1994 was a fruitful and historic year for Graham’s. Not only did it result in a classic Vintage Port declaration, earning comparisons to the iconic 1970, but the wines were the first that Charles Symington – a new apprentice under his father and Head Winemaker, Peter Symington – was tasked with appraising and evaluating, after joining the company in 1995.
Reflecting on that time, Charles commented,
“As my father and I tasted the best wines from the 1994 harvest over the following year, we became convinced we had the potential to make some of the greatest Vintage Ports of the 20th century. I can clearly remember the intensity of the wines with remarkable fruit character and a beautiful, layered complexity.”
After evaluating the year’s wines, Charles, his father, and the rest of the family decided to declare Graham’s 1994 Vintage Port, which was blended, bottled, and released in 1996. Such was the outstanding quality of the 1994 harvest that the father-and-son team decided to set aside some of the finest parcels for long-term ageing in seasoned oak casks. This was a significant decision as it laid the groundwork for two wines, with the same starting point, to take very different paths, one in bottle and one in oak, the results of which would not be fully known for over two decades.
In 2019, Charles, now Head Winemaker, took the decision to bottle the best wines as 1994 Single Harvest Tawny Port. This was placed under ‘The Apprentice’ label of The Cellar Master’s Trilogy, a series of three Single Harvest Tawny ports celebrating the skills, experience and craftsmanship honed by him, and other before him, over decades to age and blend these wines.
With a very slow, gradual oxidation through the wood, the 1994 Single Harvest Tawny has become a deep amber brown colour, with aromas of rose petal and toasted honey underpinning raisin and berry flavours and a delicate toasted coffee finish.
The remaining bottles of the 1994 Vintage Port, meanwhile, have being lying untouched in the Graham’s Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia. In contrast with the oak-ageing of the Single Harvest Tawny, the bottle-aged Vintage Port has had absolutely no contact with the air over the last 25 years. Consequently, it has developed the elegance and balance that comes with bottle-ageing alone.
On the palate, it is rich and complex with sumptuous flavours of blackberries. Silky and opulent, it is a wine worthy of comparison to the much-lauded 1970 Vintage Port. While it is entering into a very exciting drinking period now, it also has the potential to age for decades to come.
Speaking of both the 1994 Single Harvest Tawny and the Vintage Port, Charles remarks that he is “reminded of that initial intensity of youth that gave us such confidence in the longevity of the wine, ageing in both bottle and cask. Both wines have the same starting point but have evolved in their own way to deliver unique expressions of the magnificent fruit-forward wines that we produced in 1994.”
As the Symington family have decided to rerelease a limited number of bottles of the 1994 Vintage Port from the Graham’s cellars, these two wines are finally available to purchase at the same time.
The wines are available online in the UK via Vintage Wine & Port: