The other type of Vintage Port

The beautiful Douro Valley.

The beautiful Douro Valley.

I love Port. I just love everything about it. The story, the landscape, the quintas – or wine farms – and the lodges all taken together have a romance perhaps unique in the world of wine. If you have never been to Port country – the Douro Valley in north Portugal – then you have a treat in store. It is simply one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world.

Recently I tutored a very well received Port tasting and I was astonished that most of us – we were all Brits – expected all Port to be deep, dark, full-bodied and opaque. Which of course Vintage Ports, Ruby Ports and Late Bottled Vintage Ports are. However, the first four Ports in my tasting were quite different. We tried Cálem White & Dryread about it here, the delicious Sandeman 20 Year Old Tawny – read about it here and then some Colheita Ports before we reached the darker and richer stuff – 2009 Quinta do Infantado Late Bottled Vintageread about it here, 1997 Quinta do Retiro Vintage Port from Weise & Krohn and the magnificent 2011 Sandeman Vintage Port if you are interested.

The Sandeman 20 Year Old Tawny was superb and everyone loved it, but it was the Colheitas that really astonished everyone. A Colheita you see is a Tawny Port from a single harvest. The big difference between a Vintage – apart from the quality of the year – is that a Vintage Port does almost all its ageing in the bottle. This means that the oxygen cannot get to it, so it retains its richness and fruit for much longer and so ages very slowly. A Colheita though is aged in oak barrels, usually of 600 litres and not new, for at least 8 years, so the oxygen can get to the wine and gently oxidise it, so it goes transparent and orange, or tawny in colour. This means that the flavours and complexity of a Colheita develop mainly because of the ageing. You can make a Colheita in pretty much any harvest, whereas a Vintage Port can only be produced in the occasional exceptional vintage – hence the name of the style.

Map of the Douro – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Map of the Douro – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

A faded Cálem poster near Pinhao.

A faded Cálem sign in the vineyards near Pinhão.

0235-calem-colheita-2000-gallery-3-973x13952000 Cálem Colheita Porto
Cálem Porto
Vila Nova de Gaia
Porto
Portugal

Cálem were founded in 1859  and historically most of their business was with Brazil and Portugal and although they make all styles I don’t think it would be unfair to say that they are something of a White Port and Tawny, including Colheita, specialist. Nowadays Cálem is owned by the Sogevinus Group, as are Barros, Kopke and Burmester. The vineyard this wine hails from is the Quinta da Arnozelo near Vila Nova de Foz Côa in the upper reaches of the Douro – the Douro Superior.

This was the only Colheita that came from a generally declared Vintage Port year and that extra concentration showed, added to which it was the youngest Colheita that I showed. The blend was 25% Touriga Nacional, 25% Tinta Roriz, 25% Touriga Franca, 25% Tinta Barroca.

The colour was quite deep, more brown than orange and the nose was pretty full on with nuts, coffee and dried fruit notes. There was still some tannin here on the palate and it was pretty mouth-filling with a silky mouthfeel, rich cooked and dried fruit, spices, nuts, espresso and a long finish. It seemed sweeter than the younger wines somehow because the fruit was still quite vibrant – 91/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £35.00 per bottle from Vintage Wine & Port.

The Douro Valley near Pinhão.

The Douro Valley near Pinhão.

barros_colheita_19961996 Barros Colheita
Barros Porto

Vila Nova de Gaia
Porto
Portugal

I have always had a soft spot for Barros ever since I sold their wines in another life,  so I was really pleased to see how good this was. Originally a small private house founded by Manuel de Almeida in 1913. It eventually took over lots of other smaller Port houses, including Kopke, until it too became part of the Sogevinus Group in 2006.

The blend was again 25% Touriga Nacional, 25% Tinta Roriz, 25% Touriga Franca, 25% Tinta Barroca.

The colour was a deep russet, while the nose was smokey, with coffee, spice, dried fruit and buttery caramel notes and a touch of dried and caramelised orange. The palate was just so joyous that we all stopped talking and looked at each other. There was nutty caramel, dried orange, dried fig, strong coffee and even nougat. The texture was so silky it was almost creamy and the finish went on and on – 93/100 points.

It’s funny because 1996 was considered to be a dire Port vintage and yet this wine really shone, which just goes to show that the vintage guides are wrong, or all that time in wood can work wonders!

Available in the UK for around £35.00 per bottle – click here for stockists.
For US stockist information – click here.

The lovely tiled railway station in Pinhão.

The lovely tiled railway station in Pinhão.

kopke_colheita_19961996 Kopke Colheita
Kopke Porto
Vila Nova de Gaia
Porto
Portugal

Kopke – pronounce Cop-key – was founded in 1638 by Germans Cristiano and Nicolaus Kopke and is thus the very oldest Port house of all – the next oldest is Warre’s and that was founded in 1670, some 32 years later. 378 years later Kopke are the leading producer of Colheitas, producing more than 25% of the style. The fruit, much of it from 100 year old vines, all comes from their Quinta São Luiz which is near Pinhão in the heart of the Douro.

The colour is more red this time, like a robin’s red breast. The nose has confided peel, caramelised orange, dried fruit, toasted nuts and a dash of spice. The palate again is smooth and silky with a slight creamy quality, loads of dried fruit and some salted caramel too. This is delicious, really hedonistic and delicious – 93/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £30.00 per bottle from Marks & Spencer.
For US stockist information – click here.

p1060720

Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia.

kopke_colheita_19841984 Kopke Colheita
Kopke Porto
Vila Nova de Gaia
Porto
Portugal

This showed its age a little I am afraid. It was lovely and it was a treat, but it seemed a little fragile and brittle.  It was very aromatic and had some coffee and nut and orange and dried fruit notes, while the palate was very smooth and light with dried fruit and spice – 90/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £50.00 per bottle – click here for stockists.
For US stockist information – click here.

A Colheita is a lovely style of Port and is perfect with all manner of things at Christmas, mince pies, panforte, Christmas cake, you name it. So I really do recommend that you get some in for the festive season. I certainly will.

Wine of the Week – Cálem White & Dry Port – with tonic to make a lovely Summer drink

The other day I was sent an enticing box that contained a bottle of Cálem White & Dry Port together with some bottles of tonic, elderflower cordial and a pink grapefruit.

I have enjoyed White Port occasionally in the past, but I think that as a drink it really comes into its own on a hot day when mixed with tonic – it’s a fun drink that offers some of the excitement of a cocktail, while being really easy to prepare – as with Gin & Tonic, you don’t even have to be too fussy about the proportions. Certainly it was wonderful to have a lively and refreshing drink in the recent hot weather, so I have made it my Wine of the Week.

C†lem-cellars-1

The Cálem cellars in the heart of Villa Nova de Gaia – photo courtesy of the winery.

calem white & dry portCálem White & Dry
Cálem Porto
Port
Douro
Portugal

I have always had a soft spot for Cálem Port, it was founded in 1859 by António Alves Cálem, who initially had a simple aim – to export Portuguese table wines to Brazil. However to avoid the ships coming back empty they would bring back wood, which eventually made them start a cooperage company in Villa Nova de Gaia, a suburb of Porto where many of the Port houses are situated. This in turn led them to mature Port wine in their barrels and then to sell Port, again to Brazil. Today, like Burmester, Kopke and Barros, they are most famous for their wonderful Colheita Ports – a sort of single vintage Tawny that is often aged for decades in barrels – I will be writing about this style in the Autumn. Again, like those other Port houses they are now also part of the Sogevinus group of wineries.

This is a very modern White Port, crisper, fresher and drier than some, but still don’t expect it to be properly dry – Port is fortified with the addition of grape spirit during the fermentation, so Port is by definition sweet, as the sugar that would have been converted into alcohol stays as sugar instead. I am told that this is made from the Malvasia Fina grape variety and the nose is richly floral and a little tropical too and it is that which follows through onto the palate. The fruit is rich and exotic with ripe pear, banana, unctuous peach, even some pineapple and a twist of ripe citrus. The acidity is not bad for a White Port, but still on the low side, so chilling it makes it feel fresher and livelier – as does the slice of grapefruit – while the long, rich, finish shows the sweetness and the high alcohol.

cocktail5

The official photograph of Cálem White & Dry with elderflower cordial and tonic, garnished with grapes here rather than pink grapefruit – the grapefruit works very well – photo courtesy of Cálem.

It’s actually a pretty nice drink on its own – chilled, but add 10cl of elderflower cordial to 50cl of the Cálem White & Dry Port, top up with tonic water and add a slice of pink grapefruit, then you have something wonderfully refreshing, deliciously different and great fun. The tonic cuts through the richness, the elderflower accentuates the freshness and the grapefruit adds that touch of the exotic and more zing – it works even better if you put the grapefruit in first and squeeze it a little.

I had meant to photograph the drink that I made, but I drank it so quickly that I forgot, so the official photograph above will have to do, it certainly makes you thirsty looking at it, doesn’t it? I enjoyed it very much – 87/100 points on its own and 92/100 points as a long drink.

Cálem White & Dry Port is available in the UK at £13 a bottle, from Amathus and Ministry of Drinks.

 

Quinta da Leda – a great Douro wine and my Wine of the Week

The beautiful Quinta da Leda - photo courtesy of the estate.

The beautiful Quinta da Leda – photo courtesy of the estate.

Many of you will know that I really admire the wines of Portugal‘s Douro Valley. It is a world class wine region that is of course most famous for being the home of Port, but over the last two decades or so has really made its mark in unfortified table wines too. The quality can be very high, at many different price points and there are some seriously good producers whose wines are well worth seeking out.

One of which is Casa Ferreirinha, which grew out of the A. A. Ferreira Port house which was famously run by Dona Antónia Ferreira – often known as Ferreirinha – during the nineteenth century. She was a close friend of Joseph James Forrester, Baron Forrester, who before his untimely death in 1861, had apparently campaigned for the Douro Valley to start making unfortified wine rather than sweet and fortified Ports.

Perhaps that relationship planted a seed that was finally acted upon nearly a century later in 1952, when Casa Ferreirinha produced the first vintage of their occasionally released and legendary Barca Velha. That was the first non fortified red from the Douro for a few centuries and the first one to be commercially released and it was a hit, achieving cult status to equal Spain’s great Vega Sicilia. They don’t make it every year, in fact only 18 vintages have been released so far in total. When they don’t make Barca Velha, the finest barrels they produce make the almost equally illustrious Casa Ferreirinha Reserva Especial. Both of these wines are aged for a long time in oak before release.

The beautiful Quinta da Leda - photo courtesy of the estate.

The beautiful Quinta da Leda – photo courtesy of the estate.

In 1979 Casa Ferreirinha bought the promising, but unplanted  Quinta da Leda estate in Almendra just a few kilometres from the Spanish frontier. To see whether it lived up to their expectations they planted 25 hectares of Tinta Roriz – aka Tempranillo -, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cão vines. This is one of the great joys of Portugal, and especially the Douro, great wines that can rub shoulders with the most famous and most expensive from anywhere, all made from indigenous grape varieties.

Wine map of the Douro, Quinta da Leda is just to the west of Barca d’Alva on the south bank of the Douro near Spain. Click on the map for a larger view.

Within a decade they could see that their hopes for the plot had been exceeded and from the 1980s the vineyard had become the main source for Barca Velha and Reserva Especial, as well as producing Single Quinta Port. In the end the site was just so good that they decided to make a single vineyard wine from it, but only in the in the better years. The big difference with Barca Velha, apart from being a single vineyard wine, is that Quinta da Leda is aged for a more normal 12 months or so in oak, which makes it a fresher style and it can be enjoyed younger too. Sadly I cannot comment as I have not yet tried any Barca Velha, despite owning a brace of bottles of the 1982 vintage. The project has been a great success and a dedicated winery was built in time for the 2001 vintage, making these true domaine bottled wines.

Recently I was fortunate enough to attend a tasting of Quinta da Leda wines that ranged from that very first 1997 vintage to the as yet unreleased, but precociously delicious, 2014.

The beautiful Quinta da Leda - photo courtesy of the estate.

The beautiful Quinta da Leda – photo courtesy of the estate.

I loved them all and would happily drink any of them with a slow roast shoulder of lamb, but it was remarkable how I kept really loving the wines that came from great Port vintages – the 2007 and the 2011, stood out especially for me, but so too did the 2001, which is an underrated Port vintage, mainly being a source of Single Quinta Ports. However, without a doubt my favourite was the 2011 and so I have made it my Wine of the Week.

bottle2011 Quinta da Leda
Casa Ferreirinha
Sogrape Vinhos
DOC / PDO Douro
Portugal

A single vineyard blend of 45% Touriga Franca, 40% Touriga Nacional and 15% Tinta Roriz. The grapes were destined and fermented in stainless steel tanks before being aged for 18 months in 225 litre French oak barrels, 50% of which were new.

The wine is currently an attractive opaque purple, deep, but bright and alive.
The nose offers intense, spicy sugar plums and blueberry, as well as cedar and earthy, spicy, savoury notes. There is a touch of cigar smoke as well as some mocha and herbs.
The palate is pretty full-bodied, but has a lovely texture, with concentrated, lush sweet black fruit together with some refreshing acidity and minerality. The tannins are taut but not overwhelming and there is a dusting of black pepper, while that smoke, spice and mocha vie with the lovely sweetness of the fruit on the long finish. All in all it is very concentrated, very exciting, beautifully balanced and utterly delicious with a touch of something pretty about it that helps to balance the power and the 14.5% alcohol – 94/100 points.
Available in the UK from £35 per bottle from Slurp, Lay & Wheeler, Farr Vintners, Corking Wines, The Wine Library, Hedonism, Harrods and AG Wines.
For US stockists, click here.

I actually really liked the wine as it is now, I loved the slightly tight feel of the tannins and the mocha-like oak, but it will develop beautifully too and become more complex over time. So you see, it isn’t only the 2015 Clarets that you should put in your cellar this year.

Wine of the Week – a fine Tawny Port

Vineyards on the banks of the Douro in Port country.

Vineyards on the banks of the Douro in Port country.

I am in a real Port mood at the moment. I cannot imagine why as it is spectacularly unseasonal, but I just seem to have tasted a few Ports recently that have fired up my imagination for this wonderful wine style.

