Posts Tagged ‘Port’
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!
Asking the owner of an independent wine shop to choose just six wines to show off his wines is definitely mission impossible. If the shop is a creation of one person, he or she has spent hundreds of hours and selfless tasted probably thousands of wines to pick the stock … and then they have to be whittled down to just six! But it makes for a good game and the wines should be excellent. And the selection should tell you a great deal about the owner’s preferences.
Tim Pearce of Grape Expectations, Andover, was the man on a mission. I had made one stipulation – we must taste his very best Champagne! And then there were a number of bonus wines too.
|Pale lemon, fine citrus notes, some melon fruit, sharp acidity and, at least in Tim’s view, some creaminess. We tasted these wines blind – because we like to have a bit of suffering with our pleasure – but this was just too obscure for that game! This was a north Italian white: Castelfeder, Kerner ‘Lahn’ 2009 which comes from Südtirol or Alto Adige if you prefer, and is made from the Kerner grape, itself a cross between Riesling and Trollinger. That attractive sharp acidity comes from the 15 degrees of temperature difference between night and day in the area.|
|Wine number two was straw in colour, quite aromatic – flowers, sherbet and lemon, with moderately high acidity, medium bodied, persistent with a very dry finish. ‘Fragrant, cool, good length’ was one comment; and ‘great value at £8’. This is an excellent bottle from an unlikely source: Catarina 2010, Bacalhôa, Setubal Peninsula, Portugal, 13.5% alcohol but very well balanced. 60% Fernão Pires, 30% Chardonnay, 10% Arinto, with just the Chardonnay being fermented in oak.|
|Now here is a wine to divide opinion! The fact that we struggled to identify it told its own story. It isn’t made from an unusual German cross or Portuguese grape varieties … in fact it could not be more more main stream. After some initially mustiness had lifted (natural wine making), toffee apple and vanilla on the nose with rich apple fruit, good acidity, no signs of oak on the palate: 100% Chardonnay from southern Burgundy, clearly given the big oak treatment: ‘Aragonite’, Clos des vignes du Maynes, AC Macon-Cruzille, 2009. Classic Burgundy isn’t, but it is a wine of real character.|
|Some wines do deserve three pictures. A superb vintage Champagne, from Henriot, from the good 1998 vintage: still lively mousse, medium pronounced biscuity nose, full bodied rich fruit, wonderful balance combining ageing notes and remaining freshness, great depth of flavour. As one learned commentator wrote: ‘Yum’!|
|Back to the unknown. Some initial ‘bubblegum’ on the nose led us down the wrong path, then ripe cherries, even cherry icecream. A north Italian grape variety apparently … we eventually got to Lagrein, in this wine which I had tasted a few weeks ago. A red from Castelfeder again: Lagrein 2008. The picture is getting clear: this buyer doesn’t worry about whether the wine is well known or not, he buys what he likes …|
|And he likes pairs of wines from the same estate: here is the red from Clos des Vignes du Maynes, AC Macon Cruzille 2010. And is there a twist … you bet there is! Good raspberry fruit, high acidity, medium tannins, some old oak. So what is the one thing you don’t do with the Gamay grape – oak it of course! Another super low intervention wine, no added SO2, but then 11 months on the lees in oak barrels.|
|OK, we did spot this one: Pinot Noir in some form or other, raspberry and strawberry fruit, some attractive farmyardy notes, quite structured with lots of fairly linear fruit on the palate, plenty of alcohol, good drinking. Tim teased me that I had been to this estate … but as I have not ventured out of Europe recently, this seemed unlikely. Clos Henri, Marlborough, New Zealand 2008. But it is indeed from Henri Bourgeois, who I did indeed visit in cool Sancerre just over a year ago.|
|On to the bonus wines. Here is a wine you definitely can’t buy at Grape Expectations, or probably any where else: Borges & Irmão, Vintage Port 1963. A case of six made £139 in a Christie’s auction of 2001 … a precious bottle from Tim’s own cellar, a minor house in a great vintage. Pale, spirity, sweet fruit still with us …|
|Two final bonus wines: a big, bold South African ‘port’ in all but name first: Axe Hill, Mossops, 2002, South Africa. And then another sweet red wine, but this just 14.5% alcohol, a great Italian classic, Recioto della Valpolicella 2004 from the outstanding Corte Sant’Alda. Clearly some one knows my tastes! Dense cherry fruit, nice wood notes, super balance of rich red fruit on the palate with mild tannins and a dry finish. Marinella Camerani’s wines do not disappoint!|
In wine, as in life, it is a good idea to let people with talent express themselves … thanks to Tim and other generous guests for a great evening.
Port undoubtedly has an image problem. Like sherry and madeira, its success in previous generations has left it pigeon-holed in the officers’ mess or the Oxbridge high table. The vintage variety needs decades of cellaring – and who today has either decades or a cellar? High in alcohol, the slightly improbable combination of sweet and red, it’s a wine searching for a place in today’s more relaxed life styles.
