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

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Tasting Events

A few treats from SuperValu (part 1)

The wine market in Irish supermarkets is a tough one to get right, balancing what consumers think they want, what they actually want, and trying to stock better and/or more different wines in a low margin, competitive environment.

One key trend – which is not unique to the Irish market – is the preference among many consumers for richer red wines.  At the lower end of the market, many of these wines contain significant amounts of residual sugar, but consumers think they only like dry wines – and what they don’t know can’t hurt them, I suppose.  It’s not for me to tell people their tastes are wrong, it’s just that I don’t share them.

Here are some of the delicious reds that I tasted recently at SuperValu’s Secret Garden Party:

 

Trisquel Family Collection Magnum 2013 (14.0%, RRP €49.99, currently €20, at SuperValu)

Aresti Family Collection

This is top of the bill for a very good reason – the special offer!  Unlike many wines with such significant reductions (Hardy’s Crest, I’m looking at you), this is actually worth the full price and isn’t a label that just exists to be discounted.  The wine is built on Bordeaux grapes Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Merlot (20%) and Petit Verdot (8%), with a little Rhône included for interest in Syrah (12%) and Petite Sirah (10%).  The nose is just amazing, luscious black fruit, chocolate, coffee and exotic spice.  On the palate it is a little restrained, so it could play a good role with food as well as on its own.  I’m dropping a few hints to the family about a bottle for myself!

 

Albert Glas Pfalz Pinot Noir Black Label 2014 (13.5%, RRP €19.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Riesling BL 2017

Like the equivalent Riesling (see part 2) the Black Label Pinot Noir from Albert Glas is made with  premium fruit and fermented in local oak barrels.  Thankfully, the oak isn’t overdone so there is only a little noticeable on the palate.  Instead, the oak adds textures and depth to the plush red fruit.  For my money this is nicer than most Burgundy at the same price.

 

Dona Ermelinda Reserve Palmela Red 2015 (14.5%, RRP €85 for 6 at SuperValu, will be on offer at €50 for 6 from 20th August)

dona ermelinda palmela

The Palmela region is close to Lisbon and best known for its reds.  Here local grape Castelão is the mainstay with 70% of the blend, and the international Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon make up the balance with 20% and 10% respectively.  This is a proper Portuguese red, with rich and powerful black fruit framed by tobacco notes and soft tannins.  An excellent wine for a barbecue!

 

Nugan Estate Langhorne Creek Single Vineyard Zinfandel 2015 (15.0%, RRP €16.99 at SuperValu from 20th August)

Single Vineyard Zinfandel - bottle shot 1

California’s Zinfandel is of course also known as Primitivo in Puglia and (the harder to say) Tribidrag and (the even harder to say) Crljenak Kaštelanski in Croatia.  All of these are warm climate areas, so why not also in South Australia?  It’s a big and bold wine, lots of fun and nicely straddling the red and black fruit border.  There’s a touch of sweetness on the finish but the tannin stops it becoming too jammy.

Opinion

Wines at Xmas #10 – Kerri Judge [Guest Post]

For winelovers, Christmas is a time when we look forward to drinking – and even sharing – a special bottle or two.  This might be a classic wine with traditional fare or just something different we’ve wanted to try for a while.  I asked some wine loving friends what they were looking forward to and they have kindly agreed to write a blog post for me.

Kerri Judge is the Marketing Manager of Febvre, an importer who has been a stalwart of the Irish wine trade for over 50 years and who represent a few of my favourite producers. 


valdemar_gran_reservaOne of my favourites at Christmas is from the family owned estate of Bodegas Valdemar in Rioja.  Their Conde Valdemar Gran Reserva 2008 is rich and so very smooth.  Lovely dark brambly fruits with a touch of vanilla and spice with soft tannins.

A perfect glass on its own, with a piece of hard cheese like Hegarty’s Cheddar or with a melt in your mouth piece of fillet beef sliced thinly with a drizzle of olive oil and salt.  Also, great I found with leftover Turkey and Ham fried up the day after Christmas with a bit of stuffing.

Conde Valdemar Gran Reserva 2008 (13.5%):  on promotion this Christmas at €20 (usually €32) in O’Briens and Independent Off-Licences.

 


Warre's Optima 10I always have a bottle of the Warre’s Otima 10 year old Tawny Port in the fridge at Christmas.  A glass of Otima watching It’s a Wonderful Life with a bowl of walnuts and the fire lit on Christmas Eve is my idea of Christmas!

