Drum roll…my 50 Great Portuguese Wines
Since the inaugural 50 Great Portuguese Wines tasting in 2005, this annual press and trade event has been one of my highlights of the tasting calendar. It’s a veritable barometer of what’s hot (or cool) on the Portuguese wine scene. So last year, when I was voted Portuguese Wine Writer of the Year 2009, it was a real filip to be asked to select 50 Great Portuguese Wines for the 2010 tasting. High 5s x 10! Below you’ll find my introductory text about my 50 Great quest from the tasting booklet, followed by the wines, together with details about what informed my choices and tasting notes for each.
The Portuguese wine scene is as dynamic as it’s diverse. Diversity, its most celebrated trait, has been a double-edged sword. For some, Portugal’s oasis of unique grape varieties makes for a refreshing alternative. For many, it’s simply too challenging. But through dynamism – winemaking bravado wed to viticultural excellence – Portugal is successfully unleashing the full potential of its diverse terroir and grape varieties. Better packaging is another aspect of the ever-broadening appeal of its wines.
As the roll call of great Portuguese wines gets longer and longer, I have no doubt that Portugal can demonstrate how to live and thrive by the sword. Here’s how I went about making my selection.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘great’ as of an intensity or quality considerably above average. For this year’s 50 Great Portuguese Wines, my choices encompass:
- “Coups de Coeur” – heart-stopping wines at the pinnacle of Portuguese winemaking prowess.
- Groundbreakers – wines of vaulting ambition that surpass the regional norm, including the first wines from the Algarve and Colares to make a 50 Great selection.
I limited myself to a maximum of two wines from each producer. Otherwise, I cast the net widely, spending six weeks last year tasting across the length and breadth of Portugal, as well as sampling and re-sampling hundreds of wines at home.
When I first visited Portugal in 2004, international varieties and Portuguese ‘improving varieties’ were being (block) planted in earnest, matched with a similar fervour for single varietal wines. These measures have contributed to the great strides Portugal’s wine industry has made in recent years. However, my selection largely reflects something of a shift back towards blends, a greater show of confidence in Portuguese varieties and the championing of old vines.
You’ll find detailed notes about each of my choices in the body of this booklet, but first I’d like to flag two outstanding examples of Portugal’s dynamism which have informed my selection.
Richard Mayson’s inaugural 50 Great selection in 2005 comprised solely red wines. My inclusion of a record-breaking 14 white wines is testament to a revolution in the quality of Portugal’s white wines. In a remarkably short period of time, world class whites have emerged from across Portugal and there’s been a quantum leap in overall quality. Vinho Verde has enjoyed the most dazzling transformation, with Alvarinho at the vanguard. Like Touriga Nacional for reds, it has spread its munificence from north to south and Alvarinho looks set to take up the mantle of Portugal’s flagship white variety.
The Douro from nose to tail
The Douro’s wines are fabulously consistent. The region’s track record at the 50 Great tastings is second to none. For my 50 Great, I wanted to communicate how diverse the Douro has become. It’s not just about port and big red wines. Rather, the “nose to tail” possibilities presented by this 100km stretch of the Douro, together with its multi-faceted slopes and elevation range, shape an increasingly glorious array of wines – red, white, sparkling and sweet, oaked and unoaked.
It’s been an honour and thrill to select 50 Great Portuguese Wines. I can think of only one downside – the withdrawal symptoms after a year’s feasting on such a rich kaleidoscope of aromas, flavours and textures!
With thanks to ViniPortugal, the APWI, Judy Kendrick Marketing and all the producers and distributors who supported the selection process and made this tasting possible.
The Wine Detective
The white wines
Quinta do Chocapalha Arinto 2008
The tiny DOC of Bucelas specialises in Arinto but this cracking example (the maiden vintage) comes from the wider Vinho Regional, Lisboa (the new name for Estremadura), to be precise, the oldest north-facing vineyards at Chocapalha. With its Riesling-like zingy citrus fruit and crisp acidity, it’s one of my favourite Portuguese white varieties. The flute bottle underlines this stylistic connection. Corney & Barrow
Good drive and persistence on the palate with bright citrus, especially lime and lime flower to nose and palate. It’s dry with an attractive tang to the finish and hails from the oldest, north-facing vineyards. 12.5%. Very good.
Quinta de Ameal Loureiro 2008
Alvarinho has well and truly made the break from its Vinho Verde locale and is fast emerging as Portugal’s lead white grape variety. But let’s not forget Loureiro which, like Alvarinho, can produce magnificent single varietal Vinho Verde. In 2008, perhaps as a result of adopting biodynamic practices, Ameal seems to have shot up a gear in quality from its already very high quality base. The 2008 has stunning minerality and persistence. Raymond Reynolds
Really excellent, floral but with more body and minerality (a sense of dry extract) than the 07. It shows pithy, spicy, ripe grapefruit. Long and persistent.