David Thomas, MD of Caviste, began to chart a path in this fascinating tasting of the contemporary wines of Portugal for Andover Wine Friends. Kicking off with stories of his own time in the Douro valley before he went on to qualify as an oenologist, he pushed past the barriers that stop us giving these wines their proper value. The barriers are:
- not many of speak us Portuguese
- unfamiliar and difficult-to-pronounce Portuguese grape varieties
- the stereotype that Port only produces either mass market plonk (Mateus Rose) or heavy Ports
- high alcohol levels.
The tasting led with four table wines. These were the backbone of the Portuguese industry before the ‘invention’ of port and are now coming quickly to some prominence again. Monte da Peceguina Branco 2007 is a quality white, mildly aromatic with good weight in the mouth (all that sun plus 20% fermented in barrels). Niepoort ‘Drink Me’, Douro Red 2007 gives a bit of clue – highly drinkable, with a good depth of fruit, made from five local varieties. Here is the first clue that Niepoort has a fun, modern designer in the team. British ceremonial would be so much better if busbies concealed bottles of wine!
The next two are seriously grown up wines: Quinta de Macedos Tinto Reserva 2001 is a bit of a mammoth – big, dense red fruit, powerful mineral notes and then a great whack of tannin, drying the mouth. As David commented, it’s a great wine for education – and only time will tell if the tannins soften and get silky.
But the star red table wine is Niepoort’s Batuta 2004, Niepoort take on claret but with twice as much fruit. Caviste have an allocation of only 12 bottles of this wine and a queue of customers despite the £50 price tag. It is made from local grape varieties, with some Touriga Nacional, but not too much as the aim is great depth of fruit but not overwhelming tannins. Barrique ageing leads to a lovely veneer of oaky notes above great power and structure – a beautiful, big red which will age for years and would perfectly match steak or other powerful meat dishes.
And all this was the warm up act for the ports. We pick up the key point about this great fortified wine:
- vines grown on impossibly dry and steep hill sides, beautiful if demanding
- endless sunshine and real heat
- the classic red port is made from Touriga Nacional, a low cropper with small, intensely coloured berries with loads of tannin
- gentle extraction of colour and flavour through the famous ‘treading’ of the grapes (or the modern equivalents of treading)
- half ferment the wine and then add high quality grape alcohol to ‘stop’ the yeasts dead, leading to dense, fruity, wines with 20? of alcohol
- entry level ‘white’ or ‘ruby’ (3 years old) port
- basically two types of ageing for more serious bottles: either in barrels for some years (10 or 20) or for decades in bottles if a declared, top quality, vintage
White port of any quality is a bit of a rarity. It is made with the Malvasia grape and so there is an Italian connection here – this is the same grape which goes into the mix for the Tuscan Vin Santo, another oxidative classic. Churchill’s White Port has the sweetness and orange marmalade quality of port without the powerful red berries flavour. David sang its praises with cheese and we duly obliged with Colston Bassett, quality Stilton. And such a beautiful colour too.
The next wine is the shape of the competition, Kalleske JMK Fortified Shiraz 2006, from Australia’s Barossa Valley. A beautiful, fruit driven wine, the alcohol perhaps not in perfect keeping with the fruit yet, but young, vibrant, good value. And a much coveted small bottle – like a perfume jar. Those Australians know a thing or two about marketing. Impressive sediment too.
Two textbooks red ports follow, showing the difference in style between ‘ruby’ and ‘tawny’ perfectly, the first all dense red fruits, the second classic rancio, figgy, oxidized through maturing in wood barrels. The colour difference between these identical blends, aged differently, is just about visible in the photo, at the rim:
And finally two great treats. First, the unusual Niepoort Colheita 1998, ie a tawny port with ten years of barrel ageing and a very short sojourn in the bottle. There is a hint of red fruit here but then we are back to marmalade, wood, figs and caramel, outstanding at less than £30 a bottle.
The Colheita came second in the post-tasting poll: ‘amazing colour, smoothness, warming’ according to Tahira. I agree – I voted for this!
By contrast to this attractively browning wine, Graham’s vintage 1977, despite being 20 years older, is in prime youth. Sourced by a wine group member (thank you Joanne!), it still leads with red fruit which are now followed by the elegant signs of age – but so balanced, poised, subtle. And apparently it was only just begin to show … but some of us don’t have another half a life time to wait.
The Grahams 1977 came … roll of drums … top in the post-tasting poll, but only by a short head! ‘Although still youthful, the tannins have softened to a great level of approachability, and there was a concentrated core of fruit’ said Martin; ‘the most satisfying of the Ports with quite a few levels of flavour’ according to Paul.
More about Port – well actually lots more – on the excellent: