Posts Tagged ‘Henriques & Henriques’
Some wine regions or countries seem to breed complexity. Italy for non-specialists is somewhat forbidding once you get beyond Prosecco, Soave, Chianti and Barolo; modern Spain is getting more complicated as ever more new areas come to the international attention. Most of us don’t try very hard with Eastern Europe or Greece. But of the major wine producing nations, Portugal is among the most demanding – a language most Europeans don’t read never mind speak, not many really famous appellations for table wines, myriad indigenous grape varieties that we are theoretically in favour of but are not familiar with and a sort of snobbery which means that we don’t really look between great Port and Madeira on the one hand and cheap holiday wine on the other. November’s Bring a Bottle Club on the theme of Portugal was therefore something of a journey in the dark. Most people brought a bottle and immediately declared that they had not tasted it before. And as this was a blind tasting the chances of success in that department were, shall we say, slim. But in fact it turned out to be one of the most rewarding evenings we have had.
The evening started with an aperitif, copper in colour with a green tinge at the edge, a whiff of old wood and intense dried fruit, sweet on the palate but with the unmistakeable high acidity of Madeira. But was it Sercial, Verdelho … and how old? At least we were on the right lines at a decade – Henriques & Henriques, Ten Year Old Sercial.
The first course was three whites, very different in colour, weight and even texture. First up was what turned out to be Quinta de la Rosa Branco, Douro DOC, 2010, Pale in colour, some creamy and sweet spice oak notes on the nose and then lemon, lime and green apple fruit, some savoury spice (cumin?) and medium acidity. Tasted blind we did not think it had much potential for ageing but I am sure the Quinta would argue otherwise. It turned out to be complex blend with 60% Viosinho, supported by Rabigato, Gouveio and Codega … you see what I mean about the varieties but that takes nothing away from the quality of the wine. Wine number two was the snazzily-labelled Monte da Peceguina Branco, Alentejo 2006. An attractive mid-gold colour was an obvious clue to some oak ageing (five months in American oak barrels) and its age. It had certainly developed some Riesling-like petrol notes (apparently a characteristic of the Arinto variety) and the palate was full, dry and marked by dried apples and some wood tannins. Definitely a food wine but complex and characterful. At the other end of the scale was Vinho Verde, Quinta de Azevedo, 2011 with some slight fizziness (rather more before I decanted it from its give-away tall, slender bottle shape), and then that characteristic sour, lime, herb and zippy acidity and light body which does make this a great accompaniment to lunch in hot places. And the grape varieties? – mostly Louveio with some Pedernã.
The main course was six reds with apparently three sets of pairs though the order had been randomized in order not to make it too easy! The wines here are commented on in their pairs, not the random order in which we tasted them.
And it came to pass that one pair was a rarity from the tiny, sandy area near Lisbon, the Colares DOC. This coastal area is buffeted by winds on the one hand and under constant threat of urban development on the other. The further challenge is to get new vines to root in the deep sand; the bonus is that there are pre-phylloxera vines still in production tended by the committed. What was really remarkable was the age-worthiness of the wine as demonstrated by the youthfulness of the old example. The wines were medium bodied, with taut red fruit and lowish in alcohol – none of which we normally associate with Portuguese reds. The variety is Ramisco – no I hadn’t heard of it before either. Example one was a 2005 from Fundação Oriente (a cultural foundation which in effect rescued the appellation and the Ramisco variety by buying an eight hectare vineyard in 1999 (see the excellent article on this on the wine-searcher website). The second wine was a bottle from the local cooperative (Adega Regional) which nobody got close to guessing was in fact twenty years old: 1992, just 11% alcohol. A remarkably fresh survivor.
The second pair turned out to be from the large area of south east Portugal, Alentejo, scene of much contemporary experimentation with wine styles and varieties – and the home of the huge Portuguese cork industry. Pedra Basta, VR Alentejano, 2009 is an excellent modern example. It is made from Trincadeira, Arragonez (the local name for Tempranillo), Alicante Bouschet, of which more shortly, with a dash of Cabernet Sauvignon, all aged in new and second year barrels for 18 months. Very good concentration of mostly black berried fruit and something almost meaty on the nose and with ripe, black fruit on the palate, good balancing acidity and a long finish – very good quality and value for money. The second of the pair was Mouchão, VR Alentajano 2005, a quality example of the Alicante Bouschet variety, a red-pulped grape which can be rustic (eg in coastal Tuscany), but here turns out a glass of wine with marked mocha and black fruit notes, black cherry under spirit and young, grippy if fine tannins – excellent ageing potential.
