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Slow, Sustainable, Delicious

February 27, 2022 Leave a comment

“Slow forward”.

Is slow forward good or bad? In a world where instant gratification is a king, moving forward should be fast, right? We all want progress to accelerate, move faster, aren’t we? So slow is not good, right? Well, actually wrong.

Maybe “slow forward” is something we all need to adapt. Move forward, but take our time to enjoy the process of moving forward, instead of constantly being under stress for “not enough hours in a day” – moving fast, but not necessarily forward.

For sure, Herdade de Esporão embraces this “slow forward” process, as this is their motto. Not only motto – it is a principle of operation and the lifestyle, which they would like more people to embrace. Sit down, slow down, have a glass of wine and read their Slow Forward Manifesto, and see if you agree with what it says. Also, note that the slow movement is much bigger than just the one at Herdade de Esporão – you can learn more about it here.

Herdade de Esporão was founded in 1973, when José Roquette and his partner bought the historical Herdade do Esporão estate, located in Reguengos de Monsaraz DOC in Alentejo and tracing its roots back to 1267. The first red wine was produced at the estate in 1985. Fast forward to today, there are more than 40 different grape varieties growing at the estate, along with 4 different types of olive trees, all farmed organically. Conversion of more than 1,300 acres of vineyards and olive groves to all-organic farming started in 2008 and took 11 years to complete. Now Herdade de Esporão is helping growers they are working with to convert to all-organic viticulture as well.

In addition to the 40 grape varieties cultivated in the vineyards, Herdade de Esporão is home to Ampelographic nursery where 189 grape varieties and clones are planted to study the effects of climate change and find ways to adapt to it.

There is a large variety of soils at the estate – enough to hire a geologist to create a soli map. The grapes from the different plots are fermented separately in small batches after the majority of the grapes are crushed by the foot at the winery (yep, slow forward, remember?).

Herdade de Esporão is a big business (one of the largest wine businesses in Portugal) owning a number of wineries in Portugal and selling both in Portugal and around the world, exporting to more than 50 countries. At the same time, Herdade de Esporão is a family company, inspired by the land and respect for the environment. For Herdade de Esporão it is all about environmental, cultural, social, and personal sustainability, adhering to its own principles of Slow Forward lifestyle.

That slow forward lifestyle and respect to the land and the environment translate very well into the wines. I had an opportunity to taste 4 different wines from Herdade de Esporão (samples), and all the wines were absolutely delightful:

2020 Herdade de Esporão Branco Colheita Alentejo (13.5% ABV, $18, 30% Antão Vaz, 30% Viosinho, 30% Alvarinho, 10% other varieties, 4 months on the lees)
Light golden
Beautiful, inviting, open, a hint of tropical fruit, honeysuckle
Round, creamy, explicit minerality, crisp, fresh, a touch of fruit, but overall very dry, good acidity, excellent balance, medium-long finish
8-, excellent, can be confused with lightly oaked Chardonnay.

2020 Herdade de Esporão Branco Reserva Alentejo (13.5% ABV, $20, 30% Antão Vaz, 30%, Arinto, 30%, Roupeiro, 10% other varieties, six months in stainless steel tanks and in new American and French oak barrels)
Straw pale
Fresh meadows and honeysuckle, beautiful
Clean acidity, light representation than the Colheita, lip-smacking acidity, clean, crisp and fresh, excellent balance
8, pure delight. Can be easily confused with Chardonnay.

2018 Herdade de Esporão Tinto Colheita Alentejo (14.5% ABV, $18, 30% Touriga Nacional, 25% Aragonez, 20% Touriga Franca, 15% Alicante Bouschet, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6 months in concrete tanks)
Dark garnet
Earthy, a touch of chalk, dark fruit, warm spices
Open, clean, raspberries, warm spices, good minerality, good structure, a cut-through acidity, medium body, medium-long finish
8-/8, outstanding

2018 Herdade de Esporão Tinto Reserva Alentejo (14.5% ABV, $25, 25% Aragonez, 20% Alicante Bouschet, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Trincadeira, 10% Touriga Nacional, 10% Touriga Franca, 5% Syrah, 6 months in concrete tanks)
Dark garnet
Blackberries, earth, a hint of raspberries, dark, concentrated
Cherries, pomegranate, clear minerality, layered, firm structure, fresh and food-friendly
8/8+, outstanding, ready to drink now, great with food (Odjakhuri)

Here you are, my friends – organic, sustainable farming, 4 delicious wines. You don’t need to break the bank to be able to drink them at any time you want, and even more importantly, you can pop, pour and enjoy – almost a rare beauty nowadays.

Slow down and enjoy. Cheers!

Portuguese Wines: Pleasures Worth Seeking, And Waiting For

December 23, 2021 2 comments

Once again, I want to start with the question.

What is the most frustrating question you can ask a wine lover?

I get it – we are all different, and so are our sources of frustration. Of course, I get it. And nevertheless, give it a thought, please. If you consider yourself a wine lover (not a collector, not a snob, just someone who really appreciates the glass of that special grape juice) – what is the question you don’t like to hear the most?

Okay, fine, I will go first.

“What is your favorite wine?”

This is the most innocent question one might expect, isn’t it? Once you show your love of wine one way or another, people love to ask that question – ahh, so what is your favorite wine? I literally cringe every time when I hear that question, because it is very hard to explain how such a simple and innocent question can’t get a good, simple answer – and yet I can’t answer that question.

Every time I answer this question, I lie. When I say “I have no preference, I love them all” I lie because I have preferences. Lots and lots of preferences, and yes, I love them all, but then… Yeah. And when I say “I love Spanish Rioja” it is a lie, because I love Rioja from very particular producers, and not just any Rioja. Moreover, depending on the day, food, and company, there will be other wines that I love as much as I love Rioja. See, there is no escape from the lies.

So when I say “I love Portuguese wines” it is one of those statements. Yes, I love Portuguese wines, but not all of them – I have preferences.

Portuguese wines became somewhat of an obsession to me about 15 years ago, but I don’t believe you would easily guess the reason why. It was not just because they were really, really inexpensive at the local Bottle King wine store in New Jersey ($5 per bottle was a pretty normal price, with occasional $4 showing up), but because they were made out of obscure grapes, and I was hunting down the obscure grapes to advance to the next levels of The Wine Century Club. Enjoying the wines was secondary, but spending countless hours with the search engine, trying to figure grape composition, grape synonyms – ohh, what a fun journey it was.

