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Articles July, 2007

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THE PORTUGUESE POSSE STEPS UP
An historical exposition of Portuguese table wines

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         The Wines

2006 “Doce Branco” (Conceito)……….....................................…88

1985 Barca Velha (Casa Ferreirinha)……….................................84

1987 Quinta do Carmo………………….................................……86

1968 Garrafeira Imperial Reserva Particular (Caves Império)….80

1984  Branco Reserva (Buçao)………………...............................65

1996  Redoma Branco (Niepoort)…………...............................…75

1990 “Robustus” (Quinta do Carril) (Niepoort)..................………88

1999 Batuta (Niepoort)……………………...............................…90

1999 Quinta do Ribeirinho (Luis Pato)……...................................91

1997 Gouvyas………………………………..................................88

1999 Quinta do Mouro……………….............................………...90

2001 Syrah “Quinta do Alqueve” (Pinhal da Torre)…...................87

2001 Touriga Nacional/Syrah “Quinta do Alqueve” (Pinhal da Torre)..88

2000 Touriga Nacional “Quinta da Saõ João” (Pinhal da Torre)…85

2006 Carrocel “Quinta da Pellada” (Castro)……………...............89+

2005 Colheita Tardia Quinta do Alqueve (Pinhal da Torre)…........86

1942 Port (Niepoort)……………….................................…………94

1957 Abafado (Junta Nacional do Vinho)………….......................93

         The Event

SOL E TAPAS
+351 21 714 28 78

Alameda da Quinta St Antonio n. 1, Parques dos Principes
Lisbon, Portugal

A long European trip would not be complete without the chance to meet some Board members. Since I was tasting in Portugal, an offline in Lisbon seemed mandatory. The Portuguese posse was determined to start me at the beginning and give me a taste-able tour of Portuguese table wine history. Not all of the wines showed well, but the intent tonight was mostly to serve historic wines, even if some were a bit past prime. Many, of course, were very much prime time.  We trekked out to Northern Lisbon to the restaurant Sol e Tapas, and began cracking some bottles.

The wine onslaught opened with 2006 “Doce Branco” (Conceito) (meaning “concept”) as an aperitif,  a wine that was oddly rich and fat, yet neither unctuous nor thick. It is not yet in the marketplace, and it is a new winery in the Douro. It was a bit off dry and quite luscious. If there was not much acidity and structure, it was easy, friendly and simply delicious.  It is a “drink me now” wine. If the price were right, this would be a great summer wine. The first food course was Polvo à Galega (a.k.a. Galicia), tender and delectable chunks of octopus with olive oil and potatoes in a big pan. I was already eating too much, not knowing how much was coming.

Then, we dived into the reds. Or, at least we prepared to do so. At the same time, we got Clams à Bolhao Pato, with olive oil and garlic, a traditional dish with tender clams, even if a touch grainy. I made sure not to eat any before diving into some old reds. The first red, served blind, turned out to be 1985 Barca Velha (Casa Ferreirinha). Barca Velha is Portugal’s iconic red wine, the equivalent of Australia’s Grange. Long before anyone cared about Portuguese table wines, there was Barca Velha. The winery has since been sold off to big Sogrape, but the wine retains status. This was the last one made by its iconic winemaker, Nicolau de Almeida, and as such it has considerable value, but it frankly did not show all that well. This, after decanting, showed too old. There was oxidation and more forest floor and earth than fruit. There was also a certain lively, bright note to it that made the wine at least a little interesting and worth drinking. Still, the fruit has faded here, and it was hard to be entranced.

More food. Big, whole sardines came out, and you should realize that these are actually great, not something to dig out of a can. They were fresh and tender. It was a challenge to eat so much fish with so many red wines, but the Portuguese did, and I did my best to clear my palate and taste first.  Following were two more wines. First up, 1987 Quinta do Carmo, the winery in which Chateau Lafite Rothschild ultimately invested. It became one of the important wines in Alentejo, a vast region in the South of Portugal. Its owner now runs the new winery, Dona Maria. Paired with it was the 1968 Garrafeira Imperial Reserva Particular (Caves Império).  The Carmo was more powerful than the Barca Velha or the Garrafeira Imperial. It was obviously not young, but it had more life, fullness and energy, along with a smooth, seamless feel. There was some oxidation around the edges. I can’t say it was terribly impressive, but it was enjoyable. The Garrafeira was probably my least favorite of the three oldies. It was light, bright, well focused and surprisingly fresh—but there just wasn’t anything there. Or, as Gertrude Stein once said, there’s no “there” there. The fruit is simple and relatively flavorless. This was presented as an example of The Way it Used to Be. Or, as one of the Portuguese posse put it, “Our fathers’ wine.” Wines like this have a reputation for long aging ability, but after tasting this, I would have to ask…to what end? It developed into nothing interesting. The fruit was mute and uninteresting. There was nothing complex about it. So it goes.

The next two were both whites. First, a 1984 Branco Reserva (Buçao). This was pretty much dead on arrival, flat, shot, dark in color and oxidized. Another nice try, but no cigar.  Then, something that I might have hoped would show at least a little better, a 1996 Redoma Branco (Niepoort).  This white is particularly significant as it is an early effort from Niepoort, who at this point I think is the best white wine producer in Portugal. This wine, however, is well past prime. It shows mostly caramel, hints of Madeira and plenty of oxidation. It is turning brown, and is plainly over the hill, even if rather powerful and dense. Be patient though, because the history lesson is about to step into modern times.

