Julia Harding’s 50 Great Portuguese Wines 2012: my picks of an excellent bunch

Last Friday, Julia Harding MW’s 50 Great Portuguese Wines 2012 were unveiled.

An exciting facet of this annual selection is that it is subjectively framed. It’s not about purporting to identify the 50 “top” or “best” Portuguese wines. Rather, the only criteria is that the person selecting them reckons the wines are “great,” which allows them to set their own terms of reference.

For Harding, with the “honourable exceptions” of Tinta Roriz and Alicante Bouschet, she focused exclusively on Portugal’s treasure trove of native grape varieties. Her aim? To showcase “wines that could come from nowhere else but Portugal. Wines that expressed through these indigenous varieties the land, the climate and the people.” It made for a scintillating selection – a celebration of (my word) ‘Portugueseness.’

I was equally thrilled to see that Harding included 18 white wines (19 if you include the first sparkling wine ever to make the cut). In 2010, one of the goals of my own 50 Great selection was to mirror the quantum leap in quality of Portugal’s white wines with a quantum leap in the number of white wines chosen (14 in my case). As Harding has demonstrated, the category goes from strength to strength.

I think the same is true of the character and quality of mid-priced wines. Retail prices were not provided for all the wines, but I reckon Harding’s 50 Great included markedly fewer big hitters than in previous selections (the first dating back to 2005). All in all, it was an extremely strong line up – diverse and eminently digestible – my favourite so far.

Below you’ll find my picks of the bunch and click here for the complete list (grape varieties in italics). Finally, I should add that the Casal Figueira António Vital 2011 wasn’t available to taste and, woe betide me, I somehow accidentally omitted to taste Herdade do Mouchão Mouchão Licoroso 2006 – shall have to hit the road to Manchester to catch up with them both tomorrow!

Sparkling wine

Quinta das Bageiras Grande Reserva Bruto Natural 2003 (DOC Bairrada)

Aged for 7 years on the lees this old vine blend of Maria Gomez & Bical is rich and soft, yet persistent with juicy apple and bruised apple fruit, with toasty development and a subtle hint of mushroom.  Lovely mouthfeel.  Very good.  13.5%

White wines

Afros Loureiro 2009 (DOC Vinho Verde)

A concentrated Loureiro from this biodynamic producer, with powerful lime – pith and juice – to nose and palate, together with juicy, lipsmacking and sweet pink grapefruit.  Oxidative fresh baked bread and nutty notes through the finish add complexity without diminishing its freshness and verve.  12%

Adega de Monção 2011 (DOC Vinho Verde)

This co-operative is on a roll – my panel at Decanter World Wine Awards just awarded it a Gold Medal and Trophy for the 2010 Alvarinho.  This blend of Alvarinho and Trajadura is subtly perfumed with lifted talc notes to its pear, water melon-sluiced and lemony palate.  Lovely balance and subtle intensity.  11.5%

Quinta de Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas Alvarinho 2010 (DOC Vinho Verde)

I reckon this is probably 50 Great’s most featured white wine – Jamie Goode selected the 2007 vintage and me the 2008 (and Tim Atkin selected the 2005 “entry level” Alvarinho).  As the name suggests, especially in this warm year, it’s a sunny wine, with rich, ripe but succulent and juicy apricot.  Long and very well balanced, there’s no shortage of poise to this elegant expression of Monção e Melgaço’s first grape. 13%

Filipa Pato FP 2011 (Beiras Vinho Regional)

This blend of Bical and Arinto is soft and rich, with gentle rolling – pebble in a pond – acidity and a touch of residual sugar (c. 5g/l); attractive weight, leesy texture and length without being showy.     Makes it own shape and very nice it is too! 12.5%

Quinta da Pellada Primus 2009 (DOC Dão)

The first of two white wines from Dão’s genius winemaker Alvaro Castro who – take note importers – is currently seeking UK representation!  This field blend is reckoned to incorporate 39 varieties, including Encruzado, Cerceal, Bical, Verdelho, Terrantez.  It has tremendous drive and focus, with juicy, prickly pear and mouthwatering grapefruit.  A pithy, spicy (citrus peel) textured finish lends another dimension and beds down the oh so juicy palate. 13%

Quinta de Saes Reserva Encruzado 2010 (DOC Dão)

Encruzado can be overworked, but not this one from Alvaro Castro whose white wines never fail to tickle my palate.  It’s tight and mineral, its piquant grapefruit and celery salt palate compellingly teased out by bright, racy acidity – very long, lipsmacking and lovely. 13%

Biomanz Dona Fátima Jampal 2011 (Vinho Regional Lisboa)

A pure nose and palate shows ripe lemon, pretty perfumed pear and quince with a touch of herbal lift.  Its six months in French oak has seemingly loaned focus over flavour.  Fresh with an edge of tannin (it sees some skin contact), it’s a well defined, bright wine.  13%

Dominó Monte das Pratas Branco 2010 (Vinho Regional Alentejano)