Based on what I just described, I wasn’t ready to claim my love for the Portuguese wines overall. In 2013, I was lucky enough to visit Porto, Portugal for work, and this is where it became literally love from first sight. At the restaurant, I just pointed to the bottle on the list. I had no idea what I’m ordering, but at €14 it didn’t seem like a big risk. The first sip made my eyes pop, and Portugal’s status was instantly elevated to the “oh my god” level. That wine was from Quinta do Cardo, a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and a few other varieties – here is the original post.

A few more days into that same trip I had another wine which completely solidified my love for the Portuguese wines – Casa Burmester Reserva Douro – again, pure indulgence. There were lots more wines during that and two other trips to the Douro which made me form the opinion that Touriga Nacional is very similar to Cabernet Sauvignon in its ability to be grandstanding, to create the wine with a perfect flavor profile, perfect ripeness, perfect level of extraction and impeccable, sexiest mouthfeel. If you ever had Kamen Cabernet Sauvignon or Vérité La Joia, you would know what I’m talking about. Yes, I love Portuguese wines.

And one more thing about Portuguese wines. Similar to well-made California Cabernet Sauvignon, well-made Portuguese wines need time. Way too many times I had Portuguese wines which were not ready. I don’t know if analogies with Port are appropriate here (same grapes?), but Vintage Ports can easily age for 50+ years. I never had 50-years old wines from Portugal, but I have first-hand experience with, for example, 24 years old wine which was not ready to drink, not for a minute (you can read about it here).

When I was offered to try two Portuguese wines from the Douro, made by Prats and Symington, I quickly agreed – I told you already that I love Portuguese wines, remember?

I always like to talk first about the producer before discussing the wines. Only a few days ago I wrote at length about a number of Port wines produced by the Symington Family Estates, so this is the part of the story I don’t need to repeat – you can read it here. But understanding the “Prats” was a bit more challenging. The website section for Prats and Symington, or P+S how it is abbreviated provides rather limited information. I was only able to learn that “In 1999 our family formed a partnership to make top Douro wines with the Prats family of Bordeaux”, and that “the first Prats & Symington wine was Chryseia 2000 which received widespread national and international acclaim”. I felt as in my early days of combing Portuguese wine labels and information tidbits for the grape names, so I had to do a bit of research.

I was able to figure that Prats in P+S is actually Bruno Prats, former owner of Château Cos d’Estournel and experienced winemaker, who applied Bordeaux winemaking philosophy, especially around blending, to the production of the P+S wines, which resulted in the wines with the highest critic ratings in the history of Portuguese unfortified wines. This article in the Dinks Business online magazine explains Bruno’s winemaking philosophy very well.

The two wines we are talking about here are 2018 P+S Prazo de Roriz Douro (14.5% ABV, $17, 35% Touriga Franca, 20% Touriga Nacional, 20% Mixed varieties, 15% Tinta Roriz, 10% Tinta Barroca, 6 months in 400L neutral French oak Barrels) and 2019 P+S Post Scriptum de Chryseia Douro Red (14.2%, $27, 56% Touriga Franca, 33% Touriga Nacional, 7% Tinta Roriz, 4% Tinta Barroca).

There are two main vineyards used in the production of these two wines – Quinto de Roriz, one of the oldest and best vineyards in Portugal, already famous for its single-vineyard wines in the 18th century, and Quinta de Pedriz, a newly acquired vineyard in Rio Torta and specifically planted with  Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca grapes.

As these were two sample wines, I also got technical notes for both, which I typically like to glance over. Two items attracted my attention in the notes. First, there was a line there saying “Decanting: Not required”. Second, the “Storage and Serving” section stated ” Ready for immediate consumption”. Leaving decanting aside, “ready for immediate consumption” somehow bothered me.

Prazo de Roriz was actually as promised – from the moment the wine made it into the glass, the wild strawberries on the nose and palate, which I tend to believe are signature flavors of Touriga Nacional, were prominent, and the wine was perfectly extracted, round, concentrated, and overall delicious (Drinkability: 8). It was also “dangerous wine” as I like to call them – once opened, they tend to disappear without second notice.

The first sip of Post Scriptum, made me say “hmmm” and reach for the decanter. Decanter didn’t really help – two hours later, the wine was still ultra-dense and literally devoid of fruit. I don’t give up on the wines easily, so back into the bottle the wine went. Next 4 days, I would pull out a stopper, pour a sip, and put the stopper immediately back. On day number 5, the magic transformation completed – the wine all of a sudden opened with the same wild berries profile, perfect extraction, round and layered, and ready to be admired. (Drinkability: 8+).

Here you are, my friends. Portuguese wines are easy to love – you just need to find the right wines and have a bit of patience. But seriously, the rewards are handsome – these are some of the best wines in the world which you can still afford without an expense account. Happy [wine] hunting!

 

Perfect Pairing for a Quiet Night

December 20, 2021 3 comments

Quick: can you name the wine (a type of wine) which would help you to enjoy your quiet evening? Winter evenings often bring out this “quiet night” analogy, as it gets dark really early, and you might find more time available to yourself. But of course, there are plenty of quiet nights during spring, summer, and fall. When all the daily chores are done, the house is getting quiet, you can pour yourself a glass of something, sit in your favorite chair with your favorite book (maybe), and just feel at ease. So what would that “something” in your glass be?

If you said Scotch (neat!), we are totally intuned, but this we will discuss other time.

If you said Port, then we really understand each other, because it is Port I want to talk about today.

What do you think of Port? Not the port-style, but actual, classic Port from Portugal – 10, 20, 30, 40 years old, vintage, late bottled vintage, colheita – doesn’t matter what type and age, but classic Port?

Port used to command the wine world. It was born out of need more than anything else – in the 17th century, the war between England and France forced Englishman to seek a replacement to the French Claret. Portuguese wines were not great, tart and austere, and had a tendency to spoil in transit,  until someone discovered that the addition of Brandy can prevent the spoilage – and additional of Brandy during fermentation made wines to retain a lot more of the sugar, thus making them even more palatable.

In the middle of the 18th century, in 1756, the Douro region of Portugal (this is the region where Port is produced) became the first identified and protected wine-growing area in the world (take a note – this is a perfect fact to know for the next wine trivia night with friends). Another interesting trivia fact is that the first time Vintage port terminology was used in the wine auction catalog in 1773, to identify a bottle of an excellent 1765 Vintage Port. However, I don’t want to take you too far into Port types and styles – I wrote about it in the past so please refer to this article if you want to learn more.

