Tag: Portuguese wine

Wines at Xmas #5 – Joe Coyle [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.

Joe Coyle is Head of Sales for Liberty Wines Ireland, a wine importer with an impressive portfolio with great coverage of Italy, NZ and Australia in particular.


At Christmas I like to serve a mix of tried-and-tested favourites alongside new wines that have excited me through the year.

CH Brut reserveA firm favourite that I always go back to is the dangerously drinkable Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve.  Charles Heidsieck is one of the most awarded Champagne houses, and it’s not hard to see why.  With at least five years on the lees and 40% reserve wines in the blend, their flagship Brut Réserve is rich and complex.

The nose is characterised by complex pastry aromas, with an opulent combination of ripe apricot, mango and greengages, dried fruits, pistachio and almond.  The palate begins with a silky-smooth sensation, developing into ripe fleshy apricot, melon and enticing plum pastry notes and delicate spice.

There is perfect balance of freshness and generosity.  Plus, the story of Charles Heidsieck, the original Champagne Charlie, includes Atlantic crossings, American high society, Mississippi swamp jails, political intrigue and financial windfalls.  It never fails to entertain!


Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Red 2014This year, my most exciting discoveries have come from Portugal.  Like Liberty Wines’ traditional stronghold in Italy, Portugal has dozens of native grape varieties to explore, from Alvarinho and Loureira in Vinho Verde through the Touriga Nacional based wines in the Douro and Dao to the intriguingly minerally white wines made from Enruzado in Dão.

The flavour profiles of these native grapes varieties are as diverse and exciting in Portugal as they are in Italy.   Perhaps it is this affinity, or just a search for originality and diversity, that drew us to Portugal. I’ll be serving Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Douro Tinto 2015 with dinner this year, its juicy red berry notes and subtle vanilla making it the perfect match with Christmas turkey.

 

 

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV: available at around €65 at O’Briens and independent wine merchants.

Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Douro Tinto 2015: available at around €19.99 at J.J. O’Driscoll Cork, Clontarf Wines. Wine Online

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Port and the Douro by Richard Mayson (Third Edition) [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.

A Portuguese Posse

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.

This Summer’s BBQ Wines #7 and #8 Quinta da Alorna

This Summer’s BBQ Wines #7 and #8 Quinta da Alorna

Quinta da Alorna Tasting Evening at Fade St Social
Quinta da Alorna Tasting Evening at Fade St Social

A few weeks ago I was the guest of thetaste.ie at Fade St Social where Colly Murray from RetroVino was showcasing the wines from Quinta da Alorna.  Representing Alorna was André Almeida, a true gentleman, who explained some of the philosophy behind each wine.  The talented chefs at Fade St Social prepared a dish to match each wine.  You can read a great report from the evening on the blog of my friend Laura.

I was very impressed with the wines overall, and will give a more in-depth report on the estate in the coming weeks.  What did strike me was that the wines were very good value, and were versatile enough to be enjoyed on their own or with food.  In other words, they would be great for a barbecue!  Here are the “entry level” white and red:

Quinta da Alorna Branco Vinho Regional Tejo 2013 (RetroVino: Fade St Social, Brasserie Sixty 6, Rustic Stone, Taste at Rustic)

Quinta da Alorna Branco 2013
Quinta da Alorna Branco Vinho Regional Tejo 2013

This white is a blend of two indigenous Portuguese grapes:

Arinto is known for its high acidity and citrus aromas and flavours.  It’s also grown extensively in Bucelas (so much so that it is sometimes known as Arinto de Bucelas) and in Vinho Verde, where it is often blended with Alvarinho and Loureiro.

Arinto grapes
Arinto grapes (www.winemakingtalk.com)

Fernão Pires has a more spicy aromatic character, often with exotic fruity notes.  As well as Tejo it is also grown in Bairrada, sometimes under the pseudonym Maria Gomes.

The two grapes are pressed and vinified separately at low temperature (12ºC) in stainless steel tanks to preserve freshness.  The two varieties are then blended, cold stabilised and clarified before bottling.

What this gives is a wine which can pair well with lots of different dishes, as different aromas and flavours from the wine are highlighted by the food.  Seafood is well complemented by the lemon and lime of the Arinto and its cutting acidity.  Asian and more expressive dishes are well matched by the exotic fruit of the Fernão Pires.  Chili and lime marinated prawns on the barbecue would be perfection!

Cardal Tinto Vinho Regional Tejo 2012 (RetroVino: Fade St Social, Brasserie Sixty 6, Rustic Stone, Taste at Rustic)

Cardal Tinto Vinho Regional Tejo 2012
Cardal Tinto Vinho Regional Tejo 2012

Not to be outdone, this red is a blend of three indigenous Portuguese grapes: Touriga Nacional (30%), Castelão (35%), Trincadeira (35%)

Touriga Nacional is of course most famous in Port, and now “light” Douro wines, though it’s not the most widely planted grape in the Douro region.  Often floral.

Touriga Nacional grapes
Touriga Nacional grapes (www.winemakingtalk.com)

Castelão’s name is derived from the Portuguese term for parakeet.  It is high in tannin so is often a component in a blend rather than a varietal.

Trincadeira is another Port grape, also known as Tinta Amarela.  It produces dark full-bodied and rich wines, with aromas of black fruit, herbs and flowers.

Production methods were fairly similar to the Branco above, with the exception that fermentation took place at 23ºC to help extract colour, flavour and tannin.

This wine is another great example where a blend can be more than the sum of its parts. The tannins are soft and gentle, there are wonderful floral aromas on the nose, and lovely plum and berry on the palate.  Just perfect for barbecued beef, or a juicy steak from one of Dylan McGrath’s restaurants!

This Summer’s BBQ Wines:

#1 – Bellow’s Rock Coastal Region Shiraz 2013

#2 – Château Michel Cazevieille Origine 1922 AC Saint Chinian 2012

#3 – and #4! Domaine de Maubet IGP Côtes de Gascogne 2014 & Venturer Côtes de Gascogne 2014

#5 – Byron Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir 2012

#6 – Lot #01 Mendoza Malbec Cabernet 2013

#7 and #8 – Quinta da Alorna

#9 – Langlois-Château Crémant de Loire Brut NV