Forty years of great reds, 1963-2003 – a report on 21 old & rare Portuguese wines

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I posted photographs of my stand out wines from Joao Paulo Martins’ (pictured) superb masterclass, entitled “40 years of Great Reds,” (1963 to 2003) last month, here.

It would be remiss of me not to write up these beauties, indeed the complete line up given Martins’ insightful commentary (and those of his editor at Revista de Vinhos, Luis Lopes). Not to mention the fact that some of the bottles were among the last remaining examples.  Here are my notes.

Centro de Estudos Vitivinicolas do Dao Touriga Nacional 1963 (Dao)

This was a classic year in the Dao and Douro (famously for vintage Port).  Apparently only 10 bottles of this wine (original production c. 1500-2000 bottles) remain in the cellar of The Centro de Estudos Vitivinícolas do Dao, a centre for viticulture and oenology in the heart of the Dão region.  This example was re-corked in 1998.  It was made by Cardoso de Vilhena, a pioneering winemaker whom Joao Paulo Martins explained probably made this unusual single varietal wine as part of a grape trial.  It would have come from the centre’s own vineyard, planted in 1947 and was made in lagares with stems, then aged in old oak barrels.  Martins speculated that it was “probably undrinkable in its first 20 years.”  According to him, this vintage is what inspired Sogrape to invest so heavily in the Dao.  It is an intensely deep colour, the core still dense and surprisingly broad.  The nose is rich and mature, with an enticing melange of balsamic, game, chocolate, panforte and iodine/oyster shell notes which follow through in the mouth, together with – very classic Dao – a ringing resinous lift.  There’s a polished (lin)seed nuttiness to its firm backbone of tannins (perhaps seed tannins?!?!?); fresh acidity for structure too.   Very good and, says Lopes, the five remaining bottles of the 63 (varietal) blend are even better!  I can believe it having tasted a still sweet fruited 58 with Dirk Niepoort in March.

Palacio do Bussaco 1964 (Beiras)

I’ve tasted verticals of the Bussaco wines at the hotel where they are made twice – in March and a couple of years ago (the latter tasting reported here).  Lopes wryly observed that the wines taste better at the hotel and so it proved on this occasion though, based on my experience thus far, inevitably there is bottle variation given the age of the wines (and perhaps the hand bottling process).  This bottle was much more austere than the one I tasted in March, leaner, with more emphasis on its anise spice/minerality and with a mossy vegetality.  Here’s my note on the more charming version tasted in situ at the hotel – quite Pinot Noir like with its forest floor pine needles, earth and mushroom to nose and palate; hints of iodine, sea spray and kelp too.  Though the fruit was a touch muddy, with its fine thread of tannins, I nonetheless found it quite elegant and persistent.

Caves S. Joao Porta dos Cavaleiros Reserva 1966 (Dao)

My vintage & what a good one!

My vintage & what a good one!

This impressive magnum – a blend of Jaen, Alfrocheiro, probably lots of Baga – blew me away. Caves S. Joao, founded in 1920, was then principally running a negociant style business, so grapes would have been sourced widely (and primarily from cooperatives). Created in 1963, between the 60s-80s the Porta dos Cavaleiros brand (which comprised a colheita/basic red and white wine too), was among Portugal’s biggest brands.  According to Martins, it was the first Portuguese wine to be made in magnum, to state the vintage on the cork and to have a cork-derived label. And it was a brand he enjoyed when he first discovered wine in the 70s, though he recalls passing on the 63 because, at 25 cents, it was too expensive!  It’s still possessed of lovely sweet cinnamon-edged plummy fruit and, true to its place of origin, fresh, mineral acidity and an attractive resinous pine needle quality.  Very persistent; a lovely, lingering wine.

Caves S. Joao Porta dos Cavaleiros Reserva 1975 (Dao)

From a less good year, the 75 lacks the precision and freshness of the 66.  It’s broader and meatier – more savoury, with tarry and porcini notes to its dried/baked panforte fruits.  Disappointing after the 66.

Casa Ferreirinha Reserva Especial 1980 (Douro)

Made a couple of years after Casa Ferreirinha acquired Quinta de Leda in 1978, this wine was sourced from Quinta do Vale Meao in the Douro Superior and comprises 70% Tinta Roriz, 10% Touriga Francesa and 20% other varieties.  It was re-corked in 2005.  Martins queried if the fruit was good enough to produce Barca Velha in that year.  Perhaps it was just this bottle, but I found this gum cistus threaded wine less convincing – a little skinny.

