Posts Tagged : Wine Tasting

When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water

Text Sarah Ahmed

Blend is a brilliant name for a Portuguese wine magazine. Why? Because the Portuguese are the masters of blending – whether it’s different grape varieties or vintages. It helps that, with 250 plus native grape varieties, these vinous artists have a rich palette of aromas, flavours and textures from which to draw.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Menu blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Menu

Sixtyone Menu for the Event – Photo by Sip & Savour | All Rights Reserved

Of course another variable is terroir, a topic which I enjoyed placing under the microscope at a Sip & Savour tasting earlier this month focused on the Douro and Vinho Verde. When you think about classic Vinho Verde wine – fresh, white, light, low alcohol – it is remarkable to think that this region’s neighbor, the Douro, produces one of the world’s most famous fortified wines – rich, red and robust Ports! Fire to the Vinho Verde’s water.

I had fun contrasting six benchmark examples from these northern regions. As you might expect, the Vinho Verdes were white and the Douro duo were (at least intended both to be) red – no surprises there. But I also played around with perceptions as I took the chance to highlight not just the freshness but also the intensity of top Vinho Verde and the elegance of the Douro reds, even if they came from the Douro Superior, theoretically its hottest, driest sub-region. The surprises continued with our dessert wine, a Moscatel do Douro, which proved that the Douro can do elegant fortifieds too.

Returning to my fire and water analogy, water is a big fat clue to a major point of difference between these two neighbouring regions. Located alongside the Atlantic and criss-crossed by rivers which funnel the Atlantic influence inland, Vinho Verde is wetter and cooler than the land-locked Douro. You have to travel some 100km inland from Oporto to reach the Douro region, which then stretches another 100km further inland, snaking along the Douro river, right up to the Spanish border.

While Vinho Verde has a maritime influenced climate (especially those parts nearest the coast), the Douro is shielded from the brunt of Atlantic weather by the Marão mountain range. Located betwixt the Douro and Vinho Verde and rising to 1,415m above sea level, the Marão is Portugal’s sixth highest mountain range. Its sheer height and mass has a rain-shadow effect and helps the Douro to keep the Atlantic storms at bay.

The Douro’s inland location also results in a continental climate which is characterized by extremes of temperature. As one winemaker vividly expressed it, the Douro has ‘nine months of winter and three months of hell.’ Hell, we’re back to fire, but not hell, fire and damnation! Autumn temperatures may soar to 40 degrees plus (which is perfect for Port and red winemaking), but the good news is that those temperature extremes occur on a daily and not just seasonal basis. In the autumn, even if it’s 40 degrees in the daytime, the temperature drops significantly at night.

What’s more, elevation comes into play. Remember, we’ve ascended the Marão mountain range into the Douro – some might say into heaven, not hell! And because the Douro is itself mountainous, grapes are grown at altitudes ranging between 100m (by the river) to up to 900m above sea level and facing every which way – north, south, east and west. Given that temperatures can drop by up to one degree centigrade for every 100m you climb, plus aspect affects exposure to sunshine and wind which in turn impact on the ripening process, the Douro can make elegant red and white wines, as well as robust Ports and red wines. It was to elegance that I looked for this Sip & Savour tasting in the height of summer.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Sixtyone-Restaurant blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Sixtyone Restaurant

Sixtyone Restaurant – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

Naturally, food writer Sip & Savour’s Amber Dalton came up with a fine foodie foil for the wines in the shape of Sixtyone Restaurant. Chef/Patron Arnaud Stevens tempers big bold flavours with his elegant touch. He told us his menu for this tasting was very much informed by matching the acidity – the freshness – of the Portuguese wines.

Which brings me to our first example, our refreshing, intensely mineral aperitif, Quinta do Ameal Loureiro 2013. I had deliberately selected single varietal, sub-regional Vinho Verdes because they brilliantly kick into touch any lingering stereo-types about Vinho Verde being dilute and too acidic. Based in Nogueira in the heart of the sub-region of Lima where the Loureiro grape thrives, Quinta do Ameal has long produced the region’s benchmark example.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Quinta-do-Ameal blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Quinta do Ameal

Quinta do Ameal – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

The secret to Ameal’s success? Aside from being in the right spot (Lima, on south-facing slopes), vaulting ambition helps. Owner Pedro Aruajo is descended from Adriano Ramos Pinto of Port fame and has plainly brought his great grand-father’s magic touch to Ameal. So when it comes to the raw material, Aruajo has slashed yields in order to ensure that his organically grown grapes are healthy and concentrated in aroma and flavour. In the winery, he has employed none other than Vinho Verde guru Anselmo Mendes to ensure that the grapes’ lively lime and celery salt aromas and flavours and cool minerality are preserved in the glass. Well received, it was the perfect tonic on such a hot and humid London day.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Octupus-Carpaccio blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Octupus Carpaccio

Octopus Carpaccio – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

For the Vinho Verde pair which we enjoyed with this stunning starter of octopus carpaccio, red pepper, wood sorrel, sesame, I looked for even more intensity and concentration. So it made sense to show off Vinho Verde’s warmest, driest sub-region, Monção e Melgaço, the epicentre of Portugal’s flagship white grape, Alvarinho. What’s more, two of its greatest exponents, Quinta do Soalheiro and Anselmo Mendes.

Though you might expect it to be cooler than Lima to the south, Monção e Melgaço is located well inland, where the land starts to rise and the topography helps to shelter the vineyards from Atlantic influence. So the climate is a little more continental, which explains why the grapes attain good ripeness (hotter days), yet also have good acidity (nights are significantly cooler). It makes for Vinho Verde’s most powerfully fruity yet fresh, long-lived wines; my audience was struck by the relative delicacy and minerality of the Loureiro compared with the two Alvarinhos.

As for which of the pair most caught their fancy, at Sip & Savour events we always ask which wine people most preferred on its own and which with the food. In this case, the answer was the same. Quinta do Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas Alvarinho 2013 just pipped Anselmo Mendes Contacto Alvarinho 2014 on both counts. Made from the oldest vines at the Cerdeira family’s organically cultivated estate (planted in 1974, they were Melgaço’s first) and with a barrel-fermented component (15%), Quinta do Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas 2013 had greater complexity. Its subtle savoury nuances chimed brilliantly well with the sherry vinegar, sesame oil and pine nuts in the octopus’ marinade. But it was a close call. I also loved the honeysuckle perfume and bounteous peach and apricot fruit of the bolder Contacto from lower vineyards closer to the Minho river in Monção. (Incidentally, this wine takes its name from the fact that the crushed grapes stay in contact with skins for a short period prior to fermentation. Why? Because the skins harbour the most aroma and flavor compounds and can add a touch of texture to the wine too).

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Main-Course blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Main Course

Roasted Guinea Fowl – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

For our main course of roasted guinea fowl, coco beans, tomatoes, peas, black olive, lime, I’d selected two Douro reds, Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Tinto and Conceito Contraste Vinho Tinto. Both were from the elegant 2012 vintage and made by winemakers who place great emphasis on freshness and balance.

At Casa Ferreirinha (which makes iconic Douro red Barca Velha) Luis Sottomayor follows the tradition of sourcing grapes from different altitudes for elegant balance. It helps that Sogrape (Casa Ferreirinha’s owner) has two Douro Superior estates – Quinta da Leda at 150m-400m and Quinta do Sairrão which rises to over 600m. As for Rita Ferreira Marques, she contends that the freshness of Conceito’s wines stems from the Teja Valley being the Douro’s coolest spot. Not just because of elevation (her vineyards are located at 300-450m), but also because of the Teja Valley’s distance from the tempering influence of the Douro river. It was a quality (freshness) that I was able to demonstrate more emphatically than I’d originally intended when it transpired that her importer had sent Contraste Branco (white), not the red!

The inadvertent pairing of the main course with a white and red wine brought to mind João Pires’ wise words about taking your cue from the colour of the dish. Not for nothing is he a Master Sommelier! Like many Portuguese whites, Conceito Contraste Branco is not overtly fruity and, with its vegetal notes, it performed a harmonious duet with the thyme, rosemary and tomato notes in the dish as well as the protein; its acidity cut through the creamy saucing too. Most preferred it with the guinea fowl. On the other hand, with its bright still very primary fruit, most people preferred the Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Tinto on its own. The fruit was a little too overwhelming for the delicate flavours and creamy texture of this dish.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Desert blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Desert

The Dessert – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

You need only look at this dessert to put on weight! Suffice to say, it would be difficult to find a wine to overwhelm salt caramel chocolate tart with caramel marshmallow and salt caramel ice cream. Rather, the challenge might be to find a wine to stand up to it, so a fortified wine made sense. But if the dessert and dessert wine were to be pronounced the perfect match (as indeed they were), then the wine had to have sufficient freshness to cut through the richness of the dish and cleanse the palate after each (heavenly) mouthful. Step forward Moscatel do Douro, the Douro’s lesser known fortified wine, not to mention Portugal’s lesser known fortified Moscatel (Moscatel de Setubal being of higher profile).

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Quinta-do-Portal blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Quinta do Portal

Quinta do Portal – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

The Douro’s Moscatels are made from Moscatel Galego, a.k.a. Muscat à Petits Grains, a different, more delicate variety to Moscatel de Setubal. Our example, Quinta do Portal Moscatel do Douro Reserva 2004, also comes from the Mansilha Branco family’s much higher, cooler, acidity preserving vineyards in Favaios at 600m at the northern end of the Pinhão Valley. Not only did it have the freshness to bring balance to the ensemble (especially when served chilled) but, having been aged for several years in wood (none new), it also had the depth of flavor and complexity to marry with the chocolate tart and all its intricate, textural accompaniments. So well that the restaurant was bathed in a reverential silence for minutes! What a perfect ending.

When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water

Text Sarah Ahmed

Blend is a brilliant name for a Portuguese wine magazine. Why? Because the Portuguese are the masters of blending – whether it’s different grape varieties or vintages. It helps that, with 250 plus native grape varieties, these vinous artists have a rich palette of aromas, flavours and textures from which to draw.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Menu blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Menu

Sixtyone Menu for the Event – Photo by Sip & Savour | All Rights Reserved

Of course another variable is terroir, a topic which I enjoyed placing under the microscope at a Sip & Savour tasting earlier this month focused on the Douro and Vinho Verde. When you think about classic Vinho Verde wine – fresh, white, light, low alcohol – it is remarkable to think that this region’s neighbor, the Douro, produces one of the world’s most famous fortified wines – rich, red and robust Ports! Fire to the Vinho Verde’s water.

I had fun contrasting six benchmark examples from these northern regions. As you might expect, the Vinho Verdes were white and the Douro duo were (at least intended both to be) red – no surprises there. But I also played around with perceptions as I took the chance to highlight not just the freshness but also the intensity of top Vinho Verde and the elegance of the Douro reds, even if they came from the Douro Superior, theoretically its hottest, driest sub-region. The surprises continued with our dessert wine, a Moscatel do Douro, which proved that the Douro can do elegant fortifieds too.

