Posts Tagged ‘portugal wines’

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!

Wine Retail: Bottle King – Values All Around

July 3, 2012 5 comments

It’s been a while since I talked about wine stores in this blog, so may be it is time to tell you about another one of my favorite wine stores (here you can read about other stores from that same “wine stores to love” list – Cost Less Wine and PJ Wine). Today I want to bring to your attention a store in New Jersey called Bottle King – well, actually it is a group of 14 wine stores, all located in New Jersey, plus the online store called The Wine Buyer, so even if New Jersey is far away for you, you can enjoy great values.

The store I usually shop at is located in the town of Glen Rock in northern New Jersey, so this is the store I’m writing about. Bottle King sells everything from beer to wine and to all kinds of liquors, plus stores have a section called The Vineyard Market, where cheeses and such are sold. Interestingly [sadly] enough, wine stores in Connecticut are prohibited from selling of any of the food items – one day I will write a big rant blog post about stupidity of the laws and regulations we have around alcohol… one day. Anyway, let’s go back to the Bottle King wine stores. For me the major feature of the store is wine – but liquors section shouldn’t be ignored, as while it is on the smaller side, the selection, variety and prices are quite good (not that you can really see it in the photo below, but I tried).

The whole store can be essentially described in one word – value. In any department, there are always lots of great values to be found. Also the concept of “value” is delivered on multiple levels.

First, Bottle King runs loyalty program called “BK Club”. The program is free and easy to sign up for. Once you have a BK Club membership, all you need to do is to look for the special prices advertised for BK Club customers:

In addition to BK Club deals, there are always many wines on sale, and certain items might be even on “super-sale” which in a lot of cases represents really great buying opportunity. Last but not least, every time you buy a case of wine, there is 20% discount applied to all non-sale and non-club items (but those count towards the case).

Wine is mostly organized by the country, and then by the grape (depending on the size of the country’s section). If you are looking for the value, the section you want to be heading to is Portugal – it is one of the closest to the entrance and it is the section where I usually start my walk around.

Here is a look at the shelf in that Portugal section:

Just to explain in more practical terms what I mean by value, here is an example of the wines you can find in that Portuguese section.

These two wines, made by Fado, cost $4.99 each. 2011 Fado White (13% ABV) has very nice nose with the hint of fresh-cut grass and fresh lemon – just a hint, it is not “in your face” wine. This continues on the palate, with light herbs and citrus notes, perfect acidity, round and balanced (Drinkability: 7+).

2010 Fado Red (13.5% ABV) has medium body, nice red fruit on the nose, more red fruit and again some herbaceous notes with some plums on the palate, soft tannins and good balancing acidity (Drinkability: 7+). Would either of these wines carry a label of France or California, you would gladly pay $20+ for them and still consider it to be a good value.

In addition to Portugal, the same shelf is shared by sparkling wines (not a bad selection, but mostly focused on mainstream France and Italy, lacking growers’ champagne, some of the artisan US sparklers, and also limited in Cava options). You can also find a few wines from South Africa and Greece, but literally only a few different bottles.

There is a decent choice of New Zealand and Australian wines. Spanish wines are underrepresented to my taste, but still have some good values from Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Priorat and so on.

California takes a very significant part of the store, sorted by variety, and of course having a lot of great values in every category.

France is really comes second after California in the amount of the shelf space it is occupying:

And there are plenty of values to be found in the French section:

France is focused on Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone, with addition of Languedoc and Loire – if you are looking for obscure Jura wine, this most likely will not be the place for you. Italy is closely trailing France in the amount of shelf space it is occupying, and has good representation of all main regions.

You will also have no problems finding wines from Chile and Argentina, as well as Port (lots of great selections, including super-discounted vintage port from time to time).

I can’t really comment on effectiveness of the service, as I had been offered help a few times, but always declined, as my strong preference is to browse the selection on my own terms, and I don’t really know sometimes what exactly I’m looking for (well, okay, I’m looking for the signs of super-sale and overall the amazingly priced wines, but please keep it a secret). I would love to see people at the cash register a bit more smiling and welcoming (send them for training to the Trader Joe’s, may be?), but hey, value can’t come without some expense, can it?

All in all, Bottle King stores are definitely worth a visit, even if you have to take a special trip – by the way, they are open tomorrow, July 4th, in case you got some time…

That’s all, folks. Cheers!

Daily Glass: Value Wines Project – Portugal, Italy and Oregon

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Here is another Value Wines project update. We had French, Portuguese and Italian wines covered in the project. Today’s update is bringing in a new region – Oregon.

So far I would say that the outcome of the project is very encouraging – a lot of good, very drinkable wines from all regions mentioned above, all priced very well. The wine from Oregon, 2009 Primarius Pinot Noir, however, I would have to call the biggest surprise of the project. Why so? It is not surprising that we can find good and inexpensive wines coming from Portugal, for instance – wine region is grossly ignored and underrated ( this is changing, though), so the winemakers have to price their wines accordingly. Oregon wines, on another side, are well known worldwide as a source of the Pinot Noirs, rivaling those of Burgundy – and so far my experience with any Oregon Pinot Noir under $15 had been largely negative (wimpy and diluted wines).

