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An Eventful Friday – Sparkling, Port, Radio Talk Show and more

December 7, 2014 10 comments

Writer's Block Cabernet FrancAs you probably noticed, the number of posts on Talk-a-Vino is down very significantly. There are many reasons for that – different workload from my day time job, few time consuming projects we tackle at home, and of course the plain familiar writer’s block. Yep, the writer’s block – when there is lots running in your head, and you have a great difficulty to put something out on  the “paper”. I tried to address the last one using the wine, I would hope specially made for such an occasion – the wine called Writer’s Block and made by Steele Wines in California. I first saw this wine mentioned in the blog I follow, called Mrsugarbears, and as you might see in my comment to that post, “Must. Find. This. Wine” was the first thing I said. I found the wine, and I got the Cabernet Franc and Grenache to try, out of the vast variety of the wines under that “Writer’s Block” label (you can see the full line of wines here).

We opened the 2011 Writer’s Block Cabernet Franc Lake County, California (13.8% ABV, $17) – it had eucalyptus, tobacco and fresh leaves on the nose. Palate was showing a medium body, tart blackberries, green bell peppers and more tobacco. On Friday, the characteristic cassis showed up, which made me happy while finishing the wine. Not sure it helped with my writer’s block, but I will gladly drink it again. Will try the Grenache next time. Drinkability: 7+

Let’s get back to that Friday. In the morning, the shipment of Horsepower Syrah arrived. I’m not sure how I managed to get on the list for this first release of super-highly allocated wine – but somehow I did, back in May. The wines comes from the legendary Christophe Baron (Cayuse, No Girls), from the tiny vineyards in Walla Walla Valley, all farmed sustainably and biodynamically (here you can read more about Horsepower Vineyards).

Okay, so it is all great, but not my main point here. I got a shipping notice from UPS at the beginning of the week, and then I got shipping delay notice from UPS, saying that the wine would be delivered only on Monday, which would be a problem as I’m traveling again next week, and there would be good chance that nobody would be able to sign for the wine during the day. This is why the delivery on Friday was so exciting that I even decided to share it in this post. This was also the first wine I received wine in the nice wooden box – so here are some pictures for you.

The next event on Friday was a really a double pleasure. At the beginning of the week, I connected to the @TheVineWineClub on Twitter, and then I got a note about possibly joining a radio talk show about the wine. Really? Yes, I can talk wine, I actually love to talk wine, so I said that I will be glad to do it – and it instantly happened, right on that Friday. At 3 PM, I was a guest at the regular radio talk show called “Off the Vine Radio Show with Benita and Terricinia“, hosted as you can tell from the name, by Benita and Terricinia. The theme was about the sparkling wines, so to support the conversation I decided to open a sample which I recently got – Ferrari Perlé from Trento in Italy. I almost feel guilty talking about Ferrari wine just matter-of-factly – the winery was founded by the Guido Ferrari in 1902; he was responsible for bringing Chardonnay grape into Italy, and he can be pretty much considered a father of Italian Méthode Champenoise wine industry. Full range of Ferrari sparkling wines is nothing short of spectacular and again, it really deserves it own coverage in a separate blog post.

This 2007 Ferrari Perlé Trento DOC, Italy (12.5% ABV, $35, 100% Chardonnay) was absolutely delicious – fine mousse, delicate aromas of apple and hint of toasted bread, perfect balance on the palate – apples, yeast, toasted bread, acidity – just very classic wine, making you say “ahh” after every sip. Drinkability: 8+

And the radio show – it was fun all the way! Benita and Terricinia were great hosts, very knowledgeable about the wine, so we definitely had a fun conversation (I really hope I didn’t overstepped my boundaries by talking to much)! I’m not going to recite our conversation here, but if you got a bit of time, here is the link for you for the broadcast. And if you will actually listen to the program – let me know (honestly!) what you think.

And the last highlight of the day – Port and Madeira tasting!

The tasting was focused on the Graham Port wines, one of the oldest Port houses in Portugal. There were 4 different ports presented in the tasting. The first one was really special, produced in the total quantity of 500 cases (less than 300 cases imported to US). This port was produced as part of the “Six Grapes” line, but for the first time in more than 100 years, it was done using the best grapes from 2011 and 2012 vintages, which were both simply outstanding vintages (some are saying that 2011 was one of the two or three very best over the last 100 years), and this is something never done before. You can read the full story here. Well, for what it worth, here are my notes:

Graham’s Six Grapes Old Vines Port ($34.99) – young and aggressive. Needs some time to mellow down – it has a sharpness of young fruit which still needs some polishing when it comes to the Port wine. After a bit of the breathing time, will perfectly finish a meal.

2011 Graham’s Vintage Port ($75.99) – again, this is the port from the amazing vintage, so it needs a lot of time to develop. Young bright fruit, blueberries and blackberries, firm and powerful body, excellent balance. Give it a 20 years, it will show what it is capable of.

Graham’s 10 Years Old Tawny ($27.99) – delicious. Dried fruit all over – figs, apricots, touch of hazelnut. And I love the bottle’s look and feel – this is a new packaging for this port which I think makes the wine shine even more.

Graham’s 20 Years Old Tawny ($45.99 – great price!) – make it double delicious. More dried fruit, nuttiness all the way, extremely complex. Thought provoking and might make you forget all the world troubles if you will be left alone with the bottle. My favorite from the tasting.

Last but not least – Blandy’s Malmsey 10 Years old Madeira ($23.99 – an amazing QPR) – a bit of sweet fruit on the palate, lots of complexity between nutty and salty profiles – delicious all the way.

Here we are, my friends – one eventful Friday. Writer’s blog, be bone – I can’t deal with you. Cheers and have a great week ahead!

Port Barrels and Harvest

October 20, 2013 16 comments

There are days when everything goes wrong. And then there are days when everything goes right (hmm, which one do you prefer?). And sometimes the bad day just … changes in the middle, and becomes a great day (yes, the worst case scenario is when the best day becomes a complete disaster, but let’s not go there, okay?).