Quinta do Carmo Garrafeira 1987 (Alentejo)

This wine was first made for Quinta do Carmo’s then owner, Julio Tassara de Bastos, by Joao Portugal Ramos.  I tasted the maiden 1986 vintage in 2009, which understandably created waves following its release – it was terrific – really vigorous – see my review here (under Quinta Dona Maria).  Indeed, not long afterwards Bastos was approached by Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), to whom he sold 50% of the company, including the Quinta do Carmo brand, in 1992.  Under Lafite, winery operations were moved to Herdade das Carvalhas and Bastos sold his interest in the company around 2000, retaining only the Alicante Bouschet vineyard from which he makes an excellent single varietal wine).  Lafite subsequently sold Quinta do Carmo to Portuguese heavyweight Bacalhoa Wines.  The 1987 was a blend of pre-phylloxera Alicante Bouschet (which sadly, says Martins, was grubbed up after Lafite acquired an interest in the property) with around 5-10% Trincadeira and a small quantity of Moreto and Periquita.  It shows rich, dried fruit, especially fig, balsamic, liquorice, smoke and leather notes.  With rustic tannins, it’s a very mellow, savoury wine – enjoyable if lacking the thrust, length and relative purity of the ’86. Oh dear – once again I may have been spoiled by an earlier vintage!

Tapada do Chaves 1988 (Portalegre, Alentejo)

Old vine Portalegre wines have captured my imagination - here's the pioneer

Old vine Portalegre wines have captured my imagination – here’s the pioneer

I’ve been excited by the potential of Portalegre – Alentejo’s northernmost higher, cooler, wetter sub-region.  In particular those wines sourced (or partly sourced) from its rich heritage of old field blend vines – Rui Reguinga’s Terrenus, Vitor Claro’s Dominó, João Afonso’s Equinocio & Solsticio & Susana Esteban’s Procura.  And from a relatively modern vineyard, the wines from Quinta do Centro, owned by Richard Mayson. So I was delighted to discover this pioneer, another wine made by Joao Portugal Ramos, from Trincadeira, Grand Noir and a small quantity of ‘Periquita.’  Apparently this deeply coloured wine is a ‘vinho de talha’ i.e. it was aged in clay pots (old-style Alentejo) and (making more sense vis a vis its depth of colour), came from a low yielding vintage (mildew scythed production in 1988). It’s tremendously floral (violets) on nose and attack, with a complex, savoury palate of dried fig, kid glove leather and balsamic notes – a slightly fuggy smokiness too, though this thankfully blows off with time in glass.  Fine grained tannins and still present acidity lend precision through the mid-palate.  While it loses intensity and focus on the finish (drink up), it’s an impressive wine.

Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas 1988 (Bairrada)

Pato did not embark on winemaking full time until 1985, so this wine was made at an early stage of the Baga master’s career.  Before the advent of precision harvesting and, at a point when he was still sourcing Baga from sandy soils – this vintage came from 50% chalky clay (Pato’s preferred soil for Baga) and 50% sandy soils (Pato now only sources a naturally lower yielding Baga from ungrafted vines from sandy soils).  However, unlike the magnificent 1980 vintage which I tasted in March (click here for my notes) , it was de-stemmed and it also saw 4 months in new French oak.  The sandy component makes for a broadness to the palate, a touch of muddiness, but the chalky clay element brings backbone – a firmness, violet lift too.  There’s an attractive cool tang of clay, forest floor (pine needles) too; the tannins meld the whole, but they are ripe, not aggressive.

Duas Quintas Reserva 1994 (Douro)

A blend of 2/3 Touriga Nacional and 1/3 Tinta Barocca.  From a vintage port year renowned for its depth of fruit, this bottle was quite tired.  Disappointing.

Periquita Classico 1994 (Palmela)

The original - 100% Castelao; sadly no longer made this way

The original – 100% Castelao; sadly no longer made this way

The Periquita brand was first produced in 1850 by Jose Maria da Fonseca.  This wine – 100% Castelao – comes from a 10ha sandy vineyard and would have been foot trodden in lagares with 30% stems.  Though initially a little cheesy on the palate, once it gets into gear it builds beautifully in the mouth, revealing a great richness of sweet but juicy blueberry and plum fruit, nuanced with notes of panforte/dried fruits, eucalyptus, spice and tar.  Ripe but present tannins make for a very complete, sweet-fruited, spicy, savoury wine; really on song right now. What a shame they don’t make them like they used to!

Quinta das Bageiras Garrafeira 1995 (Bairrada)

Super precise & smokily mineral - Baga on chalky clay!

