Single Bottle Review

Super Premium Portuguese

Port has had a global reputation for centuries, but the rest of Portuguese wine has lived in its shadow – outside the country at least.  These days it is seen as a place where lots of quality, interesting wines come from – and usually at a decent price.  But why stop there?  Some producers want to make the best that they possibly can, whatever it costs to make.

One such producer is Quinta dos Carvalhais in the Dão region.  Dão is about a third of the way down Portugal, surrounded by (clockwise, from the north west): Vinho Verde, Douro Valley, Távora & Varosa, Beira Interior and Bairrada.  The Dão is somewhat insulated from both the cool coast and the warmer interior by a ring of mountains.  Altitude results in warm – but not blazing hot – days and cool nights, keeping flavours intense but fresh.

Owned by the Guedes family since 1988, Quinta dos Carvalhais covers 105 hectares in total of which 50 are planted with vines on poor granite soils.  The grapes planted are local Dão varieties (Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro, Jaen and Tinta Pinheira for reds and Encruzado, Assario, Gouveio, Bical and Cercial for whites).

The Quinta dos Carvalhais Dão Encruzado (white) is a seriously good wine with a premium price tag; it has an RRP of €32.99 in Ireland which is among the most expensive Portuguese table wines I’ve seen.  At the Liberty Wines portfolio tasting in February I had the chance to taste the Quinta dos Carvalhais flagship wine Único with an RRP over three times that of the Encruzado at €107.  Is that a crazy price or is it justified?  Are Vega Sicilia going to complain about the name?  I had to try it…

Quinta dos Carvalhais Único 2015

Quinta dos Carvalhais Unico

Único in Portuguese means “single” or “unique” – perhaps this is the number one table wine in Portugal?  It is only made in exceptional years, and I believe that this 2015 is the third bottling after 2005 then 2009.  Like many Portuguese wines it’s a blend, and consists of all the varieties planted on the Quinta: 88% Touriga Nacional, 6% Alfrocheiro, 2% Jaen Tinto, 2% Tinta Pinheira, 2% Tinta Roriz.

To improve on the already-high quality of their other wines, winemaker Beatriz Cabral de Almeida picks special plots which are then harvested and vinified separately, with great care.  Alcoholic fermentation is temperature controlled at 28ºC (not that hot for reds) over eight days followed by 20 days maceration.  The must is then transferred into new French oak barrels for 12 months’ maturation.  Each batch is tasted several times over the whole process to see if the barrel will be included in the final blend.

Although now over four years since harvest, the 2015 Único pours a deep purple, hinting at relative youth.  The nose is like finding big bramble bushes in a pine forest, red and black berries with pine needles on the floor.  The smoky French oak is also notably present (those barrels given a decent toast I reckon).  The palate is rich and concentrated, with firm tannins and striking acidity giving plenty of structure.

This is a wine made to last the course; it’s very nice to drink now but I can see it opening up considerably over the next five to ten years, and then lasting for another ten after that.  So it is worth the price tag?  Perhaps, is my cop-out answer.  Without many previous vintages to assess its longevity is still not 100% proven, but I think it will make a name for itself in the future.  It’s more than I spend on a bottle of wine, but if I could justify it as an investment for my twins who were born in 2015 then that might just work…

  • ABV: 14.0%
  • RRP: €107
  • Stockists: wineonline.ie
Tasting Events

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019 (part 2 – other whites)

In part 1 I mentioned that Liberty’s Portfolio Tasting is the biggest on the Irish wine trade calendar, and the evidence is below in the number of independent off licences which stock the wines I’ve recommended.  This part will focus on some delicious whites, mainly from Portugal but with an excellent Kiwi Sauvignon thrown in for good measure.

Framingham Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (12.5%, RRP €23.99 at 64 Wine; Avoca; Cinnamon Cottage, Cork; Clontarf Wines; The Corkscrew; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Fallon & Byrne; Green Man Wines; JJ O’Driscoll, Cork; The Wine House, Trim; www.wineonline.ie; World Wide Wines, Waterford)

Framingham Sauvignon Blanc

Unusually for Marlborough, Framingham started out producing just Riesling in 1994 and are still best known for that variety, in both dry (reviewed here) and botrytised styles.  However, here we have their Sauvignon Blanc, the variety for which Marlborough and New Zealand in general is best known.  While not in the funky wild yeast style, this is more interesting than most Marlborough Sauvignons, with real texture and depth of flavour, no doubt aided by partial maturation in acacia wood.  A special wine from a special producer.

