Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Exploring northern Portugal

Portuguese wines This tasting for Andover Wine Friends was based on a Wine Society fine dining six-bottle case, augmented by a few bottles at the bottom and the top their excellent Portuguese offer.  For most of our tasters – including me – it was a voyage of discovery.  The general quality reputation of Portuguese table wines in the UK is not high but the Wine Society has done an excellent job here.  The highlights: 

The Society’s Vinho Verde, Amdega Cooperativa Regional de Monção 2012, 11.5%, £5.95
Yes, this was easily the cheapest wine of the evening.  It is the product of the labour of at least some of the 1600 growers who farm 1200ha, on average less than a hectare each, with the grapes being vinified by the local cooperative.  Made from traditional, local, grape varieties it presumably features Alvarinho, Loureiro, etc. grown on Portugal’s damp and relatively cool north-west coast, the appropriately named Costa Verde. And it is an excellent example: fine lifting spritz on the tongue, really fresh palate, green and savoury notes and some lemon fruit.  For such a properly lightweight wine it is remarkably long in the mouth. 

Casa de Saima Rosé, Bairrada, 2012, 12.5%, £9.50
RoséMade from the local Baga and Touriga Nacional varieties this wine is a short maceration rosé. The fact that Sogrape produces Mateus Rosé here in the Bairrada region would not prepare you for this bone dry, structured, intensely mineral wine. I will concede it is a bit of an acquired taste as it has just a hint of strawberry for fruit, but a highly distinctive and food-friendly rose. 

The real surprises of the evening were the whites for their clear fruit profiles, fresh acidity and all round classiness. If I have to chose one, the vote would go to:

Luis Pato, Vinhas Velhas, Vinho Regional Beira Atlantico, 2012, 12.5%, £12.50
We may be in the land of little known grape varieties, but there is a master winemaker here: 50% Bical, and 25% each of Cerceal and Sercialinho has been fermented with temperature control in stainless steel vats. No oak means the wine stands or falls by its fruit quality and this certainly succeeds.  Attractive almond and shortbread notes on the nose (which suggested Battenberg cake to some!), remarkably concentrated citrus palate, good length, excellent. 

Am I allowed two favourite reds?  After all this is what Portugal is famous for:

Luis Pato, Vinha Barrosa Monopólio, Vinho Regional Beiras, 2009, 13%, £30
In a way this was an easy pick it that it again from Luis Pato who completely transformed the image of Bairrada wines. He introduced modern vinification while remaining a champion of local varieties. A single-vineyard wine made from 85-year Baga vines (that is genuinely old vine!), this spends a year in new and used Allier oak.  Clean, refined medium-intensity nose of red fruit really does not prepare you for the impact of the structured palate.  Pronounced grippy tannins well balanced by the intense fruit and acidity.  Drinkable with food at four years, it would be amazing in 10 to 20 years. 

Quinta do Manuela, Douro DOC, 2000, 14.5%, £18
Portugal is not just the land of numerous local varieties and seriously old vines. It also has great value older bottles of which this is our representative: a field blend of very old vines, ie even the locals don’t know what the mix is.  The wine was made by Jorge Serôdio Borges, renowned Portuguese winemaker to whom the estate passed in 2008.  Medium ruby in colour still with subtle old wine note but fresh fruit still to the fore which is a testament to quality in a thirteen-year-old wine. Lovely rounded black fruit in the glass with those the tannins just beginning to soften. Good for another decade at least … and still available at that remarkable price. 

Other wines tasted

Reds Passadouro, Vinho Branco, Douro DOC, 2011, 12.5%, £12.50
Average 30 year old Viosinho, Rabigato, and Códega do Larinho grown at 500m on schist and granite soils, 15 days of cool temp fermentation, 5 months on five lees  (barrel fermented according to Wine Society but not the winery’s own website but we agreed with the winery)

Encruzado Quinta dos Roques, Dão DOC, 2012, 13.5%, £15
Encruzado is the grape, 65%  barrel fermented and aged in barrels for 7 months with lees stirring

Passa, Douro DOC, Quinta do Passadouro, 2010, 14%, £9.95
younger vines of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Franc a with an average vine age of 30 years in the Cima Corgo, 11 days maceration, matured in 20% new oak for 18 months

Quinta dos Roques, Dão DOC, 2010, 13.5%, £9.95
vinified in older oak, 50% Touriga Nacional, 25% Jaen, 15% Alfrocheiro, 10% Tinto Roriz, 9 months in old barriques

Quinta das Bágeiras, Vinho Tinto Reserva, 2010, 13.5%, £12
Baga (60%) and Touriga Nacional, fermented in small open vats with no destemming, aged for 16 months in old wood vats

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