28 Oct Please The Palate Pick of the Week: Dinner with Rupert and Hugh Symington and their DOC Dry Table Wines
The Symington Family is one of the world’s leading Port producers. For five generations and more than 130 years, the Symington Family has been home in the Douro Valley. They are known for their Port, with brands including Graham’s, Dow’s, Warre’s, Cockburn’s, and Quinta do Vesuvio. But they also produce DOC dry table wines. And this past week, I enjoyed tasting these dry table wines at dinner with two generations of Symington. And that is why it is the Please The Palate pick of the week.
The Symington family is of British and Portuguese origin. They have worked in Portugal since the 19th century, ever since Andrew James (“AJ”) Symington arrived in Portugal in 1882 at the age of 19. He set up a Port shipping business and married Porto-born Beatrice Leitão de Carvalhosa Atkinson, whose family had been Port merchants in the 17th century. AJ and Beatrice had three sons who worked with their father to run the Douro properties, and then their grandchildren followed. The fourth generation, cousins Paul, Johnny, Dominic, Rupert, and Charles, have been running the family business sinc 1979. And now their children, the fifth generation, have joined the business. Each of the cousins has a different role, and Hugh, Rupert’s son, is working in San Francisco at Premium Port Wines, the Symington’s distribution company. Rupert and Hugh were together in Los Angeles to share some of their new wine releases which we enjoyed at dinner at Caldo Verde in the Proper Hotel in Downtown LA.
The Symington’s are the largest vineyard owner in the Douro Valley. The company owns 17 vineyards and family members own another 9 vineyards. These 26 vineyards include more than 2500 acres of vineyards that are managed under a strict minimum intervention policy. 277 acres are farmed organic, the largest area of certified organic vineyard in northern Portugal. While the Symingtons are known for their leading Port Houses, Graham’s, Dow’s, Warre’s, Cockburn’s, and Quinta do Vesuvio, they were also pioneers in the production of modern Douro wines. In the 1990s, using grapes from the same vineyards that they make the Port wine, they made their first Douro DOC wines.
We started the evening with a glass of the 2021 Vale do Bomfim DOC Douro White ($16). Sourced from high altitude vineyards in the Douro Valley, the wine is a blend of 45% Malvasia Fina, 25% Rabigato, 10% Viosinho, and 10% Arinto and aged in stainless steel. It was a refreshing way to start the night as the wine has tropical and floral notes and crisp, fresh acidity.
The second wine was another white wine. It was the 2021 Quinta da Fonte Souto, Portalegre, Branco ($29). Quinta da Fonte Souto is from the Alto Alentejo subregion of Portalegre and is the family’s first property outside of the Douro region. A blend of 75% Arinto and 25% Verdelho, 60% of the wine was fermented in 500 liter barrels and then spend seven months aged in a combination of new and used oak and a small amount of stainless steel. The wine has floral, peach, vanilla and mineral notes and an elegant roundness on the palate.
We then moved into red wines and had the 2019 Pombal do Vesuvio ($32), a blend of 55% Touriga Franca, 40% Touriga Nacional, and 5% Tinta Amarela. The hand-picked grapes come from the Quinta do Vesuvio vineyards, the largest property of the Symington family. The 805-acre vineyard is located in the Douro Superior, close to the Atlantic coast as well as the Spanish border. The wine has notes of red and black fruits and forest floor and lovely fresh acidity with balanced tannins.
The 2020 Prats & Symington Chryseia, Douro DOC ($111) was the final red wine of the night. Prats & Symington is the result of a partnership between the Symington family and the Prats family of Chateau Cos d’Estournel in Bordeaux. The Chryseia was first released in 2000 and received lots of international recognition. In fact, the Chryseia was the first Portuguese red wine to ever appear in the Wine Spectator list of the 100 Best Wines of the World. The wine is made at the Quinta de Roriz estate where the 103-acre vineyard dates back to 1565. The Chryseia is a blend of 70% Touriga Nacional and 30% Touriga Franca from the Quinta de Roriz vineyard and the neighboring Quinta da Perdiz vineyard. The wine spent 15 months in 400 liter French oak barrels. It offers notes of black fruits, floral notes, and balsamic notes. It is complex and deep on the palate but also is fresh and structured.
We finished the evening with two Port wines, the Graham’s Six Grapes Special Edition “Vila Velha” ($49) and the Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port ($77). The Symingtons may be known for their delicious Ports but I thoroughly enjoyed tasting their Douro wines.