I like Port, I have always liked Port and enjoy it very much, but I don’t actually drink very much of it as it can be pretty heady stuff – especially the rich Ruby types – including LBV – and Vintage.

However, there are lighter styles – Tawnies – and it is some these that I have tasted and enjoyed of late. I say enjoyed, I mean loved!

It is always fascinating to taste a range of Ports and recently I was fortunate enough to taste my way through several that really pleased and impressed me. I will write more about some of those soon, but today I have chosen one of my favourites as my Wine of the Week.

Ruby ports ageing in wooden vats at Quinta do Noval.

Ruby ports ageing in wooden vats at Quinta do Noval.

sandeman-porto-tawny-20-years-old-2Sandeman 20 Year Old Tawny
Sandeman
Villa Nova de Gaia
Porto
Portugal

We have all heard of Sandman I am sure. Who can have failed to see the iconic caped figure – The Don – on a label or in advertisement at some point, but many of us might not be aware quite what a venerable company it is. It was founded in 1790 by George Sandeman – a direct descendant, also called George Sandeman, is still involved with the company – a young Scot who quickly made his mark. It helped the development of his business that he served on the Duke of Wellington’s staff during The Peninsular War. The Duke, although a great soldier and fine commander, was a notorious snob who looked down on anyone who was not of the nobility, so tended to fill his staff with the scions of wealthy and titled families. Throughout the long campaign these young men were able to enjoy George’s Ports and I am sure that the preference for Sandeman’s Port stayed with them throughout their lives. Certainly business was good for a long time to come, with Sandman being a byword for quality until well into the twentieth century. There was a bit of a dip in its fortunes for 20 years from 1982 when it was taken over by Seagrams, but in 2001 Sandemans became part of the impressive Sogrape group and its future now seems bright.

Although Sandman produce all the important styles of Port, including some superb vintages and single quinta vintages, they appear to be something of a Tawny specialist. A true Tawny Port is one that has been aged for a long time in wood – the best examples are sold with an indication of age on the label, 10 year old etc. All that time in wood makes the wine paler and more orange – or tawny – and less sweet and more nutty and caramel-like than a Ruby Port or an LBV. They can be served lightly chilled too, which makes them more versatile wines.

It is really the maturing that defines a Tawny’s style. It is a blend of different vintages and vineyards aged for different lengths of time in different wooden vessels, none of them new – they don’t want the oak to dominate. This particular Tawny is a blend of wines varying from between 15 and 40 years old.

Tawnies and Colheitas (single vintage Tawnies) ageing in cask at Quinta do Noval.

Tawnies and Colheitas (single vintage Tawnies) ageing in cask at Quinta do Noval.

The nose offers a lively mix of rose hips, orange, apricot and caramel, while the palate is creamy with a buttery caramel quality and a rich nutty feel. There is plenty of fruit too, but it has evolved into a gentle plum, raisins and dried red fruit together with a dash of spice. It doesn’t really feel that sweet, although it is, as the nutty and slight salty feel dominate the palate giving it an umami feel and the illusion of savoury richness. The alcohol is nicely balanced and is part of the whole, while the finish is long and satisfying, helped I think by a nice seam of freshness. A glass or 2 of this before going to bed would make all feel right with the world. Mind you, lightly chilled it would make a lovely late afternoon tipple too, or after lunch, or elevenses, you get the picture. A glorious example of fine Tawny port – 92/100 points.

Available in the UK at around £30-35 per bottle from Waitrose, Waitrose Cellar, Slurp, Hedonism Wines, Corking Wines and Lea & Sandeman.
For US stockists, click here.

 

 

Wine of the Week 59 – a great rosé

I like rosé wine. Rosé can be a delicious drink and just the thing on a summer day. However, I am fully aware that they are normally frivolous wines that seldom hit the heights of complexity and sophistication.

Recently I tasted a rosé that showed just how good the style can be and it was made in a relatively unusual place from an incredibly unusual grape.

It was made by a guy called David Mazza, actually it was made for him, but more of that in a moment, and it was such a thrilling wine that I have made it my Wine of the Week.

David Mazza showing me his wines at Berry Bros. & Rudd, London.

David Mazza showing me his wines at Berry Bros. & Rudd, London.

Wine map of Western Australia – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Wine map of Western Australia – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Bastardo2013 Mazza Bastardo Rosé
GI Geographe
Mazza Wine
Western Australia

David Mazza’s family left their native Calabria – the toe of Italy – in 1958 and settled in Dardanup near Bunbury, Western Australia. Both his father and grandfather grew grapes and made wine for family consumption, but David is the only member of the current generation, out of 20 cousins, to be bitten by the wine bug and take it further.