My day didn’t start all that well. During the trip to Portugal, I had one and only one free day when I could take a drive along the Douro river and visit some wineries. Before the arrival, I asked the hotel to reserve the rental car, which should be automatic (yeah, I know, it is a substantial handicap – never learned how to drive the manual) and have GPS. Hotel’s email said “no problems, all arranged as you requested”.

We arrived at the Europcar rental pretty much as planned – a little bit after 9 am. I figured we will get a car, drive for about 2 hours, and will have enough time to visit 3 wineries. For some reason, the lady at the counter took about 40 minutes to do the paperwork. Finally, we get portable GPS, and then we are doing the walk around of a small car (I’m happy – my preference in Europe is to drive the compact car, as in the end of the day you need to park the car somewhere, and small car is a lot easier to deal with). All the little scratches are noted, we get inside. I put the key in the ignition, stat the car, and … oh shit, I can’t drive it – it is a stick-shift. I’m walking back to tell the lady that this is not the car which was requested, and that I can’t drive this car (meanwhile, I’m literally swearing at myself for not asking from the beginning about type of the transmission the car has – pretty much an hour of time is wasted). The lady (to be honest with you – I had a sneaky desire to avoid her from the first minute I saw her), proudly tells me that I got the car I requested. And after I explained that I can’t drive stick-shift, and I need an automatic car, she also happily informed me that there is nothing she can do.

Luckily, the second agent is free now, and I plead my case to her (the perspective of simply spending the day aimlessly wandering around Porto somehow doesn’t excite me even for a second). She at least tells me “let me see what I can do” – I also see the face of her colleague (the first lady) clearly expressing the hope that I would just walk away, not drive away in one of their coveted automatic cars.

The girl who is trying to help us is making a quick call and then tells me that yes, she has a car – but it will cost twice as much (€140). At this point, again, we have no choice, so yes, thank you, this is wonderful, can we have that car as soon as possible? Well, not so fast, she says – the car must be washed and re-fueled. My plea that dirty car will be just fine, and that I know how to fill the car, dies in vein. “It will be only 15 minutes”, she says. Finally, one hour later, we are presented with the white behemoth. We get in, and we pretty much have to start driving immediately as we are blocking someone’s private garage entrance, and the person who is trying to get out is not very happy with that. I barely manage to get this car to move, as some genius designed the parking on/off knob to be a separate button to the left of the steering column, functionally co-located with the parking brake…

I pull to the other side of the street and try to operate GPS – you see, that winery, called a “Quinta” in Portugal (which simply means “a farm”), doesn’t have a street address. The genius of the car design definitely had its say on GPS, as in that particular GPS you can’t enter a zip code, nor you can find a POI, as it only allows you to search for the places located right around you, and not at a distance of 140 km… Anyway, while I’m about to go back and to say that I’m not driving that piece of sh.. anywhere, my friend manages to enter just the town for our destination, and he also manages to calm me down (thank you, Sumit!), so off we go…

Once we get to the highway, my mood is improving (I actually love driving). Once we get off the highway (which is about 25 miles down the road), and we hit the small road going mostly along the river, I’m in nirvana… And who will not be, when this is what you see all around:

After driving for about 2 hours, we arrived to the town of S. Joao da Pesqueira (our destination). It is really time for lunch, and we are so behind our planned schedule. We managed to find an open restaurant – on Sunday,  outside of the tourist area, food gets a little tricky. While in the restaurant, I’m desperately trying to get the Google maps on my Blackberry to work. We are asking for the directions – no such luck, as we also don’t have the detailed map of the S. Joao da Pesqueira, the town where the Quevedo, our destination, is located, and there is clear and present language barrier. I don’t really remember what I had for lunch, as I was all worried that we will not make it (yep, that little worried child inside got completely out of control).

After the lunch, based on the glimpses of GPS navigation, our waitress’ hand gestures and common sense, we continue driving forward. About 5 minutes later, we see this:

DSC_0911And the happy day didn’t stop from there on.

Here are the few pictures of what were looking at once we stepped out of the car:

As we were walking in, we were quickly greeted by Oscar, who I met during my previous visit to Porto. Oscar represents a fifth generation of the winemakers in Quevedo family, which had being making Port wines for about 300 years. Quevedo makes about 750,000 bottles of Port per year, and with Oscar’s efforts (in addition to being a winemaker, he also heads up all the export operations for Quevedo), about 97% of what they make is being exported. We also met Claudia, Oscar’s sister, who is in charge of making decisions on the final blend of the Port. You see, outside of Vintage, Late Bottled Vintage and Colheita Ports, which are all made out of the single vintage grapes, absolute majority of the Port wines are blends – and Claudia has the final say on deciding what goes into the bottle.

Actually, the day we arrived was right in a middle of the harvest, so Oscar was completely torn between talking to us, accepting incoming grapes (which requires assessment, weighting, calculating), and also taking care of the other groups of visitors ( mostly locals, if I’m guessing correctly). Nevertheless, Oscar gave us a full tour of the winery and a cellar tasting!

As it was the harvest time, we were lucky enough to see the full process of grapes being unloaded, destemmed by the machine and then going into the fermentation tank. I have the pictures for you down below, but while looking at them, you need to imagine a scent of freshly crashed grapes filling the air…

There is a lot of stainless steel at the winery. And of course they have their own bottling line.

After seeing all around the winery, we finally made it to the cellar – and this is where all the fun began.

Oscar brought 3 glasses, and we went from the barrel to the barrel, tasting the different port wines, right from the barrel! We started from 2010 Port, which Oscar said might become a LBV or Colheita – the determination will be made later on (for more on the Port classification and terminology, you can take a look at my earlier post here):

2010 Quevedo Port, may be LBV, may be Colheita

2010 Quevedo Port, may be LBV, may be Colheita

This 2010 Port was perfectly fresh, with blueberries and blackberries, great power, perfect acidity, and just bright and uplifting character.