Think a rich fruit cake – dried fruits, orange peel, caramel and honey flavours with a toasty finish and great length. Chilling the Otima cuts the taste of Alcohol and enhances the fruit flavours.

Warre’s Otima 10 year old Tawny Port (20.0%):  available at around €28 (50cl bottle) at Independent Off-Licences and selected SuperValu Stores.

 


The full series of Wines at Xmas:

 

Tasting Events

Another Brick In The Wall – Part 4

A medley of whites from the WineMason tasting earlier this year:

Bodegas Altos de Torona Rías Baixas Albariño Torre de Ermelo 2016 (12.4%, RRP €19 – Stockist TBC)

TORRE DE ERMELO_botella_4300pxh

Bodegas Altos de Torona is one of three producers in Rías Baixas who form part of the HGA Bodegas group.  HGA have holdings across many of northern Spain’s best wine areas including Rioja, Ribero del Duero and Ribeira Sacra.  This wine is from the O Rosal sub-zone, just 3.5km from the Miño River (which forms the border with Portugal) and 10km from the Atlantic Ocean.

Torre de Ermelo is made in a fresh – almost spritzy – style, with floral, citrus and mineral notes framed by a streak of acidity.  Great value for money!

 

Vale da Capucha VR Lisboa Fossil Branco 2014 (14.0%, RRP €18 at Green Man Wines)

Fossil

If your palate is just used to white wines from supermarkets then this might seem a little alien at first.  It bears no resemblance to the usual Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay – but then why should it?  This is a blend of three indigenous Portuguese grapes, Arinto, Gouveio and Fernão Pires grown close to the Atlantic coast just north of Lisbon.

The name of the wine is a clue to the vineyard soil type – lots of limestone!  There are indeed mineral notes on this wine but lots more besides – soft fruit, herbs and flowers. Overall it’s a dry wine with lots of texture, a fine partner for lots of dishes.

 

BLANKbottle Moment of Silence 2016 (13.5%, RRP €24 at Green Man Wines, Baggot St Wines, The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son & Red Island)

Blank

This is a very intriguing wine from a very interesting producer.  Pieter H. Walser is the man behind BLANKBottle and aims to make wines which highlight excellent South African terroir rather than the variety/ies that they are made from.  He buys in all his grapes rather than farming himself.  This all gives him flexibility so he can change the components of a blend from year to year or produce entirely new wines as a one-off; it also helps his wines to be judged on their contents rather than preconceptions about varieties.

Moment of Silence is a blend (for the 2016 vintage at least!) of Chenin Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Viognier.  From 2015 onwards the grapes were sourced from seven different sites within Wellington.  This wine is quite round in the mouth with apple and stone fruit flavours.  The Viognier influence shines through as a touch of richness, but it isn’t oily.  A wine that deserves to be tried.

 

Rijckaert Arbois Chardonnay 2015 (13.0%, RRP €23 at The Corkscrew, Mitchell & Son & Redmonds)

Arbois

Belgian winemaker Jean Rijckaert founded his own estate in 1998 based on vineyards in the Maconnais and Jura, further east.  Of course the key variety shared by these regions is Chardonnay, which can reflect both where it is grown and how it is vinified.  Yields are low and intervention is kept to a minimum – once fermentation is complete the wines are left to mature without racking, stirring or anything else.

Jura Chardonnay comes in two distinct styles, oxidative and none-oxidative, depending on whether air is allowed into the maturing barrels; this is definitely the latter, (ouillé) style of Jura Chardonnay for which I have a marked preference.  It’s recognisably oaked Chardonnay but very tangy and food friendly.  A great way into Jura wines!

 

De Morgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 2014 (14.0%, RRP €34 at 64 Wine & The Corkscrew)

Chenin

De Morgenzon translates as The Morning Sun which is a wonderfully poetic name, attached to a wonderful South African winery.  Although South Africa is usually labelled as “new world” when it comes to wine, vines have been planted in this part of Stellenbosch since the early 1700s.  Wendy and Hylton Appelbaum bought DeMorgenzon in 2003 and have transformed the estate and its wines.

The entry level DMZ Chenin is a very nice wine, clean and fresh, but this Reserve is a step above.  The vines were planted in 1972 (an auspicious year!) and interestingly were originally bush vines but recently lifted onto trellises.  People often wonder what makes one wine cost more than another similar wine, and in this case the picking in four different passes through the vineyard (to ensure optimum ripeness and balance) shows you why.  Fermentation takes place in French oak barrels (with wild yeast) followed by 11 months of maturation on the lees.  These really add to the flavour profile – there’s a little bit of funk from the wild yeast, lots of creaminess from the lees and soft oak notes from the barrels (only 25% were new).   This is a real treat!