This may well be because as a young man he travelled around Iberia and fell in love with the wines of Spain and Portugal, which reminded him of the dry, lightish European styles of wine that his father and grandfather used to make. Something about the grapes of Spain and Portugal spoke to him and when he and his wife Anne finally found the site they wanted for their dream vineyard they decided to plant their favourite Iberian grapes. 14 years later they proudly tend 4 hectares of Tempranillo, Graciano, Tinta Câo, Touriga Nacional, Sousâo (Vinhão) and Bastardo. I tasted all their wines except for the Tinta Câo, which I hope to try soon, and I have seldom been more impressed or thrilled by a range of wines. They were a superb line up and I will write about them all soon.

However, I was also impressed by David and his incredible passion for this project. he delighted in every aspect of what he was doing and that showed in his wines. The sheer excitement he had for hid land and his wines was lovely to see. I fact when I described his land as an estate he was so proud and so excited that I felt it too, it was as though his work had really paid off for him. 

Bastardo is the traditional main grape of Dâo and is used in the Douro, for wine and Port, Madeira and Alentejo, but is also strangely used in the Jura region of France where it is called Trousseau. It’s a vigorous low yielding plant and David dry farms it without irrigation.

The colour comes from skin contact and what a lovely colour it is, somewhere between wild salmon and pale cranberry juice.

The nose offers rose petal aromas, some strawberries and cream notes, mineral earthy notes, some herbs and some pomegranate too.

The palate has lovely weight and a creamily ripe texture that caresses the palate with soft red fruit with an underlying orange acidity with red fruit highlights. There are some light spices and Mediterranean herbs too. The acidity is perfectly judged, making the wine fresh, lively and clean without being in the least bit tart.

There is a fair bite of tannin for a rosé, just enough to give some elegance and structure, and a long finish that delights with redcurrant and cranberry fruit. This is a really satisfying and fine rosé of exceptional quality, it is not exactly light weight, but neither it is it heavy, but it is refreshing and lively. The most complex and fine example I have had in a long time and one of the 2 or 3 best I have ever tasted – 92/100.

This is utterly delicious and very drinkable as well as being a complex rosé. I think it would be  perfect wine to drink with seafood, tapas, starters, picnics, barbecues or just some little nibbles like cheese straws. If you are a fan of rosé but have never tasted a really fine one, then please give this delightful wine a go.

Available in the UK from Berry Bros and Rudd for £17.50 per bottle.

 

Wine of the Week 45 – an elegant and delicious Port

I love Port, as well as the unfortified wines of Portugal’s Douro region (do try this one here), and given how reluctant winter is to leave us this year, in the UK anyway, I thought this delicious Port that I discovered recently would be a lovely, warming Wine of the Week.

The beautiful terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

The beautiful terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

Port has long been dominated by the big brands, many of them still with British names, such as Grahams, Dows, Cockburns, Taylors etc., but that has been changing ever since 1986. Until that year, Port had to be taken from the vineyards in the Upper Douro Valley to the Port Lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia, near Porto, where the big Port houses are based. It was these companies who aged and shipped the wine rather than the grape growers. After 1986 though, the growers were allowed to age and ship their own wines direct from their estates or Quintas in the Upper Douro.

This means that more and more Port is now made by the growers on their own estates, which can only add to the romance of the product. It is also in keeping with the rest of the wine world, where it is very common to find estates that have been growing grapes for decades, or longer, who in recent years have stopped selling their grapes to the big local producer, or cooperative and instead have started making the wines for themselves.

Map of the Douro – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Map of the Douro – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

This is exactly what happened with the Quinta do Infantado, which is a delightful family run Port estate near the lovely village of Pinhão in the heart of the Douro. The Roseira family have been in charge here for well over a century, but the Quinta actually dates back to 1816, when it was founded by the Portuguese Crown Prince, or Infante – hence Infantado. Of course, like all the other growers, the Roseiras, and the Infante before them, sold their grapes to the big names shippers until 1986 – which is presumably explains why the Port houses were called ‘shippers’ rather than producers, which was something I always found odd.

The beautiful tiled railway station in Pinhão.

The beautiful tiled railway station in Pinhão.

The beautiful tiled railway station in Pinhao.

The beautiful tiled railway station in Pinhão.

The Douro is a very beautiful, rugged, wild place with a very hot climate in the growing season. The land slopes dramatically down to the Douro River and so much of the landscape is terraced to allow for efficient agriculture and to stop soil erosion. The soil is schist, which is decayed slate, so everything makes this a hard landscape to work and ensures that pretty much everything still has to be done by hand – and sometimes by foot – just as it always has. Rather wonderfully at Quinta do Infantado they do still tread the grapes in the traditional manner – this gives a rapid extraction of colour in the shallow, stone fermentation tanks called a lagares.

Vineyards are everywhere you look in Pinhão.

Vineyards are everywhere you look in Pinhão.

Large wooden vats for ageing Port. These are at Quinta do Noval.

