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House Styles Across Brands

June 20, 2011
Question by: Jacob, London, England

Q:

I’ve been wondering for a while how a company such as the Symington Family Estates manages the blending over so many shippers. Does the same team work on all of the wines, or are there different panels for each shipper? If I’ve counted correctly, I think I am correct in saying that in a general declaration, up to 10 Vintage Ports could be released; far more than of any other Port company!

I was also wondering how a “house style” is maintained for each shipper within the company and whether there is an effort to make each shipper stylistically consistent over the whole range. For example, compared to Graham’s, Dow’s Vintage Port is usually thought of as very dry; could the same be expected when comparing LBVs or Fine Rubies from these houses? I think consistency is often attributed, for Vintage Port, to the use of major vineyards (e.g. Canais for Cockburn) and I was wondering if that is the same with the non-premium brands and tawnies?

Many thanks and congratulations on getting the new site up!

A:

Hello Jacob! You are a mind reader! I am due to meet with Charles next week, and my own list of questions to discuss with him includes questions about house styles and post-harvest winemaking teams.

Until I have that fuller story, here’s a start at answering the second part of your question about house styles: fundamentally, yes, there is a house style for each brand which we do generally maintain across the product range, and yes, to a large extent that house style has been established at the Vintage level and defined by the vineyards dedicated to that brand.

I recently listened to Henry Shotton talking through a tasting of Graham’s Tawnies and comparing them to the Warre’s Otima Tawnies. As with the Vintage ports, Graham’s Tawnies are generally rich, sweet, full bodied, and characterised by fruit flavours, whereas the Warre’s Otimas are more elegant, very fresh and floral, and whilst they are sweet of course, they do not have the pronounced intense sweetness of the Graham’s.

If you think about the Vintage wines for a moment, Graham’s style is consistently rich, intense, sweet and full bodied. This in turn has been defined by the two quintas which have been at the heart of the wine for over 100 years: Quinta dos Malvedos which is a south facing river quinta in the heart of the Douro, and Quinta das Lages in the Rio Torto, a valley which has a particularly intense, hot microclimate. In both quintas we can pretty well count on full and balanced ripening of the grapes, most years. The three other quintas which have come into the blend more recently are also river quintas, from which we can expect broadly similar, compatible wines.

Now think about Warre’s: this Vintage Port is known for its elegance, its freshness and floral characteristics, and is often described as having a more feminine style than other brands. This is defined by Quinta da Cavadinha, in the Pinhão Valley, which rises from 150 to 320 metres of altitude, and is largely south-east facing. The altitude and exposure both make for a cooler, airier environment and ripening is a longer, slower process - Cavadinha is generally the last to start harvesting. These wines are blended with and balanced by those from Quinta do Retiro Antigo in the Rio Torto (see comments re Rio Torto’s microclimate above). Also contributing to the blend are some vineyards adjacent to Cavadinha, from 350 to 480 metres of altitude – so again, freshness and elegance characterise the wines.

Stay tuned for more on this subject, after I have had a chance to discuss it with Charles. Thank you!

Update:  Please take a look at our SFE News article about Maintaining Brand Integrity, for more on this subject.



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