And finally a pair that represents perhaps the best known ‘red wine’ story of modern Portugal, the emergence of powerful Douro reds which now sit along side their fortified cousins with near equal esteem. First up was a superb, mature, Quinto do Crasto, Douro reserva, 2000, full of old balsamic and iodine aromas, mysterious and brooding, a real juiciness on the palate, black fruit again, and interestingly only appearing to be medium bodied. I don’t know what the grape varieties are – and in the best, authentic ‘old vine’ experience, neither, it appears, do they, declaring only ‘old vines – several grape varieties’. Probably the classic Port names – Tinto Roriz (Tempranillo again), Tinta Barocca, Touriga Franca and, no doubt from the intensity, Touriga Nacional. Finally we had a red from Quinta de la Rosa, Douro reserva, 2006, again a blend of Port varieties: quite a restrained nose, just a touch stalky; then youthful, succulent black berried fruit, fine oak notes and a medium plus length.
The final reds above were suitably accompanied by a sophisticated plate of double-cooked pork belly, excellently executed and presented by the Red Lion, Overton. Concentration tends to lag at this point … but it can be recovered.
The finale of the evening was two contrasting fortified wines which were indeed Port. I am happy to admit that I thought the first was Madeira on account of its high acidity (and the very poor light) but in fact it was a splendid twenty year old tawny port. Technically a Colheita, ie from a single vintage, but unlike a vintage port one that has spent a good few years in wood before it was bottled and hence has gone tawny. Beautiful orange rind, furniture polish (in a good way!), spice and oxidised fruit character, smooth and silky from the tannins having dropped out, fine sweetness, a delight if an alcoholic one: Colheita, Calem, 1990. And the final taste was indeed the wine of the evening by some margin with the glory that is vintage port – if you have the 40+ years to wait for it to get to mid-life as this had done. True vintage ports only spent a short time, two years, in oak and then years, or rather decades, in the bottle. As a result they retain the hugely dense fruit texture, high acidity, tannins and sweetness for a very long time and develop very, very slowly. So this wine was much ‘younger’ in character than the Colheita half its age. It started with a big nose of intense black fruit and alcohol (22%!). In fact this wine was wrongly poured at first in the line up of six dry table wines and I sniffed it and wrote ‘porty’! But the palate is something to marvel at for its quite extraordinary intensity, packed black fruit, developing character and sheer exuberant youthfulness. This bottle was a nice illustration of why it pays to buy the best in one part of your life and drink it – in this case share the bottle with appreciative and lucky friends – in another: this wine cost £3.75 when it was bought just after decimalisation (younger readers will have to look that one up!). It is still available from the Wine Society at a very reasonable price of £135. That is £3 a year to give it house room for that majestically slow development!
Fortified wines are a seriously undervalued category of quality wines. Somewhere we have bought the line that to be taken seriously wines must be dry (many fortifieds are also sweet) while proper concerns about alcohol consumption put a question mark against wines that can be around 20% in alcoholic strength. Vintage Port is the exception, not the rule, receiving lots of proper attention, but it is rare treat. But there is a whole range of excellent wines, many at really good prices for the quality and sophistication which they offer. And what really marks these wines out is their character as wines of the extremes – of location, climate, wine making, ageing and quality. Here is the line up I recently presented at the Officers’ Mess at Andover.
The evening started with two Sherries. The image of Sherry is cosy and suburban but it is made in an extreme location. The Southern tip of Spain is far too hot and dry to contemplate growing grapes for quality white wines. And most styles are made from one of the dullest grapes in the world, Palomino Fino. But it is the peculiarities of soil type (water retaining albariza chalk), the distinctive approach to ageing the wines in the solera system and making use of the climactic peculiarity of a hot region which is on the Atlantic coast which leads to great and highly distinctive wine. We tasted the two classic styles from which all other Sherry styles are based – if you ignore the inky black sweetness of PX. Las Medallas, Bodedgas Argüeso is a classic Manzanilla, the palest and lightest in the Fino style, a wine of mouth refreshing freshness and tanginess. The key to its distinctiveness is that it is aged under a layer of flor, a special type of yeast which rises to the surface in the barrel and which grows particularly thickly in the moisture rich environment of Sanlucar de Barrameda, right on the Atlantic coast. The solera system – a series of barrels which feed younger wines into progressively older blends – ensures consistency and complexity in the three year old final product. For a wine of this complexity, it is a great bargain at £7.
In complete visual contrast, a true Oloroso sherry is a mid amber colour and looks like a seriously old and viscous wine. Remarkably, it is made from exactly the same boring grape variety but, being fortified to a higher level, 18%, does not grow a protective layer of flor. As a result it ages in interaction with the air above it – hence the dark colour and the characteristic nutty, woody and even date flavours. Our example was an excellently made Viejo Oloroso from Sanchez Romate, who provide the Wine Society Exhibition range wine in this style. The only disappointment is that there is absolutely no indication about how old this ‘viejo’ is – I guess 10 years but perhaps more. (The Wine Society agree with this estimate and explained that it not financially viable to get the expensive certification of age for a small lot of wine.) To complete the sherries, this is a ridiculously good wine at £10.75 – but then, sadly for the producers but good for the discerning drinker, Sherry is deeply unfashionable.