Large wooden vats for ageing Port. These are at Quinta do Noval, which is near Quinta do Infantado.

lbv 20092009 Quinta do Infantado LBV Port
Port
The blend is 30% Touriga Franca, 30% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) with 10% of other local grapes. The grapes are trodden and the finished Port is aged for around 4 years in large (25,000) wooden vats that are over 100 years old and so give no wood flavour to the wine, but do soften the tannins. The finished wine is not filtered or fined before bottling. An LBV, or Late Bottled Vintage, is technically a Reserve Ruby Port from a single vintage.

The colour is an enticing intense, vibrant, deep ruby.
The nose is lifted, scented and lively with rich black fruit notes of blackberry and black cherry, warming spice, liquorice, aniseed, clove, smoke and cedar. There is a floral prettiness there too, even a twist of orange peel.
The palate is sumptuous and fresh tasting with delicious sweet black fruit and lots of red fruit too – rich red plum and cherry, gentle sweet spice, some dry spice and a little smoky, fine grain tannin on the finish. This was also a pretty dry style of Port, not dry exactly, but drier than most.
This is joyous, vibrant and beautifully balanced with excellent integration between the fruit and the alcohol, indeed for a Port it carries its 19.5% alcohol very well indeed.
If more affordable Port tasted this fresh and juicy, I would drink more of it – 91/100.

I greatly enjoyed this with some Manchego and Gorgonzola cheese, but it also goes superbly with chocolate.

Available in the UK for around £15 a bottle from The Wine Reserve, Slurp, Eclectic Tastes, The Drink Shop, Little Big Wine, Exel Wines and the Fine Wine Company. Further stockist information is available from the UK distributor, Liberty Wines.
The US distributor is Louis/Dressner Selections / LDM WINES INC and more stockist information is available here.

Do try this if you get the chance, it is utterly delicious without being overly heavy or spirity either, Quinta do Infantado also produce a wide range of other Ports and table wines too. If I get the chance to taste them I will report back on what those are like too.

Birth of a Region

We live in a golden age for wine, it has never been better made, more exciting or as affordable as now.

I often think though how much more thrilling it must have been to have been around while the great regions were emerging and while their reputations were being originally earned. All the truly great wine regions that we talk about in reverential and hushed tones – in the old world anyway – were established long ago and so now have something of the past about them. This is not to be critical by the way, merely acknowledging that these places are often steeped in tradition.

Of course what constitutes a great wine region can vary from opinion to opinion, but I am pretty sure there is a broad agreement about the very best wine regions. They must produce wines that talk of that place, be terroir wines, they must produce complex and layered wines that can be aged – whether you do age them or even want to is another matter. They must be wines that command a following and a premium price – after all that is one of the key criteria for the Cru Classé of Bordeaux and the Grands Crus of Burgundy.

Taking all of those points into account, there is one leading, world class wine region in Europe that at first glance would seem to be as old as any of them, but is actually a pretty recent phenomenon.

That region is Portugal’s Douro Valley.

The beautiful terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

The beautiful terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

Of course the Douro has existed for ever and has produced wine of a sort since records began. However for many complex reasons, the place developed a particular style of wine – sweet and fortified – that to some degree sets it aside from places like Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône, Tuscany and Rioja.

Unfortified table wine from the Douro though has only been produced in relatively recent times, certainly in any quantity and to a world class standard. It was not really until 1979 that they received any recognition at all, with the creation of the Douro D.O.C..

Baron Forrester of course famously championed the production of table wines and advocated the Port producers stop ‘adulterating’ their wines with spirit, a fact that led to many conspiracy theories about his untimely death.

Before phylloxerra unfortified wines from Port country were known as ‘consumo’, which certainly implies that they were simple wines drunk quite quickly after production and their market was limited to Portugal and Brazil. It seems that after phylloxerra they nigh on disappeared with the bulk of the grapes being used to produce the spirit for Port.

The beautiful Douro.

The beautiful Douro.

The Douro remained purely a region for fortified wines until 1952 when Ferreira produced the first vintage of Barca Velha. It wasn’t made every year, but I well remember how this wine acquired almost mythical status and a high reputation which had a knock on effect on other producers causing them too to use surplus port grapes to make a table wine – often just on an experimental basis. It took well over 20 years for such wines to become anything other than a novelty.

Portuguese membership of the E.U. had an enormous effect on wine production, massive investment in the 1990s transformed many wineries and the entire outlook of the country. Huge strides were made and development was so fast that by the turn of the 21st century Douro wines were well established.

What is astonishing though is that at some point within the last dozen or so years the Douro has clearly and unambiguously taken its place amongst the great wine regions of the world and overtaken all its Portuguese rivals. Obviously this is no overnight success, but it is a remarkable achievement none the less.

