Thursday, 5 June 2014

LWW: Port (and Chocolate!) Tasting at Churchill's Port House

It is London Wine Week this week and there are all sorts of fantastic tastings, meals and seminars going on across London.

On Wednesday evening I went along to an event at Churchill's Port House a Port pop-up in Soho that has certainly got people talking. The well publicised Sherry revolution that started a couple of years ago is fairly established now, yet Port tends to retain a slightly stuffy "we drink it at Christmas with some cheese" mantle. Churchill's Port House, run by Maxwell Graham, are trying to put an end to that. Quite simply they are looking to emphasise the variety and versatility of Port - everyone knows that it matches well with cheese, but when else - and with what - can it be drunk?

First of all, a spot of history to put Churchill's into context. The Churchill's company is owned by Maxwell's father - John Graham; the Graham family are inextricably linked to Port and Portugal through the eponymous Graham brand of Port which was sold in the 1970s. In 1981 John Graham bought a new vineyard (Quinta da Gricha in the Duoro) and established his new venture, which he named after his wife's (Caroline) maiden name - Churchill.

We were taken through two of their Port flights as part of this evening, firstly their Premier flight with matching chocolates designed by Paul A Young:

White Port (aged for 10 years): this was served slightly chilled and was fragrant and subtly spiced on the nose. On tasting it was soft, even a little creamy but with a slightly warming element to it. I had this with some salted almonds and it was a perfect match. 7.5/10

LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) 2003: this was much more fruity, but had a touch of tobacco or leather on the nose. On tasting this was very much more impressive, it started off full and fruity (cherry flavours) and then developed to become herbal; this was served with a Peanut Butter and Raspberry Jelly truffle. 8/10

20 year old Tawny Port: this was again served chilled. It had a more delicate nose than the LBV, it was slightly sweeter and more herbal (I wrote down eucalyptus, although I'm not sure I've ever smelt eucalyptus before; it seemed a good description at the time...) On tasting it was elegant and poised, warm and welcoming, yet it held a background power and depth that ensured a long, impressive finish. This was served with a Cigar Leaf Caramel - with the flavours of the Tawny being perfect for cutting through the sweetness of the caramel. 8.5/10.

After this, we were taken through the big boys - the vintage ports:

Churchill's 2011 vintage: much has been written about the superlative 2011 vintage Port. So much so, in fact, that even I have gone out and bought some for laying down - trouble is you've got to wait at least 20 years to drink the stuff... Anyway, you can sample here the 2011 vintage, which is quite rare - so what is all the fuss about? The wine was bright and vital in the glass, as you'd expect from one so young. On swirling in the glass I was figuratively assaulted by an abundance of fruit bursting forth from the glass - in a good way, I hasten to add! I found it a little sharp to taste, the tannins are still there, but it was full, fruity (bright, red cherries), with a decent finish - but not stellar... yet. Exceptional port is like good red burgundy, when very young it is full and brash, but perfectly serviceable, then it goes to sleep for a period (ten years or so) before it starts to really blossom. This will be a star, just try to wait if you can... ?/10

2005 Quinta da Gricha: this was my favourite wine of the evening, on swirling it was beguiling and inviting; very herbal and spicy, but with a slight musty tint. On tasting it was soft, fruity at first (dark cherries), which then gave way to a sweeter after-taste - like caramel. The finish was divine, it really did just keep giving. 9/10

Churchill's 1997 vintage: this was slightly more reserved on the nose, but touches of truffle and mustiness were balanced with fruity notes. On tasting it was velvety smooth, with a little more heat and warmth to it than the '05. It has a sweet and herbal finish, where I detected a touch of spearmint. I was a little underwhelmed compared to the '05, but I was advised by the staff that actually the '97 vintage is probably a few years off peak condition yet! It won't hit 20 until 2017, so probably best to try it again then! 8/10

I must say that I was aware of the spectrum and complexity of Port wines, but this was a fantastic way to see how you can get different styles and appreciate the ageing process in developmental terms. At Churchill's Port House they do a selection of tapas, as well as charcuterie and cheese plates, that one can order to accompany the ports; I didn't have any, but I must say that they looked excellent.

During LWW if you show your wristband you can get money off their classic Port flight (featuring their White Port, the 10yo Tawny and their Reserve). If you can't make it down during LWW I would still recommend going down to taste your way through some of these remarkable wines.     

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