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  1. Tasting Notes
December 15, 2023

Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2021 Vintage Port: Micro-terroirism

The latest release of the Symingtons' site-specific Vintage Port is a wine of supreme elegance and purity.

By Richard Mayson

Richard Mayson is excited by Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2021 Vintage Port, which is sourced from two vineyards at Quinta dos Malvedos, and which he tasted alongside the four equally impressive previous editions.

The Stone Terraces Vintage Port was among the first of a new generation of site-specific Vintage Ports, now sometimes referred to as “micro-terroir” wines. I suppose the progenitor of this category was Quinta do Noval’s Nacional, which emerged, post-phylloxera, from a plot of ungrafted vines. Others have followed, mostly separating plots of vinha velha (“old vines”) from their declared vintage lote to make a distinct and, some might say, more “traditional” style of wine. The Stone Terraces is different again. It originates from two vineyards comprising just under 3ha (7.5 acres) on narrow stone terraces at Graham’s flagship estate, Quinta dos Malvedos. The Malvedos vineyards are predominantly south-facing, but the stone terraces have a cooler aspect. One plot (named Port Arthur) faces east and west either side of a narrow valley, and the other (Cardenhos) is steeply inclined to the northeast. The vines are mature rather than “old,” but the Stone Terraces lote is effectively a field blend. Most of the vineyard was replanted with Touriga Nacional (one of the Douro’s leading grape varieties), and this has now been supplemented with Touriga Franca, Sousão, and Alicante Bouschet planted in 2013/14.

Winemaker Charles Symington explains that, back in 2011, they made the decision to bottle a wine from the stone terraces separately. “It began as an experiment,” says Charles. “We chose to pick the grapes from the stone terraces all at the same time and co-ferment them in the same lagar. The wines were unusually expressive, [with their] lifted tropical-fruit character.” He adds that “the stone terraces are some of the most intriguing vineyards we farm, and they produce one of the greatest wines we make in the Douro.” The 2021 Stone Terraces, which has just been declared, is the fifth release of this wine, following on from 2011, 2015, 2016, and 2017.

The 2021 vintage is unlikely to be widely declared; indeed, the Symington family have already opted for single-quinta wines from all the houses in their ownership, including Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos. In complete contrast to 2022 and 2017, the 2021 growth cycle in the Douro was one of the coolest in recent years, with rain interrupting the harvest. Charles Symington was taken aback, however, by the quality of the wines from the stone terraces in 2021, adding that “the quality does not always align with the pattern of classic Vintage Port years.” The 2021 Stone Terraces was launched in London in May this year and shown alongside previous vintages. It was bottled in May 2023, and there are just 4,800 numbered 75cl bottles and 280 tappit hens (2.25 liters), representing 2 percent of the total 2021 production at Quinta dos Malvedos.

This tasting was something of an embarras de richesse, with all the wines showing well (despite their relative youth), and this is reflected in my high scores. (The difference of a few points between the wines mostly reflects my stylistic preferences.) Young Vintage Ports can sometimes by sullen, lumpy, raw, and hard to taste. There is nothing of that on show here, with “restraint,” “definition,” “poise,” and “purity” being the words that sum up these immensely accomplished wines. It is a challenge to envisage drinking dates, especially when The Stone Terraces has such a short track record. Some of the wines are either on the cusp or already drinking beautifully (particularly if you like your Vintage Port with verve and vitality). The tannins are ever-present but not aggressive, which makes the wines approachable (especially the 2016). The most reticent of the wines was the 2011, but the density, balance, and overall poise of all these wines suggests to me that they will all last a lifetime. 

Tasting Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2021 Vintage Port

Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2021

After a cool growing season, all the grapes were picked at the same time from September 18 and co-fermented at relatively cool temperatures to enhance the aromatics. It was all made in robotic lagares—there was no foot-treading in 2021 due to the Covid pandemic. Lovely, deep, bright crimson-blue color; rich but restrained on the nose initially, with attractive, perfumed, floral fruit emerging gradually from the glass. Dense, with well-defined plum and berry fruit on the palate at first, backed by fine gravelly tannins and spicy grip, rising on to a gentle, soft-spicy finish. Despite its youth, there is nothing raw about this wine, and it already shows supreme elegance and purity. | 98

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Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2017

From a hot, dry (widely declared) year with low yields where the Touriga Nacional produced just 750g per vine. Picking began at the end of August, the earliest harvest on record at Malvedos then (until this record was beaten in 2022). Lovely, deep, blue-black hue; still closed and dense, with underlying ripe, plummy, stony fruit. Plum and prune fruit flavors, obviously ripe, with warm-country (“tropical”) opulence and a touch of dark chocolate yet retaining delicacy and freshness, ripe tannins, and full, firm length of flavor, with lovely delicacy and poise on the finish. Undeniably ripe in style, this is still very youthful but also beautifully defined. | 99

Photography courtesy of Symington Family Estates.

Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2016

This was a hotter-than-average year when, alarmingly for winemakers, all the Douro’s grape varieties seemed to ripen at the same time. Picking on the stone terraces began on September 26 and was completed within a day. Not quite as deep in color as the 2017; opening up to reveal ripe, scented, floral fruit, very characteristic of Touriga Nacional yet quite restrained on both the nose and the palate. Lovely, plummy fruit and peachy opulence are backed by soft, gentle, dusty tannins; not quite as full-flavored as the 2017, with a lovely, long, linear finish. Spellbinding purity. If you appreciate your Vintage Port young and in full bloom, this can already be drunk with pleasure. | 97

Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2015

A hot, dry start to the growing season was followed by a cooler summer, which helped to preserve acidity. Rain fell in the middle of harvest, and 2015 was not widely declared. The stone terraces were picked on September 12 and 13, just before the rain. Still very deep, with a youthful crimson hue; ripe and opulent yet restrained on the nose, a touch floral, with a hint of licorice. Sweet, minty ripeness on the palate, with peppery-spicy tannins, long and linear, verging on bony on a finish that has rapier-sharp definition. Supremely refined; lovely now but with a long life ahead. | 96

Graham’s The Stone Terraces 2011

A roller-coaster year, with a cool, early spring, warm April and May, then cooler in June and July, followed by a hot August, and a sunny, warm harvest. 2011 may be the best vintage of the past two decades and was universally declared. Picking on the stone terraces took place on the morning of September 21. Still deep, opaque, and youthful in appearance; ripe and heady on the nose, not yet giving its all—this needs more time in bottle to emerge. Dark-chocolate focus and intensity, with morello-cherry sweetness backed by soft, ripe, yet refined tannins, which rise in the mouth to a multi-dimensional, peacock’s tail of a finish. Beautifully ripe, combining power and elegance, which lead to perfect poise. Drink from 2030. | 100

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