Everything was going right for Port in the 18th and a good half of the 19th century until Douro vineyards received a “perfect” one-two punch – first, powdery mildew epidemic which started in 1848, followed by … yes, I’m sure you guessed it – the phylloxera hitting the vineyards in 1870. It was not until 1896 that the Douro vines were consistently grafted on phylloxera-resistant rootstock. From there on, Port started working on the comeback, but never reached its glory days of demand and appreciation.

Just to get a bit philosophical for a minute – you got time, you don’t mind, do you? I would say that there are three reasons why Port doesn’t have the attention it deserves nowadays.

First, the way we eat changed. One of the best “classic” pairings of Port is Port and stilton, the stinky, sharp cheese. Now, we lost the art of dinner where cheese is offered as a dessert course (by the way, forget traditions – there is a scientific explanation of why it makes perfect sense). At the best, cheese is considered an appetizer, often offered as part of the charcuterie board together with smoked and cured meats – but heavy and powerful Port is anything but an aperitive type beverage (I’m not talking about white Port – this is a separate category we are not discussing today).

Second, sweet = shame. We became extremely cautious about other people’s opinions towards us. Port is sweet. It is commonly appropriate to publicly despise sweet things, while secretly craving them. We are born with a love of sugar, and we need sugar as a source of energy – everything in moderation, of course. But outside of enjoying an actual dessert, and especially when it comes to the wine, we are trained to state how much we don’t like sweet, and we don’t enjoy sweet wines at all. “Oh no, I don’t drink sweet wines, no”. The pleasure of the wine is in the balance of the elements – sugar-loaded Sauternes, BA/TBA Rieslings, PX Sherries, Port – as long as the wine has enough acidity, it becomes an absolute pleasure, but we are too afraid to admit publicly that this is something we might be suspected of enjoying.

Third, we lost our ability to relax. You want to take your time with a glass of Port. The time stopped. You can just be, taking tiny sips from a glass, looking at the fire, flowers, or slow-rolling waves. Just be. But we can’t. There is always something new on the phone we need to attend to. We can’t just lose time relaxing. There is a new post to like, what relaxing are you talking about?

It is hard to properly introduce Symington Family Estates and explain its role in the Portuguese wine industry and the world of Port in particular. Symington Family Estates story started more than 130 years ago when Andrew James Symington arrived in Portugal at the age of 19. After spending some time at Graham’s Port, he started a Port shipping company under his name, which was the beginning of the family business.

It is impossible to represent the history of 5 generations of the Symington Family in a few sentences here – here is the link to the Symington Family Estates website where the history is presented in all the finest details. Over the years, Symington Family Estates acquired four of the Port producers –  Graham’s, Dow’s, Warre’s, and Cockburn’s, as well as a number of wineries in the Douro Valley. Symington Family Estates owns 26 vineyards (Quintas) in the Douro Valley, a total of 2,255 ha (5,600 acres) of which 1,024 ha (2,560 acres) are under vine. All the vineyards are managed under a strict minimal intervention policy, and 260 acres are certified organic. Symington Family Estates is also a registered B Corporation, the first wine business in Portugal to receive such certification.

Enough about the business – let’s talk about the Port. I want to offer to you a choice of Port for all those quiet moments your heart desires.

First, the Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port (20% ABV, $26, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca – with the addition of Tinta Amarella, Tinta Cão, Souzão, and Tinta Francisca from the mixed plantings). I had this port many times before but never paid attention to its story. It appears that in the old days, the grape symbols were used to represent the quality of wine in the individual barrels, from 1 to 6. Six grapes implied that the wine in the barrel had Vintage port potential, or effectively was of the highest quality. In the early 1900s, Graham’s started bottling such wines under its own “Six Grapes” label, and it continues to do so to this day.

This bottle had a recent redesign, now adorned with the red top, slick and beautiful. The Port was excellent – dark cherries and blackberries on the nose, blackberries, blueberries, and more of the dark cherries on the palate, with nice tannins in the finish. This wine ages in the oak barrels between one and two years, so the tannins overall are noticeable – and contrary to the general recommendation of chilling the Port slightly before serving, I don’t recommend it – the tannins on this wine become too pronounced and bitter. (Drinkability: 8).

Now, three more Ports from Dow’s, one of the original Symington holdings. The grapes for Dow’s Ports are harvested from some of the finest Quintas in Douro – Senhora da Ribeira and Bonfim, both supplying grapes for the Dow’s port for more than a century. Two of the Ports below are so-called Old Towny Ports, which means that the wines were undergoing a special wood aging regimen to reach their specific character. And another interesting tidbit – over the 10 years of aging, the Port barrel loses 25% of its original content. For the 20 years old Port, this number reaches 35% – while these Ports might seem to be pricey, you really need to appreciate the amount of labor and effort going into the creation of such a bottle.

Dow’s 10 Year Old Tawny Port (20% ABV, $39) – dry fruit and candy notes on the nose, a touch of mint. Hazelnuts  and dried figs on the palate, good acidity, overall delicious (Drinkability: 8)

Dow’s 20 Year Old Tawny Port (20% ABV, $67) – Powerful and complex nose – dried herbs, dried fruit, present but not overpowering, inviting and seductive. On the palate, beautifully integrated, with perfect acidity, dried fruit harmoniously balanced and intertwined. (Drinkability: 8+).

And the last wine for you for today – Late Bottled Vintage Port. Late Bottled Vintage, or LBV for short, is a very special category of Port. You see, in Portugal, each and every type of wine should be approved to be released in its category by the IVDP, the regulatory body. If a company wants to declare a vintage year for a Port, it needs to request approval for that from IVDP. If such approval is not granted, the company can proceed with such a Port either in the path of the Old Tawny (the Ports we just discussed) or it might age it for some time and then declare it an LBV.

2016 Dow’s Late Bottled Vintage Port (20% ABV, $26, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Souzão, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, 4-6 years in seasoned oak before release) comes from a difficult vintage – warm winter, cold spring, one of the hottest and rainiest summers on record. Dry, sunny weather before harvest helped quite a bit, and the result was tasty and powerful Port – tart and sweet cherries on the nose, a hint of dried figs on the palate, cherries, good acidity, nicely present tannins on the finish. (Drinkability: 8).

Here you are, my friends. You can be honest with yourself – it is okay to enjoy well-made, sweet, but balanced, harmonious wines. And one way or the other, we all need our quiet moments. So get a bottle of Port, get comfy, and just enjoy your being. At least for a few moments.

Wine Lover’s Guide To Lesser Known Wine Regions – Vinho Verde

January 11, 2020 4 comments

Vinho Verde.