Azevedo Loureiro / Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2018 (12.0%, RRP €16.99 at Baggot Street Wines; Blackrock Cellar; Bradleys, Cork; Cinnamon Cottage, Cork; Clontarf Wines; The Drink Store; Egans Wines, Portlaoise; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth; Grapevine, Dalkey; Myles Creek, Kilkee; The Wine House, Trim; McHugh’s; The Parting Glass; Redmonds of RanelaghThomas’s of Foxrock; Thomas Woodberry’s, Galway; World Wide Wines, Waterford; www.wineonline.ie)

Azevedo Screwcap

At a high level it’s easy to split the wines of Vinho Verde into two types – the everyday tipples, usually blends, which are pleasant but not exciting, and the more serious varietal Alvarinhos, mostly from Monção & Melgaço.  However, there are some producers who take their blends more seriously, such as this single estate blend of Loureiro (70%) and Alvarinho (30%).  Lees stirring adds a little heft and texture, though the wine is still lovely and fresh with a long, zingy finish.

Azevedo Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde Reserva 2017 (12.0%, RRP €17.99 at Clontarf Wines; Gibney’s of MalahideMcHugh’sThomas’s of Foxrock; www.wineonline.ie)

Quinta Azevedo

From the same producer, this is like the wine above but more so.  It is crafted from the best Loureiro and Alvarinho grapes on the estate, given a 24 hour cold soak before fermentation.  It may seem contradictory, but this is both finer and more textured than the regular wine, with lifted aromatics of citrus and tropical fruit.  The Quinta wine is less obvious, but more rewarding.

Morgadio da Torre Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2017 (12.5%, RRP €25.99 at Bradley’s, Cork; Clontarf Wines; www.wineonline.ie)

Morgadio da Torre Alvarinho 2014_Packshot_sem fundo  (01)

This wine is from the Monção & Melgaço subregion which I mentioned above, the furthest one from the Atlantic and therefore with the potential to show more power and concentration.  The Quinta da Torre estate was established in 1603 and is now owned by Mafalda da Cunha Guedes and her relatives; the wines are made by Antonio Braga who is also the guiding hand behind Azevedo.  This is a fabulous example of Vinho Verde, and a fabulous Alvarinho in general.  It has sublime texture with a saline edge; the palate shows soft citrus and stone fruit, all framed by fresh acidity.

Duque de Viseu Dão Branco 2018 (13.0%, RRP €16.99 at Egans Wines, Portlaoise; Gibney’s Of Malahide; Myles Creek, Kilkee; www.wineonline.ie)

Duque de Viseu Branco

You call that a blend?  Hold my glass!  This Dão is made from four local grape varieties: Encruzado (43%), Malvasia Fina (30%), Bical (17%) and Gouveio (10%).  It’s an entirely different style of wine from the Vinho Verdes above, much softer and rounder.  It does show citrus notes but they are accents around soft stone and pip fruits.  This is an enticing wine, lovely and soft, inviting, with nice texture and a crisp finish.

 

Liberty Portfolio Tasting 2019

Tasting Events

To SPIT or not to SPIT (Part 3 – VinosTito)

 

Logo emblema VT

The Spanish team (now with added Polish) at Vinostito have put a firm focus on low intervention winemaking – not for the sake of it, but for the authenticity and excellence of the wines it can produce.  Of course they have an extensive selection from Spain, but also other countries such as Portugal, Germany, France and Italy.

Here are five which really piqued my interest at October’s SPIT festival:

Weingut Immich-Batterieberg CAI Mosel Riesling 2016 (11.5%, RRP €21.50 at 64 Wine, Glasthule; Loose Canon, Drury St; Baggot Street Wines, Ballsbridge; Green Man Wines, Terenure; Kelly’s Off-Licence, Clontarf)

immich batterieberg riesling kabinett cai

Immich-Batterieberg is one of the oldest estates in Germany’s Mosel, being noted in the first, second and now third millennium.  The Immich family themselves began making wine back in 1425, and were instrumental in the creation of the Batterieberg  between 1841 and 1845 using lots of explosives!

