To celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday, Graham’s has released a limited-edition port made up of three rare tawny vintages.
1926 was the year of the General Strike. Stanley Baldwin was Prime Minister. We were between the Wars. A strapping American called Gertrude Ederle became the first woman to swim the Channel. And, on 21 April at 17 Bruton Street in Mayfair, the future Queen Elizabeth II was born.
She will be 90 next month and, to celebrate, the Symington family has raided its cellars and sacrificed some of its most precious old casks to put together a very special tawny port. Graham’s 90 is made from a blend of three very fine ports, two of them older than the Queen herself, and one dating back to before the First World War.
The port is released today exclusively through Berry Bros & Rudd but last week I was lucky enough to be the first journalist to taste not just the finished blend but also its three individual components: rare tawny ports from 1912, 1924 and 1935.
“We really don’t have that many wines of this age and this quality knocking around,” says Paul Symington, Chairman of Symington Family Estates, which owns and makes Graham’s port. “We have a few wines from around these dates but not many.”
Strictly speaking, just one of the three wines has a legally established harvest date – only the 1935 is registered with the Port Wine Institute which is responsible for verifying and documenting port wine. “But that’s because the Institute was only established in 1933,” says Paul. “We do know the other two are 1912 and 1924 but they couldn’t be registered as the institute didn’t exist then.”
Each of the three has a completely different character. The 1935 is the most luscious and welcoming. A superb colheita (single vintage tawny), it is made from grapes picked in the year when Malcolm Campbell set his final land speed record, averaging 301.129mph at Utah in the Bluebird, and Allen Lane founded Penguin Books, yet it still has a sprightly spring in its step, and an open, juicy smell of honeyed raisins and soft caramel that would make it a pleasure to drink unblended.
Paul Symington says, “The thing that I’m quite proud of is that I went back through our records and found that my grandfather, Andrew James Symington, had written: ‘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 – quantity is less than last year but quality appears to be better.’ Of course he was talking about a different monarch – George V.”
The 1924 tawny is the one that provides some of the power, backbone and savour in the blend. It has a spicy taste of tobacco, toast, coffee and ground, roasted hazel and Brazil nuts.
The 1912, the one that most shows its age (as well it might at 104-next-birthday), has the faintest smell of a copy of a very old Bible taken from a shelf in a well-appointed library, more of that deeply luscious honey taste found in the 1935, and layers of dark caramel.
Put together (the blending ratio is 40 per cent 1935, 20 per cent 1924 and 40 per cent 1912, meaning that the average age of the port is more than 90 years), the three meld seamlessly to create a very special old tawny indeed. Tasting it made me appreciate the skill of the blender. As it should be, Graham’s 90, blended by Charles Symington, is far more than the sum of its parts: a finessed, complex port, with fine layer upon fine layer of flavour, like a mille-feuille, opening gradually, a kaleidoscope of roasted nuts, honey, raisins, tobacco and spice.
Releasing a port like this isn’t a straightforward matter. First, a discreet nod had to be gained from the Palace. Far more trickily, the very pernickety Port Wine Institute in Oporto had to be persuaded to grant permission for a tawny that didn’t fit the legal regulations, being neither a colheita (dated vintage tawny) nor a 10, 20 or 40 year old blend.
This took all of Paul Symington’s considerable powers of charm and diplomacy. “I had to go on bended knee,” he says. “I explained that we would like to do something for the Queen as she is very important for port. No single person has done anything more for port. Since she became Queen, port has been served at every state occasion at both Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace. She makes a speech, she proposes a toast, the port is tasted by the likes of President Obama and the menu card is always printed in the paper so it goes round the world. And you can hardly get more grand and prestigious than that.”
His argument clearly did the trick. Eventually, after taking some time to consider this request, Graham’s was granted to fill 500 bottles with the very precious Graham’s 90; a true piece of history that also nods to a port-drinking future.
Graham’s 90 port is available exclusively from Berry Bros & Rudd, from today, at £700 a bottle
Source: The Telegraph Photos: telegraph.co.uk via Graham's