Let me ask you, wine lovers – when you hear the words “Vinho Verde”, what are the two things which are instantly come to mind? Let me guess – it should be “green” and “summer” – am I correct?

Let’s leave “green” aside for a minute and let’s talk about “summer”. Do you insist on pairing wine with the season? Of course, rich and opulent California Cabernet Sauvignon or tantalizing Barolo might not be the ideal choice of beverage for the pool party in the middle of summer. But then would you say that white wines should be only drunk when it is hot outside? Even if you will insist, I would have to disagree – the white is simply a color, and white wine can be equally enjoyed during any season. And to prove my point, let’s talk about Vinho Verde.

Oh, and let’s address the “green” thing – there nothing green about Vinho Verde. “Verde” here refers to the young wines – Vinho Verde wines are typically released 3-6 months after the harvest.

Here are some interesting facts about Vinho Verde. Vinho Verde is one of the oldest winemaking regions in Portugal, producing wine for the past 2,000 years. It is also the most northern wine region in Portugal, and the largest, with 51,000 acres planted. There are 19,000 grape growers and 600 wine producers, making over 85 million liters of wine, out of which 86% are white wines, and the rest is divided between Rosé, red and sparkling wines.

45 indigenous grape varieties are growing in Vinho Verde, out of which 9 are recommended – Alvarinho, Avesso, Azal, Arinto, Loureiro, and Trajadura for the whites, and Espadeira, Padeira, and Vinhão for the reds. Vinho Verde region subdivided into the 9 sub-regions named after rivers or towns – Monção, Melgaço, Lima, Basto, Cávado, Ave, Amarante, Baião, Sousa, and Paiva. It is also interesting to note that while Vinho Verde is identified as a DOC (top quality designation, similar to French AOC/AOP), the region called Minho Vinho Regional, completely overlaps Vinho Verde territory, however, its designation is similar to French Vin de Pays (lesser quality requirements).

Vinho Verde wines are typically low in alcohol and pair well with a wide variety of food. Quite often, Vinho Verde whites are also exhibiting very light fizz, this is really a hallmark of the region.

I had an opportunity to taste (samples) 3 whites and one Rosé from the region, here are my notes:

2018 Encosta do XISTO Vinho Verde DOC (12.5% ABV)
Straw pale with greenish hue
Vegetative nose, a touch of grass, sweet basil, restrained
A touch of fizz, lime, a hint of grapefruit, lots of minerality, fresh
8-

2018 Vercoope Pavāo Alvarinho Vinho Regional Minho  (12% ABV, $8)
Light golden
Tropical fruit, candied lemon, sage, tobacco
Guava, a touch of honey, candied fruit, a touch of pink grapefruit. Good acidity.
7+/8-

2017 Seaside Cellars Rosé Vinho Verse DOC (11% ABV, $8, 40% Vinhão, 30% Borraçal, 30% Espadeiro)
Wild salmon pink
Nice minerality, whitestone fruit, a typical nose of white wine if there is such a thing
Underripe strawberries, good minerality, a distant hint of fizz, mostly on the finish.
7+/8-, fuller body than most of Rosé, not sweet at all despite low ABV. It also gives me two new rare grapes (Vinhão and Borraçal), which is always a nice bonus.

2018 Quinta da Calçada Alvarinho Vinho Regional Minho (13% ABV)
Light golden
Intense fresh lemon, a touch of grapefruit, noticeable minerality
Tart lemon, a touch of grapefruit, dry, intense, medium to full body, good minerality, good textural presence.
8, perfect any time you want a glass of dry white.

As you can tell, I liked all the wines. No, these wines are not mind-blowing, of course not. But considering the price, often less than $10, these wines offer an excellent, hard to beat QPR.

Here you go, my friends. No need to wait for the hot summer days. Just pick up a bottle of Vinho Verde, and enjoy it by itself, or pair it with good food and good company. You can thank me later. Cheers!

Your Wish Is My Command

May 22, 2019 3 comments

Oenophiles are very generous people.

I’m not speaking in general terms here – we are only talking about the wine. But when it comes to wine, we are ready to share. We want to share the experience. We want to share the joy of what we consider a great sip of wine with the whole world. It doesn’t always work – what tastes amazing to you, might be unimaginable plonk for someone else – everyone’s palate is different. But when it works, the experience is priceless. When the person takes a sip of the wine and says “OMG”, this is the best feeling in the world. Been able to help someone to share your joy and discover something new is incredible, and I can’t really describe it – I just truly hope you get to experience it at least once.

And then there are some key words which spur oenophile into the action. “I always wanted to try that wine”. “I never tasted the wine from that region”. “Trying this wine was always my dream”. “If I can ever find that wine”. All of these are the phrases which should be used very carefully around oenophiles, as these are the trigger phrases. They make an oenophile jump of joy and immediately devise the plan on mediating the issue in whatever way possible. If you consider yourself an oenophile, I’m sure you can relate. If you are not – I hope you know at least one.

Recently at the birthday party, an old friend said: “I always wanted to drink aged wines, but I don’t know how to find them, they are probably expensive, and I don’t know anything about them”. Can you imagine my ears perked up as soon as I heard it? Oenophile’s joyous moment, an opportunity to share the wine – yes! I gave her advice as to where she can find some aged wines (Benchmark Wines, for instance), but the brain already was put to the task. When we decided to get together for dinner, the first thing I said was “I’m bringing the wines”.

Aged Wines

After some deliberation, I came to an agreement with oneself regarding the wine program – you can see the whole program in the picture above. I was happy that I had a reasonably aged sparkling wine – Guido Ferrari. I wrote about Ferrari wines many times, these are definitely some of my favorite sparkling wines. 2005 is still a baby, as this is a current vintage, but still – this is an excellent sparkling wine, and it was a sample so I had to open it in any case – sharing with friends makes me very happy.

I definitely wanted to have a Rosé as part of the repertoire, but the absolute majority of Rosé is not made for aging – and those which age well, are either impossible to find, or very expensive, or both. So yeah, no Rosé. For the white, I decided to go with another one of my favorites – barrel-aged Verdejo, 2009 Shaya Habis. 10 years is not that much in terms of wine age, but most of the white wines don’t age that well, and I didn’t have a nice Burgundy, Chablis or white Rhone to offer instead, so I think 10 years old Verdejo should be interesting enough.

