September 26, 2009

2009 Douro Vintage

This is my 37th Douro vintage and I don't remember seeing sugar readings quite so high ever before! We buy grapes from a small traditional vineyard in the Caedo valley and the lagar this year registered 19.25º beaumé or 20.8% of potential natural alchohol! No wonder our ancestors struggled with the problems of residual sugar!

We have had hot, dry weather since the beginning of the second week of August and now at the end of September the heat continues! Apart from one late afternoon thunderstorm when the heavens opened for an hour we have had not a drop of rain throughout the vintage.

With the lack of moisture, most grapes have shrivelled-up turning to raisins but the pips and stems have remained surprisingly green indicating that the phenolic maturation has been incomplete. Consequently although sugar readings have soared, there remains an immaturity of green tanins.

It has been a year favouring the cooler, higher altitude vineyards and the deep-rooted old vines whose tap roots can often go down 20 metres in search of moisture. It has also been a good year for the Touriga Nacional grape variety whose small tough-skinned grapes have withstood the heat better than some of the more delicate varieties.

Here at Churchill's we have concentrated in sourcing our grape purchases on this basis; over and above our own production from Quinta da Gricha and Quinta do Rio we have contracted grapes from either old vineyards or higher altitude Touriga Nacional vineyards.

So far I am pleased with the results. Our Douro wines have wonderful violet hues and a freshness and acidity which is surprising for such a year. Our ports are deep coloured and have excellent tannic qualities on the finish.

September 07, 2009

2009 vintage

We were beginning to forget how hot the Douro can become in the summer! A heatwave hit the region during the 2nd week of August and daytime temperatures here at Quinta da Gricha have remained close to 40ºC in the shade during the past month. The nights have also remained very warm so there has been no early morning dew to provide moisture for the grapes. As a result sugar levels have jumped but without the accompanying phenolic maturation. Altitude and grape variety selection will play an important role in Douro wine production this year. I think the higher altitude vineyards will produce better balanced wines this year and it will be important to include grape varieties with low alcohol and good acidity such as Touriga Franca in the blend. The challenge will be to make elegant wines with freshness and good acidity.

We are experimenting with white wine this year! Possibly not the ideal year for a Douro white wine, I hear you say! but, despite the hot climatic conditions, I am delighted with the natural acidity of the grapes. We have selected the Viosinho and Rabigato grape varieties from high altitude vineyards in the Murça and Carrazeda regions. So far so good. We have two tanks currently at 10ºC which have been decanted prior to inoculation... so watch this space.....

July 16, 2009

New design for our Douro Wines

We have redesigned our Douro wine labels to depict aerial views of the terrace contours of our Douro vineyards. These striking new labels will help to reinforce the identity of our Churchill Estates brand.

With the launch of the 2007 vintage we are extending our Churchill Estates brand to include a Reserva, a single varietal Touriga Nacional and a Grande Reserva. These wines will be released in September.

June 24, 2009


It is always a pleasure to visit Bordeaux and this year Vinexpo has been less hectic than usual giving one time to taste around!
I was able to taste a comprehensive range of 2008 Bordeaux Grand Crus. It was interesting to note that the style of the 2008 year for Bordeaux wines is similar to the Douro; elegant wines with excellent acidity, light in structure but with good definition and a tannic finish. The better wines are the riper ones which have more of a middle palate that helps to balance out the acidity.

May 21, 2009

Let's clean up this tasting act!

I despair at the ineptitude and lack of professionalism of some of our influential wine journalists these days in tasting young Vintage Ports. Yes, assessing young Vintage Ports is not an easy job, but if you don't have the confidence in your tasting ability to do it blind then don't do it at all!

What service are you providing your unfortunate subscribers by bringing all your prejudices to the tasting bench. What credibilty can you have if you reassess your marks after seeing the name on the bottle!

Sour grapes I hear you say. Yes, I am upset by the way my wine has been rated. I am extremely proud of the Churchill 2007. It is probably the best Vintage Port we have ever produced and that includes our trophy winning 1985.

Ignorance is forgivable. Not everyone realises that a young Vintage Port blend should be as tight as a drum. It should be tannic, unyielding and not reveal very much, so beware of all those wines with the flowery adjectives.

But let's clean up this tasting act please!

May 17, 2009

The power of the Press!

I drank some memorable bottles with my friends here in Oporto when James Suckling was in town.

My old friend Paul Symington produced a Graham's 48 and a Dow's 31. At 60 years old the Graham's 1948 was still tasting amazingly young and fresh whilst the Dow's 1931 was delicate and dry.

