​Graham 1985 Port


From HK$510, €71.39, $79, £69, 9,362 yen, 1,100 Danish krone, NZ$244.95 

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Our wines of the week are usually in the £10-20 ($15-30) a bottle bracket, occasionally less. Today’s is very much more expensive, but arguably represents a greater bargain than average. For this is one of the world’s unique wine styles, vintage port, that has never been successfully emulated anywhere other than in the Douro Valley in northern Portugal, and absolutely demands long bottle ageing.

The port shippers, mindful of turnover and sales figures, occasionally try to beat the drum for the qualities of young vintage port but, honestly, there are so many more suitable styles of port for drinking young – top-quality ruby or single-quinta vintage-dated ports, for example. The whole point of vintage port is that it is bottled as an incredibly young wine chock full of colour, tannin and any phenolic you care to name and should then be left to mature for decades in bottle so that it eventually throws a thick sediment of the residue of all those phenolics that have married together to yield a liquid infinitely more subtle and mellow than the raw material ever was. (This is why a bottle of vintage port needs to be stood up well before opening and should then be carefully decanted, through muslin or a neutral strainer if necessary.)

The vintage ports of the 1980s are really the youngest you should consider drinking, and some of those much, much older are still glorious and very much alive. (See our 145,000-strong tasting notes database for specific recommendations.) I recently took part in a comprehensive tasting of the vintage ports of the three major vintages of the eighties from Taylor, Fonseca, Graham, Dow and Warre. This Graham’s 1985 was my favourite overall (and the 1985s definitely showed better than the 1983s and, in most cases, than the 1980s).

It’s already delicious but I reckon it will drink well until at least 2040 (feeling youthful…?). A lovely jewel-bright glowing crimson, it manages to be both long and broad. It still has great density of fruit but has evolved to such an extent that it’s really luscious, round and polished with the tannins all molten. It’s not the sweetest port you will ever find but has great polish and an intriguing pepperiness on the end. It’s too good – and arguably too dry – to be paired with anything sweet but would be lovely with hard cheese. But it’s probably best just sipped on its own after a meal.

This, along with the most impressive and arguably even more youthful Taylor 1985 that was the group favourite in this recent tasting (and is not much more expensive), has a strong claim to be the very best wine of the vintage, and is 32 years old, but is far, far cheaper than the best reds of Bordeaux from the equally successful 1985 vintage. They are currently retailing for hundreds and hundreds of pounds a bottle – and are generally past their best.

The great wine style that is vintage port is not the most fashionable, so I urge you to take advantage of the relatively low prices and usefully wide availability that result from this unfortunate phenomenon.This venerable wine is listed as available by wine-searcher.com in the UK, US, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal, Denmark, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and even the British Virgin Islands. Sadly, the French are rarely exposed to great mature vintage port and tend to think a 10-year-old version is quite old enough to drink. 

I’ve timed this particular choice of wine of the week to coincide with the announcement that Graham, and Taylor, have just been made Royal Warrantholders, which means that they are acknowledged as official suppliers of port to H M the Queen, with associated grand symbols. I had the pleasure of participating in the visit of the Royal Household Wine Committee last September that proved the worth of these two fine port shippers. I can only concur.

Oh, and there is news just in from the Symington family who own Graham’s (the picture above shows the five Symington cousins currently running the company – left to right Johnny, Dominic, Paul, Charles and Rupert – on the terrace of the Graham quinta at Malvedos). They never stop buying vineyard land and have just announced their first acquisition outside the Douro, a relatively high-elevation estate well to the south in the Alentejo, in fashionable Portalegre. They have already shown competence in table winemaking (see this wine of the week) so it should be interesting to see what winemaker Charles S makes of this completely different terroir. 

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