Red wines generally can age. I decided to go with “middle-aged” wines, even though the “middle” varies dramatically between the wines and the regions. My selection – 1995 Estancia Meritage, a Bordeaux style blend from California, 1995 Quinta do Poço do Lobo from Portugal (one of my top dozen wines of 2018), and 1998 Kirkland Ranch Merlot from California. I saw that the folks on Cellar Tracker considered Estancia to be past prime for a while so this will be an interesting experience, no matter what. And the 1998 Merlot I never had before, so this is an excellent opportunity to try it. 2007 Sauternes for dessert? 12 years is not much of age for the Sauternes, but this was one of the few older dessert bottles at my disposal so this would have to do.

The above part of the post was written before the tasting. Now, it is time to tell you how the wines actually fared.

Vintage-designated sparkling wines with some age are not a simple thing for uninitiated wine lovers – many say that Dom Perignon is amazing only because they know how much it costs, not because they enjoy it. This 14 years old, 2005 Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatory was outstanding in my opinion – fresh, complex, elegant, it was truly a beautiful, minerality-driven Chardonnay, enframed with some fine bubbles. You know what was the best part? To hear my friends say “wow” and “I really like it”. Mission accomplished.

1995 Estancia Meritage Alexander ValleyWe continued with 2009 Shaya Habis Rueda (100% old vines Verdejo, barrel aged). This wine is one of my favorite Verdejo renditions, typically offering lots of complexity – but I never had it with 10 years of age. The wine was still young and crisp, with minimal fruit expression and tons of minerality, tons. Again, I consider this wine a success as one of my friends literally hugged the bottle and kept drinking this wine, repeating every few minutes “wow, and I even don’t like the whites!”.

Now, it was not without trepidation that I opened 1995 Estancia Meritage Alexander Valley (67% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 16% Cabernet Franc), taking into account the negative sentiment on the CT. But – my fears were unfounded. The wine was a perfect example of the nicely aged California wine – yes, it mellowed down and was tertiary aromas-driven, but it stayed that way during the whole evening, and it was a perfect example of what aging does to the wine – simply the next dimension. The aromatics which you can enjoy endlessly, an abundance of lip-smacking plums, touch of eucalyptus, good acidity – a great experience. And yet another “yes” vote in our wine program – everyone liked the wine. Were they simply polite? I don’t know. I hope they actually liked the wine, as I wholeheartedly did.

2007 Haut Charmes SauternesThe next wine I brought simply as a “safe bet”, just in case Estancia would not work out. While Estancia was fine, I was happy to open this wine, if anything, at least, to compare two of the wines from the same vintage – of course, from very different wine regions. 1995 Caves São João Quinta do Poço do Lobo Reserva from Bairrada in Portugal didn’t change its standing “you are drinking me too early” even for a bit (the wine was only released last year, and I was raving about it before) – elegant, restrained dark fruit and herbs – two of these 1995 wines couldn’t be any more different than they were. Again, I think people liked this wine too – but it was too far into the evening to keep track. In any case, I’m glad I still have a few more bottles left.

We didn’t open the 1998 Kirkland Merlot – will have to wait for another occasion – but 2007 Haut Charmes from Sauternes was delightful and all apricots, both the nose and the palate. Ripe apricots, candied apricots, apricot jam – all of it was in every sip – oh yeah, don’t worry, all apricots were supported by acidic core. I don’t know if this was a common expression for the aged Sauternes, but there was a lot of pleasure in every sip of that wine.

This is my story of helping friends to experience aged wines. If you ask me, this was a complete success as people got to enjoy something new and different. Have you had any of these wines? What would you open for your friends to try? Cheers!

 

Discovering Portuguese Wines, One Winery at a Time – Esporão

June 27, 2017 4 comments

Portuguese wines used to be an oenophile’s best secret. Portugal is rather a small country with very good climate for grape growing, lots of slopes and poor soils to force the roots to go deep in search for nutrition. People in Portugal heavily relying on their own agriculture – very little of the food products are imported, and the wines were for the long time produced mostly for the consumption inside the country. Add here a long and successful winemaking history (thousand years give or take a few) and lots of indigenous grapes (actually, the most of them are), and you have a recipe for excellent wines which are hardly known anywhere.

In today’s global economy, where love to the liquid grapes has no boundaries, it is hard to keep something like this as a secret. All of us, lucky travelers, who manage to visit Portugal and haul the wines back by suitcases and boxes, are obviously only helping for this secret to be … well, much less of a secret. And thus today let me contribute to the secrets-free wine world and talk about Portuguese wines produced by the company called Esporão. (take a look at their website to see beautiful viewcams of the vineyards and olive tree orchards).

Herdade do Esporão boundaries were established in 1267, which definitely gets it in the group of some of the oldest estates in Europe, in the region of Alentejo, about 100 miles southeast of Lisbon. The estate remained virtually unchanged until it was purchased by José Roquette in 1973. It is now run by his son João Roquette, who upholds his father’s winemaking traditions. In 2008, Esporão expanded into the Douro Valley with the purchase of the Quinta dos Murças estate which traces its history back to 1714. Quinta dos Murças vineyards are located on the slopes with the elevations of 262 – 1312 feet above sea level, in the Cima Corgo sub-region which is one of the most coveted in the Douro.

Esporão Quinta dos Murças wines

While I would love to talk about many different wines produced by Esporão, today our focus is on the Esporão wines from Quinta dos Murças. Here is what I had an opportunity to taste:

2016 Quinta dos Murças Assobio White Douro Valley, Portugal (12.5% ABV, $13, 30% Viosinho, 25% Verdelho, 25% Rabigato, 10% Gouveio, 10% Códega do Larinho)
Straw pale. Touch of lemon and white stone fruit on the nose, touch of grapefruit zest, medium+ intensity. Good crispy acidity on the palate with round, almost plump body, touch of green apple. Drinkability: 8-

2015 Quinta dos Murças Assobio Red Douro Valley, Portugal (13.5% ABV, $13, 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinta Roriz, 30% Touriga Franca)
Dark garnet, restrained nose, crunchy raspberries, sweet oak undertones, very serious tannins on the palate, French oak, excellent balance, round, very tasty. Drinkability: 8+, best QPR in the tasting

2015 Quinta dos Murças Minas Douro Valley, Portugal (14% ABV, $25, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Cão)
Dark garnet color, fresh jammy cherries, baking spices, medium intensity, touch of barnyard, restrained palate, tart cherries, good acidity, excellent balance, Drinkability: 8. Added Bonus – new grape, Tinta Francisca

2011 Quinta dos Murças Reserva Douro Valley, Portugal (14% ABV, $45, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca, Sousão)
Almost black. Medium intensity, black fruit medley on the nose, eucalyptus, sage, wow – delicious.
Round layered palate, spices, dark fresh fruit, good acidity, outstanding. Drinkability: 9-

Have you tasted Esporão wines? What is your opinion of Portuguese wines? Do you have any favorites? Cheers!