Anselmo Mendes Contacto Alvarinho 2008
Smart modern packaging and a smart modern wine from leading Vinho Verde winemaker/consultant Anselmo Mendes. Skin contact produces a flavoursome, fruity wine with great persistence for an entry level Alvarinho – grande compra indeed! Atlantico
A tangy apricot and citrus nose and palate. With lovely richness and weight to the fruit, this has a long, sustained finish with an attractive sherbetty acidity. 13%
Quinta do Louridal Poema Alvarinho 2007
I presented this lees-aged Alvarinho at last year’s Wine Show. It received a fantastic reception from an audience who had pretty much written off Vinho Verde. With its bright packaging and an aroma and flavour spectrum like Viognier, but much lighter on its feet, it sold like hotcakes. No wonder Francois Lurton is making an Alvarinho Vinho Verde! Castas
A lavish, leesy, ripe, stone fruited Alvarinho – good body, but freshness and length too. Plenty to get the chops around!
Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas Alvarinho 2008
Made from this estate’s oldest vines, Jamie Goode chose the 2007 last year and I make no excuses for selecting the 2008. First, I agree with Jamie that they’re probably the leading Vinho Verde producer, but also because though 2007 is the higher rated vintage, I think this wine is even better in 2008. Like the 2002 I tasted in late 2008, it will age well. Raymond Reynolds
Fresh mineral nose, tight, wow, this one really pulls you in with its tangy, subtle fruit and minerality. A textured palate. Fabulous balance. Based on previous tastings of older wines, this will enjoy a long life ahead. An amazing combination of levity and weight. 12.5%
Vale d’Algares Seleccion White 2008
Viognier (55%) and Alvarinho (45%)
VR Ribatejano has had a makeover – Tejo is its new name and the region is turning over a new leaf on the ground too. New plantings of premium varieties, including uber-trendy Alvarinho, are focused away from the highly fertile “Campo” soils to the “Bairro’s” clay and limestone or the “Charneca’s” poor sandy soils. Vale d’Algares are upping the stakes even higher with their super-premium positioning and a flashy winery to match. Vines were planted as recently as 2004 & 2005 so it’s early days, but the results already look promising. Castas
A summery nose shows citrus and cool cucumber. In the mouth, this is super citrussy with ripe but juicy tropical fruit. Attractive mouthwatering finish. A great example of exuberant, modern Tejo.
Quinta das Bágeiras Vinho Branco Garrafeira 2007
Maria Gomes & Bical
Luis Pato’s whites, especially Vinha Formal, have always impressed me and, given the region’s facility for taut, ageworthy Baga reds, perhaps no surprises that its best whites are built like Paula Radcliffe – lean and mean, at least in their youth. This has a wonderful thrust of acidity that carries a super-long, complex and mineral finish. Stunning. Not in UK
A flinty nose and palate with bright greengage fruit and honey, but it’s the structure that really excites – a wonderful thrust of acidity gives tremendous line. The finish is super-long, textured and mineral. Fab.
Quinta do Cardo Siria 2008
100% Siria (a.k.a. Codega and Roupeiro)
One of the higher (700m above sea level)) and higher calibre players in Beira Interior, Quinta do Cardo is owned by the quality and terroir-focused Companhia das Quintas. It owns seven quintas across Portugal. This is a great example of the Siria variety. Piña Colada tropicality and a touch of residual sugar is kept in check by racy, Riesling-like citrus acidity. Portovino, www.portovino.co.uk
A sweetness, tropicality to nose, quite lush and tropical with a rum baba/pina colada exotic character. This wine sees a long natural ferment and is very well made.
Quinta dos Currais Colheita Seleccionado 2007
50% Fonte Cal, 25% Siria, 25% Arinto
Much as I like the region’s typically tropical Siria whites, this blend allows for greater complexity, putting me in mind of Santorini’s Assyrtiko from Greece with its struck match and mineral, racy character – apparently that’s the Fonte Cal. Not in the UK?
Deep yellow, with a very tropical Siria nose and palate with pear, struck match and a thrust of lemony acidity. Puts me in mind of Santorini’s Assyrtiko from Greece for its struck match and mineral, racy character. Very interesting; good.