Next we moved to the 2003 Colheita:

2003 Quevedo Colheita

2003 Quevedo Colheita

2003 was a very hot year, but still it was declared a vintage year by many Port houses – which means that overall quality of the grapes was very high. This Port scaled more towards mature, dried fruit, like figs and may be dried apricots, but it was very balanced and still perfectly fresh.

Next up – 1996, and I finally managed to take a picture of Oscar’s hands pouring the Port:

The best you can see in the cellar - Port is getting into YOUR glasss!

The best you can see in the cellar – Port is getting into YOUR glass!

1996 Quevedo Colheita

1996 Quevedo Colheita

This 1996 Port was outstanding, mature, with perfect medley of dried fruit, figs, raisins, and excellent supporting acidity – I would gladly drink this every day ( who wouldn’t!).

And then there were two gems. First, 1970 White Port. Many people, even in Portugal, don’t know that aged white Port exists. Meanwhile, this Port of absolutely, unquestionably spectacular:

1970 White Port

1970 White Port

Elegant, complex, somewhat reminiscent of the mature Pedro Ximenez sherry, but with the dialed back sweetness, perfectly mature fruit, hazelnuts and, believe it or not, still very refreshing and all around spectacular – this wine is definitely a candidate for the Wine of 2013. I really can’t put any “Drinkability” rating on this wine – this simply is something to be experienced.

And we finished with 1974 Colheita, which was in the final blending stages, to be bottled next year (2014)  to commemorate 40 years:

This Port will be bottled next year

This Port will be bottled next year

There will be only 700 bottles produced. This Port was absolutely spectacular, very much on par with the white port we had before – very complex, with good amount of dried fruit, that nuttiness which only well aged Port or Jerez can demonstrate, all with still very present acidity. Same as the previous wine, this was really an experience, not just a sip of wine.

That’s was the end of our amazing tasting. We went for a walk around the vineyard, soaking up the sun and beginning of the autumnal beauty, enjoying the rest of the day which started ohh so not great.

I want to thank Oscar very much for finding the time in his extremely busy day and letting us experience those incredible wines. I also waht to thank my friend Sumit for bearing with my morning craziness and finally getting us to our destination. Let’s raise the glass for any day to become a perfect day, no matter how that day started. Cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, WTSO Cheapskate Wednesday in Progress, How To Taste Wine and more

June 19, 2013 7 comments

Meritage Time!

P1130189 Rioja 1947Let’s start with the answer to the wine quiz #61, grape trivia – Tempranillo. In the quiz, you were supposed to answer 5 questions about Tempranillo, the noble Spanish grape. Here are the questions with the answers:

Q1: What is the meaning of the name Tempranillo?

A1: Name Tempranillo comes from Spanish word temprano, which means “early”. Tempranillo typically ripens two weeks earlier compare to many other grapes.

Q2: Name 3 grapes,  traditional blending partners of Tempranillo

A2: Traditionally, in Rioja wines, Tempranillo is blended with Mazuello, Grenache and Graciano.

Q3: What is common between Bodegas Muga, La Rioja Alta, Lopez de Heredia and Vina Real outside of the fact that all four are very famous Rioja producers and of course make wines out of Tempranillo?

A3: This was definitely a difficult question. What this four wonderful Rioja producers have in common is … location. All for wineries are located within walking distance from each other around old train station in Haro.

Q4: Tempranillo is used in production of the wine outside of Spain, which is at least equally famous to Rioja. Do you know what wine is that?

A4: Port. Tempranillo is known in Portugal under the name of Tinta Roriz, and it is one of the essential grapes in Port production.

Q5: Name two producers of Tempranillo wines – one is the most famous and another one is probably the most expensive.

A5: Another pretty difficult question. Vega Sicilia is definitely the most famous producer of Tempranillo wines with their flagship wine called Unico. And while it is quite expensive at $500+ per bottle, Dominio de Pingus makes probably the most expensive Tempranillo wines. Both wineries are located in Ribera del Duero region.

Based on the low participation in this quiz I can only say – people, you have to drink more Spanish wines (see, I’m only using bold font instead of capitalizing  = screaming)! Especially from Rioja and Ribera del Duero. Anyway, as I said, at least two questions were quite difficult. We don’t have clear winner today, with Emil ( he doesn’t have a blog) coming the closest with about 3.5 points, so he definitely gets an honorable mention.

And now to the interesting stuff around vine and web!

First – don’t miss the WTSO Cheapskate Wednesday which is taking place today, June 19th. Yes, it is not super convenient to keep WTSO open in the browser and hit refresh all the time, but you have very few alternatives to that. You can also follow WTSO on Twitter – the only medium where new wine information is updated in real time. Make sure you have all your correct information on file with WTSO  – shipping address and the credit card – otherwise you are risking to miss on the wine you want while you will be filling up the details (being there, done that). I posted many times before about WTSO events – if you are interesting in taking the look at the past sales, use this link.

Next, I want to bring to your attention an interesting article by Master Sommelier Tim Gaiser, called “How to taste wine”. I’m sure that many of you tried at various occasion to figure out what exactly is in your glass – it is a fun challenge to take random glass of wine, look, sniff, swirl, sip – and confidently say “Shiraz, Barossa, Penfolds, 1998 or 1999” and then find out that you’ve been right, or may be it was actually an Argentinian Malbec. Using techniques offered as part of any serious wine education (Master Sommeliers, WSET, Master of Wine, etc.) can actually increase your chances of being right. This article explains in good detail the approach to the blind tasting taken by Master Sommeliers.

If you are a Pinot Noir aficionado, this article might be for you. Written by Jay McInerney for Wall Street Journal, it is dedicated to David Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards, one of the pioneers of Sonoma cool climate Pinot Noir.