I have been excited by the wines for many years, indeed I used to sell a couple of Douro reds in the mid 1990s when they were still a rarity, but I have been thrilled by the amazing development I saw on a recent trip to the Douro as a guest of the Discover the Origin campaign and at the New Douro tasting in February.

Map of the Douro – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Map of the Douro – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

There were many highlights, but these producers stood out:

Domingos Alves de Sousa were among Douro’s table wine pioneers and produce exciting reds and whites .

Alves de Sousa Reserva Pessoal BrancoTheir 2007 Alves de Sousa Reserva Pessoal Branco is a very individualistic sort of wine, full of character and depth. For this dry white they decided to make a wine with some of the personality and intensity of a white Port. To achieve this it was fermented (on the skins for the first 48 hours) in new French oak with hyper-oxidation and hard pumping over and a further 6 months in new French oak. The result is extraordinary, full flavoured, concentrated and quirky with barley sugar, caramelised orange, rich apricot, spices and honey, in fact it sort of tastes like a very rich Sauternes, but is bone dry. It put me in mind of those new wave amphora aged wines and orange wines, but unlike most of those it is utterly delicious – 93/100 points.

The Abandanado Vineyard, these ancient vines create an extraordinary wine.

The Abandanado Vineyard, these ancient vines create an extraordinary wine.

Their top red is the Abandonado crafted from an 80 year old vineyard that was abandoned for many years – hence the name – before being nurtured back to life. I tasted the 2009:

Abandonado2009 Abandonado
Field-blend of old vine Tinta Amarela, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and some other grapes too and aged for 18 months in new Portuguese and French oak.
Lovely nose, a red fruit and black fruit melange, smoky too, with stewed plums, sugar plums, herbs, some eucalyptus and tar.
Lovely palate, great weight, fruit, tar, earth, slate, minty, supple texture with fine smoky wood and fine grain tannins.
Superbly integrated and balanced, quite brilliant – 92/100 points.

The beautiful Quinta do Noval

The beautiful Quinta do Noval

Quinta da Noval is justifiably famous for both ports and wines and I was excited to stay there last year and enjoyed tasting their whole range. Everything was good, but my stand out wine was the 2009 Quinta do Noval:

quinta_do_noval_2007_douro_doc_3__39102_big2009 Quinta do Noval
A blend of 80% Touriga Nacional and 20% Touriga Franca.
The colour was a lovely opaque and intense cassis, while the very rich nose offered liquorice, earthy mineral notes, wild herbs, mocha and a hint of spice.
The palate was very smooth and supple with fine grain tannins, fleshy black fruit to the fore, a supple texture and touches of warm granite, clean earth, leather and eucalyptus. I really loved this wine, it was rich, concentrated and pretty full-bodied, but still had plenty of freshness and elegance – 93/100 points

The view from Niepoort.

The view from Niepoort.

Ramos Pinto is a family owned Port house that has been around since 1880, but has been at the forefront of the Douro’s table wine revolution. Which is hardly surprising given that the current owner’s father created Barca Velha. Their table wines are called Duas Quintas because they are a blend of fruit from 2 different estates, but I am sure that you could have worked that out for yourself.

The 2011 Duas Quintas (cask sample) was as reliable as ever with rich fruit, supple tannins and that slatey minerality to the finish. The 2011 Duas Quintas Reserva (cask sample) was more intense with richer fruit and more concentration.

Duas2009 Duas Quintas Reserva
50% Touriga Nacional, 40% Touriga Franca & 10% Tinta da Barca with 18 months barrel ageing.
This great wine was equally intense, but more developed, smoky and earthy and mineral with some leather touches and rich raisined fruit giving a slight Port-like feel. Incredibly concentrated, but vibrant and modern in a really delicious and stylish way – 92/100 points.

Available in the UK from the Wine Society @ £25.00 per bottle.

 

More of the beautiful Douro.

More of the beautiful Douro.

Symington Family Estates is of course one of the firms that dominates the Port business – amongst other brands they own Cockburn, Warre’s, Dow’s and Graham’s. I visited them at Graham’s Lodge in Porto and was very impressed by what I tasted – dinner in the new Vinum Restaurant at the Graham’s Lodge was rather stunning too and Johnny Symington was a charming, entertaining and informative host. Renewing acquaintance with their wines at the New Douro tasting in London I was wowed all over again – even their relatively humble Six Grapes Reserve Ruby Port was delicious.

Johnny Symington

Johnny Symington

The Symingtons main table wine brand is Altano and even the standard wine is very good, with rich fruit and a distinctive minerality, but I really enjoyed the

Organic2011 Altano Quinta do Ataide Organic
This blend of organically grown Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca grapes was cold fermented and aged in second fill French oak for 10 months.
This offers great concentration and depth and wonderfully vibrant fruit and a slatey minerality, it gives lots of pleasure and is sinfully drinkable. This is stunning quality for its price and should be more popular – 90/100 points because of the great value.