Quinta de Saes Reserva Branco 2008
80% Encruzado 20% Cercial
Alvaro Castro is at the vanguard of modern, terroir-driven Dão wines. His wines have intensity and lift. This wine brims with insouciant character, its vitality underscored by a runaway finish. I love the way its different notes come at you in counter melodies and riffs. Castas
A steely, pithy grapefruit nose leads onto an exciting rollercoaster ride of a palate which brings a smile to the face. A sweet, juicy core of tangerine, blood orange and grapefruit is beguilingly textured with pith and citrus peel tannins and there’s a nutty edge to its galloping finish. Brims with character and cheeky vitality and, despite the nutty, pithy qualities, it retains a sorbet-like clarity to its fruit. Fab. 13% abv
Poeira Pó de Poeira Branco 2008
65% Alvarinho, 35% Gouveio
Jorge Moreira strives to make elegant reds, marked more by acidity than tannin, hence the north-facing site responsible for one of the Douro’s most finely-honed reds, Poeira – stunning, I might add in 2007. Inevitably, he’s started making a white too and one based on Alvarinho. I hesitated to choose this wine because it really comes into its own on day two, showing a wonderful slatey minerality that really speaks of the Douro. Fields Morris & Verdin
Tight and flinty nose with skeins of waxy, ripe apricot/stone fruits which follow through on the palate with hints of fennel and green tomato. Quite taut and mineral on the finish, it holds up very well over a couple of days, unravelling flavourwise and not structurally to good effect.
Niepoort Reserva Redoma Branco 2008
Multiple varietal blend from old, mixed vineyards, most importantly Rabigato, Codega, Donzelinho, Viosinho and Arinto.
The Douro’s whites are very exciting, especially in 2008, which Dirk Niepoort describes as “unusual for its very fresh, high acidity but with the ripeness we wanted.” Super-long, limpid and textured with a reverberating finish this is a fantastic illustration of the great strides Portuguese white wines have made, though, for the record, Niepoort made the first Redoma Branco in 1996 which I tasted last September – it had become positively Burgundian. Raymond Reynolds
Rich, ripe, textured, powerful wine, generous yet poised with steely grapefruit, citrus pith and a salty minerality. Super-long, limpid and textured with a reverberating finish – wow! Outstanding.
J. Portugal Ramos Vila Santa Branco 2008
Antão Vaz, Arinto & Verdelho
If the Alentejo has a traditional white, it’s single varietal Antão Vaz from Vidigueira in Lower Alentejo. The variety can be a little too rich and ripe for contemporary tastes. For my money, the best whites are a blend of Antão Vaz with Arinto, Verdelho and even Vinho Verde’s Alvarinho for added zip. J. Portugal Ramos’ maiden Vila Santa Branco is bang on the money and a great response to the surge in demand for Alentejo whites. Nick Oakley
Yellow/gold, with green mango on the nose. A really juicy, tropical fruit palate with pineapple and sweet vanilla oak shows just a hint of smashed green olive. Well balanced – not too Umbongo – the juiciness is the thing here. Ripe, citrussy mouth-cleansing acidity makes for an animated wine.
Adega da Cartuxa Pera Manca White 2007
Antão Vaz and Arinto
2007 was a big vintage for this traditional, established producer. Production moved from 17th century cellars to a state-of-the-art winery and it’s paying dividends for reds and whites. The cooler 2007 vintage has produced a terrific Pera Manca Branco whose aroma and flavour spectrum, not to mention complexity and power, put me in mind of a top Hermitage. My observation prompted winemaker Pedro Baptista to reveal that he’s experimenting with Roussanne next year. A producer to watch. Atlantico
Yellow gold with a ripe stone fruit nose and palate, it shows richness and restraint on the palate – this is no fruit bomb, rather a considered wine which combines the best of tradition and modernity. It shows some nuttiness, hinting at oiliness to come, a mineral undertow and, very Portuguese, a green olive edge. As it opens in the glass, it shows acacia honey and flowers.
The red wines
Quinta das Vinhas de Areia Fundação Oriente Ramisco 2005
Colares’ fame rests on the fact that it’s unique Ramsico variety, planted on sand dunes, withstood the phylloxera devastation of the 1800s. That’s old news! These days, surviving property developers is the issue. Good news then that Fundação Oriente, a charitable foundation, is breathing new life into the region. It bought the largest vineyard in Colares in 1999 and has been carrying out trials of the Ramisco grape to improve know-how. This is a modern yet true take on Ramisco/Colares. It shows a subtle intensity of incense spice edged red fruits with a rub of pomegranate-like pithy tannins. D&F
Pale, clear ruby with kid glove oak, violets, sappy red/damson fruits and dried spice on the nose. An intense, spicy palate shows sweet clove, wild raspberry, cherry and pithy pomegranate-like tannins. Well made, subtle but precise wine – a modern interpretation of Colares.
