What do you associate with port? Perhaps Christmas? Or as an accompaniment with cheese and biscuits at the end of a meal? Admittedly, I hadn’t really tried it beyond these parameters, so when I was invited to a port and food pairing evening with Graham’s, I couldn’t wait to learn more. W & J Graham’s was founded in Porto in 1820 and was one of the first port companies to invest in its own vineyards in Portugal’s Douro Valley. Today, five Symington cousins share responsibility for every aspect of the company and personally make the Graham’s wines.
The dinner was held at Dehesa in Soho (the sister restaurant to Salt Yard in Fitzrovia, Opera Tavern in Covent Garden and Ember Yard in Soho), named after the Dehesa – a unique woodland area in Spain which is home to the black footed Iberico pigs. We were seated in a cosy private dining area downstairs and the evening was hosted by Graham’s wine expert, Joao Vasconcelos of Symington Family Estates and family member Charlotte Symington.
We started with a White Port and Tonic on arrival, which is something I would never have considered mixing in a million years, but it was gorgeous and incredibly refreshing. I can see myself drinking a lot of this in Summer.
The first course was Smoked Almond, Padron Peppers and Old Spot Rillions, paired with Graham’s White Port.
This was the first time I’d ever tried a white port on it’s own – I’d enjoyed it with the tonic, but it was definitely an enjoyable drink served alone and was paired perfectly with the nuts and peppers, and the meatiness of the rillions. The grape is fermented for a slightly shorter time to preserve the natural sugars in the fruit, which gives the port flavours of honey and nectar and a slightly richer amber hue.
Next we moved on to Deep Fried Courgette Flower with Monte Enebro Goats Cheese with Honey, paired with Graham’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port.
This dish was absolutely delicious and this by itself is enough for me to want to return to Dehesa again soon – the melted cheese was divine. And the 10 Year Old Tawny port was probably my favourite of all of the ports we tried -it is aged in small oak barrels over 10 years so it has intense contact with the oak and in terms of flavour, starts with red berry fruits but ends with notes of honey and fig.
The next course was Roasted Figs, Gorgonzola Picante and Crostini with Honey and Almonds, paired with Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port.
Another gorgeous port, which was a very close favourite for me – the best way of describing it is like a liquid crème brûlée. Heaven! And the combination of figs with the blue cheese was lovely.
We then moved on to the final savoury course, the Three Manchegos with Quince Membrillo, paired with Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos 2001 Vintage Port.
This port was aged for 18 months in large oak barrels and then bottled and corked. It was then aged in the bottle from 2003. For serving, it needs to be decanted, with time to open up and breathe. We discussed decanting methods and it was interesting to learn that you don’t need any ‘fancy decanting tools’ and that said ‘fancy decanting tools’ won’t really make a difference to the taste. The 2001 Vintage Port was beautiful and full of deep, rich flavour.
The first sweet plate was Bitter Chocolate Ganache with Graham’s Six Grapes Port.
The six bunches of grapes on the bottle originates from the marks long-used in the Graham’s Lodge to classify the quality of the wines in the casks. It is bottled when still relatively young in order to retain its freshness and characteristic opulence, and has won a remarkable 7 gold medals and 2 trophies at the most prestigious international tasting competitions over the last two decades.
The final dish was Vanilla Panna Cotta with Honeycomb Ice Cream, paired with Graham’s 1972 Single Harvest Tawny Port.
They really did save the best for last. I was quite full by this point, but I could have eaten a limitless amount of that beautiful panna cotta and ice cream. And then there was the port. Such unbelievably gorgeous port, with rich and complex flavours. We tried it at the the end of the meal, but it would also perfectly complement rich, fatty meats. Obviously the older the port is, the more rare and therefore more expensive. But definitely worth it.
The evening really did change my perception of port and I’m hoping that by reading this, it has also opened your mind up to the many possibilities of serving and drinking port. I’ll be getting some in to drink over Christmas, but not at the end of Christmas dinner, where it would normally have made an appearance. We’ll be drinking it over the festive period with various dishes, such as goose and gammon. I’m excited just thinking about it!
If you’d like to experience all of this for yourself, Graham’s and Dehesa are hosting this event again in the New Year, (January 20th) costing £45 per person. This will go up on the Dehesa website in due course, but in the meantime bookings can be made by calling 020 7494 4170 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was invited to the event by Hope&Glory PR and Graham’s, but did not receive any payment. All views are my own.