Daily Glass: Portugal Still A Value Champion

April 4, 2017 1 comment

If you drink wines every day, I’m sure you can appreciate a great value. Heck, I’m sure you hunt down value as much as you can, not only appreciate it. Even at a modest $20 per bottle, the cost of this hobby/passion quickly adds up.

All of us, wine lovers, greatly appreciate good value. But – it is equally important to note – not at the expense of the taste. It is great if the bottle is reasonably priced, however, the content still has to deliver the pleasure – as this is why we really drink the wine in the first place.

So let me ask you – what is your “go to” value region? I personally have many. In the $10 – $12 range, you can often look at Georgia and Spain (even though Spain is slowly edging itself out of that category); sometimes Italy and France can surprise you too – more as an exception, though. Add a few dollars – move to the $12-$15 range, and you got Spain very reliably there, with more of French and Italian options, and even some wines from the US; South Africa might play a supporting role there as well.

But – to sneak under $10, or even get as close as possible to $5? With the wines people will drink and enjoy? Reliably? I know of only one country which delivers here – Portugal.

I visited Portugal for the first time back in 2013, and when I saw the $3 – $4 wines at the supermarket, my thought was – this is most likely not drinkable at all. And I was dead wrong – here is one example. And I was proven wrong lots and lots more times, both in Portugal and in the US (I’m talking about place of buying the wine).

What prompted this post was a quick stop at one of my favorite wine stores – Bottle King in New Jersey. I didn’t have much time, just enough to grab a few bottles. One of them was 2014 Quinta do Vale Sub-Região Serra da Estrela Dão DOP (13% ABV, $5.98, 40% Tinta Roriz, 35% Alfrocheiro, 25% Jaen) – yes, at a whopping $5.98. To be entirely honest, I opened the bottle, poured and glass and proceeded to sip directly, without paying much attention to the appearance or the nose. The very first sip delivered the “wow” reaction. The aromas jumped from the glass – fresh, supple, juicy, with crunchy young fruit, lots of aromatic herbs (sage, tarragon), clean, smooth, medium body, touch of earthiness, fresh acidity and excellent balance. There was nothing extra in that glass – just a pure indulgence.

After that first sip (and then second, third and so on), it was evident that Portugal over-delivered again – an outstanding QPR, excellent wine at more than excellent price – clearly worthy of a “case buy” recommendation.

There you have it, my friends. What was your recent “best value” experience? What is your “go to” value wines region or a country? Cheers!

Notes To Self – Portuguese Wines

May 30, 2015 5 comments

Well, yes, you got me – if I would really try to write a note for myself to remember, I could easily write it in my paper journal and keep it to myself. Thus it is pointless to pretend that these are really the “notes to self”, which are typically starting with “next time, remember that …”. Nevertheless, what I would like to stress that this post is simply an attempt to share my understanding of a few elements of the Portuguese wines, based on the trips to Portugal, drinking Portuguese wines and talking to both people who make them and people who serve them. I will not be producing the map and talking about all the Portuguese wine regions and all the styles of wines; I will not be talking about terroir, soils or climate – there are many sources for that. You can simply look at this writing as a collection of facts and thoughts about Portuguese wines, heavily slated towards the wines of Douro – some are just for fun, and some that might have a practical value.

Portuguese Wine BlendsMost of the Portuguese wines (white, red, Port) are blends. Moreover, they are not the traditional blends, but instead they are the field blends. If you will look at the bottle of Bordeaux or California wine, there is a good chance you will see the exact proportions of the different grapes in that wine – 35% Grenache, 25% Syrah, etc. What you would typically see on the bottle of Portuguese wine are the names of the grapes (Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, etc), but not the associated percentages. This is due to the fact that the different grapes are growing together in the vineyard, they are harvested together and vinified together, without any ability to identify the amount of the particular grape in the blend. In some cases even the exact grapes in the vineyard are unknown. and you might see on the label “and other local grapes”. This information is more of a fun fact – there is nothing for you to deduce about taste, quality or age-worthiness of the wine – but it is something which is “interesting to know”. Besides, nowadays people became obsessed with wine factoids, so somehow when wine consumers see that wine contains 25% of Grenache and not 35% of Grenache, they feel better. And they definitely feel a lot better  when they see a percentage of that Grenache listed instead just the name of the grape. But when it comes to the traditional Portuguese wines, those percentages are impossible to obtain, so you can simply save yourself time and just accept it for what it is.

Portuguese Reserva Wines Now, here is more practical tidbit of information for you. The word “Reserva” matters on the label of the wine from Douro. You are laughing and having a “duh  moment”? Totally fine with me, but let me proceed here anyway. I remember a very interesting experience from my previous trip to Portugal. We ordered a wine in the restaurant, and it was outstanding – deep, concentrated, absolutely delicious. I loved it so much that I even bought a few bottles for home, right there at the restaurant. I came back to exact same restaurant and ordered exact same wine a few days later – and couldn’t believe I liked it last time so much. No, it was not bad, but it was very simplistic, drinkable but quite average. Later on I realized that the only difference between the wines was the word Reserva on the label. Similar story took place in conversation with our waiter at the hotel. During the first visit, we had one of most stunning red wines ever, Casa Burmester Red from Douro (it was a #3 wine in my Top List from 2013). During the last visit, when I asked our waiter about the Casa Burmester red, he made face and pretty much asked me “why do you want to drink that? that is not a good wine”. Only after I added the word Reserva I was able to get an agreeing nod “ah, Reserva, sure”.

Yes, the word Reserva is regulated and appears on many of the wine bottles from the different regions. However, from the wines I tasted, it makes the biggest difference in the wines of Douro, by a wide margin. Talking about the same producers, Chianti Reserva would be a bit more concentrated than a regular Chianti, the same would be true for Brunello Reserva versus regular Brunello. Rioja Reserva would appear quite different from the Crianza, but typically both wines would be delicious in their own right and will share common traits. At the same time, if you will taste both regular and Reserva wines from the same producer in Douro, you would think there is no relationship between the wines whatsoever, and the regular wines will show as quite simplistic, at the best qualified as so called “BBQ reds”. The word Reserva puts those same wines on the world stage and immediately lines them up with the best of the best, usually at a fraction of a price (a $30 Reserva from Douro would easily beat lots of $100+ wines – of course I’m speaking for myself).