Monte da Casteleja Maria Selection 2007
Wine-wise, the Algarve may have less history than Colares, but property development is also an issue for its growing band of wineries, 16 last count. Frenchman Guillaume Leroux took over his grandfather’s Algarve farm, Monte da Casteleja in 2000, producing his first wines in 2004. Rather than seeking to pander to the tourist market with easy drinking quaffers, Leroux is focusing on quality. Vines planted on clay and limestone are tended organically and he foot-treads his reds. Though it’s early days, his wines show lots of character and promise. N/A UK www.montedacasteleja.com
An attractive floral nose and palate with wild, bright cherry and pomegranate and subtle spice underscored by pithy tannins. Put me in mind of Conceito’s Bastardo from the Douro with its combination of intensity and delicacy.
Monte d’Oiro Reserva 2006
96% Syrah, 4% Viognier
The maiden 1997 vintage made waves on its release in 1999. Consultancy from Maison Chapoutier (with whom Monte d’Oiro make Ex Aequo, a Touriga Nacional/Syrah blend), underlines that the focus on Syrah and Viognier is no fad. In this, the earliest picked vintage to date, the light touch of winemaker Graça Gonçalves works to great effect. New oak has been reduced to 30-40% from 100% and the wine spent less time in barrel. A finely wrought wine, worth sitting with while it unfurls. Not in UK.
It takes time to open up and evolve in the glass, then shows well-defined red currant and raspberry fruits with spice – less of the black fruits that I associate with previous vintages and this wine has greater clarity/purity of fruit. Though 14.5%, it wears it very well; a finely wrought wine worth sitting with while it unfurls.
Quinta dos Currais Reserva 2003
50% Touriga Nacional, 25% Aragonês and 25% Castelao.
Bookmarked by the Douro Superior to the north and Alentejo to the south, Beira Interior is a large region, significantly warmer to the south where this wine comes from. Production was traditionally driven by co-operatives and focused on white table wine but this is changing fast with some exciting pockets of ambition. Currais are a great example. Importer not known
A vibrant hue with a deeper, darker nose, though still with a heady floral note. A really sensual, well-balanced palate shows succulent black and red cherry, bright pomegranate, round plum and heady raspberry ripple fruit with supple tannins. Lots of finesse here drawing you back to glass.
Filipa Pato Lokal Silex 2008
75% Touriga Nacional & 25% Alfrocheiro Preto
Touriga Nacional easily dominates a blend, sometimes overplaying its rich hand. In Filipa Pato’s talented hands, this wine shows off Touriga at its heady yet elegant best, with Dão terroir and blending partner Alfrocheiro providing their signature lipsmacking acidity. Joyous. Clarke Foyster
Puts me in mind of a really sexy Loire Cabernet Franc. Deep crimson with a bright pink rim and a gorgeous floral nose with rock rose and violets, which unfurl on the palate. A lipsmacking palate shows well-defined, bright and juicy red and black cherry and currant fruit supported by silky tannins. A beautiful, heady, yet finely honed wine.
Luis Pato Vinha Barrosa 2005
Luis Pato doesn’t need much of an introduction but, despite his ingenuity with Baga and the variety’s Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir-like traits, Baga has failed to gain the kudos of Barolo or Burgundy. It’s a worry, because recent changes in the law mean that Baga is becoming dangerously niche. This single vineyard wine, from the oldest vines, bears a striking resemblance to the rather more expensive Poderi Aldo Conterno Bussia Barolo 2001. I’d like to see good Baga wines just as popular and feted as good Barolo and given the chance to evolve with time. Not produced in 2006 or 2007, but 2008 and 2009, both terrific vintages, also promise to make an eloquent case for the variety. Raymond Reynolds
Sumptuous yet fresh nose with a deep core of ripe red fruits, even a hint of fruit conserve, and lifted incense spice. A youthful palate which draws you in, with skeins of red and black berry and cherry fruit sour cherry and plum drawn out by long, fine tannins. There’s an arrowroot/liquorice quality and mineral undertow.
D?o Sul Encontro 1 2007
50% Baga, 50% Touriga Nacional
This is the modern face of Bairrada and a terrific example, fleshed out with Touriga Nacional, it’s perfect for those with less patience or without the storage to let pure Baga reveal its charms. It shows cool Atlantic precision and poise combined with firm but fine, savoury tannins. Clarke Foyster
Elegant, coolly poised, polished and mineral, this is a smart wine with fine but present tannins, well integrated oak and subtle incense spice, sandalwood. Excellent.
Quinta da Dona Bairrada 2004
From a parcel within Quinta Rigodeira, one of Alianca’s Bairrada estates, this flagship wine comes from a well-exposed slope. Only made in best years, it’s quite forward compared with Luis Pato’s Barrosa and has a lovely saturation of Baga plum and cherry fruit with a mineral undertow. Boutinot/Meridian Wines
A parcel within Rigodeira this 100% Baga comes from a well-exposed slope. It is only made in good years and shows ripe plum with floral hints. Very nicely structured, balanced palate with a good saturation of plum and cherry fruit with an earthy, mineral undertow and good freshness – atheletic! Subtle, with good length.
