Wine Time

Dennis Sodomka is a guest columnist | Contact Dennis

Wine Time: Graham's Six Grapes Reserve Port NV, Portugal

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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.

With Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port, 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.

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 Winston Churchill.

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).

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. 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. 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 producing the finest port wines.

Early success led them to become one of the first port producers to own their own vineyards. In 1890 they bought the famous Quinta dos Malvedos vineyards. They are ideally situated with a south-facing hillside and exceptional terroir. The Grahams later purchased other Quinta vineyards, all of which yielded first-rate grapes, and established ties with quality growers in 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. In 1970, the Symington family bought Graham’s.

The 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 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 receive organic certification.

Graham’s can control all phases of the winemaking process from the vine to the bottle because it is a family-owned, independent company. The company is one of the few to have its own team of coopers, or barrel makers, who fine tune barrels that can be 75 or 100 years old.

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

GOES WITH: I love drinking fine wine with 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.

We drank the Graham’s Six Grapes with dessert one night. We had bought a Key Lime pie, and John B. and John D. made an egg custard pie. Both were incredible. The port was a perfect match.

I also enjoy port with walnuts, strong cheese and dark chocolate.

WINE EVENTS

THURSDAY, MARCH 6

Wine and beer tasting, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Vineyard Wine Market, 4414 Evans to Locks Road, Evans; (706) 922-9463

FRIDAY, MARCH 7

Wine tasting, 5-8 p.m., Wine World, 133 Georgia Ave., North Augusta; three whites and three reds and cheeses; $5 with rebate on purchase of one bottle of the featured wines; (803) 279-9522

TUESDAY, MARCH 11

Wine dinner, 7 p.m., Finch & Fifth Restaurant in Surrey Center, featuring wines from Unum Wine Cellars in Napa Valley, $75; reservations, (706) 836-0457


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