Returning to my fire and water analogy, water is a big fat clue to a major point of difference between these two neighbouring regions. Located alongside the Atlantic and criss-crossed by rivers which funnel the Atlantic influence inland, Vinho Verde is wetter and cooler than the land-locked Douro. You have to travel some 100km inland from Oporto to reach the Douro region, which then stretches another 100km further inland, snaking along the Douro river, right up to the Spanish border.

While Vinho Verde has a maritime influenced climate (especially those parts nearest the coast), the Douro is shielded from the brunt of Atlantic weather by the Marão mountain range. Located betwixt the Douro and Vinho Verde and rising to 1,415m above sea level, the Marão is Portugal’s sixth highest mountain range. Its sheer height and mass has a rain-shadow effect and helps the Douro to keep the Atlantic storms at bay.

The Douro’s inland location also results in a continental climate which is characterized by extremes of temperature. As one winemaker vividly expressed it, the Douro has ‘nine months of winter and three months of hell.’ Hell, we’re back to fire, but not hell, fire and damnation! Autumn temperatures may soar to 40 degrees plus (which is perfect for Port and red winemaking), but the good news is that those temperature extremes occur on a daily and not just seasonal basis. In the autumn, even if it’s 40 degrees in the daytime, the temperature drops significantly at night.

What’s more, elevation comes into play. Remember, we’ve ascended the Marão mountain range into the Douro – some might say into heaven, not hell! And because the Douro is itself mountainous, grapes are grown at altitudes ranging between 100m (by the river) to up to 900m above sea level and facing every which way – north, south, east and west. Given that temperatures can drop by up to one degree centigrade for every 100m you climb, plus aspect affects exposure to sunshine and wind which in turn impact on the ripening process, the Douro can make elegant red and white wines, as well as robust Ports and red wines. It was to elegance that I looked for this Sip & Savour tasting in the height of summer.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Sixtyone-Restaurant blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Sixtyone Restaurant

Sixtyone Restaurant – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

Naturally, food writer Sip & Savour’s Amber Dalton came up with a fine foodie foil for the wines in the shape of Sixtyone Restaurant. Chef/Patron Arnaud Stevens tempers big bold flavours with his elegant touch. He told us his menu for this tasting was very much informed by matching the acidity – the freshness – of the Portuguese wines.

Which brings me to our first example, our refreshing, intensely mineral aperitif, Quinta do Ameal Loureiro 2013. I had deliberately selected single varietal, sub-regional Vinho Verdes because they brilliantly kick into touch any lingering stereo-types about Vinho Verde being dilute and too acidic. Based in Nogueira in the heart of the sub-region of Lima where the Loureiro grape thrives, Quinta do Ameal has long produced the region’s benchmark example.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Quinta-do-Ameal blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Quinta do Ameal

Quinta do Ameal – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

The secret to Ameal’s success? Aside from being in the right spot (Lima, on south-facing slopes), vaulting ambition helps. Owner Pedro Aruajo is descended from Adriano Ramos Pinto of Port fame and has plainly brought his great grand-father’s magic touch to Ameal. So when it comes to the raw material, Aruajo has slashed yields in order to ensure that his organically grown grapes are healthy and concentrated in aroma and flavour. In the winery, he has employed none other than Vinho Verde guru Anselmo Mendes to ensure that the grapes’ lively lime and celery salt aromas and flavours and cool minerality are preserved in the glass. Well received, it was the perfect tonic on such a hot and humid London day.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Octupus-Carpaccio blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Octupus Carpaccio

Octopus Carpaccio – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

For the Vinho Verde pair which we enjoyed with this stunning starter of octopus carpaccio, red pepper, wood sorrel, sesame, I looked for even more intensity and concentration. So it made sense to show off Vinho Verde’s warmest, driest sub-region, Monção e Melgaço, the epicentre of Portugal’s flagship white grape, Alvarinho. What’s more, two of its greatest exponents, Quinta do Soalheiro and Anselmo Mendes.

Though you might expect it to be cooler than Lima to the south, Monção e Melgaço is located well inland, where the land starts to rise and the topography helps to shelter the vineyards from Atlantic influence. So the climate is a little more continental, which explains why the grapes attain good ripeness (hotter days), yet also have good acidity (nights are significantly cooler). It makes for Vinho Verde’s most powerfully fruity yet fresh, long-lived wines; my audience was struck by the relative delicacy and minerality of the Loureiro compared with the two Alvarinhos.

As for which of the pair most caught their fancy, at Sip & Savour events we always ask which wine people most preferred on its own and which with the food. In this case, the answer was the same. Quinta do Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas Alvarinho 2013 just pipped Anselmo Mendes Contacto Alvarinho 2014 on both counts. Made from the oldest vines at the Cerdeira family’s organically cultivated estate (planted in 1974, they were Melgaço’s first) and with a barrel-fermented component (15%), Quinta do Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas 2013 had greater complexity. Its subtle savoury nuances chimed brilliantly well with the sherry vinegar, sesame oil and pine nuts in the octopus’ marinade. But it was a close call. I also loved the honeysuckle perfume and bounteous peach and apricot fruit of the bolder Contacto from lower vineyards closer to the Minho river in Monção. (Incidentally, this wine takes its name from the fact that the crushed grapes stay in contact with skins for a short period prior to fermentation. Why? Because the skins harbour the most aroma and flavor compounds and can add a touch of texture to the wine too).

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Main-Course blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Main Course

Roasted Guinea Fowl – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

For our main course of roasted guinea fowl, coco beans, tomatoes, peas, black olive, lime, I’d selected two Douro reds, Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Tinto and Conceito Contraste Vinho Tinto. Both were from the elegant 2012 vintage and made by winemakers who place great emphasis on freshness and balance.

At Casa Ferreirinha (which makes iconic Douro red Barca Velha) Luis Sottomayor follows the tradition of sourcing grapes from different altitudes for elegant balance. It helps that Sogrape (Casa Ferreirinha’s owner) has two Douro Superior estates – Quinta da Leda at 150m-400m and Quinta do Sairrão which rises to over 600m. As for Rita Ferreira Marques, she contends that the freshness of Conceito’s wines stems from the Teja Valley being the Douro’s coolest spot. Not just because of elevation (her vineyards are located at 300-450m), but also because of the Teja Valley’s distance from the tempering influence of the Douro river. It was a quality (freshness) that I was able to demonstrate more emphatically than I’d originally intended when it transpired that her importer had sent Contraste Branco (white), not the red!

The inadvertent pairing of the main course with a white and red wine brought to mind João Pires’ wise words about taking your cue from the colour of the dish. Not for nothing is he a Master Sommelier! Like many Portuguese whites, Conceito Contraste Branco is not overtly fruity and, with its vegetal notes, it performed a harmonious duet with the thyme, rosemary and tomato notes in the dish as well as the protein; its acidity cut through the creamy saucing too. Most preferred it with the guinea fowl. On the other hand, with its bright still very primary fruit, most people preferred the Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Tinto on its own. The fruit was a little too overwhelming for the delicate flavours and creamy texture of this dish.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Desert blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Desert

The Dessert – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

You need only look at this dessert to put on weight! Suffice to say, it would be difficult to find a wine to overwhelm salt caramel chocolate tart with caramel marshmallow and salt caramel ice cream. Rather, the challenge might be to find a wine to stand up to it, so a fortified wine made sense. But if the dessert and dessert wine were to be pronounced the perfect match (as indeed they were), then the wine had to have sufficient freshness to cut through the richness of the dish and cleanse the palate after each (heavenly) mouthful. Step forward Moscatel do Douro, the Douro’s lesser known fortified wine, not to mention Portugal’s lesser known fortified Moscatel (Moscatel de Setubal being of higher profile).

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Quinta-do-Portal blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Quinta do Portal

Quinta do Portal – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

The Douro’s Moscatels are made from Moscatel Galego, a.k.a. Muscat à Petits Grains, a different, more delicate variety to Moscatel de Setubal. Our example, Quinta do Portal Moscatel do Douro Reserva 2004, also comes from the Mansilha Branco family’s much higher, cooler, acidity preserving vineyards in Favaios at 600m at the northern end of the Pinhão Valley. Not only did it have the freshness to bring balance to the ensemble (especially when served chilled) but, having been aged for several years in wood (none new), it also had the depth of flavor and complexity to marry with the chocolate tart and all its intricate, textural accompaniments. So well that the restaurant was bathed in a reverential silence for minutes! What a perfect ending.

A Taste of Alentejo at London’s New Portal to Portugal

Text Sarah Ahmed

It was a thrill to present a tasting on behalf of the Alentejo Wine Commission at one of London’s hottest new restaurants, Taberna do Mercado.  And even more exciting that, not only is its chef/patron Portuguese, so is the food and wine. Which may sound a strange thing to say but, thus far, Nuno Mendes’ renown has rested on the eclectic, highly innovative dishes of his previous restaurant, Michelin-starred Viajante, now his American accented menu at celeb hang out Chiltern Firehouse (where he is Head Chef).

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting-Nuno-Mendes alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting Nuno Mendes

Nuno Mendes – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

In an interview with Mendes a couple of years ago, he let slip about his plans to open “a very casual, fun, modern but rustic Portuguese restaurant in London.” But there was a problem.  He explained, despite Portugal’s “wealth of amazing unique products,” it was hard to source them,  Why?  He said because, “production is very limited in quantity and second very few artisan producers see the potential outside the local market to expand their project.”

Fully expecting him to have overcome these challenges, I asked him what had changed since we last spoke. Mendes asked, “did I want the nice answer or the true answer?”  Naturally, I said the truth!  Admitting “it makes me sad,” Mendes remains palpably frustrated that, in the UK, sourcing the very best Portuguese products of which he can be “super-proud” has still proved elusive. He observed, UK-based Portuguese-owned importers are “mostly used to supplying the local ex-pat community” (as opposed to high-end restaurants with demanding ‘foodie’ customers).  It reminds me of a point he made when we first met and emphasised how important it was in his field “to be aware of what’s happening in the food and wine world and to find a way to fit it in other people’s realities.” It’s why, he adds, “I had to walk away” from Portugal when he opened Viajante – the range of products did not fit with his Michelin-starred reality. It was “not amazing,” nor could he count on consistency of supply.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting

Taberna do Mercado – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

The good news?  Where he sees Taberna do Mercado as “the portal to tap into Portugal’s great resources,” he tells me “I’m not giving up.”   He may be softly spoken and modest of demeanour, but there’s a steely determination in Mendes’ eyes when he reveals his solution. Pointing out “I have many more connections than the importers based here,” (not to mention a Michelin-starred chef’s fastidiousness about sourcing the very best), he plans to set up his own export/import business. After all, his reputation depends on it. And the stakes are high where, given supply issues, he believes it’s premature for Portuguese food to be touted as the next big thing as The Daily Telegraph recently suggested. It is why he asserts, “now is where the research comes in…we can’t relax, we have to push ourselves and bring in the best…we have to evolve”. There is no room for complacency.

