W. & J. Graham’s Special River Quintas Edition “Six Grapes” Reserve Porto

Deep purple with hints of dark blue color; mint, eucalyptus, blackberry, blackcurrant on the nose; black plum, dark cherry, chocolate, liquorice on the palate.

W. & J. Graham’s Special River Quintas Edition “Six Grapes” Reserve Porto

Rich and delicious with superb acidity to balance its ripe, sweet fruit and tannins. Graham’s makes a limited number of its Special Edition wines (in this instance, 500 cases). This one uses only grapes from the 2014 and 2015 vintages from three specific parcels close to the river. The grapes come from old vines, the youngest planted in the 1980s, but others dating back to the 1960s. Generally, a vine qualifies as “old” at 50 years, but there is no formal or legal definition. The older vines produce smaller yields and more concentration. Some vines produce less than a quarter pound of grapes.

Graham’s ports traditionally are sweeter and more fruit-driven than other ports, and this certainly qualifies. They also are sensationally smooth on the palate, delicious, and they virtually command you to take another sip—although at 19.5% ABV, some resistance is advised somewhere down the line.

William & John Graham

Brothers William and John Graham established their firm in northwest Portugal to trade in textiles. In 1820, they accepted 27 barrels of port in payment upon a debt. Shortly thereafter, they decided to devote all their energies to making port wine. The Symington family, the major player in port, acquired Graham’s in 1970, which represented an interesting twist since a century before the founder of Symington, A.J. Symington, began his port career at Graham’s.

Ports are sweet, fortified wines made in Portugal. The grapes come from vineyards along the Douro River in the hot areas in the Douro Valley, away from the Atlantic, almost to the Spanish border (the Douro flows into Portugal after winding its way through much of central Spain; it is the third-longest river in the Iberian Peninsula). After the juice is shipped in barges down the river, it is made into wine in “lodges” in the town of Vila Nova de Gaia, across the Douro from the port city of Porto,.

Fermentation starts, but when the alcohol level reaches six to nine percent, brandy is added, which stops fermentation because the alcohol kills the yeast. Stopping fermentation preserves the sweetness and fruitiness of the grapes. The brandy increases the alcohol level to around 20% ABV (in this case, 19.5%). While port is sweet, tannins and acidity provide balance, so this is sweet dessert wine but is delicious rather than being cloyingly sweet.

Graham’s barrel aging room

A reserve port is a blend of a variety of Portuguese grapes from two or three years of harvests. The winemaker does not know the exact blend since many vineyards are field blends of touriga nacional, touriga franca, tinta barroca, tinta roriz, tinta amarela, and tinto cão. All grapes in this effort come from Graham’s vineyards in the heart of the Douro Superior, the easternmost growing area, and from the oldest vines. The “Six Grapes” designation, however, is not about the number of grape varieties. It comes from a special coding system used in the early 1800s to designate grape quality; the six grape symbol indicated the highest quality grapes deemed suitable for vintage ports.

This is reserve port, not vintage port, and it spends only three or four years in barrel, as opposed to the longer time in barrel for vintage ports, but it is built to mimic vintage port—the grapes used come from the same lots used to make vintage ports. Six Grapes efforts focuses on creating lively, fresh, lip-smacking delicious wine. Graham’s succeeds.

W. & J. Graham’s Special River Quintas Edition “Six Grapes” Reserve Porto is a delicious, sweet, fruit-forward dessert wine. Pair with dark chocolate, chocolate-orange cake, nuts, black forest cake, dark chocolate mousse, hard cheese, Stilton cheese, blue cheese with dribble of honey. It also works very well sipped solo in front of a fire or a dinner table paired with lively conversation and good friendship. $38-42

Graham’s website

Six Grapes website

Graham’s bottle aging room
Graham’s barrel aging and tasting room
Entrance to Graham’s lodge