Last but not least, here is an interesting blog post by W. Blake Gray, where he is talking about the study regarding cork taint. According to that study, 10% of the people actually prefer corked wines! For the first 10 minutes after I read it, I had mostly expletives roaming through my head – then I was able to compose myself and leave a [decent] comment. Yeah, well, no further comments – read it for yourself…

That’s all I have for you for today – the glass is empty! Refill is coming, and until the next time – cheers!

Study of Port: Epilogue

May 19, 2013 6 comments

What starts with prologue, should end with epilogue, right? What was supposed to be may be one or two posts, became a whole series. In case you missed any of the posts, here is a full list for the study of Port series:

Prologue

First Experiences

Food and Wine Tidbits

Great Restaurants

Finally, let’s talk about Port!

What else can I tell you? We had a great week in Portugal. Very short conclusion can be “great people, great food, great wines, great scenery, great time”.

All people we came across were very nice and helpful. Language barrier was never an issue (I also have to mention that a lot of people speak very good English) – one way or the other we were always able to understand each other. Hotel, restaurants, port houses, stores, our numerous walking tours will only stay in memory with great people encounters.

The food? Very good quality, very reasonably priced. Memorable moments? Bacalhau, Francesinha, lots of fresh fish and shellfish of all kinds. Tuna fish spread is served in almost all restaurants with the bread (you need to ask for butter). Port is available at the buffet breakfast in the hotel, next to the orange juice. Below is the best representation for you (sorry if I make you hungry):

Portuguese Seafood

Portuguese Seafood

But probably the most important part about the food in Portugal is the fact that Portugal practically doesn’t import any agricultural products – everything is either produced, caught or raised locally, and you can taste it.

When it comes to wines, the story becomes interesting. First, there are about 80 grape varieties growing in Portugal, most of them are indigenous grapes. Here is a glimpse for you, as captured in the picture below:

Portuguese Grape Varieties

Portuguese Grape Varieties

By the way, these unique grapes are a great find for all aspiring Wine Centurions – I personally added 5 new grapes to my list – here they are:

Codega do Larinho – 2011 Castello D’Alba from Douro

Rabigato – 2011 Castello D’Alba from Douro

Moscatel Galego Branco – 2012 Portal Colheita Branco Douro DOC

Antão Vaz – 2010 Herdade Dos Grous Branco Vinho Regional Alentejano

Donzelinho – 2011 Niepoort Tiara Douro Branco

Outside of Port, very few of the Portuguese wines make it to US, and out of those few, there is even lesser number of wines of notice. Meanwhile, if you will make it to Portugal, you will be literally astonished by the availability of very inexpensive and absolutely delicious wines, both in the stores and in the restaurants. I already gave you my account of great wine encounters in the previous posts (Quinta do Cardo, Niepoort Tiara, Quevedo Vintage Port), but I actually saved the best for last – 2009 Casa Burmester Reserva Douro DOC (blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinto Roriz) was an absolute highlight of the red wines I tasted during the Porto trip.

DSC_0414 Casa Burmester

I don’t want to even describe this wine in terms of berries, chocolate, coffee, spices – it had everything, but the major thing about this wine was an absolute balance of fruit, structure, power, acidity, tannins – all the elements which make you go “wow” after the first sip where perfectly there. I can’t give you one to one analogy for the way this wine tasted, but to give you an idea of how impressed I was, I would safely put it in one line with 2000 Chateau Margaux, Vega Sicilia Unico and Vintage Krug Champagne. In case you are curious about my rating, this wine gets Drinkability: 9.

I believe I sufficiently inundated you with the pictures of the beautiful scenery, but let me still add a few more:

All roads lead to Port...

All roads lead to Port…

Awakening and Anticipation ...

Awakening and Anticipation …

Vila Nova de Gaia

Vila Nova de Gaia

DSC_0215 Calem view from above

Port caves – view from above

Douro River view

Douro River view

Time to finally conclude the series. I don’t know what you think, but I really enjoyed writing all these posts. I also saw a lot of happy comments, including those where people said that they will definitely go and visit Portugal (which will be very smart, if you ask me). If you will actually travel to Porto, I hope you will find some useful information here. And in any case, thanks for reading and cheers!

Wednesday’s Meritage – Wine Quiz Answer, World Sherry Day, How To Start You Wine Book Project, Wine Blog Awards?

May 15, 2013 3 comments

It is Meritage Time, and Meritage posts are back!

Let’s start from the answer to the wine quiz #56, What is it? In the quiz, you had a picture of wine-related object, and you were supposed to identify what is it and how it should be used. Here is the picture which was presented to you:

DSC_0441

And here is the answer, in the form of another picture:

Port Thongs display at Sandeman

Port Tongs Display at Sandeman

The object is called port tongs, and they are used to open a bottle of vintage port or any old wine without fighting with the cork. The way to use it is this: you heat up the tongs until red hot, put it around the neck of the bottle underneath of the cork, hold it for some time, then remove and use cube of ice to go around the heated up circle – the glass cracks cleanly and can be removed now.

I really wanted to have such a device, ever since I read the post about old Rioja wines in PJ Wine blog – and now I do. I’m not sure how often or even when am I going to use this device, but – now I can if I want to (freedom is everything, right?)

I’m glad to say that we have two winners – both waywardwine and thedrunkencyclist correctly identified Port tongs in the picture, and the drunkencyclist provided perfect description for how port tonging is done. Congratulations to our winners – both of them get unlimited bragging rights.

Now, to the interesting stuff around the web. First, the World Sherry Day will start on Monday. This is going to be one long day, as it starts on May 20th and lasts through May 26th, but hey, that means that you can drink more sherry during one day. Find the place near you to celebrate, or just grab a bottle and indulge on the beverage which might be easily hundreds years old, and still affordable at the same time. If you need a crash course in Sherry, here is the link to one of my posts (I also plan to talk about sherry in more details at some point in the near future).