Whats makes such a huge difference? I don’t know (and if you do, I would greatly appreciate the comment). The only regulated difference I’m aware of between regular and Reserva wines in Douro is that Reserva wines have to spend at least 1 year in the oak. Could it be that better grapes are going into Reserva? Of course. Another interesting factor might be Douro Institute (IVDP), the governing body of the Douro wines. What is important to understand is that IVDP not only regulates the yield, the grapes, the irrigation and so on – all the wines (pay attention here – ALL the wines) are sent to and blind tasted by IVDP to approve or deny the winery designation for the particular wine. The rejection rate at IVDP is quite high at 17% – thus it is well possible that IVDP becomes a significant factor in making the Reserva wines so different. Bottom line is simple – if you can find a Reserva wine from Douro, go for it, there is a good chance you might really like it.

Broken OpenerThe realization of the dare importance of Reserva was probably my most significant wine discovery of the last trip. I was actually planning to mention a few more things, but I’m not sure how important those are. Here is one – which is rather a curious observation. Don’t know about you, but as I live in the US, I’m used to seeing many wines, especially the simple ones, to be closed with the screw top rather than the cork. This is not the case in the Portugal, the land of the cork trees – even the simplest, 80 cents wines from the supermarket, are still closed with the nice cork. Remember that if you will get thirsty all of a sudden in Portugal, there is no such thing as “twist and pour”. This can lead to the curious moment – see the wine opener in my hotel room been broken … by the cork.

I’m almost done here, I promise – just one more note. Vintage Port is definitely a flagship of the Portuguese wine industry, and of course we would love to drink that whenever possible. As a flagship, the Vintage Port is also costs appropriately (pushing a $70/bottle boundary across many producers). What you need to remember is that Vintage Port is essentially a regular wine – fortified, yes, but still a regular wine, which didn’t go through all the barrel ageing and oxidation – therefore, you should treat it exactly as a regular bottle of wine. Slightly chill before serving, and most importantly, consume within 2-3 days. Unlike Tawny Port, which can be kept around for a month or so after opening, Vintage Port will lose all of its beauty in 2-3 days. Also, considering the price of the Vintage Port, don’t ignore the LBV, Late Bottled Vintage port – it has the same vintage designation as a Vintage port, but will cost a lot less (typically under $30), and will last a little longer once opened, compare to the Vintage Port. You can look at LBV as the second label of the Vintage Port, if you will.

And we are done here. I hope you will find my notes to self (and to you) useful. Enjoy your weekend and cheers!

Magnificent Portugal

May 24, 2015 27 comments

Douro Valley 2Two years ago I was lucky to discover the Portugal. A beautiful country with wonderful people, great wines and delicious food. This year, I had an opportunity to experience the Portugal again, and once again I want to share my experiences with you as much as possible. There will be a few posts, as there is absolutely no way to squeeze all the impressions into one (nothing is impossible, yes, but I’m sure none of you are interested in a post with a hundred+ pictures and ten thousand words), but still please prepare to be inundated with the pictures. Let’s go.

I want to start from the wonderful trip we had on Sunday. I’m subscribed to the updates from the wine travel web site called Winerist. An email I received from the Winerist about a week before my scheduled departure contained a section about wine trips in … Douro, Portugal! How could they know, huh? This was my very first time using the service, so not without trepidation I filled up booking form for the tour called “Wine Tasting & Sightseeing in the Douro Valley” (€95 per person), requesting the specific date – actually, the only free day I had during the trip. I was informed that my credit card will be charged only after the trip availability will be confirmed with the local provider. Two days later the confirmation arrived with all the tour provider information and pickup time (the pickup is arranged at any of the hotels in Porto). The day before the trip, I got a call in my hotel room from JoÃo, who informed me that the pickup will take place next day at 9:10 am in front of the hotel’s lobby.

The next day, a red minivan showed up exactly at 9:10 am (at least according to my watch), however the first thing JoÃo did after introducing himself in person, was to apologize for arriving at 9:12 instead of 9:10 – from which I figured that we will have fun in our tour. This is exactly what happened – after picking up two more people for the total of 8 passengers, off we went to immerse into the beauty of Portuguese nature, culture, food and wine. I will not give you a detailed account of everything we heard during of almost 11 hours of out trip (we were supposed to come back at 6:30 pm, but nobody was in a hurry, so we came back very close to 8 pm) – that would make it for a long and boring post. But I will do my best to give you a good idea of what we saw and experienced.

Our first stop was at a small town called Amarante. On the way there, our guide and driver had to really work hard – out of our group of 8 people, 2 of us needed all explanations in English, and the rest of the group was from Brazil, so JoÃo had to alternate between Portuguese and English – have to say he had no issues doing that for the duration of the trip. The second problem JoÃo had to deal with was … a marathon, which forced closure of many roads, so he had to find his way around. Well, that was also a non-issue, so we successfully arrived to Amarante. Our intended destination was the church of São Gonçalo (St. Gonçalo), which had an interesting story of the saint whose name is associated with male fertility. I had to admit that I missed some parts of the explanation regarding the origins of this belief, but the bottom line is very simple. Inside of the church, there is a statue of St. Gonçalo, with the hanging rope. Any male who needs help with the  fertility, have to pull that rope twice, but not more (don’t know if it would be equivalent to the Viagra overdose?). Besides, the Priest gets very unhappy when people get crazy with that rope, so all the pulling should be done quietly and without attracting unnecessary attention. I guess that same fertility power led to the appearance of so called St. Gonçalo cakes, which you will see below – I’m assuming the picture is self-explanatory. No, I didn’t try one, nor did anyone from our group, so can’t tell you how it tastes. After leaving the church, we had around 20 minutes to walk around the town, before we had to leave to our next destination.