This is an exceptionally interesting and atypical white wine from Alentejo –  a field blend of Alicante Branco (Palomino Fino), Fernão Pires, three types of Muscatel, three types of Arinto, Rabo de Ovelha, Pérola.  It makes sense that it hails from the elevated, cool northern outpost of Portalegre, whose varieties have more in common with its northerly neighbours than the rest of Alentejo.  Seemingly channelling the Palamino, Fino style, it’s bone dry, savoury and textured, with struck match toasty minerality/reduction to its terse green apple and steely grapefruit layered and  persistent palate.   Harding says it looked good after a week open in the fridge and I can believe it of this tensile, inwardly focused wine.  It’s made by Vitor Claro, a Portuguese chef/winemaker.  12%

Rui Reguinga Terrenus Branco 2010 (Vinho Regional Alentejano)

This blend of Arinto, Fernão Pires and Roupeiro is also from aged Portalegre vineyards.  It’s more densely mineral (not in a reductive way), with bright citrus, floral and herbaceous notes.  A taut, focused finish is fresh and vibrant.  13%

Quinta de La Rosa Branco 2010 (DOC Douro)

This blend of 35% Viosinho, 35% Rabigato and others (field blend) has a subtle wash of fennel, celery salt, minerals and flint, with an attractive edge of acidity and tannin.  Spicy oak completes the frame.  Very attractive.  13.3%

Niepoort Coche 2010 (DOC Douro)

Ripe citrus and mineral notes mingle on a quite Burgundian nose – now there’s a surprise, not!  This blend of Rabigato, Codega do Larinho, Arinto and others, the first of three white Douro powerhouses, would benefit from decanting such is its charge and density of flavour.   Brightly pixillated mineral and citrus notes follow through on an ample, peachy but poised palate, framed by sweet, smoky vanillin oak.  A long, layered finish reveals nutty, savoury  lanolin and vegetal notes.  Very complex and somewhat youthful – look forward to seeing how it develops.  13.5%

Wine & Soul Guru 2008 (DOC Douro)

A sleek, muscular blend of Viosinho, Rabigato, Códega do Larinho, Gouveio.  The lanolin note is more pronounced here, but one senses that this powerful yet scintillatingly fresh, deeply mineral, cedary, smoky wine still has lots to show.  Very good.

Van Zellers VZ 2010 (DOC Douro)

Terrific drive and freshness to this two parcel, exceptionally piquant, salty, mineral field blend of Viosinho, Rabigato, Codega and Gouveio.  One senses the firm clasp (and whisp) of smoky oak; finishes long and tightly focused. Very youthful.  13.4%

Red wines

Quinta da Palmirinha Vinhão  2010 (DOC Vinho Verde)

Sweet damson skin lift, but distinctly dark and savoury on the palate with a smoky minerality to its sour black plum and cherry fruit, cheek-sucking acidity and cheek-bone-like tannins.  Intense and most definitely a food wine.  11%

Valle Pradinhos Porta Velha 2009 (Trás-os-Montes DOC)

Bright ruby, with lovely freshness and florality on nose and palate, at £7.95 (The Wine Society), this blend of Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela, Touriga Nacional is my kind of summer red.  If you like Cru Beaujolais, give this red fruited, silkily tannined vin de soif a go.  Love the lick and lift of white pepper too.

Filipa Pato Calcario 2010 (Beiras Vinho Regional)

An exceptionally pretty, pure and open-faced (if young) Baga, perfumed and mineral with bright, crunchy pomegranate, sweet red cherry fruit and cherry fruit near the stone bite.  Fine but present, powdery tannins remind you this is Baga and it’s going to last!  Lovely, with terrific line, length and lift. 13%

Luis Pato Quinta do Ribeirinho Pé Franco 2009 (DOC Bairrada)

Ungrafted Baga planted on sandy soils (and watch this space for an ungrafted Baga from limestone soils – Pato is living dangerously!) Very firm, tight yet fine within that, with a smoky edge to the bright, crunchy red and black currant and bilberry fruit shoehorned into its tight frame.   Let this be for a few years yet and will easily keep 15+ years.  Terrific potential. 12%

Quinta do Escudial Vinhas Velhas 2007 (DOC Dão)

This unoaked blend of 50% Touriga Nacional, 15% Alfrocheiro, 20% Tinta Roriz, 15% Jaen would retail for around £10 if it was imported into the UK (another producer seeking representation).   It’s a smart buy with its gently spicy, floral and fleshy plum and cherry nose and palate.  A herbal riff and tarter notes of plum and cherry skin lend energy and bite, while ripe but firm tannins lend backbone.  From a vineyard at 800m, it shows its cool roots. 14%

Quinta das Maias Jaen 2008 (DOC Dão)

According to the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, DNA profiles show that Spain’s Mencía (DOC Bierzo) and Jaen are one and the same, though I’m not sure which country got there first!  In my (admittedly limited) experience, wines from Bierzo tend to have longer tannins and more incense spice, while Jaen from Dão, like this one, is crunchier and fresher, with firmer tannins.  This is lightly herbal too.  Bright, tight, fresh and unshowy, it’s very Dão and very attractive for it.