Quinta Vale das Escadinhas, Quinta da Falorca T-Nac 2007
A snappy title and, for Touriga Nacional, a snappy wine – unoaked, floral, elegant and silky, with the variety’s trademark chocolate. John Armit/Castas
Vibrant fruit with black cherry and lifted floral and cinnamon notes. Still very Dao with a lovely silkiness to its floral-edged fruit – rock rose, fine tannins, black cherry with grounding Green and Blacks dark chocolate.
Dão Sul Quinta de Cabriz Colheita Seleccionada 2007
Alfrocheiro, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional
Dão Sul are one of the region’s great innovators with a range that encompasses both quantity and quality. This treads the tightrope brilliantly between heady and serious – a hire wire act at which the Dão excels. Clarke Foyster
Gorgeous very inky floral nose, with heady flowers (lily/thick red rose petals). The well-balanced palate is rich yet dry, with a lovely purity and fleshiness to its black cherry and berry cinnamon-edged fruit. Present but ripe tannins bode well for mid-term ageing but this is also enjoyable now. Very good.
Quinta da Pellada Tinto Reserva 2006
Touriga Nacional, Tinta Pinheira, Jaen & Alfrocheiro
Alvaro Castro’s intense but not dense reds always impress and my choice wavered between this wine and the impressively structured Carrocel 2007, a “200% oaked” Touriga Nacional. I plumped for this wine because it’s a terrific ambassador for modern D?o in the more difficult 2006 vintage (September rains). It has succulent fruit to flesh its bones, floral lift and an undertow of minerality to its long, persistent finish. Castas
Lovely lifted bright red and black berry nose, with floral lift and a mineral quality. A youthful, primary palate shows great depth of sweet fruit red and black berry and succulent blackcurrant – more red – with a lovely juiciness to the mid-palate. With firm but ripe tannins, this is persistent and long – a baby but approachable now.
Vinha Paz Reserva 2005
80% Touriga Nacional with Tinta Roriz and Alfrocheiro
A fine example of modern D?o from a very good vintage. Foot trodden in lagares and aged in French oak it has fine tannins behind gobs of red and mostly black cherry and berry fruit. Nonethless, it retains an underlying freshness typical of the region. Uk – don’t know?
Rich ripe, smoky nose and palate, with gobs of red and mostly black cherry and berry fruit. An underlying cool freshness maintains balance, as do structured fine grained tannins. Quite long with some liquorice on the finish – a baby and promises more complexity with some years under its belt. Very good.
Quinta dos Roques Garrafeira 2003
Touriga Nacional 65%, Alfrocheiro 15%, Tinto Cão 10% and Tinta Roriz 10%
Roques have forged a reputation for high quality wines and this illustrates why, not least because this is the most recent vintage – it’s only made in exceptional years from a barrel selection of best wines. That suits me, because I wanted to show a powerful wine from an older vintage which is starting to show more tertiary, savoury notes. Despite the August heatwave, this wine shows deft balancing acidity, a great Dão strength. Raymond Reynolds
Complex with an inky, dark, nose it has a lovely depth of savoury bacon fat and bay leaf edged black and red fruits with rich, ripe supporting tannins and deft balancing acidity- a real lightness and elegance here. Very well done.
Quinta de S Jose Colheita 2007
35-40% Touriga Franca, 30-35% Touriga Nacional with Tinta Roriz
João Brito e Cunha’s maiden Colheita label is a great example of a new breed of high quality entry level Douro wines. Like Passadouro’s Passa or Niepoort’s Drink Me, it lets the terroir do the talking rather than oak do the flattery (only 50% is oaked, and in 2-3-year-old barrels). Pure, fresh and mineral, it has a wonderful vibrance and immediacy to its young vine fruit. Nick Dobson
This is very fresh and direct, with well-defined small red and black berry & currant fruit, wild bilberry too. Levity also comes courtesy of the Douro’s trademark violets and rock rose lift. A very mineral finish leaves you in no doubt of its regional affiliations.
CARM Quinta do Coa 2007
Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and other local varieties
The Douro Superior’s star is rising – it’s seeing an explosion of plantings from leading Upper Douro players like Quinta do Crasto, Quinta do Vallado and Quinta de la Rosa. This wine from the river Coa Valley is a great example of a spicy, dark red from the hot and arid Douro Superior bordering Spain. Coming from a certified organic, schistous vineyard at 130 to 300 metres in the, it has great balance. Raymond Reynolds
Very floral with sweet, wild berry and bramble fruit on nose and palate fleshing out ripe but present tannins. It finishes spicy (like one of those German dark chocolate gingerbread biscuit), dry, textured and mineral. Very good.