Dreaming of writing the wine book, you think you got something to say and you think you can convince people to share your vision? Then take a look at this post by Wink Lorch, where she is talking about her successful fundraising project on Kickstarter for her Jura wine book.

Last interesting note for you  – if you remember, a while ago, many of us, wine bloggers, asked for your nomination for the Wine Blog Awards 2013 – and many of us got nominations, for which we profusely thank you, our readers. The interesting part is that the week of May 10 – 17 was designated as voting week for the public, after jury selects 5 finalist blogs for each category – here is the link to the rules for you. Today is May 15th, and it doesn’t look like finalist blogs had been selected and that public can vote on them. Oh well…

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. The glass is empty. Until the next time – cheers!

Study of Port: Finally, Let’s Talk About Port!

May 14, 2013 23 comments

Finally, we’re arriving to the culmination point of our Study of Port cycle (here are the links to the previous four posts – post 1, post 2, post 3 and post 4). You probably noticed that while the cycle is called “study of port”, we talked very little about Port wines themselves.

Port Transporter, called Rabelos, now only used to carry around the tourists

Port Transporter, called Rabelos, now only used to carry around the tourists

For me, Port is one of the most difficult subjects in wine (of course Burgundy classification and German wines are the crown jewels of “difficult wine subjects”). There are many different styles of wine, overall still collectively called Port. There are Ruby, Tawny, non-vintage, Vintage, Late Bottled Vintage, 10-, 20-, 30-, 40- years old ports, all available in the wide pricing range. On top of everything, Port is considered to be a dessert wine, and at a certain point in life, the brain just starts either outright protesting or at least behave extremely cautiously around anything related to the word “sugar”.

Thus I was determined to use my Porto trip as a learning opportunity and do my best to acquire an understanding of the subject of Port directly from the source (I hope that clarifies the overall name of the theme chosen for this series of posts). Before I arrived to Porto, I sent out a few e-mails and twitter messages to he various Port houses, explaining that I’m a blogger and I would like to learn about Port and taste some of the older vintages. The only person who actually responded to me was Oscar Quevedo from the Quevedo Port house. After a bit of back and force we settled on the date and time.

DSC_0144 Quevedo Entrance

Once I arrived at the Quevedo Port house… Well, I will not inundate you with the long story, and the short story was that Oscar was not there (but he was very kind to stop by the hotel in the afternoon of the same day and undergo my very intense questioning for 30 minutes). Rachel and Manuel were “running the shop”, and while I was there at the Port house, I read a lot of useful information along the walls (I guess it can be called a self-guided tour), but that still didn’t answer all my questions (like why Vintage port should be consumed within 1 to 3 days from the opening of a bottle, and Late Bottled Vintage (LBV for short) does not. I started asking Rachel and Manuel all of my questions, and I think I drove them both a bit insane – I have to thank them both for their patience with me, especially Rachel, as she really did her best trying to figure out all the differences and details together with me.

I also tried young vintage port, 2010 Quevedo Vintage Port – and it made me happy.

DSC_0132 Quevedo Vintage 2010

The vintage port is supposed to be filtered when it is poured in the glass, which was performed using the jigger and special metal mesh filter.

Every aspect of this wine was simply exciting. The color – I don’t know if the picture truly conveys the color, but it was deeply concentrated, dark ruby red. The nose – ahh, all the fresh berries you can imagine, … And the palate – texturally present, dense, heavy, lots of fresh fruit. Yes, the was sweetness there, but oh so balanced with acidity, tannins and overall power. So far I was refraining from rating of the wines in this series of posts, but this wine was definitely a 9 and I’m sure it will be a part of my “2013 top dozen”.

DSC_0133 Quevedo Vintage Glass

When I met with Oscar in the afternoon, I used the opportunity to bombard him with the questions in my effort to understand the wine called Port. And now I want to share my newly found understanding with you, so for what it worth, below is my attempt so dissect and summarize the world of Port.

First, here are some interesting facts about Port.

  1. As with any other wines, the truth is in the eye of the beholder – and in our case, “beholder” will be a winemaker. Effectively, winemaker knows his vineyards, and winemaker knows what vines are capable of producing specific kinds of ports – Tawny, Ruby, Vintage, non-vintage and so on. But when it comes to Port, that winemaker’s knowledge is also verified before it can be put in the bottle and on the label – by the governing organization called IVDP.
  2. Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto, or IVDP for short, is a top authority regulating production of all Port wines. When winemaker wants to declare a vintage, the sample is sent to IVDP, where it is assessed ( in the blind format) for all the quality of the vintage port, starting from the color, and then vintage designation is either granted or declined. According to Oscar, IVDP knows everything about each and every port producer – how much of what kind of port is in the barrels, how many bottles were sold, how many bottles are still remaining with the Port house and so on – IVDP owns and processes all the information related to the production of Port.
  3. Less than 1% percent of the total port production is designated as Vintage port.
  4. Most of the red port wines are made out of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Francisca and Tinta Cão grapes.
  5. Port is typically fermented for 3-5 days, after which fermentation is stopped with addition of neutral spirit (grape brandy). The addition of the spirit is also a reason behind port’s classification as “fortified wine”.  The resulting port wine usually has ABV in the 18% – 21% range.
  6. Treading, the process of pressing grapes with the feet, is still in use today, but by a very small number of producers and only for the very special wines. The pressing by the feet creates just the right amount of pressure which doesn’t break the seeds – which helps to reduce the bitterness of the wine.
  7. Vintage port is the only port which continues aging in the bottle. Vintage port should be treated as regular wine in terms of handling and storage, and consumed during 24-72 hours after opening of the bottle.
  8. New oak barrels are never used in the production of the port. The barrels have to be used a few times for producing the regular wines, only then they become suitable for the production of the Port.