 

Another Brick in the Wall series:

Tasting Events

The Fifth Element – Part 2

Quintessential Wines are are specialist wine importers, distributors and retailers based in Drogheda, just north of Dublin, and with an online store.  Here are some more of their wines which really took my fancy at their portfolio tasting in April:

Quinta da Raza Grande Escolha Vinho Verde 2016 (12.0%, €17.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

quinta da raza 2

North west “Green” Spain’s best known white wines are probable the Albariños of Rías Baixas (see below).  Less well known are the Alvarinhos of northern Portugal, just the other side of the Minho river in the Vinho Verde region.  Alvarinho is just one of several local grapes which are often blended to make refreshing, easily approachable young wines.  Some of them are a notch or two above that, however, and Quinta da Raza’s Grande Escolha is one of them.  This is a blend of Alvarinho and Trajadura, also known as Treixadura in Galicia.  Although modest in alcohol (12.0%), it is packed full of flavour – melon and fruit polos! (I shit you not!)  great value for money.

Bodegas Zarate Rías Baixas Albariño 2015 (12.5%, €21.25 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)
zarate 2

The Zarate family have been making wine in the Salnes Valley for over 300 years and have been at the forefront of modern winemaking in the area.  This is their “entry level” Albariño, made from vines with an average age of 35 years.  It’s made in the normal style – clean, fresh, young, fruity – but is a great example of that style.  It shows a variety of citrus: lemon, lime and grapefruit and has a long, clean finish.

Mahi Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (13.5%, €22.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

Mahi SB

Brian Bicknell is regarded as one of the most accomplished winemakers in Marlborough.  He did a tour of duty that took him from the antipodes to Hungary, France, Chile and finally back to New Zealand.  After five years of planning, Mahi made their first vintage in 2001 and then established their winery in Renwick (pictured above from my visit) in 2006.  The grapes come from owned and rented vineyards, currently extending to five varieties (but no Riesling yet, which is a pity!)

This is Mahi’s standard Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s a world away from the Marlborough Sauvignon on offer in the local supermarket – in fact, it’s one of the best examples of straight Sauvignon you can find.  It shows grapefruit, gooseberries and cut grass, green but ripe, and wonderfully balanced.

Mahi Boundary Road Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (14.0%, €25.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda & quintessentialwines.ie)

Mahi Boundary Road

Whereas the regular Sauvignon above is blend from across all Mahi’s vineyards, this is a single vineyard wine, but also a different expression of the grape through different winemaking techniques.  The vines are in a north-facing (the warmest aspect in the southern hemisphere) plot close to the edge (hence “Boundary Farm”) of Blenheim.  The grapes are handpicked compared to the normal practice of machine harvesting.  They are whole-cluster pressed, fermented with wild yeast in French oak barriques and then matured in the barrel for a further eleven months.  The result is a totally different style of wine: smoky, oaky and intense funky flavours over a lemon, lime and orange citrus core.  If anything, this 2014 was slightly too smoky on the finish for me, but as it’s only just been released I would expect it to calm down somewhat and integrate more over the coming months and years.  Smoked salmon anyone?

Bodegas Zarate Rías Baixas Tras da Viña 2015 (12.5%, €29.95 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

TRAS_DA_VINA

Tras da Viña is a tiny hillside parcel of only 0.6 hectares, facing south for maximum sunshine.  The Albariño vines were replanted in 1965 so they were celebrating their 50th birthday for this vintage.  Such age has given the wine a fantastic intensity of flavour, and a very long finish.  It is classic Albariño, with a slightly saline edge, but much more than that – lithe and liquid on the tongue.  This is a refined wine that would be perfect for delicately flavoured dishes, flattering them rather than overpowering them.

Domaine Fèvre Chablis 1er Cru “Fourchaume” 2015 (13.0%, €32.50 at Quintessential Wines, Drogheda)

Fevre

Fourchaume is generally rated in the top echelon of Chablis’s Premiers Crus, with an easterly aspect that bathes it in the morning sun – this promotes ripeness without overblown alcohol or losing freshness.  Domaine Fèvre have 10 hectares in the middle of the Cru, all based on Kimmeridgian limestone.  Fermentation and maturation on fine lees take place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks.  This is a grown up Chablis, already very approachable despite the young age.  Tangy citrus and mineral notes combine with a delightful texture and sublime poise.  Top class Chablis!