Quinta do Noval Cedro do Noval 2007
30% of each of Syrah, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Franca with 10% Tinta Roriz
Another classy entry level wine with judicious oak use. As Christian Seeley puts it, “you don’t need make up in the Douro, oak is used for that and it’s not necessary nor is it a positive.” Its minerality and lift is even more remarkable given that around a third of this wine comprises Syrah. Together with Labrador 2007, Noval’s maiden 100% Syrah, it provides compelling evidence that Syrah is well adapted and sympathetic to the Douro’s terroir and native varieties. Gonzales Byass
A very classy wine, with lifted orange blossom and peel to its well-defined red and black fruits and a chiselled minerality. Good length and, though drinking now, there’s some subtle power in reserve which should see this develop over the next 5 years or so.
Quinta do Noval Labrador 2007
Who would have guessed that Noval would release a critter label or that the Douro could produce such a beguiling expression of Syrah? With its wild Douro nose, wash of minerals and sinewy mid-weight style, the region seems to have yet another ace up its sleeve. Gonzales Byass
A wild Douro nose, schistous minerality and sinewy tannins. Finely framed and subtly powerful, with a lick of toast and meaty black pepper to its juicy core of ripe plum, blood plum and black cherry fruit.
Niepoort Redoma 2007
Old (60-120 years) mixed vineyard plantings include Tinta Amarela, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão.
It’s a given that Niepoort retain the capacity to surprise. Niepoort’s “Projectos” wines include a Pinot Noir and Riesling, varieties which give away Dirk Niepoort’s philosophy – the pursuit of elegance. Even the just released Robusto 2005 is fabulously elegant! Grapes for Redoma come from high, north-facing vineyards and, in 2007, a mild summer really played into Dirk’s hands. Since its 1991 debut, Redoma has been aged in 228l barrels. In 2007, 40% was aged in 2000 litre oak vats. A particularly fine, lifted, floral vintage. Raymond Reynolds
Textured, layered, long and precise with that lovely persistence again giving fine definition to its rock rose and fruit. With a wild tang to its red and blackcurrant fruit, carraway and liquorice, this is a sensual, elegant wine with a fabulous core of minerality and ripe but assertive tannins. Terrific.
Quinta do Passadouro Reserva Tinto 2007
Old (c. 50 to 70 years) mixed vineyard plantings.
I very nearly chose the 2004 vintage of this wine, first tasted there years ago and again on the same day as the 2007. Both vintages share a chiselled minerality which
somehow captures the energy of vine roots forcing their way through vertical strata of schist. Richards Walford
Wow, this puts me in mind of the 2004 Reserva when I first tasted it, with its minerally, slatey edge to nose and palate. It has a similar density and dark concentration too with chunky cassis, sweet gingerbread and chocolate threaded with minerality. Terrific balance – Borges reckons it’s his best yet and I’m inclined to agree. One to cellar.
Lemos & Van Zeller Curriculum Vitae “C.V” 2007
Cima Corgo (Torto Valley): aged (average 60 years old) mixed vineyard plantings.
Cristiano van Zeller’s CV is one of my favourite 2007s. From an older, north-facing parcel of vines opposite Quinta do Vale Dona Maria with more Touriga Nacional, it sees 100% new oak. Beautifully structured, it has a super-long, saturated finish – a lithe long distance runner. Corney & Barrow
This is very tight indeed with some cool tannic grip. It shows a mineral, floral nose, has fabulous concentration and freshness. Excellent.
Quinta do Crasto Vinha da Ponte 2007
Mixed plantings (22 different grape varieties) averaging 90 years old.
It’s hard to choose just one wine from Crasto’s portfolio. The single vineyard Vinha de Ponte, last made in 2004, shows such breathtaking potential in 2007, it was a shoo-in. Enotria/Adnams
A heady nose of ripe blackcurrant and berry fruits, currant and minerals. Superb, almost painful concentration on the palate with tight black fruits chiselled with minerals. The long, persistent finish is supertight and shot through with minerals – a vertical strata of schist. Very, very impressive – one to stick away for at least five years and should go 15 years plus.
Quinta Macedos Pinga do Torto 2005
Young vine Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz blended with mixed old vines
This Torto Valley red, made predominantly from young vines, may be the baby of the range, but it has tons of character with a mineral core and wild edge to its chunky fruit. Raymond Reynolds
I’ve heard it said that minerality buffers the sweetness in Riesling and it certainly makes an impact on this wine. Its wild berry and currant fruit is cut with salt-licked minerals and textured tannins, making for an imposing, long, dry (not drying) finish.
Alves de Sousa Abandonado Tinto 2005
Old (c. 80 years) mixed vineyard plantings.
Abandonado hails from a small, elevated parcel at Quinta da Gaivosa, one of Alves de Sousa’s five quintas. Difficult to work, it had fallen into disuse but, since 2004, Alves and his son Tiago have crafted a particularly plush, brooding wine with wild, smoky eucalyptus notes.