Now, let’s look at the classification of the Port wines. As you know, I like using mind maps, so here is Port’s classification in the form of the mind map:

Port

Port classification

Now let’s add some details:

  • Rose Port 
    • the latest addition to the world of Port, had being produced only for a few years. Very short contact with the skin after pressing. Personal note – I tried a few, and had not been impressed so far.
  • White Port
    • 3 years aging in stainless steel or neutral oak, then blended, filtered and bottled. Will not age in the bottle and ready to be consumed when you bought it. After a bottle is opened, it should be stored in the fridge and consumed relatively quickly. Personal note – the white port from Sandeman was an eye opening experience – you should really try it.
  • Tawny – ages in the small oak barrels with controlled oxidation. All ports in this group don’t age in the bottle and ready to drink when you buy them. Also, all ports will last for many weeks after the bottle is opened.
    • Single Vintage
      • Colheita
        • Grapes from the single vintage. At least 7 years of aging in the oak barrel (can be longer), then blended, filtered and bottled.
    • Blend of vintages
      • Tawny
        • 4 years in oak barrel, blended, filtered, bottled
      • Tawny Reserve
        • 8 years in oak barrel, blended, filtered, bottled
      • Age-designated Tawny
        • 10 years old, 20 years old, 30 years old, 40 years old – all of these ports are blends of ports of various ages. The blend is composed by winemaker’s discretion – for instance, a 40 years old can be a blend of 30 years old and 100 years old.
        • Tawny More Than 40 years old (not an allowed designation in US)
  • Ruby
    • Ruby
      • 3 years of aging in the stainless steel/neutral oak, then blended, filtered and bottled. After opening, the bottle should be consumed within a few days, and best to be refrigerated.
    • Ruby Reserve
      • 6 years of aging in the stainless steel/neutral oak , then blended, filtered and bottled. After opening, the bottle should be consumed within a few days, and best to be refrigerated.
    • Vintage
      • about 2 years in stainless steel, can be some time in oak barrels, bottled unfiltered, continues aging in the bottle. After opening, consume within 24-48 hours.
    • Late Bottled Vintage (LBV)
      • 4 – 6 years in the oak barrel (I’m sure about the age, not sure about oak barrel versus stainless steel)
    • Single Quinta Vintage
      • Somewhat complicated. It designates that grapes are coming from the single vineyard, but age/blending/bottling etc. is not very clear. But for all intents and purposes, should be treated as Vintage port.

I think I told you everything I know at the moment about Port – but I will keep adding and refining to this post just to make sure I got it all correctly. Before we part, here are couple of pictures for you:

Ruby and White Port age in this huge barrels. One barrel holds 80,000 liters (about 20,000 gallons)

Ruby and White Port age in this huge barrels. One barrel holds 80,000 liters (about 20,000 gallons)

Tawny port ages in the small oak barrels

Tawny port ages in the small oak barrels

Do you remember where the cork tree grows? Yes, in Portugal!

Do you remember where the cork tree grows? Yes, in Portugal!

That’s all I have for you, folks. Comments and corrections are most welcome. Cheers!

Study of Port: Great Restaurants

May 10, 2013 12 comments

You know, I’m continuing this series about great experiences in Portugal (here are part 1, part 2 and part 3), and there is this annoying little voice inside which says “stop talking about it… Keep it for yourself… Once people will find out, they will all start going there, and all the great and inexpensive food and wine will become expensive and inaccessible… Keep it a secret…”. Never mind, the inner voice lost, and one can’t keep great experiences secrets anyway, so let’s proceed, shall we?

Today I want to present to you three restaurants, all three different, but literally one better than the other.

Let’s start with the place called bbGourmet. Actually, bbGourmet is a group of restaurants, and the specific one we visited is called bbGourmet Bull&Bear. The restaurant has good rating on Trip Advisor, but when I walked by the restaurant, it looked modern and not very inviting from outside, so at first I thought we can skip it. But then people on Trip Advisor probably know a thing or two about food, and the place was relatively close, so why not give it a try, right?

Restaurant indeed looked very modern inside, but with the nice ambiance. The menu had tasting option for €35 for four dishes. For another €15 you could add a wine pairing to all the dishes. Yes, you don’t need any hard guesses – of course this is what we did.

To give you a brief summary: perfect dishes + outstanding wines + very good pairing = great experience. I’m an engineer, remember? Of course it is fun to think in math terms, right? Okay, just ignore. Moving along…

First dish: Scallop with risotto. Perfectly gentle array of flavors, with sweetness of scallop complemented by mild tartness and zest of risotto.

Pairing: 2011 Prova Regia Arinto Vinho Regional Lisboa – 100% Arinto grape, bright acidity, some grapefruit notes, very similar to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – worked perfectly together with the dish.

Second dish: Sea Bass with black quinoa and fennel puree – that puree was particularlyoutstanding, overall an excellent dish

Pairing: 2012 Portal Colheita Branco Douro DOC, a blend of 45% Vinsinho, 20% Moscatel Galego Branco, 20% Malvasia Fino and 15% Rabigato. A bit drier than the previous white, more saddle and herbaceous flavors. Paired very well with the dish.

Third dish: Stuffed calamari. May be the best, definitely one of the best calamari dishes I ever had – perfect texture, perfect balance of flavors with the creamy sauce.

Pairing: 2011 Niepoort Redoma Rosé Douro DOC – a blend of 30%Tinta Amarela, 20%Touriga Franca and 50% others. A bit austere, needed a touch more fruit in my opinion. This was probably least successful pairing.

Fourth dish: Roasted veal. I’m not big on veal in general, but this was perfectly succulent dish. Those “potato chips” you see in the picture? They are not chips at all! They look like chips, but they soft literally like soft taco shells. Delicious!