 

The Fifth Element Series:

Tasting Events

A Fun Blind Tasting Event

rrapid_blocks

When I was asked to put on a wine tasting event for a birthday party, I asked what format the host wanted and the average level of wine knowledge among the guests. He replied that he was open about the format but that the partygoers would have varying levels of interest and knowledge in wine (a couple of heathens not even liking wine!) Furthermore, there would be different groups within the guests, so an arrangement which got them to mix well would be preferable.

The format we agreed on was one that has worked well for me at many events in the past, and has been progressively honed over the years. I split the guests into two teams, led by the birthday boy and his wife respectively. Six wines were served blind: two sparkling, two white and two red. For each wine, the teams had to guess five aspects:

  1. Geographical Origin
  2. Grape(s)
  3. ABV %
  4. Vintage
  5. Price Band

Now, blind tasting is actually pretty difficult even for seasoned professionals, so to make things a bit more reasonable there were 5 answers to chose from for each question, for each wine.  The teams could then go for more points if they were pretty sure what the wine was (e.g. choosing “Italy – Veneto” for origin and “Glera” for grape(s) if they thought it was a Prosecco) or hedging their bets.

As for the wines selected?  The host is a fan of classic Bordeaux and Burgundy but wanted to try other styles, so he asked me to choose some personal favourites.  I sourced them from Tesco (supermarket) and Sweeney’s wine merchants, so that if attendees liked the wines they would have a reasonable chance of finding them later.

So without further ado, here are the wines and the options for each question:

Marqués de la Concordia Cava 2013 (11.5%, €17.99 at Sweeney’s)

marques-cava

sparkling-1

Both teams guessed this was a Cava and had it in the right price band.  I’m not a fan of cheap Cava but this is actually a nice bottle at a pretty nice price.  I’d much prefer to drink this than most budget Proseccos!

Tesco Finest Vintage Grand Cru Champagne 2007 (12.5%, €35.00 at Tesco)

tesco-finest-champagne

sparkling-2

Perhaps the proliferation of cheaper Champagnes at Lidl and Aldi have changed people’s preconceptions of how much Champagne costs, as both teams selected €20 – €30.  The biggest Champagne brand in the world – Möet & Chandon – is usually listed at €50+…but I reckon this is far better, at a significantly lower price.

Prova Regia Arinto VR Lisboa 2014 (12.0%, €13.00 at Sweeney’s)

provo-regia-arinto

white-1

This is an old favourite of mine from the days of Sweeney’s regular tastings.  It now comes in two versions, the above pictured Vinho Regional and a slightly more upmarket DOC. Whispers of “It’s Riesling, look at the bottle” were heard, and I can see the logic (the bottles were wrapped in foil so the silhouette was visible).  Several tasters thought it didn’t taste of much at all, and I’d have to agree to a certain extent – it’s definitely worth trading up to the DOC for more flavour intensity.

McWilliams Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Hunter Valley Semillon 2005 (12.0%, €19.99 at Tesco)

semillon

white-2

This was a really polarising wine, and one that totally misled tasters as to its age – most thought it a 2015 or 2014, when in fact it was from the 2005 vintage!  Hunter Valley Semillon is one of the true original styles to have come from Australia.  Unoaked, it is all fresh lemon in its youth, but with significant bottle age it gains toastiness and rich flavours.  This is a bottle you can buy now and hide in the bottom of a wardrobe for a decade!

Cono Sur 20 Barrels Pinot Noir 2014 (13.5%, €26.00 at Sweeney’s)

20-barrels

red-1

Probably the best-received wine of the evening!  This is a lovely wine, and one that beats off most of the competition at anything close to the price.  Its richness and spiciness (for a Pinot Noir) did lead some to think it was a Shiraz – understandable.  This was the wine which people queued up to snap the label of so that they could seek it out!

Diemersfontein Pinotage 2014 (14.0%, €23.00 at Sweeney’s)

diemersfontein-pinotage

red-2

Another polarising wine, with several not sure if they liked it or not – and to be fair, it’s not for everyone.  This is the “Original Coffee and Chocolate Pinotage” and I happen to like it – don’t listen to the Mochas (sorry!) Of course the grape and origin weren’t explicitly listed so they were both “other” – a bit sneaky on my part?  Perhaps…

**If you are interested in having a wine tasting party or other event then please ask me for details**

 

 

Single Bottle Review, Tasting Events

So you think you know Douro wines?