Dirk Nieport also kindly invited me to his house for dinner and produced a decadently sweet Nieport 1955, which I guessed right! First however we had his fabulous Batuta 2001. James and Paul both thought it was French and a top line Rhone wine. I thought the terroir was familiar and said to the assembled company how I wished it could be from the Douro!

"James come back , all is forgiven, more or less!"

May 16, 2009

US sales visit

I have been away for the past two weeks launching our 2007 Vintage; one week in the US and one week in England encompassing the London Wine Trade Fair.

The US was a whistle-stop tour of 5 cities beginning in New York and finishing in San Francisco. I had good intentions of writing my blog each evening but would arrive back at my hotel late each night absolutely whacked!

Despite the job losses and the difficult financial times being experienced by many people, I found the mood in the US to be upbeat. You cannot underestimate a market of 300 million people who are regaining their national pride!

The Churchill's 2007 Vintage was showing very well and there is a razmatazz about the wine with its fresh fruit and racy tannins. It also has a density and structure which in my opinion sorts out the sheep from the goats!

You can't imagine my disappointment and amazement when I saw the rating given by James Suckling of the Wine Spectator. I don't think James accredits enough the tougher more complex wines over the intense eye-catching fruit bombs!

April 26, 2009

Churchill's 2007 Vintage Port Declaration

We have declared the 2007 Port Vintage!
2007 was an outstanding year in the Douro for both Port and Douro wines.

In my opinion the Churchill's 2007 has the fresh, fruit driven style of the 1985's combined with the tough chunkiness of the 1994's.

I have already posted my Vintage Report and Tasting comments.

Churchill's 2007 Vintage Port Technical data

Tasting Comments:

A rich and solid purple colour; on the nose, a combination of wild lavender and concentrated blackberries; broad shouldered and complex on the palate with a meaty structure and lingering tannins; a classic Vintage Port to put away in the cellar for many years.

Old vineyards in the Douro Superior and in the Cima Corgo; Quinta da Gricha on the south bank of the river Douro, Quinta do Rio in the Rio Torto valley and Quinta do Sto Antonio in the Pinhão valley.

This is the first time that we have included a wine from the Douro Superior in our Churchill’s Vintage blend; a richer, riper style of wine to compliment the finer, more intense style of wine from the quintas in the Cima Corgo.

Grape Varieties:
A field blend from old vineyards (av. Age 40-50 years old) that include grape varieties such as Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Francisca and Tinto Cão.

All our Ports are made in “lagares” or traditional granite treading tanks. This is our preferred choice of vinification for Port. Although more costly, we believe it is still the most effective maceration process for making top quality Vintage Port. We have treading teams working throughout the day and up to 10pm each evening.

Alcohol – 20 %
Sugar – 92.0 g/l
Total Acidity – 5.6 g/l
Volatile Acidity – 0.27 g/l

Winemaker: Johnny Graham

2007 Vintage Report

Climatic conditions:
As often happens in great Vintage years, the climatic conditions in the Douro in 2006/2007 were not a text book example of what you would expect from a year that produced such outstanding wines.
Heavy rainfall during the winter months of November and February was closely followed by further precipitation during the spring months of May and early June. These humid conditions produced heavy vegetation in the vines giving rise to potential fungal and parasitic problems during the flowering and in the early summer which had to be carefully controlled.
The summer months, however, were then hot and dry but the temperature in August was cooler than average. With the exception of one day’s rain in mid September, the dry weather continued right through to the end of October with hot days and cool nights.
This Indian summer compensated for the lack of real heat in August and concentrated the grapes bringing them to perfect ripeness by the time of the vintage. At Churchill’s we delayed picking our old vines and top vineyards to ensure that these grapes were at optimum maturity.
The vintage started on 10th September. The grapes were in excellent condition and very few were rejected on our sorting tables. Although the daytime temperature was hot, our new overnight cold storage system ensured that the grapes were crushed into the lagares at a cool temperature the next morning. Fermentations were long and even and the lagares took plenty of work producing wines with stunning colour and concentration.
The young Ports spent their first winter in seasoned oak “tonels” up the Douro and then were brought down to our Port lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia in the following spring. Here they spent the next year in seasoned oak vats and stainless steel tanks where their development was carefully accompanied.
The final selection was made in the early Spring this year. The young Vintage Port and Single Quinta Vintage Port blends will now spend six months in seasoned oak vats before being bottled in the early autumn.

Johnny Graham
Oporto, 20th April 2009

April 23, 2009

Old Tawny Port and bottle age

I had dinner last night with my old friends Ben and Chrissie Howkins at their house in London. Ben very kindly served us his last bottle of Croft's Old Particular which he had kept in his cellar since he was a director of Crofts 30 years ago.

