Superb Ports and table wines from the newest of the British Port companies

Despite its thoroughly traditional-sounding name Churchill is the newest of the British-owned Port companies, founded in 1981 by Johnny Graham (above). As the name ‘Graham’ would suggest, Johnny’s family has a background in the Port trade: his family owned Graham, one of the most well known of the Port houses which was sold to the Symingtons in 1970.

Johnny worked at Cockburn from 1973–1981, becoming a director in 1980 at the age of 28. It was during this time that he met a grower family who were to prove significant: Borges de Sousa. In 1981, he formed his own Port company, Churchill Graham Lda (Churchill is his wife’s name), and the Borges de Sousa family gave him first pick of the grapes from their properties. These were to form the basis of the Churchill Ports for 20 years.

However, by 1999 Borges de Sousa had died and his grandchildren had started to get involved in making wine (Quinta do Fojo is an example), so there was a conflict of interest in sourcing the best grapes. ‘We decided the time had come to secure a supply for our own Ports,’ recalls Graham. ‘We went looking for properties. It is not easy to break in and buy your own vineyards, but we had a short list.’

Previously, the Churchill Ports had been sourced from vineyards on the north bank of the Douro (facing south), which, according to Graham, tended to make rather earthy, hot, concentrated styles of wine. The Pinhão Valley was similar. ‘We thought it would be nice to get fresher, south bank property with more natural acidity to bring more personality and signature to our Ports,’ says Graham. ‘In 1999 we were able to buy Gricha, a 100 hectare property next door to Roriz in the Cima Corgo.’ It’s five miles up-river of Pinhão, with a relatively cool northerly exposure, yielding wines with high acid, purity of fruit and freshness. As of the 2000 vintage, Gricha is in the Churchill blend. Some 250 cases of Quinta de Gricha Port are also made each declared year.

Churchill also bought another property at this time, Quinta do Rio in the Rio Torto valley, which is a tributary from the south of the Douro. It’s a fully planted 12 hectare property that enjoys full exposure to the sun and produces a much hotter, fruitier style of Port. ‘It produces a very concentrated, fine style of Port that is the antithesis of Gricha,’ says Graham. ‘I bought this quinta deliberately because, as well as the freshness and high tones of Gricha, I wanted the bass tones. Rio Torto makes a floral style of port, but we also source Ports from other parts of the Douro.’

Then in 2007 Churchill introduced a Douro Superior wine to the blend for the first time. ‘I always feel that like St Estephe in Bordeaux, the Douro Superior makes more muscular, rustic style of Port. It doesn’t have the finesse of the Cima Corgo.’

Some other snippets. ‘Vintage Port matures at 35 years,’ says Graham. ‘There are no short cuts: you need time.’ Churchill’s oldest vintage (1982) is just coming up to maturity. ‘Our 1985 is tasting fabulous.’

Graham is a fan of Touriga Nacional: ‘it is exceptional for both Port and table wines. It matures at a lower alcohol level (12–13%). It tends to be a low producer with tight bunches and small berries. It produces excellent aromatics and good tannic structure.’

What about the house style? ‘I was brought up drinking Graham’s Port, which is always rich, fruity and sweet,’ says Graham. ‘I trained at Cockburns where discipline and grip were the key. Churchill has the fruit of Graham but is a bit drier. My style tends to be drier than average.’

Traditionally, Ports have been foot trodden in lagars, but this requires a large workforce. Typically, Port houses will recruit a team of pickers, usually from the same village. They come and stay in the Douro together and pick by day, then work the lagars at night. It’s a sociable practice, but one that harks back to a different era. At Churchill, everything is foot trodden. ‘It’s expensive,’ says Johnny Graham. ‘I’m not sure how much longer we will be able to do it for. From a technical point of view, treading produces a better result than robotic lagars.’


This tasting included a vertical of both Churchill Vintage Port and Churchill Quinta da Gricha, as well as a tasting of the Churchill table wines. I’ve also added in some more recent notes. Cask samples are given a score as a range, indicating the uncertainty that surrounds assessing wines that aren’t finished. Date of tasting is indicated in brackets.