Shortly after the tasting, I paused to reflect on Mendes’ comments in relation to Portuguese wine when a journalist asked me why it has yet to really hit the big time. I am pleased to report that the UK has been rather better served by its wine importers, especially Portuguese specialists Raymond Reynolds and Oakley Wine Agencies who have helped their producer clients navigate the highly competitive UK market with aplomb. But if, like Mendes, I am to be Portugal’s critical friend, the truth is that far too many Portuguese producers have yet to find a way to fit into the realities of the UK market, which is widely acknowledged as the most competitive in the world. What’s more, ‘cellar palate’ (becoming too habituated to your own wines, including flaws) can be a problem. It’s why the most successful Portuguese winemakers themselves keep visiting the UK to understand where their wines best fit (and to benchmark them against the competition). It also helps to ensure that they are still seen and heard in our crowded, noisy marketplace.

Happily, all eight producers whose wines I showed in my master-classes at Taberna do Mercado are represented in the UK. But there is still work to be done where Alentejo has forged it reputation in the UK on a bedrock of great value, fruity, approachable reds.  The next step is to raise the profile and appreciation of its premium, terroir-driven red and white wines among fine wine lovers (white wines now represent around 20% of wines from Alentejo). It was a challenge to which I gladly rose.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting-Nuno-Mendes-Sarah-Ahmed Alentejo alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting Nuno Mendes Sarah Ahmed

Me and Nuno Mendes talk Alentejo wine & food – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

My selection of wines was accompanied by Mendes’ contemporary take on petiscos (how’s that for fitting them into the realities of the UK market) and followed by an excellent tasting of Alentejo olive oils presented by Teresa Zacarias of Casa do Azeite. Here are my notes on the wines, together with some background on what individuates this diverse selection in terms of terroir and winemaking.  As you’ll see, the Alentejo is not as flat or unremittingly hot as regional stereo-types would have you believe. What’s more, all the grapes were hand-picked.

Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho Reserva Branco 2013 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this single varietal Antão Vaz comes from Vidigueira, one of Alentejo’s eight DOC sub-regions.  Despite being the southernmost, it has a long tradition of producing white wines. Why?  It’s all to do with the lie of the land, specifically, the Vidigueira fault, a 50km west-facing escarpment known as the Serra do Mendro which marks the border between the Upper and Lower Alentejo.  Rising to 420m it traps cool and humid Atlantic winds which cool the region with overnight fogs.  Cold air also descends from the Serra do Mendro at night.  What’s more, when southern winds bring clouds, the escarpment causes a cloudburst (rainfall). For winemaker Catarina Vieira, this is what accounts for Vidigueira’s “very mineral, elegant and fresh wines that can age very well.” She believes that the sandy soils also enhance the minerality of her Antão Vaz, which is sourced from her best, dry grown, low cropping 24 year old vines.

Winemaking: Hand-picked early (on 3rd & 4th September) to preserve freshness (no acidification is required), the wine fermented in new 300 litre French oak barrels for around 20 days.  It was then taken off lees and aged in barrel for five months. Meanwhile, the fine lees were aged for two months in second use barrels with daily batonnage for a month or so, then added back to the wine.  For Vieira, this work with the fine lees is very important for the minerality, freshness and for the aging potential of this wine.”

Tasting note: thanks to the work with the lees it exhibits struck match/flinty notes to nose and lemony palate, with hints of green olive, under-ripe pineapple and dried pear as it opens up. A long, firm, mineral finish with racy, grapefruity acidity sustained my sample bottle of this wine well into day three. 13.5%

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting-House-Canned-Fish alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting House Canned Fish

House-canned fish Nuno Mendes style – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

Cartuxa Pêra Manca Branco 2012 (DOC Alentejo)

Terroir: this blend of 62% Antão Vaz and 38% Arinto comes from Évora, another DOC sub-region, this time in the Alto/upper Alentejo.  The fruit was sourced from three parcels of Cartuxa’s oldest vineyards on slopes which rise to 300 metres above sea level. Planted in 1980 on brown granitic soils, the vines were dry grown.

Winemaking: for this fuller-bodied, more traditionally-styled white, the fruit was hand-picked later and in three stages for complexity (12, 18 & 19 September). Following de-stemming and crushing, a portion of the grapes was left in contact with the skins prior to fermentation.  Sixty-seven percent of the wine was fermented and aged on the lees for 12 months in French oak barrels (60% new) with batonnage for body, complexity and ageing potential. The balance was aged in stainless steel (to enhance fruitiness) with lots of batonnage (for body).  There was no acidification.

Tasting note: a rich, beeswaxy nose with stone fruits, especially apricot close to the kernel, which notes follow through on a palate with a pronounced nuttiness (fresh marzipan/calisson) and vanillin oak. Though weighty, a ripe but zesty backbone of citrus acidity brings balance and teases out a long, leesy, savoury finish with lemon and orange peel nuances. A powerful wine, which often puts me in mind of an Hermitage from the Northern Rhône, France.  13.5%

Monte da Ravasqueira MR Premium Rosé 2013(VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this rosé made from 100% Touriga Nacional is from Arraiolos in the Évora district of Alto Alentejo.  For winemaker Pedro Pereira, the key to the freshness of Monte da Ravasqueira’s range lies in the estate’s very pronounced diurnal temperature variation.  Even in the hottest months of July and August when temperatures might hit 40 degrees centigrade, at night the temperature can fall below 10 degrees. Cool nights help the grapes to retain acidity better; it’s good for aromatics and structure too. Gonçalves attributes this strong diurnal to the amphitheatre-like topography of the vineyard (all 45 hectares are planted on slopes rising to 270m), together with the surrounding forest and dams. Though supplemental irrigation is required, clay-limestone soils have good moisture retention while granite outcrops seem to enhance minerality/freshness, as in the Dão.

Winemaking: where Gonçalves’ style revolves around “freshness + complexity (a matrix of flavours) + varietal character + intensity + concentration,” he sourced fruit from five different parcels (by row orientation-exposure, soil type and canopy management) and hand-harvested the grapes on different days, ranging from 8 September to 27 September. The grapes were kept in refrigerated containers between two to 20 days at two degrees for concentration and to enhance aromatic potential and fruit. Two parcels were pressed directly to new French oak barrels and naturally fermented with batonnage on full solids.  The other three were first settled and inoculated with yeast prior to transfer to new French oak barrels on the second day of fermentation. All five parcels were aged in barrel on the lees for six months with light batonnage for the first 2 months.

Tasting note: Touriga Nacional seems to lend itself well to rosé wines and this is an unusual example, savoury yet fruity, round, yet fresh. It’s thoroughly delicious with savoury, creamy lees, delicate wild strawberries, strawberry shortbread and refreshing peach tea. Mineral acidity brings freshness and persistence to its lingering finish.  13%

Susana Esteban Aventura Tinto 2013 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this, my first red, is from the Alto/Upper Alentejo but is a blend of DOC sub-regions.  Esteban sources the Aragonês and Touriga Nacional (40% and 20% of the blend respectively) from a dry grown 15 year old vineyard in Évora at 300m on clay/limestone soils. The balance is a mix of varieties from a dry grown 30 year old field blend vineyard in Portalegre, the Alto Alentejo’s northernmost sub-region. It’s not just the northerly location which accounts for Portalegre being Alentejo’s coolest, wettest area. The Serra de São Mamede mountain – at over 1000m, the highest point in southern Portugal – provides serious elevation (up to 800m) and poor granitic soils. Where Esteban’s aim is “to make a fresh wine, with character but appealing at the same time,” she looks to Portalegre for freshness and austerity, while Évora provides the heat which the winemaker believes Touriga Nacional and Aragones need to show their potential (though she emphasises “I have attention to pick with only 13 or 13% alcohol).

Winemaking: the grapes are hand-picked and naturally fermented (with no acidification) in small stainless steel temperature controlled lagares. I very much like the fact that Esteban has put the emphasis squarely on the fruit and freshness – this wine is unoaked.

Tasting note: wonderful vibrancy and texture (think crushed velvet) to its pure, freshly picked and puréed (so it feels) fruits of the forest. Smooth tannins and sappy acidity reinforce the charming immediacy of this youthful red. Lovely.  13.5%

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Casa do Porco Preto, Alentejo at Taberna do Mercado – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

Herdade de São  Miguel Reserva 2012 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: Herdade de São  Miguel is located in the Redondo sub-region (a DOC) of the Alto/Upper Alentejo. For Alexandre Relvas junior the Serra d’Ossa hills (which rise to 650 metres) shelter Redondo’s vineyards from northerly and easterly winds and furnish cold, dry winters to offset the hot, sun-drenched summers.  His vineyard is located at 400m on low yielding clay/schist soils which produce concentrated, small berries. This wine is a blend of 80% Alicante Bouschet, 15% Aragonez and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon from 13 year old vines.

Winemaking: hand harvested fruit is totally de-stemmed and undergoes a 48 hour cold soak prior to fermentation in open stainless steel lagares with automatic pigeurs for softer extraction, a bit of natural oxidation too “to help fix colour and tannins from the beginning” says Relvas. It was aged for 12 months in 400 litre French oak barrels (50% new).

Tasting note: an intense nose of blackcurrant and bramble fruit with a touch of vanillin oak and dusty schist undertones, which follow through on a succulent palate with lovely freshness. Though only five percent of the blend, the Cabernet is quite evident in flavour profile (blackcurrant with a hint of mint) and fine, gravelly, mineral tannins. It does not have the concentration or complexity of the (more expensive) wines which followed, but it’s well balanced and persistent. Very well made, indeed wears its 15% abv lightly.

Quinta do Mouro Touriga Nacional 2010 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: This single varietal Touriga Nacional is from Estremoz in the Borba sub-region (a DOC) of the Alto/Upper Alentejo.  It is north of Redondo and just north of the Serra d’Ossa, which offers a little protection from the warm south winds.  Where Quinta do Mouro is at 420m, elevation also tempers the climate, as do plunging night-time temperatures which, says winemaker Luis Louro, can be 20 degrees lower than in the day “especially at the later stages of maturation, and fogs are common.” Schist soils and dry-farmed vineyards also account for the very structured, ageworthy and characterful style of Mouro’s reds. Sourced from “a very good” Douro vineyard in 1998, the Touriga Nacional was grafted onto Castelão vines which had been planted in 1989.

Winemaking: hand-harvested fruit was partially de-stemmed, leaving around 10% whole bunch for a bit more structure and fresher flavours.  The grapes were foot-trodden in lagares and underwent a two day cold soak prior to starting fermentation. It finished fermenting in stainless steel tanks with temperature control and, after pressing, was aged for 12 months in new 300 litre French oak barrels.

