the the occasion is was bottled for. Beautiful.

(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Dow 40 Year Old Tawny Port

Plenty of patience required in creating this expression but it rewards with massive depth and power. The bouquet has almost more in common with Madeira than Tawny Port with a sweet / sour nose of red and black berries, sour plum, brine and a pronounced salty maritime sea breeze complexity. On the palate you see the concentration and power, depth and complexity of burnished oak, polished mahogany, burnt oranges, dried orchard fruits, praline and a sleek tea leaf finish. Beautiful and round, textured and showy, this has the opulence and presence to silence the noisiest room of wine merchants and wine critics.

(Wine Safari Score: 95/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Graham 1972 Single Harvest Tawny Port

Only a few barrels were selected in 1972 by Peter Symington for ageing in seasoned oak casks at the Vila Nova de Gaia lodge. Quite exotic with mature notes of wood spice, chocolate caramel wafers, almonds and dried orange peel. Not the most complex aromatic profile but certainly shows incredible fleshy opulence, creamy vibrant freshness, silky soft tannins with all components of this wine in a very happy harmony. One of those wines that confirms that sometimes less is definitely more. Low volume but incredibly melodious.

(Wine Safari Score: 94/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Cockburn 1969 Single Harvest Tawny Port

A sample drawn straight from cask that is currently ageing at the Cockburn lodge in Gaia and is not currently available on the market. This is also the birth year of head winemaker Charles Symington so holds a special position in the sentiments of the family. The bouquet is brimming with sweet wood spice, polished mahogany, oranges macerated in cognac and a subtle nutty almond peel intensity. Full and opulent, this shows a deliciously fresh and vibrant palate that is thoroughly tantalising and alluring with salted caramel, cognac and vanilla spice, dried orange peel and salty, briney fresh acids. Fleshy and harmonious, this is a very impressive fine wine expression that the market will eagerly watch and wait for!!

(Wine Safari Score: 97/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Graham 1963 Single Harvest Tawny Port

This vintage produced some of the finest Tawny Ports of the 20th century. Aged for over 50 years this wine shows incredible subtlety and finesse, delicacy and elegance with notes of dried orange peel, barley sugar, dried maraschino cherries, nutty almond powder and deliciously intriguing wood spice complexity. Beautifully fresh and vibrant, this wine reveals the most regal of tannin structures, a bright crystalline purity, weightless concentration and a delicious tangerine and salted toffee finish. This is incredibly fine, thoroughly distinguished and a definite show stopper. Wow!

(Wine Safari Score: 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Graham 90 Year Old Tawny Port

Specially bottled to commemorate the 90th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, this very fine old Tawny is an extraordinary blend of 1912, 1924 and 1935 and is one of the rarest wines in the Symington range. Each vintage seems to build on the shoulders of the next rising to an ever higher level of complexity. The blending was done to incorporate the colour and acid intensity of the 1935, the rich hedonistic honied opulence of the 1924 and the extraordinary complexity and intensity of the concentrated 1912. A dark tawny opaque brown colour, the bouquet is fiery and a touch spirity but also loaded with ample notes of salted caramel, butterscotch and nutty cognac wood spice. The palate is regal and fleshy with the most delicious concentration enlivened by bristling acids, creamy burnt sugar sweetness and finishes with the most complex dried fruit and coffee caramel finish. Beautiful power, towering elegance and nearly unrivalled hedonistic showmanship. Utterly spellbinding.

(Wine Safari Score: 98+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)

 

Postscriptum: This was a truly amazing tasting of some of the greatest ports ever produced. So if any readers looking at my high scores are thinking I have succumb to a bout of score inflation, think again. This really was one of the most accomplished and remarkable line ups of mature Port that I have ever had the privilege of tasting altogether.

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