Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port NV, Portugal

Cost: $21-23

What: Sometimes you want to have a little luxury, even when you can’t afford it. Luxuries are not essential, but they can make life really special. So it’s really nice to find lux at an affordable price.

Have you ever been on a flight where the airline upgraded you to first class without charge? That happened to me once, years ago, and I still remember it vividly.

Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port is a lot like that. You get luxury taste at a regular price. It is blended to taste like a young Vintage Port, but you don’t have to pay the $100 or more a Vintage Port would cost you.

I love Vintage Port, but I can’t afford to drink it very often, so the Graham’s Six Grapes is a nice compromise.

Port is a rich, sweet fortified wine that is perfect after dinner. This smooth, velvety wine from Graham’s is made from high quality grapes, many of which come from some of the finest vineyards in the upper Duoro Valley in Portugal, owned by Graham’s, and from farmers who have been selling their grapes to Graham’s for generations. These are grapes that go into Vintage Port in exceptional years.

The Douro is one of the most difficult wine-growing regions on earth. The river runs through rugged mountains, creating steep, winding valleys and a wide array of microclimates. Each vineyard is different, producing unique wines that result in complex blends. Graham’s consistently gets top-quality grapes out of its vineyards and turns them into world-class wines.

Graham's Six Grapes with egg custard and Key Lime pies.
Graham’s Six Grapes with egg custard and Key Lime pies.

Six Grapes is a deep ruby color in the glass, with a muted aroma. But the flavor more than makes up for what the nose lacks. It is bright and fruity and very robust, with a lingering finish. It will warm you to your toes on even the coldest night.

The wine is barrel aged for three years before its release. Once it is bottled, it will not improve, unlike Vintage Port, which continues to evolve in the bottle. After you open a bottle, if you re-cork it, it can last up to 6-8 weeks.

But be careful. The reason it lasts so long after opening is it is 20 percent alcohol.

This wine has had many admirers for decades. Graham’s ‘Vintage Character’ Port, the blend today known as Six Grapes, was the Port of choice of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill. It was the only Port he was known to have bought throughout his life.

The quality of the wine has been helped by past success and forward thinking. In its lodge Graham’s has more than 3,500 pipes of maturing wines in seasoned oak casks (each pipe is approximately 550 liters). This wide selection of maturing wines gives the Master Blender a great variety to choose from when blending the house wines.

The Master Blender will keep track of each lot of wine from harvest through blending. He will plan how to use each barrel and do trial blends over several years until he comes up with what he thinks is the perfect blend.

Port is produced by intentionally interrupting the fermentation of the grape juice by the addition of a clear grape spirit called aguardente, generally referred to as ‘brandy’. This preserves a large amount of the grapes’ natural sugars, thereby giving Port its characteristic sweetness and richness.

The grapes that go into any Port blend must be grown in the mountainous Upper Douro region of Northern Portugal, the world’s first officially demarcated wine region in 1756. This region is the only place in the world that can produce authentic Port, though you will see so-called ports produced in other countries using wines such as Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

This proprietary blend is typical of the Graham’s style, so if you like it, you will like their Vintage Ports as well. The Six Grapes blend has been called the everyday Port for the Vintage Port drinker. It is an apt description.

Winery: W. & J. Graham’s Port was established by brothers William and John Graham, who had begun a firm in Oporto to trade in textiles. In 1820 they accepted 27 barrels of Port to pay off a debt. After that they decided to dedicate their lives to produce the finest Port wines.

Early successes led them to become one of the first Port producers to own their own vineyards when in 1890 they bought the famous Quinta dos Malvedos vineyards. They are ideally situated with a south-facing hillside and an exceptional terroir. The Grahams later purchased several other Quinta vineyards, all of which yielded first-rate grapes.

The family also established ties with quality growers throughout the region.

In 1882 a young Scottish businessman, Andrew James Symington, began to work for Graham’s in Oporto. In 1891 he married a woman whose ancestors were among those who began the Port trade, and his ties to the region deepened. In 1970 the Symington family bought Graham’s and still owns it today.