I have a real soft spot for this wine from an old mixed vineyard with a big eucalyptus tree. My tasting notes always refer to its eucalyptus and smoked pepper edge to its plush, brooding fruit. Vinous, wild and headstrong – goes its own way. Fabulous character.
Quinta do Crasto Reserva Vinhas Velhas 2004
Cima Corgo: old (average 60 years) mixed vineyard plantings.
Crasto were amongst the first Portuguese wines I ever tasted when I worked for Oddbins and the Reserva has always been a great value ambassador for the Douro’s unique heritage of old vine fruit. It was first made in 1994. I recently tasted a vertical from 2000-2007. I’m a huge fan of the 2004 vintage and this is a cracker – mineral-laden, long and persistent, well supported by ripe but present tannins. Enotria/Adnams
A powerful nose, with liquorice and spice – Tomas Roquette believes it’s one of the best reservas produced – it shows off the complexity of fruit, oak and vineyard very well – super-spicy with fabulous balance and a mineral-laden, long and persistent fine well supported by ripe but present tannins. A long life ahead of this wine. Top notch.
Quinta do Vale Dona Maria 2004
Cima Corgo (Torto Valley): old (average 60 years) mixed vineyard plantings.
Having bought Quinta do Vale Dona Maria in 1996, Cristiano van Zeller reckons that they are now really starting to grasp the site’s expression. I think he’s being modest. At a vertical tasting from 2001 to 2008, my stand out vintages were the super-structured, precise, persistent and mineral 2001, 2004 and 2008 barrel sample. Corney & Barrow
Lovely freshness and purity to the nose and palate, with lifted, spicy exotic orange peel as it opens up. Complex, tight and structured it shows bright, small red berry/currant fruit and bilberry, that seam of minerality and a firm backbone of ripe tannin. A long, tight finish suggests a long life ahead. Terrific.
Herdade dos Grous 23 Barricas 2008
Touriga Nacional & Syrah
Beja in the south of Alentejo is home to some youthful but highly successful producers and this is the first of two that I’ve chosen. Not entirely coincidentally, they’re both made in conjunction with consultant winemaker Luis Duarte who is a master of tannin management and fruit purity. The 2008 vintage produced well-balanced wines and, with Touriga Nacional’s trademark elegance and fleshy mid-palate, this is a winner. Great Western Wines
A youthful toasty nose, with some eucalypt and bay leaf, all of which follow through on the palate, which has a succulent core of red and black berry fruits, nice persistence and length. A great combination, Syrah spicy, dark and lush, while Touriga, floral, fleshy, brings more than a dash of elegance. Fine, ripe tannins too. Very complete, just needs a bit of time for the toast to integrate.
Terrenus Tinto 2007
Sourced from 80-100 year old mixed vineyard bush vines, includes Aragones, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet, Castelao, Baga and Touriga Franca.
The subregion DOC Portalegre is Alentejo’s northernmost outpost. Vineyards are located on the slopes of the Serra de São Mamede which rises to over 1000m. Its elevation, rugged landscape and granitic soils have more in common with the neighbouring Beira Interior than Alentejo. The presence of northern varieties reflects the fact that, a century ago, when there were no vines to speak of in Alentejo, cuttings came from the north. As its name suggests, this wine is veritable expression of terroir (and varieties) – lean and tightly coiled, framed by firm tannins, it benefits from decanting and is best paired with food. N/A UK www.ruireguinga.com
A lean and mean palate shows tightly coiled redcurrant fruit and spicy plum framed by firm tannins. A little pinched when opened (the wines were quite cool) but, by lunchtime, had opened up to show eucalpyt and fleshier plum and black fruits on the palate. It certainly has the tannin structure for food. (Looking back at my notes from March when I first tasted this wine, I remark on its impressive tannin structure fleshed out by ripe fruit so the cool temperature of service certainly affected this wine dramatically).
Herdade de São Miguel dos Descobridores Reserva 2007
70% Touriga Franca, 30% Aragonês
Located near Evora in northerly Alentejo, schist and granitic soils seem to bring out the rock rose in Touriga Franca, a Douro variety that I’ve not come across this far south before. Renowned for its fresh, well-delineated fruit, it offers an interesting point of difference from the region’s more typically generous styles. Raymond Reynolds
I liked this wine very much for its restraint – I suspect a bit more than even Touriga Nacional gives in Alentejo, though Franca’s floral, rock rose quality is much in evidence, this is tightly wound – a very well structured wine with liquorice and a mineral core. The fruit is less overt than a Touriga Nacional and more red and than black.