Next up, were two interesting tuna courses. This also doesn’t come out of a can, folks. The first course was tuna neck, more or less, called mormos. I have never heard of it before, and it is meaty, chewy and flavorful, hardly seeming like fish, closer to steak. The second tuna course was tuna belly, and a bigger contrast could hardly be imagined, as this was soft and sweet. These were different and excellent, but I couldn’t help but think that the wines would be better served by meat at this point.

Wrapped around, with, and beside these courses…more wine, of course. First came 1990 “Robustus” (Quinta do Carril)(Niepoort), an early effort from this important producer who helped turbocharge the dry, red revolution in Portugal. This was light and bright, showing fully mature, but it still had fruit left, and flavor. It had a certain Burgundian feel to it, and if it was rather sharp, thinning and pointed at this time in its life, I enjoyed its fruit and texture. Then, the 1999 Batuta (Niepoort), the first vintage of this high prestige bottling from Niepoort. I loved this when it opened. It showed mature notes, and needs drinking in the next few years, but it was elegant, earthy and lovely, with a velvety texture and soft tannins on the end. A very fine debut. Then, the 1999 Quinta do Ribeirinho (Luis Pato). I often have a hard time wrapping myself around wines from this region, but, perhaps aided by the many older, fruit shy wines that went before it on the evening, this seemed excellent. It was fresher than the Batuta, young and fruity, with beautiful balance. The tannins came out, but they were nicely integrated into the core, and there is some grip on the finish. Its mid-palate is thinning a bit, perhaps, at this point, but its texture is sensual, the fruit flavorful and fresh. Following this was a 1997 Gouvyas that showed some age, but was nicely focused, bright and intense. It was a gracefully maturing wine, neither spectacular nor compelling, but pleasing. It probably does need drinking. This wine was from a small, boutique producer, at a time when there weren’t many.  Then, finally, at least for the history lesson, the 1999 Quinta do Mouro. They opened some of this for me at the winery, but this bottle showed better. It felt big and powerful, still a bit tight, with power and depth.  This winery makes serious wines in Alentejo that defy the stereotype of simple, fruity bargains.   

I was pretty much full, but had seconds. Then, I learned that there was more food coming. Oops! Açorda de Caça or Açorda de Perdiz looks a lot like mush, and is a very popular dish in Portugal. It is bread based, and then the chef does his thing, adding prawns, partridge, or whatever.  This was a good version, but I was pretty much stuffed and trying to save some room for dessert. There were more wines, of course.

From Pinhal da Torre, whose owner joined us, a threesome, 2001 Syrah (Quinta do Alqueve), a  2001 Touriga Nacional/Syrah (Quinta do Alqueve) and 2000 Touriga Nacional (Quinta da Saõ João). I liked these wines, but as I candidly told the winemaker, I wasn’t so happy with the American oak treatment they received. The Syrah showed good structure and some power. It is aging and shows some acid, but basically shows well. It may have the best oak profile of the three. The Touriga/Syrah showed similarly, but the heavier mint, licorice and coconut nuances somewhat overwhelmed the varietal flavors. I liked its power and structure better, though, and it may be the best structured wine of the three. The oak did integrate a little with some air, but it always marked the wines.  The Saõ Joao was heavily marked by sweet oak. It was frankly a bit sickly sweet.

Next up, the 2006 Carrocel “Quinta da Pellada” (Castro).  This fine bottling was a cask sample, fresh, bright and perky, with good perfume. It was not showing much intensity for a young wine, but in fairness it was also the end of the evening and I did not have much time to spend with it. It showed considerable promise and fine balance. There were in fact a few more wines, including cask samples, but by this time it was time for the desserts and dessert wines. A request for cake brought out chocolate mousse, which was excellent, even if not cake. More importantly, we got the dessert wines. From Pinhal da Torre, a 2005 Colheita Tardia (Quinta do Alqueve),  a pleasant, white dessert wine from 100% Fernão Pires. This is off dry, a bit easy, and pleasing, perhaps better used as an aperitif.

Sitting in a decanter near by, and calling to us, however, was the 1942 Port (Niepoort). We answered the siren’s song, and received our just rewards. This opened beautifully, and got better, showing youth, richness and acidity. There is still sweet fruit here, and it seemed remarkably young for its age. I guessed 1970. The tinge of richness around the edges made it quite seductive. I had a glass. And then another. I still felt pretty good. This Port inspired our Ribatejo winemaker (Paulo S. Cunha, from Pinhal da Torre) to pull out a 1957 Abafado (Junta Nacional do Vinho), a fortified wine made by the government in Ribatejo. I don’t want to call it Ribatejo Port, but you get the idea. It was startlingly good. Sweet, young, rich and dense, almost more in an Australian style, this was simply decadent. If not the best structured wine you’ll ever find, it was hard to resist, and a guilty pleasure for sure.  This was the one that pretty much guaranteed that I wouldn’t want to get up early the next day. I had my glass. Well, another few sips wouldn’t hurt. The good news is that I had a ride back to the hotel. Lisbon was safe.

Some of the wines obviously did not show well, but note their age, and sometimes their experimental nature. It was a evening for historical exploration. The dry table wine era in Portugal goes back to the early 1950s, with Barca Velha, but the sterner reality is that the real revolution did not begin until the early to mid-1990s in earnest. Flagship wines like Niepoort’s Batuta did not exist until 1999. The first vintage of Crasto’s Maria Teresa was 1998. Hot newcomers like Poeira and Pintas weren’t there at all until the new Millennium arrived. Wineries like Vallado and Vale Meão did not hit stride  until late in the ‘90s or even the early ‘00s.  “Old timers” like Niepoort and Ramos Pinto just began production in the early 1990s.  So, if some of these wines do not always show brilliantly, keep in mind their place in history.  The best is yet to come.

 

 


Copyright Mark Squires, © 2007 all rights reserved.

 

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