Julia Kemper Tinto 2009 (DOC Dão)

A second appearance for Julia Kemper’s new Dão label in two years and, sure enough, this is a very accomplished blend of 50% Touriga Nacional, 25% Tinta Roriz, 15% Alfrocheiro, 10% Jaen, with crunchy but lingering vibrant red and black currant and berry fruit, lovely freshness, purity and perfume.  A firm but attractive grip of tannin and (flying) buttress of oak remind you that this will reward keeping.

Quinta de Chocapalha CH Touriga Nacional 2008 (Vinho Regional Lisboa)

This Touriga has seen 20 months in new French oak and, with a few months more in bottle since I last tasted it, it’s really started to fly.  Sleek and elegant, it’s a fleshy, juicy expression with cinnamon, cedar and chocolate edged succulent red and black cherry fruit and an attractive, sour cherry tang, which keeps it in check.  Smooth tannins make for a fluid wine with rangey length. 14%

Quinta do Mouro Touriga Nacional 2006 (Vinho Regional Alentejano)

Lovely intensity and density to this lingering Touriga, which shows chocolate-edged plum and cherry fruit wed to fine, long tannins.  Superbly balanced, with impressive freshness and flow, it’s satisfying without being in the least heavy, wearing its alcohol lightly.  Very good.  14.5%

Quinta do Vallado Sousão 2009 (DOC Douro)

Sousão is Vinho Verde’s Vinhão grape and, in this warm year, Vallado have pulled off a deep, dark, distinctive wine, with good flesh on its bones.  Showing the singularity of the grape, it’s well-defined – there’s good flesh, but you can’t pinch more than an inch – which makes for a well-focused red with a black cherry core, cinnamon spice and a herbal edge to the finish.  Admirably direct of expression.  14.5%

Niepoort Robustus 2007 (DOC Douro)

This field blend of Touriga Franca, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão & others was one of my wines of the tasting.  I quipped of the 2005 vintage that this wine (first made in 1990 and only recently revived) seems to have outgrown its name – Elegantia or better still Intenso seem more fitting, such is it levity, length and lift.  A sheer wine, with luminous red fruits, translucent minerals, incense spice and silky tannins.  So elegant, long, fine and perfumed.  Fabulous.

Quinta do Noval 2008 (DOC Douro)

This field blend of mostly Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinto Cão is densely concentrated but finely wrought (especially the tannins), with ripe, juicy black and red fruits, cassis and a lift of spice and herbs.  It finishes long and lingering, with a pronounced mineral undertow.  Though broachable, it’s very youthful; give it time to ease off the gas!

Poeira 2009 (DOC Douro)

Another favourite from Jorge Moreira – just love his elegant, pure style.  This is fine of tannin, silky of fruit, wonderfully floral and violet scented, with a delightful undertow of minerality.  Long, long, long and so fluid and flowing of delivery.  Bell clear.  Terrific.  14%

Quinta do Vale Meão 2009 (DOC Douro)

This blend of 57% Touriga Nacional, 35% Touriga Franca, 5% Tinta Barroca, 3% Tinta Roriz is dense, rich and spicy – very Meão, its dark fruit inflected with bergamot and garrigue notes.  Savoury oak and a dense but ripe charge of tannins lend tangible support.  A satisfying, beautifully balanced expression of this warm site.  14.5%

Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Reserva 2009 (DOC Douro)

This firm, taut even, blend of 50% Touriga Nacional, 40% Touriga Franca, 10% Tinta da Barca is tightly coiled, its dark seam of fruit yet to be mined, its tannins bony.  Terrific line and freshness, with just a hint of oak spice suggest that, with time, it will be a very fine swan indeed.  A keeper.  15%


Adriano Tiago Tiagos Superior Moscatel 1993 (DOC Moscatel de Setúbal)

I’m not sure I would have picked this as a Moscatel de Setúbal blind.  It’s darker and spicier than others I have tasted, more savoury and “thicker” too, with Medjool dates, fenugreek and tamarind – like an aged Madeira, but without the cut and thrust of acidity, though it is balanced.  The good doctor who makes it says he’s not after caramelised oranges, so this is very much his style and has been aged for more than 10 years in bottle , then bottle aged some more before release.  18.5%

Casa Agrícola Horácio Simões Excellent Moscatel Roxo NV (DOC Moscatel de Setúbal)

I savoured a bottle of this earlier this year.  Long and intensely lingering, this bottle picked up where the last had finished, yet further etching its nutty line on my palate.  Delicious bright pink grapefruit, orange peel and singed caramel notes flesh out its nutty spine – a gorgeous melange of fresh, sweet and savoury flavours. 18%

Jose Maria da Fonseca Alambre 20 Year Old Moscatel  NV (DOC Moscatel de Setúbal)

Another wonderful assemblage of flavours, barley sugar, tangy Seville oranges, walnuts, sweet dried hay and early grey tea; long, persistent and very well balanced.

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