Highlights: Essência do Vinho Top 10 Portuguese Wines Tasting 2020
February was a Portugal-fest, with Essência do Vinho and Simplesmente Vinho in Oporto and, in London, the Wines of Portugal Annual Tasting and Decanter’s Spain and Portugal Fine Wine Encounter. In this post, I report on my highlights from Essência do Vinho where, once again, I judged at Revista de Vinhos’ “TOP 10 Portuguese Wines.”
Forty-six wines were assessed blind (20-point-scale) by fifty-five judges from 11 countries (Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Spain, USA, England, Italy, Russia, Sweden Switzerland and Portugal). This year saw the first rosé and palhete. How times change! And, once again, with a very strong field of 15 white wines, the best, really compelling. Having scored highly in Revista de Vinhos magazine, the 46 wines were pre-selected by the Revista de Vinhos tasting panel.
The Top 10
Top White – Regueiro Jurássico I (Vinho Verde)
This novel non-vintage blend of Alvarinho is made by Paulo Cerdeira Rodrigues of Quinta do Regueiro, in Melgaço. I visited with Rodrigues in 2014, when I tasted an earlier incarnation of Jurrasico and his very good Douro/Vinho Verde blend. He told me that he decided to make a non-vintage wine because his Alvarinhos developed so well in bottle. I’m not sure if it’s true for the current release, but back then, he was blending four vintages, with 25% from each year. It was illuminating to sample it for myself, tasting tank samples from different vintages set aside for a future release. I awarded the current release 19/20, finding it breathlessly racy and pacey, with a prettiness and intriguing undertow of iodine (which made sense afterwards, knowing it was non-vintage). I particularly liked its pithy mouthfeel. Great energy and interest.
Second-placed white – Ramilo Malvasia de Colares 2017 (Colares)
I found some information about this new-to-me producer here. It would seem that the fruit is from a new ungrafted vineyard and the fermentation was 50:50 off and on skins, the on skins element fermented in open lagares. Interesting! A golden/straw hue, with tons of dry extract, green sappy acidity, a salty edge, tang of cheese (attractive) and flint. Something Jura-like about it. I gave it 18.5/20
Third-placed white – Caminhos Cruzados Teixuga 2014 (Dão)
This was a bit of an outlier, being a boldly fruited and oaked white. Nonetheless, with bottle age, this complex, powerful Encruzado impressed and I awarded it 19/20. It’s a yellow hue, with nutty oak and a Jura-like aldehydic edge – a touch of sherry – to the nose and palate. Great palate presence and length. I wondered if it was Quinta das Carvalhais Reserva Especial which, coincidentally, was co-created by Manuel Veira, the consultant winemaker at Caminhos Cruzados.
Top Rosé – Quanta Terra Phenomena Pinot Noir 2018 (VR Duriense)
The co-creators of this wine know their rosé. Quanta Terra’s Celco Pereira is one of Portugal’s top sparkling winemakers (I recently enjoyed his impressive Vertice Pinot Noir 2010 at Amathus’ Portuguese tasting at Volta do Mar restaurant in Covent Garden, who list it). Jorge Alves is the rosé wine supremo at Quinta Nova. Very pale, ever so delicate rosé with its pretty wild red cherry and mineral-sluiced palate – 18/20.