All in all, Primarius Pinot Noir ($11.99) was very good wine – smokiness and finesse of the classic Pinot Noir, layered and restrained fruit and very good balance – I think this is a great wine for the price (and even in general). I will put Drinkability at 7+.

Next wine comes from Italy – 2009 Tedeschi Valpolicella Classico ($10.98), and it has both good and bad sides. For the bad side – the wine never came together in a glass. It tasted as all the taste elements – fruitiness, acidity, tannins and alcohol were pulling in the different directions. The wine is drinkable, but not really enjoyable – by itself. I would guess this is a food wine – paired together with some homemade marinara sauce over fresh pasta, it should taste ( and fare) quite differently. For now, I will put Drinkability at 6+. For the good side, I’m adding 3 new grapes with this wine – Rossignola, Negrara and Dindarella, so the total count increases to 312.

Three more wines from Portugal – 2009 Caves Vale do Rodo, Douro DOC ($6.98), 2003 Primavera Douro DOC Reserva ($6.98) and 2007 Monte Da Cal Vinho Regional Alentejano ($6.47). All three are very nice and simple wines, easy to drink and pleasant – and great value for the money. I will put Drinkability at 7 for all three.

This concludes Value Wines project update for today. Few more wines are left to try in the current batch – as usual, the report will be coming soon.

Daily Glass: Value Wines Project – About Portugal and Italy again

March 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Here is your update for the value wines series  – by the way, if you are bored with this – I still have about 10 bottles left to cover, but hey, it is not that I must write about them all!

It is Portugal and Italy again (you can see previous post here), and Portugal again scored (don’t forget – this is value wines category with bottle price limit of $11.99).

From Portugal, I had 2008 Montaria Vinho Regional Alentejano ($6.98). This wine is a blend of three local grapes – Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet and Aragonez. The wine was very aromatic, soft and open from the get go. Medium body, easy to drink. Complements food very well – I had it with fried liver and it was delicious. However, another interesting food pairing observation  – doesn’t work with chocolate at all. This wine is to drink now – it didn’t improve on the next day. I would put Drinkability at 7+.

Italy was represented by 2007 La Badiola Acquagiusta Rosso ($11.99). I think I got this bottle mostly for the label (looks cool). One interesting note – I used Google to translate the name on the label ( my Italian is a bit rusty), and it was translated as “Right Water”. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (35%), Merlot (35%) and Syrah (30%).

The wine comes from the right place – Maremma Toscana, home of Super-Tuscans, and has seemingly right blend of grapes – but it doesn’t work, it didn’t happened to live up to “right water” name. From the beginning and on the second day, the wine was all over the place, almost like all those individually good grapes didn’t want to play together… This is unfortunate, but I guess finding value in that price category is not easy (don’t worry, I’m not giving up, there are few more Italian wines to try). I will put Drinkability at 7-.

So the quest for the best value wines continues, and updates will follow – unless, of course, you will tell me otherwise…

Daily Glass: Value Wines Project

March 3, 2011 2 comments

It is great when your wine budget is unlimited – no doubts. But this is typically not the case. Are you destined to drink bad and boring wines in such a case? I believe the answer is no – and to test it, I decided to try different wines with only one common characteristic – none of them should cost more than $11.99 for regular size bottle.

Finding good wines in this price range is not easy – there are only some regions which will deliver decent wines in that category. For instance, I wouldn’t look for Californian wines – in that price range I find many wines literally indistinguishable and boring. Same with Chile and Australia. Don’t get me wrong – there is plenty of great value wines coming from Chile, Australia or California – but you really have to cross that $12 border line.

Where do you look for value? I believe Portugal, Italy and France can provide what we are looking for, so – here I go.  To implement this project, I went to Bottle King store in Glen Rock, New Jersey, which is a part of Bottle King chain of liquor stores. Bottle King has great selection of reasonably priced wines from Portugal, Italy, France and of course many other regions. I got there a number of wines in the $3.98 to $11.99 range, which I will be reporting on in this series.

First wine in the series happened to be 2009 Ciconia, an Agarones/Syrah/Touriga Nacional blend from Alentejano region in Portugal, priced at $6.98. The wine had beautiful dark purple color. On the nose, it had a scent of fresh red berries, with the touch of pepper. On the palate it was nice young wine, a bit jammy at the beginning with red and dark fruit and hint of pepper and leather coming in the second wave. The wine had good acidity and a bit sharpness on the edges, which should mellow out as it will age. Definitely excellent wine for the price. Should be good with food, and should cellar nicely for another 3-4 years (or at least I think so). I will put Drinkability at 7+.

Pretty good for the beginning – I can only hope that the next bottle will be as good or better. Don’t worry, you will be the first to know…

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