Winefriend by David Way

Writing about the wines of Piemonte, Italy and France

Iberian Icons

It is rare these days for marketing hyperbole to begin to live up to its billing.  We don’t have ‘tastings’ or ‘good wines’ any more, we have a constant stream of ‘masterclasses’, ‘iconic wines’ and the world’s greatest this and that.  But just occasionally the event or wine lives up to the claim made about it.   This was certainly the case with Charles Metcalfe’s Iberian Icons for Stevens Garnier – the best of these wines genuinely were amazingly good and merited the praise heaped upon them.  Here are my top three. 

Legado Red, DOP Douro, 2009 – a prosaic name for a wine made from a field blend of 100-year-old vines from the upper Douro, notionally 40% Touriga Franca, 10% Touriga Nacional and a load of other Tintas, not to mention Donzelinho from the Douro.  This has not only great intensity on nose and palate, power and balance but also that difficult to describe wildness,  a mixture of herbs, black fruit, spice and a subtle texture from rich tannins. The richness of the fruit easily carries the fifteen degrees of alcohol.  Outstanding and in a way that really reflects its place: what comes through is an extraordinary power and untamedness of those old, local variety vines in a hot and dry place, making huge but balanced red wine by exploiting north-facing slopes and altitude. 

Barca Velha, Casa Ferreirinha, DOP Douro, 2004 – common known as Portugal’s icon wine, Barca Velha does start with the attribute of rarity.  The first vintage was 1952 and was the result of the then winemaking, Fernando Nicolau de Almeida, visiting Bordeaux and thinking ‘we could do that’ – and how!  Since then there have only been 17 vintages which shows a real commitment to genuine excellence.  And at the tasting, we consumed 3% of the UK’s entire allocation of 60 bottles … Unlike Legado, this is from a modern vineyard planted in blocks, with 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinta Franca, 20% Tinto Roriz (ie Tempranillo) and 10% Tinta Câo.  Charles tells the story of how when this wine was first made in the 1950s ice had to be shipped up the Douro to control fermentation temperatures as electricity did not arrive here until the 1980s. Nowadays the fermentation temperatures are controlled in boring but reliable modern ways, though the young wines are still transported to the much cooler Vila Nova Gaia to be matured for 18 months in French barriques, 75% new and then given extended bottle age before release.  Classy, elegant, deep plum nose, rich and fabulous texture of fine silky tannins, remarkably restrained and balanced at just 13.5%. Outstanding again but in a more classic, international style, but with that intense local fruit character. 

Ferreira 1920Both these wines can be bought for money … lots of money … around £270 a bottle, but the final icon is not for sale and so was an extra special treat:

Porto, Ferreira Vintage 1920 – ports of this period, nearly a hundred years ago, were made with a mixture of red and white grapes. (This, however, did not have any Muscat character about it which apparently many wines of this period did.)  Thus, even in the very best years, they would not have had the purple-red intensity that the just declared – and also truly remarkable – 2011s show.  A century on, the wine has turned into the glorious mid amber you can see on the right. This is not the best picture I have of this wine but it is the truest in turns of the colour.  The label is, of course, modern – the bottle will have spent the intervening decades as part of those glorious and mysterious stacks of old unlabelled bottles which you see in the cellars of historic wineries.  The wine had been poured for an hour and a half by the time we tasted it but was still in perfect condition, with a whiff of nail varnish over powerful walnut and dried fig notes.  These carry over into the palate with additional date, smokiness, syrup of figs, continuing sweetness and 20.5% alcohol. Unlike old table wines which can be intellectually fascinating, fortified wine of this age can be and this was genuinely enjoyable drinking. 

Three icons (a triptych perhaps?) in one tasting … truly remarkable. 

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