The CAI is a Trocken, i.e. dry style of Riesling, with an alcohol of 11.5% which is higher than many sweeter wines, but remains modest.  It isn’t bone dry, however, with just a touch of residual sugar which enhances the attractive, zippy fruit.  Full of Riesling Goodness!

Weingut Immich-Batterieberg Escheburg Mosel Riesling 2016 (11.0%, RRP €29.00 at 64 Wine, Glasthule)

escheburg

Compared to the CAI, this is somewhat drier, still young and tight – waiting for its wings to unfurl.  It’s made from superior grapes which don’t quite make it into the single cuvées.  The steep slate vineyard soils really show in the minerality of the wine, even though the minerals themselves are not technically soluble enough to be absorbed by the vines.  This is a fairly serious wine which would be at its best with shellfish or after some years to develop and open out.

Casa da Passarella Descoberta Dão Branco 2017 (13.0%, RRP €16.50 at On The Grape Vine, Dalkey; Martin’s Off-Licence, Fairview; Lilac Wines, FairviewBaggot Street Wines, Ballsbridge; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Matson’s, Cork)

casa passarella

Dão wines aren’t particularly well known in Ireland, though they deserve more attention.  The region is situated about a third of the way down the country from the northern border and roughly equidistant from the Atlantic and the eastern border with Spain.  It sits on a granite plateau topped by well drained sandy soil – not too bad for quality wine!  This is a blend of local speciality Encruzado plus some Malvasia Fina and Verdelho.  It’s quite different from the by-the-glass selection in your local pub, with a lovely mouthfeel and richness to it, but not oiliness.  A dry, textured finish seals the deal.

Suertes del Marqués Trenzado 2016 (13.0%, RRP €25.00 at SIYPS, Baggot Street Wines, Ballsbridge; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; The Corkscrew, Chatham St; Clontarf Wines, Clontarf; Lilliput Stores, Stoneybatter)

trenzado

I’ve reviewed this wine at least once before, but no apologies for repetition will be forthcoming as it’s so damn good – and so damn interesting – that it never disappoints.  Suertes del Marqués are a relatively new outfit but they have access to plenty of older vines – the ones for this blend range between 10 and 150 years old, all in the Valle de La Orotava of Tenerife.  I say “blend” as the majority of the wine is Listán Blanco (aka Palamino of Sherry fame) but there are also dashes of Pedro Ximenez, Albillo Criollo, Gual, Marmajuelo and Malvasia.  As pictured on the front label, the vines are (mainly) trained with the traditional trellis system of cordón trenzado after which the wine is named.

For anyone studying wine this is a great example to do a model tasting note for as it shows so many different types of aroma and flavour: various citrus fruits, nuts and sea-washed pebbles on the nose, with the same on the palate but also a slightly waxy character.  It’s a fairly different wine but it’s one that’s easy to like and to love.

Luís Seabra Vinhos Xisto iLimitado Tinto 2016 (12.0%, RRP €22.00 at Sweeney’s, Glasnevin; 64 Wine, Glasthule; On The Grape Vine, Dalkey; Martin’s Off-Licence, Fairview; Lilac Wines, FairviewBaggot Street Wines, Ballsbridge; Green Man Wines, Terenure; Matson’s, Cork)

luis seabra vinhos xisto ilimitado

Luís Seabra makes a fantastic range of wines in Portugal’s north, the Douro Valley and Vinho Verde regions.  His Douro wines are very different from the normal big reds found there, with lots of fruit, oak, tannin and alcohol.  His wines are lighter and judiciously oaked, but don’t lack in flavour or length.  As “Xisto” is the Portugese for “schist”, it’s not too hard to guess what type of soil the vines are planted in!

This 2016 is a blend of several grapes, some of which are coplanted in old and almost forgotten plots: 30% Touriga Franca, 20% Tinta Amarela, 20% Tinta Roriz, 10% Rufete, 10% Tinta Barroca, 5% Malvasia Preta and 5% Donzelinho Tinto.  Luís’s approach to grape variety selection and winemaking both lead to his wines being very interesting and very fresh.

