Graham's Vintage Port 1977
Although I am no fan of drinking clichés, choosing to imbibe Champagne on any day with a 'y' in it rather than only the grandest special occasions, and from time to time savouring a good rosé in the depths of winter should I be in the mood, one seasonal cliché that I do inadvertently and increasingly find myself adhering to is Port. For me, it is never a summertime drink, but come the cold, miserable wintry evenings I feel more and more drawn to the small number of bottles that reside in my cellar. And so it is that this appropriately festive bottle appears as my Weekend Wine today.
There aren't that many bottles from the 1977 vintage in my cellar, less than a handful, and all those are Port. That is perhaps not surprising; as this was one of the better vintages of the decade, perhaps the best after the unassailable 1970. This latter vintage has long been a favourite of mine, not simply because it was the year I was born but because, as a student, a worked my way through bottle after bottle, as they were available off-the-shelf for what would only be considered a bargain price today; just £20 was typical, for Dow's (the vintage marked this firm's tercentenary, as declared by the label), Warre's, Graham's and more. Those days are long gone, however, and such attractively mature bottles are now incredibly expensive, even if we move forward in time to look at more recent vintages, including 1977, 1983, 1985 and beyond. So we must savour these rare treats, if we are fortunate enough to have the opportunity.
The 1977 vintage did not kick off in an auspicious fashion. The winter preceding the growing season was cool and damp, and the summer that followed was similarly unremarkable. Through September there was little hope that this would be a great vintage, but the weather held and indeed it was hot right through October, and by the time the winemakers were tasting the must it was clear things had picked up. Although not sugar-rich the embryonic wines displayed deliciously deep colours and fine, defined flavours. The result was a broad declaration of the vintage, with most houses electing to produce their iconic, flagship vintage Port. The exceptions were Croft, Martinez and Noval.
My experience with the vintage is inadequate to place it within the pantheon of Port declarations, but respected commentators on these fabulous wines today seem to rate 1977 a little behind other great recent vintages, such as the aforementioned 1970 as well as 1963 or the rather more recent 1994. Writing in Port and the Douro (Faber & Faber, 1999), Richard Mayson says of the vintage (writing ten years ago, note), "One or two are already beginning to show their age. There can, however, be no doubt that Fonseca is an all-time great, very nearly matched by Dow, Graham, Taylor, Smith Woodhouse and Warre". Michael Broadbent is perhaps slightly more positive in his tome of tasting notes Vintage Wine (Websters, 2002), writing that it is a "serious vintage, well regarded and widely declared" and of the Graham's in particular, it has a "sweet, good body and backbone, marvellous length, spicy finish....delicious". Of course these days the proof is in the pudding. On with the wine!
At a little over thirty years of age, and after exactly that number of years in bottle, the 1977 Vintage Port from Graham's has a lovely colour, appearing quite mature in the glass, losing some depth of hue, although it is certainly not pale. The nose is divine, taking some time to open up naturally, but then it begins to reveal its perfumed beauty, with a blend of violet petals and raspberries on toast. These early and bright fruit characteristics are followed by notes of darker fruits, cloves, touches of white chocolate and a little spirit still, this latter element fading as I enjoy this wine over the course of three days, without any sign of significant deterioration. It has a lovely somewhat creamy texture on entry, then showing some structure through the middle, tannic, grippy and a touch spirity still, but with a gentle, caressing substance alongside. Savoury, sweet but aromatic, firm, but what is most impressive is its light footed nature, bright and yet substantial, elegant even. This is still certainly packed full of potential though, and although delightful to drink now this will undoubtedly continue to age gracefully in the cellar for a couple of decades yet, perhaps longer. 18.5+/20 (7/12/09)