Normally I would be sceptical about ageing an old tawny Port in bottle, as bottle age tends to take away the freshness and crispness of a good tawny; This bottle however tasted absolutely delicious and any lack of freshness was more than compensated by the delicateness and faded elegance acquired from its 30 years in bottle!

I guess the the answer is that, if you decide to age an old Tawny in bottle, you should put it away for many years!

April 14, 2009

A tip for pulling out those old Vintage Port corks

Before 1987 all our standard Vintage Port bottles had those bulbous necks. Although they look quaint, they are a disaster!

When the compressed corks were inserted into these bottles they flaired out inside the neck. On being laid down the Port has infiltrated into the flaired lower part of the cork almost up to the lip of the bottle. Infact the only part of the cork that has been acting as a seal is the top 1cm of cork just below the lip.

The result is that not only is there often seapage in these bottles but also the saturated lower 4cms of cork either breaks-off or disintegrates when you try and pull it out with the corkscrew. This turns what is normally a quick and simple job of decanting into a stressful exercise of extracting lots of tiny particles of cork floating in the Vintage Port from out of the decanter!

Although I am sure that the art of breaking the neck of the bottle by using a pair of red-hot tongs would resolve this problem, I don't have the patience nor often a burning fireplace to heat the tongs.

I have found that the best solution is to use an old fashioned corkscrew with a long thread. By inserting this corkscrew right through the bottom of the cork there is a very good chance that if pulled out vertically, without leverage, the cork will come out whole or just about. This is not advisable to those of you who suffer from bad backs.

I am pleased to say that since 1987 the standard Vintage Port bottles now come with cylindrical necks where not only do the corks create a good seal but where there is also very little risk of the cork breaking-up on being extracted.

April 13, 2009

The Pascal lamb

April showers have arrived in the Douro and not a bit too soon! The young vines in our new vineyard at Quinta da Gricha were beginning to suffer from the unseasonably dry and warm spell of weather in March.

The sun shone for us on Easter Sunday. As usual we had a few friends round for an Easter lunch of barbecued butterflied leg of lamb. After many years of barbecuing lamb, I have come to the conclusion that the best method is to lay the butterflied leg almost on top of the white-hot coals and zap it for about 15 minutes on either side. It cooks to perfection! marvellously charred on the outside but deliciously juicy and pink on the inside!

To accompany the lamb I served a Churchill Estates Douro 2006, one of the Wine Spectator's Top 100 wines of last year. This elegant, full bodied Douro red has plenty of vinosity and combines beautifully with the barbecued flavour of the lamb.

April 01, 2009

Churchill Estates 2007 Douro

This is not an April fool! We are now releasing our new 2007 Churchill Estates wine. What I love about this vintage is the maturity! There is masses of ripe fruit but the natural acidity of the Quinta da Gricha terroir keeps the wine fresh and elegant.

March 25, 2009

Tasting the 70's Vintage Port decade at the Factory House

I've just been to a"70's decade" Vintage Port tasting at the Factory House.The 1970's are well balanced elegant Ports in their prime, the 1975's will always be light but they are fine quality Ports gaining in stature with age, the 1977's are young at heart with good tannic freshness but lack a little ripe concentration in the middle!

March 23, 2009

bragging about the 2007

I was invited to lunch at the Merchant Taylors last week and the Master very kindly served a 1977 vintage port from one of my fellow port shippers. It tasted delicious although I can't help feeling that the Churchill's 2007 we are about to declare will be better!

March 10, 2009

I'm drinking now

I brought a bottle of our 1991 vintage port up from the cellar. Although it will still benefit from considerable more aging it is drinking really well at the moment. It has great balance and plenty of fresh natural acidity which will make it age gracefully.

Our 2007 Vintage is previewed in London

I've spent the day with Stokes, our UK agents with their clients and press at a tasting of their range in the Groucho club in London's Soho. We had a private room where I held a master class comparing a vertical range of Churchill's Vintage Ports with Quinta da Gricha Single Quinta Vintage Ports in order to introduce our new 2007 vintages.

I thought the 2007's showed maginficently. It really is a fabulous year with plenty of ripeness but also excellent natural acidity and tannins. Gricha's hightone fresh berry character and purity of fruit is outstandingly elegant but the broad shouldered complexity of the Churchill blend with its fine "green tea" aroma, meaty structure and lingering tannins makes it a classic vintage to put away in the cellar for many years.

Although not yet declared, it is highly likely that we, port shippers, shall all be declaring the 2007 as a vintage year this spring. Climatic conditions were perfect: the build-up of heat during the summer with a little rain at the end before the harvest allowing the sun to ripen the grapes beautifully. I predict a classic vintage as good as our 1985 and 1994.