Top Red – Herdade do Rocim Grande Rocim Reserva 2015 (Alentejo)
The bold, velvety 2007 vintage of this Vidigueira Alicante Bouschet made the cut for my 50 Great Portuguese Wines, back in 2010. Produced by Catarina Vieira and Pedro Ribeiro, these days, in tune with contemporary taste, it is dialled down a tad. Reveals toasty oak on the nose and, looking back knowing the wine’s identity, classic inky, dark, perfumed Alicante Bouschet notes. I really enjoyed the gravelly, bloody tang, which built on the finish – 17.5/20
Second-placed red – Altas Quintas Obsessão 2007 (Alentejo)
It was a one two for Alentejo and Alicante Bouschet, for that matter (although this beefy red also features a splash of Trincadeira). In tertiary mode, the nose smacks of kid glove and woodsmoke. The palate is earthy and bloody, with a dark, dense spicy palate iodine and salt. Persistent, despite the rich cloak of mellow fruit, though I’m not sure I could drink more than a glass. 17/20
Third-placed red – Costa Boal Family Estates Palácio dos Távoras Gold Edition 2016 (Trás-os-Montes)
A very different region, but Alicante Bouschet is the mainstay of this wine too. I found the oak and acidity a little elbowy on the attack, but once other flavours asserted themselves, I warmed to it. Lively redcurrant, with bloody (ironstone) gravel, iodine and a game. Intense, long, persistent, well-structured and focused. 18/20
Fourth-placed red – Quinta do Monte d´Oiro Reserva 2015 (Lisboa)
Another wine (the 2006 vintage) which featured in my 2010 50 Great Portuguese Wines. Dry, firm and spicy, with a cardamom edged to its black fruited palate, striated, dynamic tannins and firm acidity. A little uptight. Needs time (with another year in bottle, the 2014 shown at the Amathus tasting was more expressive and juicy, the acid and tannin better integrated). 17/20
Top fortified wine – Barbeito Malvasia 50 Years Old O Japones (Madeira)
Ricardo Diogo Freitas always pulls it out the bag and this 20 pointer was no exception. Indeed, exceptional, warranting 20 points from me. What more could you want, I thought, such is its intensity, phenomenal length and complexity. Bright amber in hue, with a nam pla, biscuity tufa edge to the nose and palate, which reveals fresh cut, zingy pink grapefruit, smoky guava, peach tea, iodine, smelling salts and a lively, mineral character – a volcanic ‘bounce’ – I find hard to express in words – think sonic boom muffled but deep, dark basalt, mineral, sulphur-edged resonance?!?! Anyway, boooooooooom!
Second-placed fortified wine – Graham´s The Stone Terraces Porto Vintage 2017
I immediately recognised this, one of my top-scoring 2017 Vintage Ports (click here for my original review). Inky, with tremendous depth and layer to its bergamot and orange blossom inflected palate. Classic Graham’s sweetness and intensity, with milk chocolate-edged, pureed and very pure red and black fruits. Crushed rocks and dried roses lend additional nuance to the finish. Saturating, sumptuous, yet with a weightless gravity, this uber-long, persistent Port delivers pleasure every tip-toe step of the way. I also gave it 20 points.
Best of the rest
Other white wines
This was a particularly singular, edgy, intense line up, choc-ful of character and brimming with freshness, energy and minerality. A few wines were a little too cidery and/or under-ripe for me.
Rita Marques Ontem 2017 – a field blend featuring Rabigato, Verdelho, Síria, Dona Branca and Encruzado from centenarian vines in the village of Aveloso, in a non-demarcated region in the southern Douro. This is a brisk, penetrating white, with searing acidity, great minerality, sappy green vegetal sensations and ricocheting earth and stone to the back palate. Lean, very focused. 17.5/20
Casa da Passarella Villa Oliveira O Abrigo da Passarella 2016 (Dão) – I’m a big fan of the Villa Oliveira whites. Flinty, smoky, high class oak to nose and palate, sheathing the delivery of firm, touch bitter quince, with a crushed coriander seed edge. Textural with crashing, lip-smacking acidity – great drive and persistence. 18.5/20
Lima & Smith Covela Fantástico 2015 (Vinho Verde) – I’d not tasted this cuvee before, which is not made every year. This is the second release and I understand it is a varietal blend, so with Avesso and Chardonnay I guess? Following a low temperature skin maceration, the wine was fermented and aged in French and Austrian oak barrels for around 19 months. A golden hue, with complex tertiary notes of dried honey and pith (taste and texture) to its mineral-streaked, flinty tangerine fruit and crushed apricot kernel/sandstone. Lovely structure, length and patina of age ‘antique’ interest. Gastronomic.18.5/20
Susana Esteban Procura Vinhas Velhas Branco 2017 (Portalegre, Alentejo) – fresh steely grapefruit and apple pith to nose and palate with a lick of calisson. With persistent acidity, it has a long, tapering, salt-flecked finish. Clear-eyed. Lovely clarity. 17.5/20
Marcio Lopes Pequenos Rebentos Selvagem 2017 (Vinho Verde) – I first tasted this new release in February 2018 (my report of a visit/tasting with Lopes here). It comes from a 92 year old vinha de enforcado (high trained vineyard), planted to Azal, a grape which Lopes has described as rustic. Two years on, it thoroughly intrigued me tasting it blind. Detecting a smoky, iodine character and a certain (enjoyable) clay-like astringency, I wondered if it was a talha wine. In fact, after pressing, it spent 90 days in amphora, prior to completing its elevage in an old French barrel, which has not entirely polished this hidden gem. No bad thing. It is bone dry with a lick of dried herbs, iodine, earth and peach kernel, with incipient honey. Lots to mull over and seemingly still young. Interesting to age it, I reckon. 17.5/20
Alicante Bouschet strutted its stuff again; some lovely perfumed reds here.