Available in the UK from Waitrose & Ocado @ £9.99 per bottle.

The 2009 Altano Reserva Quinta do Ataide is a bit more serious and concentrated still, showing a little ageing, but the fruit is still intense and it has that spicy, earthy, mineral and inky character that reminds me of Priorat’s licorella and which I have come to identify with the Douro – 91/100 points.

quinta-do-vesuvio-2008-red-wineThey also produce a pair of deeply impressive wines at their Quinta do Vesúvio estate in the Douro Superior zone. The 2009 Quinta do Vesúvio was my favourite red wine of 2013. It is intensely ripe, fragrant and floral, concentrated and so gloriously fruity that the complexity and structure is a little hidden, but it’s there, with silky tannins, mocha tinged oak and that rocky herbal, slate minerality on the finish. This is a magnificent wine and was the most impressive Douro I tried on my trip, perhaps only by a whisker, but I loved the intensity of the fruit, the concentration, the supple tannins and the incredible spectrum of flavours – 93/100 points.

The second wine, the 2009 Pombal do Vesúvio is very good too, just that bit lighter and more stony in character – 91/100 points.

The Symingtons also produce wines in partnership with Bruno Prats at Prats & Symington which is based on the fruit from Quinta de Perdiz and Quinta de Roriz, which are close together midway between Bonfim and Malvedos. Unusually, given that these properties are bang in the middle of premium Port country, it is Douro table wines that is the focus here and so the best fruit is selected for that, although a little vintage Port is also produced. The company was formed in 1998 with wines following in 2000, so it is all still very new, but also very assured. The principal wine is called Chryseia which means gold in Greek – Douro also means gold. The 2011 Chryseia promises much, being intense and concentrated with plush fruit and lots of that licorella-like minerality. It isn’t just big though, there is freshness and balance too making it very fine.

chryseiaThe 2007 Chryseia is 50% each of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca and showed more development. It is beautifully supple and richly fruity, but with more dried fruit showing now. The minerality is still there giving an almost bitter twist like tapenade and strong espresso to the finish, while the tannins are just beginning to be silky – 93/100 points.

There are two second wines, the 2011 Post Scriptum has bags of fruit and an elegant juiciness. While the 2011 Prazo de Roriz too had lots of fruit, it was more earthy, mineral and savoury with a bitterness reminiscent of unsweetened dark chocolate.

In Conclusion

The schist soil in the Douro Valley.

The schist soil in the Douro Valley.

All the wines I had were very good. Some were bargains, many offered great value, while others were great at any price, but in all of them there was elegance and a sense of place. That mineral, slate or licorella taste was always there giving a true taste of the Douro. The water is drawn up through these schist soils and whether that directly effects the wine or not they do have this slatey schistous flavour profile that makes them very distinctive indeed.

It seems to me that any tasting of the Douro will reveal wines worthy of rubbing shoulders with the best. They scream of their terroir – you can taste the wild slate hillsides in the glass. The better wines are certainly layered and complex and can age, while many of them now command and indeed deserve eye watering prices.

These wild, barren, sun-soaked slate / schist hillsides seem to be able to produce extraordinary wines with great depth and often real complexity. What’s more the region has its own grape varieties – used to make Port in the past, but now clearly capable of producing world class dry wines. So if you want classic European wines, but with new flavour profiles, the Douro is a good place to turn. If you like Tuscan wines, Priorat or the wines of the Rhône then these really could be wines for you.

I am certain that we have just lived through the birth of a truly great wine region, they are not yet widely popular or sought after, but as Paul Symington confidently told me, their time will come.

Post Script

The view from Vinum

The view from Vinum

Last year I enjoyed a stunning dinner at the Vinum Restaurant housed in the Grahams Lodge in Villa Nova de Gaia. It is a wonderful place with great food and lovely views across the river. Everything was perfect and as I said above, the 2009 Quinta do Vesúvio was my favourite red wine of 2013. Well as this superb meal drew to a close Johnny Symington set yet another bottle down on the table and some was poured for each of us. I could not have believed that things could get any better at that moment, but they did, because we were about to taste the

Cut-out-bottle-shot11952 Graham’s Single Harvest Tawny (Colheita) Port which was bottled to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Now I love Colheita Ports, I think they are a fabulous and underrated style, but the quality of this took even my breath away. These old wood aged Ports – and this wine has lain undisturbed in wooden pipes for 60 years – lose that opaque colour and look quite brown and nutty. This was fragrant and perfumed with molasses, dried fig and salty caramel aromas. The palate was sensuous and rich with liquor orange, dried apricot, dried figs, sticky toffee pudding and candied pumpkin characters. The finish was long and nutty, but balanced by a nice cut of refreshing acidity to cleanse the senses. A stunning, stunning wine and without a doubt the best thing I drank in 2013 – 96/100 points.