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Month in Wines – October 2013

November 1, 2013 5 comments
Montesco Passionate Wine

Montesco Passionate Wine

Another month is passing by, and it is the time to summarize the best experiences. Definite highlight of this month were all the wonderful wines I tasted in Portugal – the 1970 White Port is hard to topple –  but there were other great wines…

Without any particular order, here we go:

2010 Montesco Passionate Wine Parral, Tupungato, Mendoza (14% ABV, 40% Malbec, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Bonarda) – the name says it all. Very inviting nose, layers of fruit, dark cherries, blackberries, supple tannins, energetic acidity and joy in every sip – excellent wine all around. 8+

2009 Turley Zinfandel Tofanelli Vineyard, Napa Valley (15.2% ABV) – dark, concentrated, with the core of traditional Zinfandel’s blackberry aromatics and palate, perfectly accentuated by espresso and dark chocolate notes. Perfectly dry, structured, firm and balanced, with a long finish. 9-

NV Lagranja 360 Cava Brut (11.5% ABV, 70% Xarel-lo, 30% Parellada) – simple and elegant, perfectly refreshing, just a touch of sweetness, good acidity, very balanced overall. 8-

NV Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru, Ambonay (70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay) – a beautiful wine. Touch of yeast on the nose, crisp acidity and noticeable fruit notes on the palate. Outstanding. 8+

NV H. Blin Brut, Vincelles (80% Pinot Meunier, 20% Chardonnay) – perfect acidity with somewhat of a medium body, nice mid-palate weight, very round. Excellent. 8-

NV Pierre Gimonnet & Fils 1er Cru Brut Blanc de Blancs Sélection Belles Anneés (100% Charodnnay) – very nice nose of brioche and touch of apple, same on the palate with some interesting mineral undertones. Very good. 8-

2003 Quevedo Colheita Tawny Port (barrel tasted) – mature, dried fruit, like figs and may be dried apricots, but it was very balanced and still perfectly fresh. 8+

1996 Quevedo Colheita Tawny Port (barrel tasted) – outstanding, mature, with the perfect medley of dried fruit, figs, raisins, and excellent supporting acidity. 9-

1970 Quevedo White Port (barrel tasted) – 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. 9+

1974 Quevedo Colheita Tawny Port (tasted pre-bottled) – very complex, with the good amount of dried fruit, that nuttiness which only well aged Port or Jerez can demonstrate, all with still very present acidity. 9

2007 Arrayán Petit Verdot, DO Mentrida, Spain (14% ABV, 100% Petit Verdot) – concentrated, powerful, very dense, firm and structured, but showing some nice blueberries. Noticeable earthiness with some pencil shavings. 8

2007 Jamesport Vineyards Petit Verdot Reserve, Long Island, NY – powerful, all around dark fruit, notes of the dark chocolate, soft tannins, balancing acidity. Needs some time to open. Will age nicely for the next 10-15 years. 8

2005 Jamesport Vineyards Merlot Block E, Long Island, NY (13.5% ABV, 80% Merlot, 10% cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah) – beautiful nose of dark fruit and chocolate. Velvety, silky slick on the palate, layers of supple dark fruit, soft tannins, clean acidity, overall very balanced with long, sexy finish. 8+

2012 Ernie Els “Big Easy” Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa – nice body presence – medium to full body, somewhat plump with white stone fruit notes and soft acidity. Overall, very pleasant. 8-

That should be about all for the month of October. Did you have any memorable wine experiences? Care to share? Cheers!

Port Barrels and Harvest

October 20, 2013 16 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2010 Quevedo Port, may be LBV, may be Colheita

2010 Quevedo Port, may be LBV, may be Colheita

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

Next we moved to the 2003 Colheita:

2003 Quevedo Colheita

2003 Quevedo Colheita

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

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

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

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

1996 Quevedo Colheita

1996 Quevedo Colheita

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

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

1970 White Port

1970 White Port

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

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

This Port will be bottled next year

This Port will be bottled next year

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

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

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

Study of Port: First Port Experiences

April 29, 2013 20 comments

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

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

DSC_0739 cemetery fence

Lines!

more lines!

more lines!

Isn’t this pretty?

DSC_0749 beautiful view

Someone has good sense of humor:

DSC_0746 stop sign

stop sign being carried away…

One of the modes of transportation in Porto:

DSC_0769 one of the transport types in Porto

Just look at this beautiful town:

DSC_0796 Porto!

Porto

DSC_0792 Douro River

Port, I’m coming:

DSC_0788 Port houses ahead!

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

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

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

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

DSC_0803 40 years old tawny quinto do noval

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

barrel table and stools at Quinta de Noval

barrel table and stools at Quinta de Noval

Next we stopped at Sandeman:

DSC_0806 Sandeman!

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

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

DSC_0807 white and tawny ports

DSC_0810 sandeman port bottles

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

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

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

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