Port is one of the great fortified wines of the world.  Even though it’s not particularly fashionable at the moment, many wine drinkers keep a special place in their heart – and their drinks cabinets – for Port.  On top of the usual Vintage and LBV Ports there are lots of new styles being created such as Bottle-matured LBV and Rosé Port.

Then we have “dry” Douro reds which are dark, tannic and powerful – though full of fruit. In some ways they really are dry Ports, made from the same grapes, full-bodied and occasionally surpassing 15%.  The quality of Douro table wines has improved significantly over the past decade or two (as has most Portuguese wine) so they are generally well-received.

….and now for something completely different…

Niepoort Clos de Crappe Douro 2013 (12.5%, RRP €23)

clos-de-crappe

So first you notice the name – pretty amusing in my opinion, especially when you realise it sounds quite like “a load of crap“, but then I have quite a childish sense of humour.  At least it stands out!

Then you notice the verses on the label – what the actual heck is this?  You can just about make out one of them on the photo above, here’s another:

A modern old style wine.
A wine full of character, some mistakes.
Technically a disaster.
But a wine full of passion and expression.
A wild , intense nose full of reduction.
A palate “the incredible lightness of being”.
Fine, elegant and very long.
“What the hell is Clos de Crappe?”

How novel!  It really seems as though Niepoort were having a lot of fun with this wine and its packaging – and I think more producers should take note.

When reading the label you might also notice the alcohol – only 12.5%, which is a far cry from the typical big Douro reds.  Before popping the cork, you already know that the contents are going to be something different.

Then finally the wine itself.  In the glass it’s much lighter than most Portuguese reds, and really brings the funk on the nose (regular readers may have noticed that I love funky wines).  Smoke and “struck-match” reductive notes add to the intrigue.

Then to taste, red fruit is in abundance, with fresh acidity and a light mouthfeel.  This wine drops large Burgundian hints, though of course the local grapes (Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Sousão, Alicante de Bouschet, Rufete and others) are different.

Tasted blind, I would never place this wine in the Douro.  Even though I had poured it out of the bottle myself, I had some doubts!  It’s a wonderful wine…but the sting in the tail is that production is very small, and only a few cases allocated to Ireland.  Seek it out before it all goes!

Many thanks to Ben and Barbara from WineMason who parted with one of their precious bottles.

Book Review

Port and the Douro by Richard Mayson (Third Edition) [Book Review]

Book Review – Port and the Douro – 3rd Edition – Richard Mayson

Front Cover

Most of us like Port, but few of us actually drink it – on a regular basis at least.  It’s possibly even more niche than the other great fortified style from the Iberian Peninsula, without Sherry’s trendiness in its favour.

Above all, many of us are curious about Port:

  • What’s the difference between Ruby, Tawny, LBV and other labels?
  • Why do so many producers have English names?
  • And for the very curious: What’s the connection between Dog Strangler (1) and the Bishop of Norwich? (2)

Richard Mayson’s excellent and authoritative book answers these questions and much more besides.  

The first chapter gives a condensed history of Portugal, Port and the Douro. Politics, religion, agriculture, industrialisation and international treaties all intertwined in the second millennium CE to create the fascinating landscape we have today.

The second chapter is a detailed exposition of the geography, climate and principal grapes of the Douro. This includes a map of the top 80 or so Quintas (farms or estates) with a review and contact details of each.  In conjunction with chapter 8 “Directions in the Douro” this makes a mini travel guide.  Would be visitors now have a valuable resource to help plan their trip.

The evolution of Port production methods is treated in chapter 3.  Whereas fine “light” wines can enjoy a long fermentation and maceration to extract flavour, colour and tannin from grape skins, Port has no such luxury.  With a maximum of 48 hours of skin contact before fermentation has to be arrested, firm and rapid extraction is key – and the tried and tested best method for this is foot treading in a lagare (a big, square, open-topped stone tank).

Throughout this third edition, the main text is interspersed with panels painting light-hearted pen pictures of the “Men (and women) who shaped the Douro”. In fact, these small pieces on their own give the reader some entertaining insights into the whole Port story.

As a patriotic Yorkshireman, I particularly enjoyed hearing of a bluff, straight-talking fellow Tyke (3) who devoted himself to exploring and documenting the vineyards of the Douro itself, rather than focusing on the blending, maturation and shipping from Villa Gaia de Nova. Joseph James Forrester produced some excellent maps of the region, and was also a vocal proponent of light (unfortified) Douro wines. Unfortunately, he was 150 years too early for consumer taste and shipping conditions, so these views were widely derided by the Port establishment.