Tasting note: a deep, opaque plum hue with an exotic bergamot perfume which provides lift to a concentrated raspberry and plum, vanillin-edged palate together with lively peppery whole bunch notes, dried sage and mint. Textured suede-like tannins cleave the flavours to the palate, amplifying its intensity and back palate resonance.  Powerful, a little wild even, yet balanced. A charismatic single varietal Touriga. 14%

João Portugal Ramos Marquês de Borba Reserva 2012 (DOC Alentejo)

Terroir: also from Estremoz, this blend of 30% Trincadeira, 30% Aragones, 25% Alicante Bouschet and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon comes from João Portugal Ramos’ original vineyard.  The vines, planted in 1989, are located around his house and have  been the source of this wine since it was first made in 1997. Located at 350m on very old schist

Winemaking: hand harvested grapes are picking grapes at night and early in the morning.  The grapes are partially de-stemmed (50% whole bunch) and start co-fermenting (naturally) in marble lagares with foot treading. For Ramos the advantages of the lagares include a higher area of contact between the liquid and the solid part of the must, gentle homogenisation of the must (because a thinner cap is formed compared to the normal tanks) and the aesthetics of the local marble (which, incidentally Mendes has used for his table tops at Taberna do Mercado). The final third of the fermentation is completed in stainless steel vats with the benefit of temperature control.  The post-ferment maceration usually lasts about two weeks. The wine is then matured for 18 months in French 225 litre oak barrels (two thirds of which are new).

Tasting note: a very polished red with tobacco and cigar box to nose and palate. Red fruits dominate the attack while the Cabernet becomes more assertive going through, bringing well-defined blackcurrant fruit and a spray coating of fine but plentiful powdery tannins which build in the mouth. Dry, firm, focused and very fine with excellent balancing freshness. The tightest of the reds, it has great ageing potential. 14.5%

Herdade do Mouchão 2010 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this blend of around 70% Alicante Bouschet and 30% Trincadeira comes from one of the region’s most established players, Herdade do Mouchão, which has belonged to the same family since 1874. Mouchão was the first vineyard to be planted to Alicante Bouschet and the current vines trace their genetic origin back to this original 19th century stock. Mouchão is in Sousel to the north of Borba in the Alto/Upper Alentejo.  The Alicante Bouschet is sourced from several parcels near the winery at around 230m and ranging between 10 and 30 years old. Located on a delta between two small rivers, the sandy topsoil is well-drained but the deep clay beneath retains the humidity which allows for a balanced maturation, freshness and good acidity. The hallmarks of Mouchão’s great ageing potential. The thinner skinned Trincadeira benefits from being planted on higher, well-drained ground at around 400m.

Winemaking: this most traditional of wines is hand picked and fermented in the old winery’s original stone lagares with 100% stems.  It is then aged in large old 5,000 litre toneis for two to three years. It spends a further two to three years in bottle before being released.

Tasting note: a very deep hue with a rich, very complex nose and palate – almost a meal in itself – but a balanced one.  Mouchão 2010 has savoury layers of mellow dried fig, black olive and incipient leather with inky floral, tobacco, berber whisky (stewed mint tea) and eucalyptus top notes.  Sturdy, spicy, grape-driven tannins build in the mouth, yet are very well integrated – not in the least aggressive.  A very long, involving finish has this estate’s warm earth, slightly bloody, ironstone tang. Terrific sense of place. 14%

A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal

Text Sarah Ahmed

It was a thrill to present a tasting on behalf of the Alentejo Wine Commission at one of London’s hottest new restaurants, Taberna do Mercado.  And even more exciting that, not only is its chef/patron Portuguese, so is the food and wine. Which may sound a strange thing to say but, thus far, Nuno Mendes’ renown has rested on the eclectic, highly innovative dishes of his previous restaurant, Michelin-starred Viajante, now his American accented menu at celeb hang out Chiltern Firehouse (where he is Head Chef).

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting-Nuno-Mendes alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting Nuno Mendes

Nuno Mendes – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

In an interview with Mendes a couple of years ago, he let slip about his plans to open “a very casual, fun, modern but rustic Portuguese restaurant in London.” But there was a problem.  He explained, despite Portugal’s “wealth of amazing unique products,” it was hard to source them,  Why?  He said because, “production is very limited in quantity and second very few artisan producers see the potential outside the local market to expand their project.”

Fully expecting him to have overcome these challenges, I asked him what had changed since we last spoke. Mendes asked, “did I want the nice answer or the true answer?”  Naturally, I said the truth!  Admitting “it makes me sad,” Mendes remains palpably frustrated that, in the UK, sourcing the very best Portuguese products of which he can be “super-proud” has still proved elusive. He observed, UK-based Portuguese-owned importers are “mostly used to supplying the local ex-pat community” (as opposed to high-end restaurants with demanding ‘foodie’ customers).  It reminds me of a point he made when we first met and emphasised how important it was in his field “to be aware of what’s happening in the food and wine world and to find a way to fit it in other people’s realities.” It’s why, he adds, “I had to walk away” from Portugal when he opened Viajante – the range of products did not fit with his Michelin-starred reality. It was “not amazing,” nor could he count on consistency of supply.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting

Taberna do Mercado – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

The good news?  Where he sees Taberna do Mercado as “the portal to tap into Portugal’s great resources,” he tells me “I’m not giving up.”   He may be softly spoken and modest of demeanour, but there’s a steely determination in Mendes’ eyes when he reveals his solution. Pointing out “I have many more connections than the importers based here,” (not to mention a Michelin-starred chef’s fastidiousness about sourcing the very best), he plans to set up his own export/import business. After all, his reputation depends on it. And the stakes are high where, given supply issues, he believes it’s premature for Portuguese food to be touted as the next big thing as The Daily Telegraph recently suggested. It is why he asserts, “now is where the research comes in…we can’t relax, we have to push ourselves and bring in the best…we have to evolve”. There is no room for complacency.

Shortly after the tasting, I paused to reflect on Mendes’ comments in relation to Portuguese wine when a journalist asked me why it has yet to really hit the big time. I am pleased to report that the UK has been rather better served by its wine importers, especially Portuguese specialists Raymond Reynolds and Oakley Wine Agencies who have helped their producer clients navigate the highly competitive UK market with aplomb. But if, like Mendes, I am to be Portugal’s critical friend, the truth is that far too many Portuguese producers have yet to find a way to fit into the realities of the UK market, which is widely acknowledged as the most competitive in the world. What’s more, ‘cellar palate’ (becoming too habituated to your own wines, including flaws) can be a problem. It’s why the most successful Portuguese winemakers themselves keep visiting the UK to understand where their wines best fit (and to benchmark them against the competition). It also helps to ensure that they are still seen and heard in our crowded, noisy marketplace.

Happily, all eight producers whose wines I showed in my master-classes at Taberna do Mercado are represented in the UK. But there is still work to be done where Alentejo has forged it reputation in the UK on a bedrock of great value, fruity, approachable reds.  The next step is to raise the profile and appreciation of its premium, terroir-driven red and white wines among fine wine lovers (white wines now represent around 20% of wines from Alentejo). It was a challenge to which I gladly rose.

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Me and Nuno Mendes talk Alentejo wine & food – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

My selection of wines was accompanied by Mendes’ contemporary take on petiscos (how’s that for fitting them into the realities of the UK market) and followed by an excellent tasting of Alentejo olive oils presented by Teresa Zacarias of Casa do Azeite. Here are my notes on the wines, together with some background on what individuates this diverse selection in terms of terroir and winemaking.  As you’ll see, the Alentejo is not as flat or unremittingly hot as regional stereo-types would have you believe. What’s more, all the grapes were hand-picked.

Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho Reserva Branco 2013 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this single varietal Antão Vaz comes from Vidigueira, one of Alentejo’s eight DOC sub-regions.  Despite being the southernmost, it has a long tradition of producing white wines. Why?  It’s all to do with the lie of the land, specifically, the Vidigueira fault, a 50km west-facing escarpment known as the Serra do Mendro which marks the border between the Upper and Lower Alentejo.  Rising to 420m it traps cool and humid Atlantic winds which cool the region with overnight fogs.  Cold air also descends from the Serra do Mendro at night.  What’s more, when southern winds bring clouds, the escarpment causes a cloudburst (rainfall). For winemaker Catarina Vieira, this is what accounts for Vidigueira’s “very mineral, elegant and fresh wines that can age very well.” She believes that the sandy soils also enhance the minerality of her Antão Vaz, which is sourced from her best, dry grown, low cropping 24 year old vines.

Winemaking: Hand-picked early (on 3rd & 4th September) to preserve freshness (no acidification is required), the wine fermented in new 300 litre French oak barrels for around 20 days.  It was then taken off lees and aged in barrel for five months. Meanwhile, the fine lees were aged for two months in second use barrels with daily batonnage for a month or so, then added back to the wine.  For Vieira, this work with the fine lees is very important for the minerality, freshness and for the aging potential of this wine.”

Tasting note: thanks to the work with the lees it exhibits struck match/flinty notes to nose and lemony palate, with hints of green olive, under-ripe pineapple and dried pear as it opens up. A long, firm, mineral finish with racy, grapefruity acidity sustained my sample bottle of this wine well into day three. 13.5%

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House-canned fish Nuno Mendes style – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

Cartuxa Pêra Manca Branco 2012 (DOC Alentejo)

Terroir: this blend of 62% Antão Vaz and 38% Arinto comes from Évora, another DOC sub-region, this time in the Alto/upper Alentejo.  The fruit was sourced from three parcels of Cartuxa’s oldest vineyards on slopes which rise to 300 metres above sea level. Planted in 1980 on brown granitic soils, the vines were dry grown.

Winemaking: for this fuller-bodied, more traditionally-styled white, the fruit was hand-picked later and in three stages for complexity (12, 18 & 19 September). Following de-stemming and crushing, a portion of the grapes was left in contact with the skins prior to fermentation.  Sixty-seven percent of the wine was fermented and aged on the lees for 12 months in French oak barrels (60% new) with batonnage for body, complexity and ageing potential. The balance was aged in stainless steel (to enhance fruitiness) with lots of batonnage (for body).  There was no acidification.

Tasting note: a rich, beeswaxy nose with stone fruits, especially apricot close to the kernel, which notes follow through on a palate with a pronounced nuttiness (fresh marzipan/calisson) and vanillin oak. Though weighty, a ripe but zesty backbone of citrus acidity brings balance and teases out a long, leesy, savoury finish with lemon and orange peel nuances. A powerful wine, which often puts me in mind of an Hermitage from the Northern Rhône, France.  13.5%

Monte da Ravasqueira MR Premium Rosé 2013(VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this rosé made from 100% Touriga Nacional is from Arraiolos in the Évora district of Alto Alentejo.  For winemaker Pedro Pereira, the key to the freshness of Monte da Ravasqueira’s range lies in the estate’s very pronounced diurnal temperature variation.  Even in the hottest months of July and August when temperatures might hit 40 degrees centigrade, at night the temperature can fall below 10 degrees. Cool nights help the grapes to retain acidity better; it’s good for aromatics and structure too. Gonçalves attributes this strong diurnal to the amphitheatre-like topography of the vineyard (all 45 hectares are planted on slopes rising to 270m), together with the surrounding forest and dams. Though supplemental irrigation is required, clay-limestone soils have good moisture retention while granite outcrops seem to enhance minerality/freshness, as in the Dão.

Winemaking: where Gonçalves’ style revolves around “freshness + complexity (a matrix of flavours) + varietal character + intensity + concentration,” he sourced fruit from five different parcels (by row orientation-exposure, soil type and canopy management) and hand-harvested the grapes on different days, ranging from 8 September to 27 September. The grapes were kept in refrigerated containers between two to 20 days at two degrees for concentration and to enhance aromatic potential and fruit. Two parcels were pressed directly to new French oak barrels and naturally fermented with batonnage on full solids.  The other three were first settled and inoculated with yeast prior to transfer to new French oak barrels on the second day of fermentation. All five parcels were aged in barrel on the lees for six months with light batonnage for the first 2 months.

Tasting note: Touriga Nacional seems to lend itself well to rosé wines and this is an unusual example, savoury yet fruity, round, yet fresh. It’s thoroughly delicious with savoury, creamy lees, delicate wild strawberries, strawberry shortbread and refreshing peach tea. Mineral acidity brings freshness and persistence to its lingering finish.  13%

Susana Esteban Aventura Tinto 2013 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this, my first red, is from the Alto/Upper Alentejo but is a blend of DOC sub-regions.  Esteban sources the Aragonês and Touriga Nacional (40% and 20% of the blend respectively) from a dry grown 15 year old vineyard in Évora at 300m on clay/limestone soils. The balance is a mix of varieties from a dry grown 30 year old field blend vineyard in Portalegre, the Alto Alentejo’s northernmost sub-region. It’s not just the northerly location which accounts for Portalegre being Alentejo’s coolest, wettest area. The Serra de São Mamede mountain – at over 1000m, the highest point in southern Portugal – provides serious elevation (up to 800m) and poor granitic soils. Where Esteban’s aim is “to make a fresh wine, with character but appealing at the same time,” she looks to Portalegre for freshness and austerity, while Évora provides the heat which the winemaker believes Touriga Nacional and Aragones need to show their potential (though she emphasises “I have attention to pick with only 13 or 13% alcohol).

Winemaking: the grapes are hand-picked and naturally fermented (with no acidification) in small stainless steel temperature controlled lagares. I very much like the fact that Esteban has put the emphasis squarely on the fruit and freshness – this wine is unoaked.

Tasting note: wonderful vibrancy and texture (think crushed velvet) to its pure, freshly picked and puréed (so it feels) fruits of the forest. Smooth tannins and sappy acidity reinforce the charming immediacy of this youthful red. Lovely.  13.5%

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting-Casa-do-Porco-Preto alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting Casa do Porco Preto

Casa do Porco Preto, Alentejo at Taberna do Mercado – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

Herdade de São  Miguel Reserva 2012 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: Herdade de São  Miguel is located in the Redondo sub-region (a DOC) of the Alto/Upper Alentejo. For Alexandre Relvas junior the Serra d’Ossa hills (which rise to 650 metres) shelter Redondo’s vineyards from northerly and easterly winds and furnish cold, dry winters to offset the hot, sun-drenched summers.  His vineyard is located at 400m on low yielding clay/schist soils which produce concentrated, small berries. This wine is a blend of 80% Alicante Bouschet, 15% Aragonez and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon from 13 year old vines.

Winemaking: hand harvested fruit is totally de-stemmed and undergoes a 48 hour cold soak prior to fermentation in open stainless steel lagares with automatic pigeurs for softer extraction, a bit of natural oxidation too “to help fix colour and tannins from the beginning” says Relvas. It was aged for 12 months in 400 litre French oak barrels (50% new).

Tasting note: an intense nose of blackcurrant and bramble fruit with a touch of vanillin oak and dusty schist undertones, which follow through on a succulent palate with lovely freshness. Though only five percent of the blend, the Cabernet is quite evident in flavour profile (blackcurrant with a hint of mint) and fine, gravelly, mineral tannins. It does not have the concentration or complexity of the (more expensive) wines which followed, but it’s well balanced and persistent. Very well made, indeed wears its 15% abv lightly.

Quinta do Mouro Touriga Nacional 2010 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: This single varietal Touriga Nacional is from Estremoz in the Borba sub-region (a DOC) of the Alto/Upper Alentejo.  It is north of Redondo and just north of the Serra d’Ossa, which offers a little protection from the warm south winds.  Where Quinta do Mouro is at 420m, elevation also tempers the climate, as do plunging night-time temperatures which, says winemaker Luis Louro, can be 20 degrees lower than in the day “especially at the later stages of maturation, and fogs are common.” Schist soils and dry-farmed vineyards also account for the very structured, ageworthy and characterful style of Mouro’s reds. Sourced from “a very good” Douro vineyard in 1998, the Touriga Nacional was grafted onto Castelão vines which had been planted in 1989.

Winemaking: hand-harvested fruit was partially de-stemmed, leaving around 10% whole bunch for a bit more structure and fresher flavours.  The grapes were foot-trodden in lagares and underwent a two day cold soak prior to starting fermentation. It finished fermenting in stainless steel tanks with temperature control and, after pressing, was aged for 12 months in new 300 litre French oak barrels.

Tasting note: a deep, opaque plum hue with an exotic bergamot perfume which provides lift to a concentrated raspberry and plum, vanillin-edged palate together with lively peppery whole bunch notes, dried sage and mint. Textured suede-like tannins cleave the flavours to the palate, amplifying its intensity and back palate resonance.  Powerful, a little wild even, yet balanced. A charismatic single varietal Touriga. 14%

João Portugal Ramos Marquês de Borba Reserva 2012 (DOC Alentejo)

Terroir: also from Estremoz, this blend of 30% Trincadeira, 30% Aragones, 25% Alicante Bouschet and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon comes from João Portugal Ramos’ original vineyard.  The vines, planted in 1989, are located around his house and have  been the source of this wine since it was first made in 1997. Located at 350m on very old schist

Winemaking: hand harvested grapes are picking grapes at night and early in the morning.  The grapes are partially de-stemmed (50% whole bunch) and start co-fermenting (naturally) in marble lagares with foot treading. For Ramos the advantages of the lagares include a higher area of contact between the liquid and the solid part of the must, gentle homogenisation of the must (because a thinner cap is formed compared to the normal tanks) and the aesthetics of the local marble (which, incidentally Mendes has used for his table tops at Taberna do Mercado). The final third of the fermentation is completed in stainless steel vats with the benefit of temperature control.  The post-ferment maceration usually lasts about two weeks. The wine is then matured for 18 months in French 225 litre oak barrels (two thirds of which are new).

Tasting note: a very polished red with tobacco and cigar box to nose and palate. Red fruits dominate the attack while the Cabernet becomes more assertive going through, bringing well-defined blackcurrant fruit and a spray coating of fine but plentiful powdery tannins which build in the mouth. Dry, firm, focused and very fine with excellent balancing freshness. The tightest of the reds, it has great ageing potential. 14.5%

Herdade do Mouchão 2010 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this blend of around 70% Alicante Bouschet and 30% Trincadeira comes from one of the region’s most established players, Herdade do Mouchão, which has belonged to the same family since 1874. Mouchão was the first vineyard to be planted to Alicante Bouschet and the current vines trace their genetic origin back to this original 19th century stock. Mouchão is in Sousel to the north of Borba in the Alto/Upper Alentejo.  The Alicante Bouschet is sourced from several parcels near the winery at around 230m and ranging between 10 and 30 years old. Located on a delta between two small rivers, the sandy topsoil is well-drained but the deep clay beneath retains the humidity which allows for a balanced maturation, freshness and good acidity. The hallmarks of Mouchão’s great ageing potential. The thinner skinned Trincadeira benefits from being planted on higher, well-drained ground at around 400m.

Winemaking: this most traditional of wines is hand picked and fermented in the old winery’s original stone lagares with 100% stems.  It is then aged in large old 5,000 litre toneis for two to three years. It spends a further two to three years in bottle before being released.

Tasting note: a very deep hue with a rich, very complex nose and palate – almost a meal in itself – but a balanced one.  Mouchão 2010 has savoury layers of mellow dried fig, black olive and incipient leather with inky floral, tobacco, berber whisky (stewed mint tea) and eucalyptus top notes.  Sturdy, spicy, grape-driven tannins build in the mouth, yet are very well integrated – not in the least aggressive.  A very long, involving finish has this estate’s warm earth, slightly bloody, ironstone tang. Terrific sense of place. 14%

The Symington family’s new Vintages

Text José Silva | Translation Jani Dunne

The Symington family chose the renovated Casa de Chá de Boa Nova, in Leça da Palmeira – right on top of the cliffs and the sea –, to present its two most recent Port wines.

Blend-All-About-Symington-New-Wines-Casa-de-Cha the symington family’s new vintages The Symington family’s new Vintages Blend All About Symington New Wines Building

Casa de Chá da Boa Nova – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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The Cliffs – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Opposite the famous building by architect Siza Vieira stands the stone engraved with a verse by the poet António Nobre, who enjoyed musing for inspiration there.

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The place looks incredible – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

The place looks incredible, with light coming in from the sea, the restaurant now in charge of a team led by chef Rui Paula, who was able to not only provide an excellent flawless wine service, but also provide us with a delicious meal accompanied by wines from this Douro producer: the white Altanos full of freshness, elegant, of excellent acidity – modern whites. The Vesúvio reds are at a great level, full of structure, mighty yet elegant – very cuisine ready.

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Careful presentation – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

The Symington cousins, Charles and Ruper, made a careful presentation of the wines we were about to taste. Besides the two new wines, we made a short but delightful trip through a few superb Port wines. Charles Symington also did a peculiar and very interesting talk on the use of new technologies for studying and controlling vineyards, using techniques that completely master the earth’s morphology and composition, its humidity, acidity and many other parameters. What’s the goal here? Well, to continuously improve the vineyards’ performance and obtain ever better grapes. The results are out.

Blend-All-About-Symington-New-Wines-The Space-Grahams-Colheita-1972 the symington family’s new vintages The Symington family’s new Vintages Blend All About Symington New Wines The Space Grahams Colheita 1972

Grahams Colheita 1972 – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

We begin with two extraordinary Tawnies: first, the Grahams Colheita 1972, of a dark amber, and gold and brown streaks, proved a touch dry in the nose, notes of orange-tree flower, walnuts, hazelnuts, tobacco, full of scents. In the mouth, it has complexity, dry fruits, caramel, incredible acidity, some dry notes, it’s slightly smokey, ever evolving in the glass to an endless finish… already a classic Port.

Next followed Dow’s Colheita 1974 – of an average clear amber, it’s very elegant with notes of orange, some citrus, very delicate, almond-like scents, with spices, an authentic perfume. Excellent elegance in the mouth, powerful acidity, persistent, orange peel, still very refreshing, nuts and almonds, some smoke, tobacco, a very lasting finish for an extraordinary wine.

Blend-All-About-Symington-New-Wines-Dows-Vintage-1975 the symington family’s new vintages The Symington family’s new Vintages Blend All About Symington New Wines Dows Colheita 1974

Dow´s Vintage 1975 – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Next in turn were the Vintage; beginning with Dow’s Vintage 1975, they were served in an interesting fashion: poured from a sample Tappit Hen bottle of 2.1 litres, still used occasionally by the family. The wine is clearing up, revealing a pale hue of ruby. It’s extremely elegant in the nose, yet showing some fruit, jam and light notes of spices. Beautiful acidity, very engaging, some nuts, cherry, very elegant yet persistent, a lasting finish in a vintage that will continue developing for a long time. Next was Warre’s Vintage 1977, good-looking – a light average ruby. The austere nose, yet elegant, is smokey, still fresh, including notes of jam and fruits of the forest. In the mouth, it was deep, with amazing acidity, very complex, with notes of overripe fruit, still full of freshness, a lasting and flavourful finish. Finally, out came a delicious Graham’s Vintage 1977, a year of great Port for this producer. Unlike its cousins, the colour is amazing – a dark red, almost opaque. An amazing nose, deep, austere, but full of elegance, a lot of dark fruit, chocolate, very good. Very voluminous, very balanced but of mighty acidity, deliciously complex, some nuts, and an amazing, full, engaging finish; a great wine.

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Tasting – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Tasting – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

After a short break for a breath and two light talks by the two cousins about the new vintage wines, came the Dow’s Vintage 2013 by Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira. Opaque, almost black, and shiny. In the nose, it presented notes of dark chocolate, very ripe dark fruits, blackberries, plums, raisins, but was also very floral. Powerful in the mouth, sweet notes, chocolate, very ripe figs, tobacco, vibrant acidity, very involving – a beautiful interpretation of an excellent modern vintage.

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Quinta do Vesúvio Vintage 2013 and Dow’s Vintage 2013 Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira © Blend All About Wine, Lda

Finally, the tradition of Quinta do Vesúvio Vintage 2013. Very dark, almost black, and silky. A fully fruity nose, a lot of elegance, floral, smokey, tobacco, cocoa and spices. Incredible in the mouth, excellent acidity, powerful, very ripe dark fruits, slightly spiced, almost spicy. It takes over your mouth and never ends… the interpretation, near perfection, of a place, a piece of land, vineyards, Quinta do Vesúvio! And also of the tradition of grapes crushed by foot inside granite presses – the return to Douro’s primal memories. A great Port wine!

Blend-All-About-Symington-New-Wines-smoked-mackerel the symington family’s new vintages The Symington family’s new Vintages Blend All About Symington New Wines smoked mackerel

Smoked Mackerel – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Once at the table in the restaurant, after a glass of champagne al fresco, we started with some appetisers: smoked mackerel with peppers, fake tomato with cottage cheese, and an olive with olive-oil merengue served in a charming tin.

Blend-All-About-Symington-New-Wines-smoked-eel the symington family’s new vintages The Symington family’s new Vintages Blend All About Symington New Wines smoked eel

Smoked Eel – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Next was the fish: smoked eel with beetroot and marrow.

Blend-All-About-Symington-New-Wines-rack-of-lamb the symington family’s new vintages The Symington family’s new Vintages Blend All About Symington New Wines rack of lamb

Rack of Lamb – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

For meat, we had rack of lamb with tupinambur and fennel.

Blend-All-About-Symington-New-Wines-Slection-of-national-cheeses the symington family’s new vintages The Symington family’s new Vintages Blend All About Symington New Wines Slection of national cheeses

Selection of National Cheeses – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

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Tiramisu – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

A selection of national cheeses introduced dessert, a disconcerting “take it away” (tiramisu).

Blend-All-About-Symington-New-Wines-The-Sea the symington family’s new vintages The Symington family’s new Vintages Blend All About Symington New Wines The Sea

The Sea – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

In the meantime, we got back to the Port… the sea still splashing against the rocks.

Contacts
Symington Family Estates
Travessa Barão de Forrester 86
Apartado 26
4431-901 Vila Nova de Gaia
Portugal
Tel:  +351 223 776 300
Fax: +351 223 776 301
E-mail: symington@symington.com
Website: www.symington.com

Back to the Thirties With The House of Tawnies

Text Sarah Ahmed

The Big Fortified Tasting is the largest wine fair in the world exclusively dedicated to fortified wines.  It’s also one of my favourite tastings of the year, not least because wood-aged fortifieds – vinous works of time – are amongst the most delicious, complex wines on earth.  So I jumped at the chance to attend the “House of TawniesMasterclass in which Sogevinus turned back the clock to the 1930s.  It may have been the depression era but, from a Port perspective, there was much to celebrate as we tasted Colheita (single vintage Tawny) Ports from 1935, 1937 and 1938!

Blend-All-About-Wine-Back-to-The-Thirties-House-of-Tawnies-Carlos-Alves-Winemaker-Sogevinus Back to the Thirties With The House of Tawnies Back to the Thirties With The House of Tawnies Blend All About Wine Back to The Thirties House of Tawnies Carlos Alves Winemaker Sogevinus

Sogevinus Chief Winemaker Carlos Alves – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

Leaving aside the evident quality of these Ports, the self-styled “House of Tawnies” moniker is no idle boast. When Sogevinus acquired Kopke, Burmester, Barros and Cálem a decade ago, it took possession of Portugal’s largest stock of Colheitas (single vintage tawnies) – the group has 17 million litres of Tawny Port according to Chief Winemaker Carlos Alves. What’s more, since Colheitas are bottled to order, they remain in wood for very much longer than the legal minimum of seven years.  It was quite remarkable to think that we were tasting wines which had spent up to 80 years in wood!  All four Colheitas had only been bottled a fortnight beforehand.

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The Four Glasses on the Tasting Mat – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

It’s a longevity which relies on both a mastery of grape sourcing and the caretaking of these fine rare Ports during their long spell in wood.  Alves explains, not only must the grapes have the structure to age, they must also fit with the house style.  He assesses this in the vineyards each year at harvest; grapes for the Colheitas are the first to be allocated where this category is so emblematic for the company.

For Kopke, Colheitas have been sourced from the middle and upper slopes of Quinta S. Luiz near Pinhão in the Cima Corgo since the 1920s.  Rising to 600m, it provides the acidity for Kopke’s very structured, intense style.  When Barros acquired Kopke in 1952, it also looked to Quinta S. Luiz for grapes but, this time, grapes with a higher sugar content are selected from two lower, hotter parcels within the vineyard near the river.  They are better suited to this house’s richer Ports.

As for looking after the Ports during their time in wood, Alves has a dedicated team of two because “they need to know the wines to work them well.”  He adds, they are very careful to ensure that the pipas, toneis and casks remain linked to the same house “because the wood – size and type of wood – really gives profile to the house.”  For example with the greatest variety of casks, Cálem has a tradition of ageing in exotic hard wood.

At least once a year, Alves and his team transfer Colheitas from their individual 550 litre pipa (Port barrel) to a large cask in order to adjust the spirit (a neutral brandy spirit which evaporates over time) and maintain the requisite level of alcohol (the spirit integrates much better when done on a larger scale in cask).  Airing the Ports in this way together with cleaning the pipas before the Ports are returned to them also explains why the 30s’ Colheitas – the oldest wines which the company has for sale – retained such admirable freshness.  Here are my tasting notes:

Kopke Porto Branco 1935

Established in 1638 by Christiano Kopke and his son Nicolau, Kopke is the oldest Port wine export firm.  In 1953, it was acquired by the Barros family in whose family it remained until 2006 when it was acquired by Sogevinus.  With around 45g/l residual sugar, this rare pale amber example of a Colheita made from white grapes is drier in style than Kopke’s Tawny Colheita made from red grapes.  It has a firmer, more focused yet restrained nose and palate with a distinctive ozone/sea spray note and a fino-like nuttiness – lighter and less sweet than the nuttiness which I associate with tawnies.  And perhaps because it has less extract and residual sugar, its freshness is particularly marked.  From a highly regarded Douro vintage it has a striking intensity of perfumed orange peel, orange and apple eau-de-vie and hints of spicy aniseed to the long, clean finish.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Back-to-The-Thirties-House-of-Tawnies-Kopke-Colheita-1935 Back to the Thirties With The House of Tawnies Back to the Thirties With The House of Tawnies Blend All About Wine Back to The Thirties House of Tawnies Kopke Colheita 1935

Kopke Porto Branco 1935 & Kopke Porto Colheita 1935 – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

Kopke Porto Colheita 1935

Deep amber with a saffron rim.  With its orange and grapefruit peel notes to the nose, it has a palpable sense of freshness – an edginess.  But there’s a richness too, which puts me in mind of yolky Madeleine biscuits. In the mouth it has terrific energy.  A nutty spine brings length and tension, grapefruit and orange peel lift add spice, while a touch of “vinagrinho”/ fruit chutney makes for a tangy counterpoint to its sweet and mellow dried fig.  A long, very resonating finish has lovely timbre.  Fabulously complex and characterful.

Burmester Porto Colheita 1937

Henry Burmester and John Nash began shipping Port wine to the British Isles following their arrival in Vila Nova de Gaia in 1750. The Port house remained in the Burmester family until 2005 when it was acquired by Sogevinus. Though dark toffee coloured in hue, this is an exceptionally silky Colheita, very different in mouthfeel (and apparent sweetness) from the Kopke.  It seems much younger, so seamless and harmoniously fruity is its salt caramel edged palate.  Alves describes it as “a box of perfume” because of its aromatics.  It delivers tamarind, sweet cinnamon and black cardamom spice to its dried and tangier apricot chutney fruit.  Rich but beautifully balanced, it has great poise and persistence to the café crème tobacco accented finish.  Mellifluous, very elegant.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Back-to-The-Thirties-House-of-Tawnies-Barros-Colheita-1938-Burmester-Colheita-1937 Back to the Thirties With The House of Tawnies Back to the Thirties With The House of Tawnies Blend All About Wine Back to The Thirties House of Tawnies Barros Colheita 1938 Burmester Colheita 1937

Barros Porto Colheita 1938 & Burmester Porto Colheita 1937 – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

Barros Porto Colheita 1938

Barros was established in 1913 by Manoel de Almeida and acquired by Sogenvinus in 2006. From a hot year, the Barros is a deep tawny hue with saffron and olive to the rim. It’s a little spirity on the nose with a hint of walnut which, though the converse is true, would suggest it is the older of the Tawny Colheitas. In the mouth, it is more toothsomely sweet with medjool dates, crème caramel, salt caramel and nougat to the mid-palate.  However, the finish shows a trace of dustiness and bitter walnut – it’s drying out a little.  It’s not as harmonious as the others.

My favourite? I find it hard to choose between the Kopke and the Burmester – they’re such different styles, as it should be. On balance, the Kopke is the more ethereal of the two – I loved its energy, tension and lift.  But the Burmester’s silky balance won most votes on the day.

Should you wish to do your own Burmester v Kopke challenge, why not join me on Blend All About Wine’s trip to Oporto, Vinho Verde and the Douro next month?  We’ll be pitting Kopke’s and Burmester’s 20 Year Old Tawny and White Ports against each other before finishing up with two Colheitas from Kopke from 1966 and, a favourite, the 1957 – one of my top Port picks in my December article for wine-searcher.  Happy days!