I was browsing some new additions to the shelves of Baggot Street Wines in early 2018 and noticed several wines from Luis Seabra in Portugal.  What really caught my eye was the “REPROVADO / DISAPPROVED” warning notice on the back label of the 2015 Tinto – the first time I had ever seen anything like that on a wine label.

Speaking to the man himself a few weeks later at the Vinostito portfolio tasting, he recounted that when the wine was not allowed the Douro classification due to being “untypical” of the region, he sought permission to  put a warning label on.  The wine authorities had never received such a request previously, but they allowed it.

For the 2016 vintage (above) the Tinto was immediately given the Douro badge – I think the wine authorities learned their lesson!

 

The SPIT series:

Single Bottle Review

Frankie’s Single Bottle Review #04 – Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009 (#MWWC20)

Q: When is a variety not a variety? Bear with me, for I have an answer…

Having unexpectedly won Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #19 (#MWWC19) with this entry on choosing a Burgundy, I was given the winner’s prerogative of choosing the theme for #MWWC20.  The least I could do is enter myself – and it has pushed me into finally starting on a topic I have been meaning to explore for nearly two years – clones. In the fullness of time I will get into more detail (and that article will of course be called “Attack of the Clones”), but for now here’s an introduction.

“Variety” has lots of different meanings, even within the sphere of wine. The most common usage is for a type of grape, cépage in French. Thankfully, Jeff the Drunken Cyclist has already dealt with my bête noir of confusing variety (grape type) and varietal (wine made from a particular grape). The most technically correct term is actually cultivar, as pretty much all wine is made from cultivated grapes, but variety works for me.

Why is variety so important? Overall, it’s the single most important factor affecting the taste of a wine.  Yes, terroir can be very important, but that’s actually shorthand for a whole host of factors.  Additionally, (and subsequently), the way many wine drinkers outside Europe express their vinous preferences is by grape – and a fair share of those within Europe as well.

However, there are different versions of most grape varieties, and they are known as clones. These clones have subtly different characteristics, often adaptations from centuries of growing in particular places. Sometimes grape growers assist in this process by taking cuttings from the best performing vines and propagating them.

The last few decades have seen an increasingly scientific approach taken, with institutions and nurseries classifying existing and developing new clones which will thrive best in different soils and climates, or give a particular style of wine at the end. For example, producers aiming to make a richer, buttery style of Chardonnay might often chose to plant Mendoza Chardonnay clones, as their thicker skins and smaller berries make them suitable for a Meursault style.

So now for a varietal wine which involves a lot of variety from within a single grape variety (it will make sense, I promise):

Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009 (€23.99, jnwine.com)

Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009
Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009

Quinta da Falorca is one of four vineyards which are part of the larger Quinta Vale Das Escadinhas in the Silgueiros sub-region of Dão in central Portugal. It was established on south-facing steep banks of the river Dão over a century ago by the Costa Barros de Figuerido family.

The Dão wine region in central Portugal (Credit: Elapsed)
The Dão wine region in central Portugal (Credit: Elapsed)

The Dão is home to dozens of indigenous grapes varieties, with the most popular being Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen, Alfrocheiro Preto and Encruzado.  Indeed, the region is actually the original home of Touriga Nacional which is so vital in the Douro.  To honour this fact the Dão DOC regulations require a minimum 20% of Touriga Nacional in red wines.  

Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009
Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2009

So it’s a good producer, but what’s so special about this bottle?  The name “T-Nac” gives us a clue that it’s made from Touriga Nacional, but that’s just the start.  It’s made from 100% Touriga Nacional, but 31 different clones of that variety!  It says something of the history of the area that over 30 clones of a single grape have been identified, and a lot more about a producer that can grow and vinify them!

Unlike some traditional style Dão wines it isn’t chock full of tannins from over-extraction, nor is it sullied by oak like some of the more modern style wines.  Instead it plots a happy medium course with excellent juicy black fruit fruit and fine-grained tannins that give it a real savoury edge.  This is a wine to pair beautifully with a steak or a hearty beef stew – in fact, a small glass in the stew would be perfection.

My thanks for the sample to JN Wines who will be showing this (and many other wines) at their Portfolio Tasting:

Time: Friday 6th November 18.00 – 20.00

Venue: Smock Alley Theatre, 6-8 Exchange Street Lower, Dublin 8

Tickets €15 online from Smock Alley