Pairing: 2010 Portal Colheita Douro DOC Vinho Tinto – a blend of 60% Tinta Roriz, 25% Touriga Nacional, 15% Touriga Franca – very nice overall, good amount of dark fruit, soft and approachable, good oiverall balance.

And then – liquid desert! Secret Spot 40 years old Moscatel do Douro – I would guess, this is how winemakers play in Portugal – while they make the port all the time, every once in a while they make something for themselves – that is possibly the story behind this Moscatel (well, you will have hard time proving me wrong…). The wine was heavenly, with enough acidity to prevent it from becoming a syrup, and lots of complexity which can be rather expected considering the age. That was a perfect finish for a great meal.

40 years old Moscatel

40 years old Moscatel

The next restaurant was called ShiS (at the time of writing, the #21 out of 376 on the TripAdvisor’s list of restaurants in Porto). The first thing to mention about this restaurant is its location. It is located right by the wall which protects Douro river from the ocean, and the views are just exceptional. Before we talk about food and wine, here are couple of pictures I managed to snap right by the restaurant:

DSC_0924 view from ShiS

DSC_0981 sunset

ShiS offers lots of choices of sushi and sashimi. This was our dinner in the making:

DSC_0001 Sushi

And this was my dish (chef’s selection sushi and sashimi combination):

DSC_0057 Sushi Plate

Here is also a sea bass dish:

DSC_0055 Sea Bass

We had few of the very good wines. For the white we had 2012 Quinta do Crasto Douro Branco (a blend of Gouveio, Roupeiro and Rabigato) – somewhat on a fruity side, but overall dry, with good acidity and good balance. Quinta do Crasto produces some of the best wines in Portugal, especially when it comes to red, and these wines should be available in US.

DSC_0960 Quinta do Crasto White

The red wine was 2010 Quinta do Vale do Meandro Meão Meandro Douro DOC, a blend of 45% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca, 13% Tinta Roriz, 5% Sousão, 4% Tinta Barroca, and 3% Tinto Cão. Good dark fruit on the nose and on the palate, soft tannins, overall well balanced. It should be available in US and worth seeking.

DSC_0964 Meandro douro

Dessert – Crème brûlée with chocolate sauce and of course, Port! Taylor’s 20 years old Tawny was very good, with dried fruit and nutty notes, quite light and balanced (we finished the only two bottles the restaurant had, unfortunately).

DSC_0067 Dessert

Crème brûlée with chocolate sauce

DSC_0101 20 Years Old Taylor

20 years old tawny – always appropriate

By the way, the wine list at ShiS has one interesting detail – it lists ABV for all the wines – I think this is pretty neat and I would be glad to see that in restaurants in the US:

DSC_0061 wine list

Wine list at ShiS – note ABV ratings for all the wines

Click to add a blog post for Shis on Zomato

And now last, but not the least experience I want to share with you – Cometa Restaurante.

DSC_0400 Cometa Restaurant

At the moment of this writing, it is #16 out of 376 on the Trip Advisor restaurant list in Porto. Very small restaurant, may be 8 or 10 tables, located on a top of a very long and steep set of stairs leading to the river. We had a very interesting experience at the restaurant with the set of small setbacks getting in the way, but not preventing us from having a great time overall.

The first issue was with wine – the restaurant had pretty small wine list, and even out of that small wine list, our first and then next choice were not available. Finally we settled on the white wine which restaurant had available. Then food became an issue too – most of us quickly set our minds on having a grilled squid – and it appeared that the restaurant only had one portion available for the five of us, so we had to come up with the other choices. The menu also had roasted chestnut soup with pomegranate seeds – but in reality, it was not available (sigh).

As the bottle of wine finally arrived at the table, things started to turn for the better (wine can fix all the problems in the world, right?). Then some appetizers arrived, and it was time to get another bottle of wine – only the same wine was not available anymore. Truth to be told, it was unfortunate that restaurant didn’t get the delivery of the wines they were supposed to get, so that was the reason for the shortcomings with the inventory. Okay, we went through the exercise of selecting the bottle of wine again, I would say, quite successfully – we picked 2010 Herdade Dos Grous Branco Vinho Regional Alentejano, a blend of  Antão Vaz,  Arinto and Roupeiro (typical for Alntejano white wines) – a medium to full bodied white, with good amount of white stone fruit, very round, good acidity and good finish.

DSC_0406 Grous white wine

Herdade dos Grous branco

Next – our entrees arrived. I ordered the dish called “Portuguese sausage”, which was effectively a collection of poultry pieces, served with the sweet sauce. By the way, take a look at the china – I love those plates… Real food served on real plates – wow, what a concept! But it feels so unique nowadays, when even in the best restaurant you might get paper napkins instead of a real cloth… This Portuguese sausage was delicious – I’m not sure if it was a duck egg or not on top of it, but the whole dish tasted perfectly.

DSC_0404 Portugese sausage

Considering all the troubles we had with our food and wine selection, the restaurant decided to compensate for that a little bit, and offered us complementary bottle of Sparkling wine, which didn’t encounter much enthusiasm on our side, as we were mostly done with the food. Seeing our reaction, we were offered a bottle of 2011 Niepoort Tiara Douro Branco (at €34, it is one of the most expensive wines on the list) – and all of a sudden, all our troubles seemed well worth having.

DSC_0409 Tiara White

2011 Niepoort Tiara Douro Branco

This wine is a blend of Codega, Rabigato, Donzelinho, Boal, Cercial and other grapes. Bright and full bodied, excellent acidity, very uplifting. This wine has great textural presence, you really feel it in you your mouth, you can roll it around – but it is so balanced, the fruit, the acidity, the whole package is perfectly together. Reminds me of the great Pigato wines I experienced at the Gambero Rosso event. One of the very best white wines I ever had (yeah, my list of “very best” might be a bit too long…).