Contacts
Sogevinus Fine Wines, S.A.
Avenida Diogo Leite nº 344
4400-111 Vila Nova de Gaia
Tel: +351 22 3746660
Fax: +351 22 3746699
E-mail: comercial@sogevinus.com
Website: www.sogevinus.com

An Afternoon in Camarate With Domingos Soares Franco

Text José Silva

Domingos Soares Franco doesn’t need any introduction in the wine world. He belongs in the family that owns the firm José Maria da Fonseca, where he is also the master winemaker, but he is above all a wine lover and an investigator, someone discontented, always trying to do better and to do different. His work is for sure one of the main reasons of the success of one of the biggest Portuguese wine producers.

But he is also a funny person that loves being around a lot of people, and appreciates the good things in life. Every year, in June, Domingos Soares Franco invites a small group of wine writers who are also his friends, for a simple lunch at his house in Camarate, where the first rule is that everybody brings a bottle of wine, to which Domingos Soares Franco will add half a dozen other bottles of the house. Second rule is that there are no rules: we taste the wines (that in the meantime have been placed in champagne frapés with ice, so that they are at the right temperature), we exchange opinions, we draw comparisons, we remember other tastings, other wines, other styles.

Blend_All_About_Wine_An_Afternoon_in_Camarate_Wines domingos soares franco An Afternoon in Camarate With Domingos Soares Franco Blend All About Wine An Afternoon in Camarate Wines

Wines © Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

With all the guests present, plus Domingo’s wife and son, and his nephew António, we seat at the table, for a simple but complete meal. We had tasted before some dry fruit, some toasts, bread and a piece of Azeitão cheese, cured, dry, that Domingo’s wife didn’t want him to put on the table, due to its bad look!

But Domingos Soares Franco, knowing both the product and his guests, didn’t hesitate putting it on the table. And the cheese disappeared in an instant! Sparkling wines from Terras do Demo, Malvasia Fina and Touriga Nacional, had already been tasted, as well as Alvarinho Nostalgia 2013 and II Terroirs of the same year, and some white from Dão Quinta dos Carvalhais, and they all were very well, plain of vivacity and freshness, and they quickly disappeared.

Then came the first surprise from Domingos Soares Franco, a comparison between two white wines of the house, having spent some years in the bottle, that’s how the winemaker wants them to be: Pasmados 2009, a great structure an complexity, beautiful acidity and the wood very well integrated, that was compared with its “grandparent” Pasmados…1963, something very serious, advanced, soft, dry, brilliant! Giving good indications of the possibility of these wines to age. Through the table had already passed Casal Santa Maria Pinot Noir 2011, Mapa 2010, Casa da Passarela O Enólogo 2010 and Bairrada’s Painel 2001, all of them in very good shape, for our great pleasure.

Blend_All_About_Wine_An_Afternoon_in_Camarate_Wines_Batuta_05_Pasmados domingos soares franco An Afternoon in Camarate With Domingos Soares Franco Blend All About Wine An Afternoon in Camarate Wines Batuta 05 Pasmados

Batuta 05 | Pasmados – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

Back to the lunch table, they served some big shrimps with mayonnaise, lettuce and asparagus, very tasty. And the wine tasting went on, now with the company of very good food. There was even Ribeira del Duero 2003, Mythos 2005 and Batuta 2005, still at a very good level, with that touch of the reds with some years and still going up. Shrimps were followed by a dish with great tradition in the house, a juicy pea soup, with smoked sausage and poached eggs, that we repeated as much as we could bear, always in the company of those fantastic wines.

Although all of them had been already tasted, at this point of the meal, Romeira 1987, Bairrada Vinus Vitae 1987 and Quinta das Cerejeiras 1995 came back, healthy, well-balanced, elegant. Then came the second surprise from Domingos Soares Franco a red from Colares, 1963, a classic, that elegance on the nose, smooth on the mouth, a great pleasure till the last drop.

Then a relic of the Portuguese wines, José de Sousa Rosado Fernandes 1940, an extraordinary wine, that Domingos Soares Franco had the audacity to open two bottles of! Hard to describe, absolutely amazing! I haven’t tried it for several years now, my God, how it is still exuberant and perfect!

Blend_All_About_Wine_An_Afternoon_in_Camarate_Wines_Trilogia domingos soares franco An Afternoon in Camarate With Domingos Soares Franco Blend All About Wine An Afternoon in Camarate Wines Trilogia

Trilogia – Photo by José Silva | All Rights Reserved

When dessert arrived, they were placed on the balcony – with the true Azeitão tart as a must – fortified wines appeared, and in Azeitão we have muscat wines. Also a vintage Port from Ramos Pinto. Through our glasses passed Alambre 20 Years (see here a Blend post about this wine), always safe, very pleasant, and a delicious Batardinho 30 Years, very elegant, an incredible acidity, fresh, smooth but with great structure, a great wine. And we even sang Happy Birthday to Domingo’s son.

But Domingos Soares Franco prepared a last surprise for the evening: a bottle of Trilogia, an exoteric wine, incredible, superb. A meditation wine! After this, we were done, shouting nasty words at Domingos and remembering the ugly duckling from the cartoons when he said: “It’s an injustice, it is!”

The friendly smile of Domingos Soares Franco went home with us, with pleasure.
See you next year Domingos in Camarate…

Contacts
José Maria da Fonseca, S.A.
Quinta da Bassaqueira, Estrada Nacional 10
2925-542, Vila Nogueira de Azeitão, Setúbal, Portugal
Phone: 351 212 197 500
info@jmf.pt
www.jmf.pt

Madeira – Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques!

Text Olga Cardoso | Translation Teresa Calisto

I was recently at Madeira Island to take part in the 5th edition of Rota das Estrelas, a gastronomic festival of enormous quality – see here (www.rotadasestrelas.com). Naturally, my trip to Madeira would have to include a visit to some local wine producers as well. A lot of wines were tasted and a large part of them left pleasant memories. One of those producers was Henriques & Henriques, a company whose history goes back to 1850 and that, unlike what usually happens in Madeira, owns a considerable amount of its own vineyards. In this company, now mainly belonging to Porto Cruz, everything exudes organization, cleanliness and care. What impressed me the most, besides the wines of course, was their lovely cooperage. Yes, in Madeira, wine producers have their own cooperages given their relevance in the wine making process and ageing of liqueur wines.

IMG_2227 Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! IMG 2227

Cooperage © Blend All About Wine, Lda.

The tasting was masterfully conducted by Humberto Jardim, the company’s C.E.O. and a great Madeira wines’ connoisseur. Using different profiles, vintages and grape varieties, he led us in a journey through time, knowledge and emotion. This producer’s portfolio is quite large and is available on their website www.henriquesehenriques.pt, where you will find images and tasting notes on the several different wines. In this article I will only mention 5 of the wines tasted those that impressed and touched me the most. The grand examples of Madeira are wines that fascinate, that excite and leave us perplexed. These are wines that have gone through great vicissitudes along their way, namely maturation at very high temperatures, wines that suffer extraordinary metamorphosis that transform them into something truly exceptional. Marked by a pungent acidity, they resist like no other the passing of the years, decades, centuries…

hh-rcaixa-01 Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! hh rcaixa 01

Vineyards © Henriques & Henriques – Vinhos, S.A.

Sercial 1971
Marked by some astringency that translates into aromas and tastes of stems and rachis, this wine is bright and crystalline. With clear dried fruits and spices notes, it is complex, with the grape variety’s typical dryness and vipery acidity. Deep and vibrant, it finishes long and persistent. A memorable Sercial.

MADEIRAChroniclesofapassionatetastinatHenriqueseHenriques_Blend_AllAboutWine_Sercial Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! MADEIRAChroniclesofapassionatetastinatHenriqueseHenriques Blend AllAboutWine Sercial

Sercial 1971 © Blend All About Wine, Lda.

Verdelho Solera 1898
If there are examples of perfection then this Madeira is one of them! I may be biased, given my love for this grape variety, but the truth is that this wine left me completely surrendered and fascinated. Everything in this wine is gold. From its old golden color to its noble and brilliant complexity, everything sparkles, impresses, subdues! The nose releases dried fruit and honey aromas and delicate old wood notes. The mouth is intense, voluminous and immensely creamy. An anthology wine!

MADEIRAChroniclesofapassionatetastinatHenriqueseHenriques_Blend_AllAboutWine_Solera Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! MADEIRAChroniclesofapassionatetastinatHenriqueseHenriques Blend AllAboutWine Solera

Verdelho Solera 1898 © Blend All About Wine, Lda.

Boal 1957
With a degree of sweetness properly grounded in an acute acidity, this Madeira is another example of charm and pedigree. Caramel, pralines and ferrous metals aromas, it reveals an immense olfactory diversity in a nose that however, presents clean and seductive. The mouth is full and round. With a perfect balance and harmony, it leaves an endless finish that I will not soon forget. One of the best Boal I have ever tasted!

MADEIRAChroniclesofapassionatetastinatHenriqueseHenriques_Blend_AllAboutWine_Boal Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! MADEIRAChroniclesofapassionatetastinatHenriqueseHenriques Blend AllAboutWine Boal

Boal 1957 © Blend All About Wine, Lda.

Terrantez 1954
Made from a very difficult grape variety, corresponding for that reason to a tiny percentage of the vineyards in Madeira, this wine seems to be a bit crazy and undue. This difficult and rare grape variety creates truly unique and sweeping wines. This 1954 is perhaps one of its purest manifestations. The nose is a bomb of aromas: dried fruits, honey and very smooth old wood. With remarkable structure and texture, it reveals a complexity and depth that make it almost inhuman. Had it not been made by men, I would say this was a divine creation!

Founders Solera 1894
Essentially made of Malvasia, the sweetest of the noble grape varieties of Madeira wine, this Solera has strong aromas of raisins, orange zest and also a little bit of spices. Magnified by the years gone by, today it has enormous concentration and complexity. The color is dark and intense and the mouth has an impressive volume. Full and unctuous, with a very soft texture it ends quite long. A wine to chew, a wine time has enhanced!

Contacts
Henriques & Henriques – Vinhos, S.A.
Sítio de Belém 9300-138 Câmara de Lobos Madeira – Portugal
Tel: (+351) 291 941 551/2
Fax: (+351) 291 941 590
E-mail: HeH@henriquesehenriques.pt
Site: www.henriquesehenriques.pt

Madeira – Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques!

Text Olga Cardoso | Translation Teresa Calisto

I was recently at Madeira Island to take part in the 5th edition of Rota das Estrelas, a gastronomic festival of enormous quality – see here (www.rotadasestrelas.com). Naturally, my trip to Madeira would have to include a visit to some local wine producers as well. A lot of wines were tasted and a large part of them left pleasant memories. One of those producers was Henriques & Henriques, a company whose history goes back to 1850 and that, unlike what usually happens in Madeira, owns a considerable amount of its own vineyards. In this company, now mainly belonging to Porto Cruz, everything exudes organization, cleanliness and care. What impressed me the most, besides the wines of course, was their lovely cooperage. Yes, in Madeira, wine producers have their own cooperages given their relevance in the wine making process and ageing of liqueur wines.