Our next stop was the town of Lamego, which is one of the biggest in the Douro valley. As food was an essential part of our tour, first we visited a place called A Presunteca. I would probably characterize it as a food and wine store, somewhat geared towards tourists. No, “tourist trap” would be rather diminutive, as the food and wine were genuinely good and prices were absolutely on par with any other store. We had a taste few of the local sausages and cured meets, as well as cheese. We also had an opportunity to taste some of Porto and dry wines, as well as sparkling – the Peerless sparkling wine was excellent, on par with any good Cava or Cremant. I also really liked a Niepoort Dry White Port. If we wouldn’t have to spend the next half of the day in the hot car, I don’t think I would’ve left without a nice chunk of a cured meet, but oh well…

Next we got into a race with a long (very long!) line of honking old Minis, and we lost the race despite creative local street navigation by JoÃo. We still successfully arrived to our next destination – Cathedral of Santa Maria, Lady of Remedy. According to the explanations, the beautiful structure was erected as promised by the Bishop to show a gratitude for sparring the city of Lamego from the Black Plague. There are more than 600 steps which lead to the Cathedral on top of the hill, which people seeking the cure for the illnesses often concur on their knees. We walked around the cathedral and then used the steps to get down to the town level, admiring the beautiful view and exquisite architectural elements, also with the great use of traditional Portuguese painted ceramic tiles. This place needs some serious restoration work, but it is still absolutely magnificent.

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Our next stop was for lunch. The restaurant called Manjar do Douro was located very close to the bottom of the staircase we ascended from. It was somewhat resembling a big dining hall, with many groups occupying communal style tables. The bread, cheese and cold cuts were outstanding. For the entree I’ve chosen veal, as still was suffering from the fish overload from the night before (more about it in another post). This was rather a mistake, as the meat was really chewy (well, the sautéed vegetables were excellent). We had a few wines with the meal. 2014 Incantum Vinho Branco had inviting nose of a white fruit, a bit more tamed fruit on the palate, overall very enjoyable (and added another grape to my collection, Sìria). The 2013 Incantum Douro Tinto was nice, but a bit simplistic. As JoÃo learned from our conversation that I was all into wines, he showed me a few of his favorite wines, one of them you can see below in the picture (no, we didn’t try it).

Our next stop was finally a full immersion into the wine world of Douro. After about an hour driving, we arrived at Quinta do Tedo. Vincent Bouchard of the Bouchard Père & Fils fame from Burgundy, fell in love with the Quinta do Tedo vineyards (can you blame him? take a look at the pictures), located at a crossing of River Douro and River Tedo, and he bought the vineyard in the early 1990s. 1992 was the first vintage produced by the Quinta do Tedo. The vineyards, located on the hilly slopes around the picturesque River Tedo, consist of the vines of 30 to 70 years old. Quinta do Tedo makes only red wines, but they make both dry wines and number of Port styles. Winery’s logo has a picture of the bird on it – according to the local traditions, the birds would show up to eat the grapes when they are perfectly ripe, so that bird on the label signifies perfectly ripe grapes.

Quinta do Tedo Vineyards

Douro Vineyards

TedoThe winery still uses all of the old traditions of winemaking – the grapes are harvested by hand, into the small baskets to prevent them crushing under its own weight. The grapes are fully destemmed, and then are crushed using the … feet, yes, exactly as you expected. Grapes are stomped over the course of a few days by the men. The juice flows into the tanks (no pumping), where it is fermented for two days (in case of port production) or longer, and from there on the wines are made according to the style. Ahh, and I need to mention that the vineyards of Quinta do Tedo are certified organic. Also note that it is illegal to irrigate vines in Douro, so you can say that all of the producers in Douro are using dry farming methods.

I love the fact that wine offers endless learning opportunities – every time you talk to someone passionate, you learn something new. Let me tell you why I’m talking about it. As you might know, all the wine production in Douro is regulated by so called Douro Institute (IVDP). This is a very powerful organization, which assess all the wines made in Douro, both Port and regular dry wines, to make sure that winery’s declaration is up to the right level. I was always under impression that it is IVDP then which declares vintage year for Port. Turns out I was wrong – it is actually up to the winery to declare a vintage year (however it would be an IVDP will confirm or reject the designation). 2010 was an excellent year, and many Port houses produced Vintage Port. Then there was 2011, which was not just good, but simply spectacular. But if you mention 2009, people raise their arms defensively – it was not a good year. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop Quinta do Tedo from producing delicious 2009 Vintage Port, including their single vineyard flagship, Savedra.

The learning didn’t stop there. Our guide very simply explained concept of the so called LBV, or Late Bottled Vintage Port, which has the year designation similar to the vintage port, but typically costs a fraction of price (and something which I couldn’t figure out for a while). It appears that concept of LBV is as follows. The wine is first made with the intent of becoming a Vintage Port – 2 days fermentation which is stopped with neutral brandy, then about 2 years of aging in stainless steel or neutral oak tanks. After that the port is sent to the IVDP to get the vintage approval – and if it fails to get the approval, it is aged for another 2 years or so, and then bottled as LBV. Simple, right?

Of course it was not all talking – there was also tasting. Technically our official tasting included only two types of port, but you know how that works – once the passion starts talking, the tasting becomes “no holds barred” event.

We started with two of the dry wines. The 2011 Quinta do Tedo Tinto Douro was what can be called a “BBQ Wine” – nice fresh fruit profile, with some depth, but limited power, allowing for easy sipping. But the second wine was the whole different story. 2011 was so good that the winery simply decided to skip the Reserva level, and to make Grand Reserva only. Wine spent 22 month in French oak. The level of finesse on that 2011 Quinta do Tedo Grand Reserva Savedra Douro was unparalleled, something which you really have to experience for yourself – elegant dark fruit, spices and touch of fresh herbs on the nose (you can smell the wine for the very, very long time). On the palate, the wine is multilayered, dark, full-bodied and powerful, and it combined firm structure with silky smooth goodness. At €25, it can be only classified as a steal – or definitely a tremendous value, if you prefer that definition.

We also tasted 2010 Quinta do Tedo LBV, which was absolutely delicious, with good amount of sweetness and fresh acidity, making it perfectly balanced; Quinta do Tedo 20 Years Old Tawny had beautiful complexity with hazelnut and almonds, and dry fruit sweetness. Elegance of 2009 Quinta do Tedo 2009 Vintage was simply outstanding – fragrant nose and very balanced palate. That was one delicious tasting, that is all I can tell.

We need to round up here – and I thank you if you are still reading this. Good news is that after that tasting where I think we spent double the time versus the original plan we went back to the hotel, with one last stop to suck in the greatness of the Douro River – so no more words here, just a few pictures.

Douro Valley 4

Douro Valley

Douro valley 5

Douro Valley 2

And we are done (can you believe it?). If your travel will take you to Portugal, I would highly recommend that you will give the LivingTours a try – I think this is the best way to explore that magnificent country. Also keep in mind that Winerist offers a variety of the wine tours in many regions, so do check them out.

As for my Portugal escapades – I’m only getting warmed up. Prepare to be inundated further. Until the next time – cheers!

Port Barrels and Harvest

October 20, 2013 17 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!

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