And then the dinner conclusion with dessert – I’m clearly abusing the “very best” here, but this was one of the very best apple desserts I ever had – apple tart with the scoop of ice cream:

DSC_0410 Apple tart

Apple tart

The apples were not visible, but very noticeable – big, juicy apples which say “bite me”. If you like apples – this was an outstanding dessert.

One parting note regarding Cometa Restaurante – the restaurant doesn’t accept international credit cards, so you should have cash on hand with you (well, there is an ATM near by, but it is always unpleasant when you can’t pay for your meal on the spot). By the way, care to guess how much this dinner cost us? We can skip the drum roll, but – it was only €35 per person!

And we are finally done! Every time I promise to myself  to write short little posts, easy going for quick consumption – and I still end up with multi-page monstrosities with tons of pictures. Well, I hope I conveyed my main message – there are many great restaurants in Porto and I’m sure in the Portugal overall and they are still reasonably priced, so if you are thinking about going to Europe… No, I’m not encouraging you. Cheers!

Study of Port: First Port Experiences

April 29, 2013 20 comments

I’m continuing my notes from Portugal (you can find previous post here). On Sunday we had some free time to walk around the town, so I have more pictures and some actual port tasting notes for you.

Let’s start with the pictures. We walked past beautiful cemetery (is it appropriate to use the word “beautiful” in conjunction with cemetery? not sure, but still). As my friend P likes to say – “lines!”:

DSC_0739 cemetery fence

Lines!

more lines!

more lines!

Isn’t this pretty?

DSC_0749 beautiful view

Someone has good sense of humor:

DSC_0746 stop sign

stop sign being carried away…

One of the modes of transportation in Porto:

DSC_0769 one of the transport types in Porto

Just look at this beautiful town:

DSC_0796 Porto!

Porto

DSC_0792 Douro River

Port, I’m coming:

DSC_0788 Port houses ahead!

So we finally made it across the river (technically, all the port houses are located across the river from Porto in the town called Gaia). We made our first stop at Quinta do Noval. Quinta do Noval has all the operations in Douro valley, and only a small store in Porto, where you can taste limited number of their Ports. All the ports you can taste are packaged in the form of a single-pour tiny bottles, so as the result you can’t try any of their vintage ports, as those can’t be put in the small bottles. Let me explain.

There are many different types and styles of port, but at this point we only want to distinguish between vintage and non-vintage ports. To begin with, all the ports are made in the same way as any wine – the grapes are harvested, crushed and fermented until desired level of sweetness is achieved. From here on, Port making deviates from the regular wine making process – fermentation now is stopped with addition of very young brandy (neutral grape spirit), and then Port wine goes for aging in the barrels or vats, depending on what kind of port is in the making. Here the distinction will be also made between Vintage and non-vintage ports. If quality of the wine is outstanding, the Port house might declare a vintage year, and then the port will age in the oak cask only for 2 years, and then continue aging in the bottle. Otherwise, the port wine can age anywhere from 5 to a 100 years in the barrels, and it will produce ports with the age ( but not vintage) designation on them.

The key difference (important for us, consumers) between vintage and non-vintage port is that non-vintage port can be kept for extended amount of time after the bottle is open, while vintage port should be consumed within a day or two, same as any other wine. This is also the reason for Vintage port (which is typically very expensive) not being available for the tasting in the tiny bottles.

Okay, going back to our tasting – so we decided to try the 40 years Tawny port from Quinta de Noval:

DSC_0803 40 years old tawny quinto do noval

It was good and very complex, with lots of almond variations on the palate, dried fruit and pronounced acidity, which was taming the sweetness. It was good but not amazing (I would be disappointed if I would pay a full price for an actual bottle of it).

barrel table and stools at Quinta de Noval

barrel table and stools at Quinta de Noval

Next we stopped at Sandeman:

DSC_0806 Sandeman!

In most of the port houses you can go for the tour and then do the tasting – we decided to skip the tour and just do the tasting.

For the first time I tried White Port – and it was outstanding!

DSC_0807 white and tawny ports

DSC_0810 sandeman port bottles

Sandeman Apitiv White Porto was aged for 3 years in the vat. It had golden color, good amount of sweetness ( but not cloying by all means), lots of white fruit, particularly white plums on the palate, good acidity. It was bright and uplifting, very refreshing wine overall.

Sandeman Imperial Reserve Porto ( 8 years of aging in the barrel) had sweetness perfectly supported by the structure underneath – dark fruit, good body, good acidity – overall, probably one of the best ports I ever had.

That’s all I have for you for now – in the next post we will talk about food experiences in Porto. Cheers!

Study of Port: Prologue

April 27, 2013 17 comments

I have to break the tradition today – there will be no wine quiz for you to solve. Instead, I’m going to share the experience with you.

As you know, my day time work had nothing to do with wine. But – because of that work, I’m spending this week, in Portugal – hence the title of this blog post. I’m not just in Portugal, I’m actually in the city called Porto – and this is where the Port was born. Over the next few days, I plan to learn as much as I can about Port – and share that with you. But, considering that I’m still jet-lagged, there is not much I can share at the moment – besides a few pictures. Rest assured – more pictures and notes are coming soon!

I have no idea what house is this, but I like it

I have no idea what house is this, but I like it

 

Love the combination of old and new - only in Europe...

Love the combination of old and new – only in Europe…

 

I'm sure you knew that I will not leave you without flowers

I’m sure you knew that I will not leave you without flowers

 

and more flowers

and more flowers

 

DSC_0706 flowers 2

and more flowers…

 

When was the last time you saw $2/bottle wines?

When was the last time you saw $2/bottle wines?

 

Actually, a lot of very inexpensive wine

Actually, a lot of very inexpensive wine

 

yes, I'm a sucker for the red roofs... Never can get enough of them...

yes, I’m a sucker for the red roofs… Never can get enough of them…

 

That’s all I have for you for today, folks. Don’t worry – the wine quizzes will be back, just after we will talk a bit about Port. Cheers!

 

 

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