Super precise & smokily mineral – Baga on chalky clay!

Bageiras are one of my favourite Bairrada producers.  The approach is ultra traditional, so Baga is fermented on stems in lagares, then aged in old oak toneis.  Old vine fruit from 100% chalky clay soils walk the Baga talk for this is an energetic, youthful wine, with still so much to give.  It reveals classic chalky clay flinty ‘smokiness’ and oyster shell on the nose, with a rich concentration of blueberry fruit which, with time in glass, starts to flesh out its firm but fine sheath of powdery tannins; there are hints of eucalyptus and tar too.  Vigorous acidity lends great precision and focus. Very impressive.

Quinta dos Roques Reserva 1997 (Dao)

Bottles not in good condition.

Joao Portugal Ramos Marques de Borba Reserva 1997 (Alentejo)

This, Joao Portugal Ramos’ first reserva, is a blend of Trincadeira, Cabernet Sauvignon, Alicante Bouschet and Aragones.  Ramos likens Trincadeira to Cabernet and the two lead varieties are well present in this wine’s (attractive) tobacco and herbal notes to nose and palate, also its acidity and line (the Cabernet).  Sweet cured but savoury leather articulates Alentejo/Alicante Bouschet more clearly in the mouth.  Good.

Fundacão Eugenio de Almeida Pêra Manca 1998 (Alentejo)

First made in 1990 and sourced from a single vineyard which was given to the Fundacão, Pêra Manca swiftly achieved classic status -it’s a firmly structured, very traditional style.  This vintage/bottle (70% Trincadeira/30% Aragones) is a little too attenuated and vegetal for me, though I liked its tobacco and liquorice notes.

Herdade do Mouchão Mouchão 1998 (Alentejo)

Alicante Bouschet distinguishes many of Alentejo’s top wines, none more so than Mouchão where Alicante Bouschet thrives.  The variety is planted in a single lower lying (c. 200m) vineyard with deep clay soils, which is located between two small rivers and bordered by trees.  It ages very well – click here for my notes on the 79. As for the 98, with its Moroccan mint tea nose and palate, it puts me in mind of the Capela da Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port which, not so coinicidentally, features Alicante Bouschet.  Firm of structure as I’d expect from this variety, it’s a dry, savoury style with admirable freshness for Alentejo.  Incipient cured leather notes point towards its future arc of development.  Very good.

Casa Ferreirinha Barca Velha 1999 (Douro)

The Douro pioneer

The Douro pioneer

Martins says 99, a very dry year, was saved by a healthy, re-invigorating dose of rainfall in late August/early September.  Structurally, this is a very finely if firmly wrought wine, whose criss cross web of tannins draws you into its taffeta layers of dried fruit/panforte, esteva, leather, coffee and iodine (a tell tale quality of Quinta da Leda, the estate from which it is primarily sourced).  Impressive freshness and persistence despite its developed flavour spectrum – very old school; very good indeed.

Quinta da Falorca Garrafeira 2000 (Dao)

Modest price; immodest performance

Modest price; immodest performance

For Martins, tea leaf notes tend to characterise a well balanced Touriga blend such as this long, lacy blend of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz.  It is exceptionally elegant with floral, mineral, pine needle and delicate Earl Grey tea leaf notes (as opposed to the headier Bergamot I usually associate with ripe Touriga Nacional).  Lovely.

Quinta do Crasto Vinha da Ponte 2000 (Douro)

According to Martins, this single parcel wine from Vinha da Ponte comprises 13,299 vines (spread over 2ha) – a field blend of some 43 varieties.  Each vine produces a miniscule 299g of fruit.  And this is a powerhouse – richly fruited and toasty.  As it opens up, it builds in complexity, revealing deep seated floral scents alongside its dark fruit, chocolate and game. Fresh acidity makes for good persistence and balance.  Very impressive.

Herdade do Esporao Garrafeira 2001 (Alentejo)

This modern blend of Alicante Bouschet and Aragones wore its oak on its sleeve; I found it lacking in freshness and structure.

Niepoort Batuta 2003 (Douro)

Sourced from mostly north-facing (cooler) vineyards, I usually really enjoy the chiselled minerality of Batuta, so I was disappointed with this vintage/bottle, which seemed flat footed.

Dona Maria Reserva 2003 (Alentejo)

This magnum – a blend of 50% Alicante Bouschet, 50% Aragones, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah is quite dry and savoury.  Though full-bodied and brawny, with its pronounced green peppercorn to nose and palate, I wonder where it’s going?

 

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