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.