A lack of available labour in the 1960s necessitated the introduction of mechanised alternative to the human foot, with varying degrees of success.  Much of the Douro was without a reliable (or any) electricity supply at that time.  Autovinification was an ingenious answer, as it used the pressure created by the natural production of carbon dioxide during fermentation  to pump the must over the cap (of floating grape skins).  More modern technology has since seen the use of robotic devices which attempt to reproduce the firm-but-not-too-firm extraction techniques of the foot.

Who invented Port? Although “light” wine had been made in the Douro for millennia, it was English Shippers who added spirit to large barrels of wine to stop them spoiling on the sea voyage to England. But that wasn’t the invention of Port! Port production depends on the addition of spirit before fermentation has finished, thereby retaining some of the grapes’ natural sugars as the spirit kills off the fermenting yeast. And that practice was first documented by a couple of wine merchants who found the Abbot of Lamego carrying it out on 1676.

The fourth chapter explains the different types of Port, from the well-established to the new.  The following table summarises the main styles:

Main Types of Port 3

The best of the best – Vintage Port – gets chapter 5 all to itself.  Each year from 1960 to 2015 (in the new paperback edition)  is given a mark from nil to five stars as an overall guide, plus a narrative explaining how the vintage unfolded – essentially the weather throughout the year – and the author’s pick of the best bottles.  Selected other years going back to 1844 (!) are also included in the vintage guide.  Whether this is a useful buying guide depends on the distance of your drinking horizon and/or the depths of your pockets.

Adulation and Adulteration. Without reference to quality, (young) Port’s defining characteristics are that it is sweet, strong in alcohol and dark in colour. Unscrupulous shippers based in Portugal and (especially) wine merchants in England would therefore bulk out real Port wine – or even wine from other regions – with sugar, raisin wine, cheap alcohol and elderberry juice.

Port Producers and Shippers are addressed in chapter 6, some now defunct and many now conjoined into large groups:

Major Port Groups

Joseph James Forester’s beloved light (everything is relative) Douro wines finally make an appearance in chapter 7.  They are made using essentially the same grapes as Port itself, but fermented to dryness, and skipping the addition of spirit.  Douro wines only gained their own DOC in 1979.  Usually big and bold, when well made they can perform well at the table with many courses, rather than just Port’s traditional role at the end.

As already mentioned, chapter 8 has travel information on hotels, restaurants and local dishes.

Chapter 9 is a short postscript on the future for Port and the Douro.  It would be an interesting exercise to look at the predictions in earlier editions!

Overall, this is an essential book for Port and Douro fans, and great reading for anyone with an interest in wine!

Click on the pic to buy directly from Amazon:

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Footnotes
(1) The literal translation of the name “Esgana Cão”, the extremely acidic Port grape which also appears as Sercial in Madeira.
(2) Asking a person at the dinner table if they know the Bishop of Norwich is apparently a polite prod to keep the Port moving round the table!
(3) Peter Mayson is a resident of the other (dark) side of the Pennines, so was duty bound to use this description.

Tasting Events

A Portuguese Posse

As you might have read on this blog I am a big fan of Portuguese wines, both white and red.  They are often made using indigenous grapes which aren’t known well (if at all) outside the country so are interesting, taste good, and are nearly always great value for money.

The first Saturday in April was a washout, but thankfully the day was made a little brighter by Sweeney’s of Glasnevin who opened some Portuguese wine for tasting.  Here are my brief notes:

Portuga Branco VR Lisboa 2014 ( 12.0%, €12)

Portuga Large

A blend of Arinto, Vital and Fernão Pires from around Lisbon.  Light and refreshing, quite simple and straightforward, but nothing wrong with that. Citrus notes with a crisp finish. Did you notice the low abv of 9.5%?  I didn’t when tasting it [update: because Google got it wrong on this occasion ]!

Quinta do Cardo Branco 2011 €14.50

Quinta do Cardo Large

This white is a blend of Siria (which I’d never heard of before) and Arinto (which is far more common).  The grapes are “ecologically grown” (which I suppose might mean organic) in vineyards at 700 metres elevation.

Compared to the Portuga above it has a more sophisticated nose, with orange in particular showing through.  The palate is less expressive, however.  This might be due to its age – most whites like this are consumed young.  Some inexpensive wines do develop further after their initial fruit has faded – like this ten year old Chilean Gewurz – but there is only trial and error to find out!