The company built a lodge in Oporto, called Villa Nova de Gaia, where the wines could age. Cooled by the nearby Atlantic Ocean, the earth-floored lodge is still used today and is considered crucial to the slow, careful development of Graham’s wines.

Years ago, the wine in large barrels was brought down the Douro River by small boats, the traditional barcos rabelos. The Douro was a wild river and the trip could be dangerous. The Quinta dos Malvedos vineyard translates to “the bad ways,” referring to the treacherous rapids below the estate.

The river was dammed in the 1960s and 1970s to generate hydroelectric power, and that ended the use of the barcos. The wine now travels to Oporto by rail, truck and oxcart.

The Symington family has remained committed to tradition while investing heavily in the vineyards and the winery at Quinta dos Malvedos. They also have invested in research about improving vines and vineyards

The company also has established an organically certified vineyard, in which only natural weed control and soil management techniques are used. Several other vineyards are on track to organic certification in the coming years.

Graham’s can control all phases of the winemaking process from the vine to the bottle because it is a family-owned, independent company. Each generation hands down its knowledge and tradition to the next.

The company is one of the few Port producers to have its own team of coopers, or barrel makers, who fine tune barrels that can be 75 or 100 years old.

The Symington family has lead a recent revival in dry red wines produced in Portugal. In the late 1970s the Touriga Nacional grape variety was rescued from near extinction at their vineyards at Tua. Cuttings were made from these vines and planted elsewhere.

Touriga Nacional wines are thriving now and often are wines of distinction. I have had several that are outstanding.

Besides the Six Grapes and Vintage Port, Graham’s also produces a variety of Ruby and Tawny Ports. Tawny Ports are aged in contact with oxygen in oak barrels, so the color changes to tawny shades ranging from cedar red to deep amber.

Friends Edith, John D., Dorothy and John B. enjoy the conversation, pies and Port.
Friends Edith, John D., Dorothy and John B. enjoy the conversation, pies and Port.

Goes with:  I love drinking fine wine in the company of friends, so I was thrilled when I got to share this with three other couples with whom I have traveled for several years. We all rented a house at Edisto Beach for a week of eating, drinking, golfing, resting, card-playing and all-around good fun.
Meeting at Edisto made it all even better because Edisto has long been one of my favorite places on earth. I have seen some incredible places, but frankly nothing beats time on Edisto.

Getting together with these folks is always a spirit-renewing experience for me. The other three couples brought me back from the brink when my wife died several years ago and they insisted I join them on a wine trip to Napa Valley.

We had a great time and in all modesty called ourselves the Magnificent 7. They went along with the gag when I would joke about being engaged to a young wine pourer or fiddle player we would meet on our trips, all while I thought I would never marry again.

Then along came Teri and put light back into my life. To my great relief, the others accepted her immediately and we became the Magnificent 8, although Sandy is trying to get us to come up with some new name for us using a mysterious combination of our names that I really don’t get.

But, hey, I’m capable of change, sort of. I’m just not sure I could get used to Hobladeso, or Hobkablackle, or whatever we come up with.

The rest of the friends: Sandy, Steve and Teri.
The rest of the friends: Sandy, Steve and Teri.

They will always be my company of friends, which happens to be the name of a song we played a few times. It’s written by Danny Schmidt and sung by Carrie Elkin, a couple who we have heard at two house concerts hosted by Steve and Sandy. They are absolutely brilliant, and this song is about as good as anything I’ve ever heard.

We drank the Graham’s Six Grapes with dessert one night. We had bought a Key Lime pie on the way onto the island and John B. and John D. made an egg custard pie. Both were incredible. The Port was a perfect match for the pies.

The two Johns made several pies that week, including several egg custards and several chocolate pies. I try to avoid desserts, but I couldn’t resist those pies. They were incredible, and happened to pair very well with Port, which we had on several nights.

I also enjoy Port with walnuts, strong cheese and pieces of dark chocolate. Finishing a fine meal with a glass of Port is the perfect ending.

The start of a beautiful sunset at Edisto Beach.
The start of a beautiful sunset at Edisto Beach.

The sunset continues with more colors.
The sunset continues with more colors.

Sky still ablaze as the sun sinks more.
Sky still ablaze as the sun sinks more.

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