The two sherries were followed by two Madeiras. If the tip of Spain is not recommended for white wines, the sub-tropical island of Madeira, 500+ kilometres off the coast of Morocco, surrounded by the Atlantic, is completely improbable – too hot, too wet, too humid. You have to add to those factors an overly rich volcanic soil and steep sites which require terracing. Once again the trick is in the ageing which breaks all the rules about keeping wines cool to preserve quality. Here you either actively heat wines to a seriously hot 50° for three months (the estufa method) or, more gently but equally improbably, leave them to age in a hot spot (the canteiros method), for example under the roof for years where temperatures will fluctuate wildly through the seasons – cf. the method of making Vin Santo in Tuscany.
Our two examples were from the grand old house of Henriques & Henriques: the first was the inexpensive Full Rich Madeira, no doubt made from the commoner Tinta Negro Mole grape variety and heat treated in the stainless steel estufagem you can see on their website. Moderately sweet, it offers marked, luscious, caramel flavours. Much more sophisticated was Bual, 15 year old, made from one of the four so-called noble varieties, in this case Bual (both a grape variety and a style), which is grown on the warmer south side of the island. In addition to the moderate sweetness it had a beautiful and complex combination of dried fruit, rancio, subtle wood and spice notes, with the characteristic acidity well clothed – poised, elegant, persistent. £22 for a 50cl bottle is decent value. And this is a baby by Madeira standards. Madeiras are probably the world’s longest living wines; if a wine can survive this heat treatment and has high acidity, it is virtually indestructible. For example, H&H still offer wines from the 1930s. Extreme indeed.
The second half of the tasting was devoted to four Ports, appropriately enough for an officers’ mess. Here the extremes are the summer temperatures and dropping rainfall as you get further inland, steep riverside sites which have to be worked by hand, fast extraction of the colour and phenolics in the first two days of fermentation and, in the case of vintage ports, decades of ageing potential.
The first two wines were in common styles – a simple, if high quality Ruby and then an LBV. Ruby is made from a range of red grapes, typically grown in the wetter and cooler western part of the Douro. Nowadays the fruit will be pressed mechanically with the aim of getting as much colour and tannin from the skins as is possible in the two days available before distilled grape spirit is added to leave a red, fiery, fruity wine. Krohn Porto Ambassador Ruby more than fulfils this brief. By contrast, the Wine Society’s LBV Port 2006, made by the dominant Symingtons group, was a star wine – showing a fresh attack of red and black fruit, edges rounded out by around 5 years in wood barrels, excellent balance between sweetness and acidity. Late Bottled Vintage (LBV to its friends) as a style is one way of getting something of the character of vintage port but without the wait or the need to decant. This example was made from quality fruit from the central, most prestigious, part of the Douro valley and has retained its weight despite being fined and filtered before bottling. Why ‘late bottled’? Because it is bottled just before it is ready to drink, while vintage port proper is bottled in its infancy, with all its growing up to do. This example from Symingtons showed outstanding value at £11.75 a bottle.
And finally, two contrasting example of aged wines. Inexpensive tawny port is paler than ruby and alcoholic, and that’s about it. True tawnies are wines that have been in a barrel long enough to go, well, tawny. A tawny made with high quality fruit of a single year, which has been wood aged for at least seven years, qualifies to be a Colheita, the Portuguese word for ‘harvest’ here doing service for a vintage wine – given that ‘vintage’ in the language of port has a very particular meaning. Krohn Porto Colheita 2000 was an excellent example, having been aged in wood for a full 10 years in the cooler Vila Nova de Gaia, across the river from Oporto itself. Amber in colour, pleasantly and slowly oxidised fruit flavours, it was long and subtle.
True vintage ports are extreme in other ways: only the best fruit in the best years will do; much greater use is made of the very best grape varieties including Touriga Nacional with its meagre yield of 300 grams per plant; and it needs years, decades, of ageing in the bottle to show its potential. Surprisingly, it is the simplest of all these wines to make – select the very best fruit, extract all that you can from the skins for two days, fortify, age in wood for a couple of years, bottle without any sort of treatment – no fining, filtering or stabilisation. Some of these wines are still made by the traditional pressing under foot in a long, low trough, producing excellent results if you can get people to do it; others by modern equivalents. The result is a wine of massive concentration and great levels of extract, which is pretty much undrinkable in its youth. It will throw a prodigious and solid sediment in time … and it will evolve ever so slowly in the bottle under its original cork. Graham’s 1980 Vintage Port showed really well at the climax to this tasting but has years left in it – a remarkable combination of continuing fruit and fine, evolved tertiary notes; a great balance between power and refinement; remarkably young for its 32 years.