Lab VR Lisboa Tinto 2014 (13.0%, €12)

Lab Large

And now on to the reds.  This cheap and cheerful number is a blend of Castelão (35%), Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo, 25%), Syrah (25%) and Touriga Nacional (15%).  After fermentation it is aged in new Portuguese oak for 4 months.

A quick taste and details of the blend are forgotten.  It’s soft and fruity, a very approachable wine. Lots of cherry and other red fruits, but fresh, not confected nor sour. Immensely gluggable!

Segredos de São Miguel VR Alentejano 2015 (13.5%, €12 or 2 for €22)

Segredos de São Miguel Large

This time the blend is Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez (aka Tempranillo, again), Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira.  It’s made in the Alentejo region but is a Vinho Regional (VR) rather than a DOC, and the back label suggests it’s a fun rather than serious wine.

On tasting I’d have to agree that it’s fun, but although nice it is very young indeed (only six months old?)  It shows promise but needs to relax and come out of its shell – perhaps in time for the annual week of Dublin sunshine?

Vale da Mata VR Lisboa Tinto 2010 (13.0%, €20)

Vale Da Mata Large

Although only a VR, the back label does state that this is from the Sub-Região Alta Estremadura.  Estremadura is the historical name for the province around Lisbon and in fact was the previous name of the VR Lisboa, so perhaps this is an indicator of quality.

After the Lab and the Segredos de São Miguel this is a bit more serious.  It has darker fruit and a touch of tannin (steak here we come!).  On its own it was good, but not great – I think it definitely needs food to shine.

Herdade de Rocim VR Alentejano Tinto 2010 (14.0%, €19)

Herdade de Rocim Large

We almost have a full house of varieties here: Aragonez, Alicante Bouchet, Syrah, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira.  As you might expect it is full of dark fruit, particularly blackberries and plums.  Note the vintage – 2010 – it’s already showing some development, with violets and pencil shavings on the nose.

Among the higher priced reds on show this was definitely my favourite.  Given the flavour profile and structure it reminded me of an Haut Médoc from a ripe vintage (such as 2010 in fact).  Interestingly (and reassuringly), when I last took notes on (the same vintage of) this wine nearly two years ago I recommended it to Claret lovers.  This wine and I are on the same page!

Herdade de Sobroso DOC Alentejo Tinto 2013 (14.0%, €22)

Herdade do Sobroso Large

The back label for this wine states that it is made from the “noble” varieties of the Alentejo, later revealing them to be Aragonez (30%), Trincadeira (30%), Alicante Bouschet (20%) and Alfrocheiro (20%).  This last grape was another one new to me, apparently favoured for the deep colour it brings to blends, and amusingly also known as Tinta Bastardinha.

“Barrique Select” on the front lets you know it has been aged in oak – and a wine geek like me would presume 225 litre French oak barrels, though the back reveals this to be only partly true; the wine was indeed matured in French oak barrels for 12 months, with the forest (Alier) even specified, but in 500 rather than 225 litre barrels.  If this seems like splitting hairs, perhaps it is, but the larger sized barrels add a certain roundness as much as oakiness.

I liked this wine, but I think it suffered from being after the Herdade de Rocim which had more intense flavours.  I’d like to give this wine another try in a big wine glass after a few hours in a decanter – I suspect it would really open up.

Opinion

A Dozen Valentine’s Treats

Valentine’s Day is associated with romance, and hence the colour pink.  This often means that rosé wines are promoted at this time of year, but as they aren’t generally my thing I thought I would recommend a dozen wines of differing hues from O’Briens, who are offering 10% back on their loyalty card (or wine savings account as I call it).

These wines are mainly higher priced for which I make no excuse – these are treats for yourself and / or your significant other!  Of course, they would make a nice treat for Mother’s Day or at any time of year…

Chateau Kirwan Margaux Troisième Cru 2010 (€95.00)

Chateau-Kirwan-2010

The last of Bordeaux’s fantastic four vintages within eleven years (2000, 2005 2009, 2010) allows this Margaux to show its class but be more approachable than in leaner years.  You could keep this for another decade or two if you didn’t want to drink it yet.  Decant for several hours after opening if you can, and serve with beef.

Penfolds Bin 407 Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (€62.00)

Penfolds-Bin-407-Cabernet-Sauv

One of Penfolds’ top Cabernet Sauvignons which combines power, fruit and elegance. 2010 happened to be a great vintage in South Australia as well, so if you’re climbing the quality tree it’s a good time to do it.  Being a Cab means it’s all about cassis, intense blackcurrant aromas and flavours, with some vanilla to go with it.