IMG_2227 Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! IMG 2227

Cooperage © Blend All About Wine, Lda.

The tasting was masterfully conducted by Humberto Jardim, the company’s C.E.O. and a great Madeira wines’ connoisseur. Using different profiles, vintages and grape varieties, he led us in a journey through time, knowledge and emotion. This producer’s portfolio is quite large and is available on their website www.henriquesehenriques.pt, where you will find images and tasting notes on the several different wines. In this article I will only mention 5 of the wines tasted those that impressed and touched me the most. The grand examples of Madeira are wines that fascinate, that excite and leave us perplexed. These are wines that have gone through great vicissitudes along their way, namely maturation at very high temperatures, wines that suffer extraordinary metamorphosis that transform them into something truly exceptional. Marked by a pungent acidity, they resist like no other the passing of the years, decades, centuries…

hh-rcaixa-01 Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! hh rcaixa 01

Vineyards © Henriques & Henriques – Vinhos, S.A.

Sercial 1971
Marked by some astringency that translates into aromas and tastes of stems and rachis, this wine is bright and crystalline. With clear dried fruits and spices notes, it is complex, with the grape variety’s typical dryness and vipery acidity. Deep and vibrant, it finishes long and persistent. A memorable Sercial.

MADEIRAChroniclesofapassionatetastinatHenriqueseHenriques_Blend_AllAboutWine_Sercial Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! MADEIRAChroniclesofapassionatetastinatHenriqueseHenriques Blend AllAboutWine Sercial

Sercial 1971 © Blend All About Wine, Lda.

Verdelho Solera 1898
If there are examples of perfection then this Madeira is one of them! I may be biased, given my love for this grape variety, but the truth is that this wine left me completely surrendered and fascinated. Everything in this wine is gold. From its old golden color to its noble and brilliant complexity, everything sparkles, impresses, subdues! The nose releases dried fruit and honey aromas and delicate old wood notes. The mouth is intense, voluminous and immensely creamy. An anthology wine!

MADEIRAChroniclesofapassionatetastinatHenriqueseHenriques_Blend_AllAboutWine_Solera Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! MADEIRAChroniclesofapassionatetastinatHenriqueseHenriques Blend AllAboutWine Solera

Verdelho Solera 1898 © Blend All About Wine, Lda.

Boal 1957
With a degree of sweetness properly grounded in an acute acidity, this Madeira is another example of charm and pedigree. Caramel, pralines and ferrous metals aromas, it reveals an immense olfactory diversity in a nose that however, presents clean and seductive. The mouth is full and round. With a perfect balance and harmony, it leaves an endless finish that I will not soon forget. One of the best Boal I have ever tasted!

MADEIRAChroniclesofapassionatetastinatHenriqueseHenriques_Blend_AllAboutWine_Boal Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! Madeira - Chronicles of a passionate tasting at Henriques & Henriques! MADEIRAChroniclesofapassionatetastinatHenriqueseHenriques Blend AllAboutWine Boal

Boal 1957 © Blend All About Wine, Lda.

Terrantez 1954
Made from a very difficult grape variety, corresponding for that reason to a tiny percentage of the vineyards in Madeira, this wine seems to be a bit crazy and undue. This difficult and rare grape variety creates truly unique and sweeping wines. This 1954 is perhaps one of its purest manifestations. The nose is a bomb of aromas: dried fruits, honey and very smooth old wood. With remarkable structure and texture, it reveals a complexity and depth that make it almost inhuman. Had it not been made by men, I would say this was a divine creation!

Founders Solera 1894
Essentially made of Malvasia, the sweetest of the noble grape varieties of Madeira wine, this Solera has strong aromas of raisins, orange zest and also a little bit of spices. Magnified by the years gone by, today it has enormous concentration and complexity. The color is dark and intense and the mouth has an impressive volume. Full and unctuous, with a very soft texture it ends quite long. A wine to chew, a wine time has enhanced!

Contacts
Henriques & Henriques – Vinhos, S.A.
Sítio de Belém 9300-138 Câmara de Lobos Madeira – Portugal
Tel: (+351) 291 941 551/2
Fax: (+351) 291 941 590
E-mail: HeH@henriquesehenriques.pt
Site: www.henriquesehenriques.pt

Single Harvest Tawnies of excellence!

Text João Pedro de Carvalho

Quinta do Noval is one of the great Port houses. It not only produces the most famous Vintage Port of them all, the legendary ‘Nacional’, it is also the only big name producer whose top wines are exclusively single vineyard (i.e., “Quinta”).

The Quinta do Noval history dates back to 1715, when it was first listed on the land registries of its time. The area of one hundred and forty-five hectares, which dominates the Pinhão Valley (Cima Corgo) constitutes the essence and soul of Quinta do Noval. In 1894 (after its devastation by phylloxera) it was purchased by the distinguished Port shipper António João da Silva. Da Silva breathed new life into Quinta do Noval, replanting the phylloxera-ravaged one hundred and forty-five hectare vineyard (entirely classified letter A) onto American rootstocks. In 1925, a very small section at the heart of the Noval vineyard (two hectare) was selected to attempt to retain the indigenous Portuguese vines on Portuguese rootstock (Nacional) as an experiment. The first wine to be made and sold from these young vines was the Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage 1931, arguably the most sensational Port of the XXth century.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Quinta-do-Noval Single Harvest Tawnies of excellence! Single Harvest Tawnies of excellence! Blend All About Wine Quinta do Noval

Quinta do Noval © Blend All About Wine, Lda

António João Silva’s work was continued by his son-in-law, Luiz Vasconcelos Porto, who led the company for 30 years and retired in 1963. Author of a vast program of innovations: he transformed many of the narrow older terraces into the broad terraces that are such a distinctive feature of Noval with their whitewashed staircases. The first stencilled bottles were introduced by Noval in the 1920s; Noval in 1958 was the first house to introduce a late-bottled vintage: 1954 Quinta do Noval LBV and pioneered the concept of Old Tawnies with an indication of age (10, 20 and over 40 years).

In exceptional years certain lots of wine with great ageing potential are put aside to spend their lives maturing in barrels. At a given stage, Noval decides to bottle a part of a vintage. The rest is kept in casks where the wine will mature into a new expression at a later stage. Increasingly rare, these wines combine refinement and elegance and are the supreme expression of the old Tawny Ports, and as a Vintage Port will take the specific characteristics of the harvest year. Legislation requires a minimum ageing period of 7 years in casks. At Quinta do Noval, Colheitas are commercialized after maturing for 10 to 12 years.

António Agrellos, the Technical Director of Quinta do Noval since 1994 and one of the greatest Port wine blenders led us on a fantastic tour of some of the best Quinta do Noval Colheitas.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Quinta-do-Noval-Colheita-2000 Single Harvest Tawnies of excellence! Single Harvest Tawnies of excellence! Blend All About Wine Quinta do Noval Colheita 2000

Quinta do Noval Colheita 2000 © Blend All About Wine, Lda

Blend-All-About-Wine-Quinta-do-Noval-Colheita-1995 Single Harvest Tawnies of excellence! Single Harvest Tawnies of excellence! Blend All About Wine Quinta do Noval Colheita 1995

Quinta do Noval Colheita 1995 © Blend All About Wine, Lda

Quinta do Noval Colheita 2000

Displays all the class of a young Tawny, full of life, teen spirit, conquering us by its vitality and presence. Shows an attractive complexity with an intense and mature bouquet, candied fruit, youthful, clean and invigorating. Sweet and complex on the palate, elegant structure, with a persistent finish.

Quinta do Noval Colheita 1995

A tawny port in the path to adulthood, in a new fuller dimension, more evolved and of greater complexity and profundity. Very well defined set of aromas with a beautiful complexity, caramel, dried fruits (Walnuts and hazelnuts), sweet spice, candied fruit (orange, lemon, peach). Medium body, elegant, light greasiness with good acidity, lingering finish.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Quinta-do-Noval-Colheita-1976 Single Harvest Tawnies of excellence! Single Harvest Tawnies of excellence! Blend All About Wine Quinta do Noval Colheita 1976

Quinta do Noval Colheita 1976 © Blend All About Wine, Lda

Blend-All-About-Wine-Quinta-do-Noval-Colheita-1971 Single Harvest Tawnies of excellence! Single Harvest Tawnies of excellence! Blend All About Wine Quinta do Noval Colheita 1971

Quinta do Noval Colheita 1971 © Blend All About Wine, Lda

Quinta do Noval Colheita 1976

A very temperamental wine, born in the Punk Rock era, wrapped in rebelliousness and certainly the most exotic from this session in the best Ramones style. Hey! Ho! Let’s go! The Anthology. With a very good complexity, cigar box, resin, dried fruit, caramel. Medium-bodied and deliciously concentrated in the mouth, smooth as silk, with hints of spice. Long finish.

Quinta do Noval Colheita 1971

“Saudade” expresses a very peculiar feeling, when we miss something we like. This wine is one of those things. Pure sex appeal, beautifully complex, spices, butterscotch, raisins and dried fruits, some honey and tea aromas. The mouthfeel is amazingly rich yet elegant, wonderful freshness with exotic spice, long and persistent finish. A wonderful wine!

Blend-All-About-Wine-Quinta-do-Noval-Colheita-1964 Single Harvest Tawnies of excellence! Single Harvest Tawnies of excellence! Blend All About Wine Quinta do Noval Colheita 1964

Quinta do Noval Colheita 1964 © Blend All About Wine, Lda

Blend-All-About-Wine-Quinta-do-Noval-Colheita-1937 Single Harvest Tawnies of excellence! Single Harvest Tawnies of excellence! Blend All About Wine Quinta do Noval Colheita 1937

Quinta do Noval Colheita 1937 © Blend All About Wine, Lda

Quinta do Noval Colheita 1964

As in 1964 the Beatles or The Rolling Stones fans leaped and shouted with enthusiasm, tasting this wine I felt like doing exactly the same thing. Intriguing and at the same time a conqueror, highly refined and delicate aroma, nutty, raisins and soft undertones of caramel, old cask. Almost velvet in the mouth, bold and tasty with great freshness for its age, very long finish. Spectacular!

Quinta do Noval Colheita 1937

The year 1937 was marked by the coronation of King George VI of England, at the same time the San Francisco Bay’s Golden Gate Bridge was inaugurated and J. R. R. Tolkien published The Hobbit. Only a wine such as this could honor events like these. A remarkable old tawny, amazing complexity, dried fruit, great definition, wonderful richness, spices, marmalade, old wood, cigar box. Luxurious palate that melts with a very good integrated acidity which gives a perfect balance, layers of flavor leading to an endless and seductive finish.

Contacts
Quinta do Noval Vinhos, SA
AV. DIOGO LEITE, 256
4400 – 111 VILA NOVA DE GAIA
Portugal
Tel: (+351) 223 770 270
Fax: (+351) 223 750 365
E-mail: noval@quintadonoval.pt
Website: www.quintadonoval.com