Casa de Mouraz Bot 2015 (Dão) – an unoaked, unfined, unfiltered old field blend with red and white varieties which, being in the midst of trees, was lost in the 2017 fires, explained Sara Dionisio when I subsequently caught up with her at Simplesmente Vinho (report to follow). This is a deeply perfumed, touch rustic wine, with dried fig, violets, liquorice, paneforte, bitter chocolate and sloe gin to nose and palate. Intense and closely weaved, it gives an impression of density, but has good freshness and persistence. 18.5/20
Casal Branco Falcoaria Grande Reserva 2015 (Tejo) – It has been a while since I tasted Casal Branco wines, which are now made with consultancy from a rather well-known family member – Quinta do Crasto’s Manuel Lobo. Alicante Bouschet shows it finesse once more, here blended with Syrah. Slinky, concentrated blue and black fruits, with an iodine edge (iodine again!) A ripe but firm backbone of tannins and persistent acidity gives good line and length. Well-structured. 18/20
Quinta do Crasto Vinha Maria Teresa 2016 (Douro) – I recognised this beauty, which I’ve previously written up for Decanter here, alongside Crasto’s other top tier 2016 releases (and the Honore Very Old Tawny Port and 2015 blend of Vinha Maria Teresa and Vinha de Ponte). Terrific palate presence, persistence and perfume, with violets, kid glove oak and mesmerising ripe, scented fruits of the forest, which fill up the senses. Impeccable tannins maintain direction, focusing the lithe fruit. Very long and involving with surprising elegance. 19.5/20
Julio Bastos Dona Maria Grande Reserva 2014 (Alentejo) – Alicante Bouschet strikes again, leading this blend, which also features Touriga Nacional, Petit Verdot and Syrah. Complex, with an underlying smokiness/sootiness, iodine and clove, balancing its dark berry and currant and membranillo fruit. With well-structured tannins, it is deep and long. 17.5/20
Casca Wines Monte Cascas Vinha da Carpanha 2012 (Dão) – a finely honed wine with delicious warp and weft of tight, grainy (but not aggressive) mineral tannins, making for a linear, well-focused palate, with bay leaf scented blue and red fruit. 18.5/20
World class credentials on show here, not least with such a strong year for Vintage Port.
Niepoort Vintage Port 2017 – peppery, fresh, perfumed, very lifted – as if aromatised – with bergamot, orange peel, earl grey tea and florals to its juicy blackberry fruit. The expressiveness and lift is very consistent with my initial tasting notes from 2019, here. On this occasion, it seemed strikingly fine-tuned and fresh – lighter than the other ports shown (deceptively so, I suspect). 18/20
Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port 2017 – initially a little spirity (brandy) but, with air, lets rip, with earl grey, liquorice, gingerbread, white flowers, followed up with a second wind – up a gear – with savoury, rat-a-tat black pepper, hard pan minerals and floral notes. Structured tannins lend to the sense of savouriness and heft. Seemingly the driest of the ports shown. 19.5/20 (You can read my initial tasting notes from last year here).
Jose Maria da Fonseca Alambre 20 Anos (Moscatel de Setubal) – egg yolk/saffron hue, with grapefruit shred, marmalade and steamed orange sponge pudding going through, Lush and sweet, but very well balanced, with attractive brandy spirit to the lingering finish. 18.5/20
Henriques & Henriques Verdelho Madeira 1981 – I kept marking this up as I went back and forth re-tasting it. It took time to hit its stride or, most probably, I did, after the much sweeter, softer Alambre! Bracing acidity, with eggy, sulphur/struck match and whetstone (attractive) and a biscuit edge. Verdelho’s classic green tropical fruits build from the back palate, aided by grapefruity, rapier-like acidity, winning more points – up from 16.5/20 to 18.5/20
Blandy’s Frasqueira Sercial Madeira 1980 – I tasted this excellent Sercial twice in February – also at the Fells Portfolio tasting. It has terrific pace and carry. Subtly sweet cracked passionfruit seeds and fleeting barley sugar notes deftly balance its palate-etching, serrated, grapefruity acidity. Gunflint, iodine and kelp nuances chime in on a very long, very pithy and precise finish. Shivers the timbers! 19/20