March Wines of the Month: a thrilling pair of non-vintage Douro DOC whites
It is hard to believe that a year has elapsed since my last wine travels, visiting Oporto for the ying and yang experiences of Simplesmente Vinho and Essência do Vinho. I had two wonderful reminders of that trip last month. Specifically, reminders of Quinta do Regueiro’s wittily named non-vintage Alvarinho, Jurássico I – Best White Wine in Revista de Vinhos’ annual TOP 10 Portuguese Wine Awards. My March Wines of the Month – two equally profound non-vintage whites – both hail from the Douro.
Being terroir-driven, they could not be more different. But they are quite superb. Of course, Portugal is renowned for the art of blending of varieties and vintages. Varietal blends are commonplace. Vintage blends less so for light (unfortified) wines, but casting my mind back to one of my June 2015 Wine of the Month – Quinta dos Carvalhais Especial NV (DOC Dão), the results can be exceptional.
Wine & Soul Guru NM (Douro DOC)
Pale golden with an intensely complex nose and palate, with smoke and funkier lanolin, initially tangy, cheesy bite (mouth-watering and attractive). In the mouth, layers and layers unravel around a core of firm, spicy grapefruit, lime and crushed stone. Beeswax/snuffed candle. Bitter (again attractive) undertones of quinine and lemon peel. There is a touch of torrefaction – raw honeycomb. And vanilla bean. The oak. Rolling, unrelenting, the acidity mercilessly teases out each and every layer, whilst maintaining impetus. So whilst Guru NM has terrific palate presence – a palpable sense of dry extract – there is nothing heavy about it. The flavours remain in suspense. The minerality and structure speak of Guru – the ‘regular’ vintage wine – among my favourite Portuguese whites. But where Guru is all cut and thrust (on release at least), Guru NM – the older statesperson – is meditative. It is a wine to get lost in. Happily so. 12%
For Wine & Soul’s Jorge Serôdio Borges, “most drink it [the vintage specific Guru] before its peak of quality,” so Guru NM provides an opportunity to reveal the full potential of a very special terroir. Borges and his partner in wine, Sandra Tavares da Silva, now own several tiny, elevated (600-700m) parcels of old field blend vineyards on transitional granite and schist soils in Porrais. The principal grape varieties are Viosinho, Rabigato, Códega do Larinho and Gouveio.
Guru NM (short for Non-Millésime) is a tiny, 1599 bottle edition comprised of three vintages – 2010, 2013 and 2015. Each year, the couple set aside a few barrels. Explaining that they come from different parcels – some more structured, some more elegant – Borges observes “the advantage of different vintages is you can dream about your perfect wine.” Keep dreaming please Jorge!
Titan of Douro Fragamentado Blend 1 (Douro DOC)
Similarly stitched together from a selection of Cima Corgo old field blend parcels and vintages (two barrels from 2015, one each from 2016, 2017 and 2018), the resemblance ends there. From left bank vineyards in the Tavora Valley at a dizzy 750-850m on transitional granite soils, Fragmentado Blend 1 has snappier, racy ‘dry as a bone’ acidity. It put me in mind of Savennières – the Loire’s most famous dry, mineral expression of Chenin Blanc, with its ‘biting’ (as one producer memorably put it) acidity. It makes for the less consensual wine, as does its wilder resinous edge (which its maker, Luís Leocádio, attributes to terroir, not wood). But Fragmentado offers a compelling roller coaster ride, with a ricochet of flavours – celery salt (pronounced salinity), carraway seed and ripe lemon peel notes abound. Over a week later, the neon core of firm apple, pear, quince and grapefruit – deep and deeply impressive – remained pristine. I felt glad that I had persevered beyond my initial impression. First, that it was corked (a dankness, perhaps I was thrown by the skin contact? The grapes for Fragmentado were crushed and macerated for 48 hours, prior to fermentation). And the oak (it aged for 24 months in new French oak barriques) – initially more spicily assertive than I like. Immensely powerful and uncommonly fresh, Fragmentado’s best years are ahead. Be sure to decant it. 13.2%