1757 Bordeaux 2012 (€49.99)

1757-Bordeaux

This is a very interesting wine for the geeks out there as it is a custom blend of parcels from well known appellations from around Bordeaux including Paulliac, Graves and Canon-Fronsac.  It was created by JM Cazes group winemaker Daniel Llose and O’Briens Head of Wine Buying Lynne Coyle MW.  Oh, and it tastes wonderful as well!

Ata Rangi Crimson Pinot Noir 2013 (€27.95)

Ata-Rangi-Crimson-Pinot-Noir

Ata Rangi is one of stars of Martinbrough, an hour or so drive from Wellington in the south of New Zealand’s North Island.  Crimson is their second wine intended to be drunk while young rather than laid down, but it is first rate in quality.  Beats any Pinot from France at this price point.

Lanson Rose Label NV (€57.95 down to €45.00)

 

Lanson-Rose-Label-NV

This isn’t a token rosé, it’s a proper Champagne which happens to be pink.  Lanson’s house style is based on preventing / not encouraging malolactic fermentation in the base wines, meaning they remain fresh and zippy even after the secondary alcoholic fermentation which produces the fizz.  Texture is key here as well, and the lovely red fruits have a savoury edge.  You could even drink this with pork or veal.  Great value when on offer.

Beaumont des Crayeres Grande Réserve NV Champagne (€36.95 down to €30.00)

Beaumont-des-Crayeres-GR

Another Champagne which is even less expensive, but still a few steps above most Prosecco and Cava on the market.  The regulations for non vintage Champagne stipulate a minimum of 15 months ageing on the lees, but the lovely toasty notes from this show it has significantly more than that.  Punches well above its price.

L’Extra par Langlois NV (€19.99)

L_extra-par-Langlois

The Loire Valley is home to a multitude of wine styles, including Crémant (traditional method sparkling) such as this.  Made from internationally famous Chardonnay and local speciality Chenin, it doesn’t taste the same as Champagne – but then why should it?  The quality makes it a valid alternative, not surprising when you learn that it’s owned by Bollinger!

Graham’s Port LBV 2009 (€22.99)

Grahams

Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) is a great way to get into serious quality Port without paying the full price for Vintage Port.  Whereas the latter is bottled quickly after fermentation and laid down for many years, LBV spends time maturing in casks.  There it slowly loses colour and tannin but gains complexity.  Graham’s is one of the most celebrated Port Houses and their LBV is one of the benchmarks for the category.

Chanson Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2010 (€60.49)

Chanson-Chab-GrandCru-Les-Clos

Grand Cru Chablis is a very different beast from ordinary Chablis.  It’s often oaked, though sympathetically rather than overpoweringly, and can develop astounding complexity.  Among the seven (or eight, depending on who you ask) Grand Crus, Les Clos is often regarded as the best of the best.  At just over five years from vintage this is still a baby – it would be even better in another five years but it might be impossible to resist!

Château-Fuissé les Brûlés 2012 (€42.00)

Ch-Fuisse-les-Brules

Pouilly-Fuissé is probably the best appellation of the Maconnais, Burgundy proper’s most southerly subregion which borders the north of Beaujolais.  The white wines here are still Chardonnay, of course, but the southerly latitude gives it more weight and power than elsewhere in Burgundy.  Oak is often used in generous proportions as the wine has the fruit to stand up to it.  This Château-Fuissé is one of my favourites from the area!

Greywacke Wild Ferment Sauvignon 2013 (29.95)

Greywacke-Wild-Ferment-Sauvignon

It’s a Sauvignon Blanc, but then it’s not just a Sauvignon Blanc.  Kevin Judd was the long time winemaker of Cloudy Bay, finally branching out on his own a few years ago.  The wild yeast and partially oaking give this a very different sensibility from ordinary Sauvignons.  It’s not for everybody, but those that like it, love it!

Man O’War Valhalla Chardonnay 2011 (€29.45)

Man-O_War-Valhalla-Chardonnay

One of my favourite New Zealand wines, full stop.  I have mentioned this wine several times over the past few years…mainly as I just can’t get enough of it!  It’s made in Waiheke Island in Auckland Bay so has more weight than, say, a Marlborough Chardonnay, but still enough acidity to keep it from being flabby.  Tropical fruit abounds here – just make sure you don’t drink it too cold!