Table wines

Churchill Estates 2006
Pure and quite sweet with a dark cherry nose. The palate has lovely fresh bright dark fruit with some spicy richness. Nice savoury finish. Lovely focus here. 89/100 03/09

Churchill Estates 2007
Aromatic and quite floral with sweet dark cherry fruit on the nose. There’s some lushness here. The palate is supple with elegant sweet dark fruits. Lovely focus and breadth. 89–92/100 (03/09)

Churchill Estates 2007
14% alcohol. A blend of Touriga Nacional (40%), Touriga Franca (30%) and Tinta Roriz (30%). This deep coloured wine shows beautifully focused, fresh dark cherry and blackberry fruit with a lovely spiciness underpinning the pure fruit. This is fresh and complex with a nice balance between the fresh, ripe fruit and the savoury structure. Quite a serious effort, and brilliant value for money. 90/100 (£8.99 Majestic) 05/09

Churchill Estates Reserva 2007
Nicely dense, brooding, structured dark fruits here with some oak imprint. Dense and mouthfilling with real potential. 88–92/100 (03/09)

Churchill Estates Touriga Nacional 2007
Very deep colour. Really aromatic and floral nose with meaty, olive-like savouriness. The palate is dense with a tarry, spicy, savoury, meaty edge to the vivid fruit. Remarkable stuff. 90–93/100 (03/09)

Churchill Estates Grande Reserva 2007
Dark, intense, aromatic nose is floral but masculine at the same time. Meaty and dense. The palate is firmly structured with lovely dense spicy, focused fruit and good acidity. Lovely. 91–94/100 (03/09)

Churchill Quinta da Gricha 2005
Pure, open, aromatic nose is subtly meaty and spicy with focused black fruits. The palate is fresh and structured with lovely dark fruits, plum, spice and blackberry characters. Mouthfilling and tannic with a long life ahead. 93/100 (03/09)

Churchill Quinta da Gricha 2007 Douro, Portugal
Brooding, dark and intense with lovely floral blackberry, tar and sweet dark cherry nose. The palate has attractive mineral undertones to the smooth but firmly structured blackberry and plum fruit. Lovely concentration of fruit here with some savoury complexity. It's a warm-climate wine, but there's really good definition and this should age well over the next couple of decades. 93/100 12/09


Churchill’s Unfiltered LBV 2001
Beautifully balanced with some spicy structure to the sweet pure fruit. Stylish with good depth. 90/100 03/09 (03/09)

Churchill’s 10 Year Old Tawny
Pale colour. Lovely complex cedary spicy nose with sweet pure fruit. The palate is rich and smooth with sweet fruit and great complexity. 91/100 (03/09)

Churchill’s 20 Year Old Tawny
Faded colour. Really lively lifted complex nose with purity and elegance. The palate shows lovely lemony freshness to the raisin, spice and earth notes. Fantastic. 94/100 (03/09)

Churchill’s Crusted Port
Lovely definition and structure here. It shows bold fresh plum and blackberry fruit with nice spicy structure. 91/100 (03/09)

Churchill’s Vintage Port 1991
Sweet and aromatic with some warm spicy, earthy, woody notes. The palate is concentrated, broad and spicy with good complexity and depth. This is evolving nicely and still has a good way to go. 93/100 (03/09)

Churchill’s Vintage Port 2000
Warm and spicy plum fruit nose. Rich, soft, complex palate with warm cedary, spicy plum and blackberry fruits. Concentrated, complex and spicy. More mellow than Gricha 2000. 93/100 (03/09)

Churchill’s Vintage Port 2003
Sweet spicy nose with earthy, cedary notes. Concentrated palate with some firm structure and dense fruit, as well as nice earthiness. Fresh finish. A little closed at the moment. 92/100 (03/09)

Churchill’s Vintage Port 2007 (cask sample)
Very fresh, aromatic dark cherry and blackberry fruit nose. Complex, ripe yet fresh palate with lovely dense spicy structure. Massive tannins here: a wonderfully structured wine with sweetness and lots of fruit. 94–96/100 (03/09)

Quinta da Gricha Vintage Port 1999
‘Not a hot year,’ says Graham. ‘It’s the first port we made in the old traditional winery at Gricha with its granite lagares. It took five days to start to ferment because the yeasts weren’t there.’ Fresh, well defined sweet blackberry and plum nose. Berry fruits on the fresh, pure palate with good acidity and some spiciness. Quite an elegant style with lovely freshness and purity. 92/100 (03/09)

Quinta da Gricha Vintage Port 2000
Fresh, well defined blackberry fruit with some raspberry notes. Lovely depth and intensity with sweet, pure, well defined fruit and good acidity. Lovely dark cherry characters. Fruitier and with more purity than the vintage Port. 93/100 (03/09)

Quinta da Gricha Vintage Port 2003
Lush, sweet aromatic blackberry nose with floral notes. The palate is concentrated and structured with lovely pure, sweet fruit, good acidity and a long, spicy finish. Beautifully expressive. 94/100 (03/09)

Quinta da Gricha Vintage Port 2007 (cask sample)
Wonderfully floral aromatic nose. Sweet, vinous, pure and lush with plum and dark cherry fruit. The palate is fresh and vivid with high acidity and good structure. Just lovely. 93–95/100 (03/09)

UK agent: Stokes Fine Wines

See also:

The new Douro (series)

Wines tasted as indicated  
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