Herdade do Esporão Private Selection Garrafeira Red 2007
Alicante Bouschet and Aragones
For its size of operation (around 600 ha of estate fruit with a similar quantity bought in), Esporão run a tight ship. Quality from top to bottom is high. In the cooler 2007 vintage, the Garrafeira shows terrific elegance, power and balance. Charles Hawkins
I’m a big fan of the mild 2007 vintage in Alentejo and this is a terrific 07 – elegant and powerful, from its lifted nose, to its fleshy red and black berry mid-palate and its tight tippy toes. Beautifully balanced. Gorgeous.
Herdade do Rocim Grande Rocim 2007
90% Alicante Bouschet, 10% Touriga Nacional
This new, no expense spared, outfit had a swift endorsement of this, its maiden flagship red. Grande Rocim came second to Mouchão 2005 at the FIJEV-sponsored competition at which I judged for best red wine of Vinipax 2009 (a Southern Portuguese-focused event). These results are a great endorsement for Alicante Bouschet, a teinturer, which thrives in the Alentejo heat. Its quality derives less from its fruit (its quite shy and dry), and more from a tannin and acid structure, which helps wines to age and develop complexity over time. N/A in the UK, www.herdadedorocim.com
Deep and dense in colour signals heavyweight palate. An initially tight knit nose shows hints of warm earth and fresh and baked black fruit as the wine opens up which follow through on the palate. A tight core of succulent blackcurrant fruit lends a cool poise and persistence, fine-grained tannins completing the overall impression of elegance. A name to watch.
Herdade da Malhadinha Nova Malhadinha Tinto 2007
Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Aragonês, Touriga Nacional and Alicante Bouschet.
Though the first wines were produced in 2003 from young vine material, Beja-based Malhadinha Nova has rapidly shot to prominence. Owners the Soares family have a background in wine retail and have clearly been influenced and inspired by the best, aided and abetted by well-known winemaker consultant Luis Duarte. Though it can be very hot in the Lower Alentejo, a judicious selection of varieties combined with free-draining schist soils produces wines that combine impressive concentration with balancing freshness. This is a keeper. Raymond Reynolds
Chew-worthy, firm and sinewy wine, tightly coiled and compact with pronounced blackcurrant, some blackberry and a juicy finish with good freshness. An attractive cool quality, very good. A keeper.
Herdade de Mouchão Tonel 3-4 2005
100% Alicante Bouschet
The 2005 vintage in Alentejo has produced plenty of butch wines but Mouchão coax a wonderful fragrance and freshness from their Alicante Bouschet. Long, sensual and heady, this is seductive. Tonel 3-4 is only made in exceptional years; the “standard” Mouchão of this vintage is also deeply impressive. Berry Brothers & Rudd, England, Forth Wines, Scotland
Wow, this 100% Alicante Bouschet has a wonderful richness, florality and freshness – that sense of balance and harmony that made Douro reds from 2005 so attractive and approachable from the off.
Quinta do Zambujeiro 2004
48 % Touriga Nacional, 24% Aragonez, 24% Alicante Bouschet, 4% Castelao
Quality and attention to detail are hallmarks of Swiss watches and the wines from this Swiss-owned winery clearly receive plenty of tlc. Tasting the maiden 1999 through to the 2005, the 2004 vintage stood out to me (also for the second wine Terra do Zambujeiro). Low yielding dry-farmed vineyards, elevation (340-350 m), schist soils and the use of Touriga Nacional and Alicante Bouschet make for a subtly powerful, expressive, elegant wine.
A deep, deep colour, with a tight floral nose. Expressive and elegant in the mouth with a hint of cool mint and lively red fruits supported by firm, sinewy tannins. A subtly powerful wine. Very good.
Quinta do Mouro 2004
Aragonês 50%, Alicante Bouschet 25%, Touriga Nacional 20% and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.
A vertical tasting at Mouro mesmerised for its light and shade – a line up full of character and soul, while remaining thoroughly consistent in terms of quality – high. Though the 2005 is more powerful, during my week’s visit in the Alentejo, I generally preferred wines from the 2004 vintage. This, though tightly coiled, shows great balance of fruit, tannin and acidity. James Nicolson (N Ireland) England?
This is tightly coiled with fruit, tannin and acidity perfectly in balance. Plenty of spice and structure from the Alicante Bouschet. Approachable but will keep on going – very good.
A sweet farewell
Quinta do Portal Late Harvest 2007
Moscatel 45%,Rabigato 50%, Viosinho 5%
This wine is the piece de resistance of the “nose to tail” possibilities thrown up by the Douro’s fabulously diverse terrain – table wines, pink port have been known to raise eyebrows in some quarters and this sweetie raised mine! I knew Portal made some lifted fortified Moscatels, but confess I was taken aback by the freshness, delicacy and purity of this wine. Moscatel and Rabigato are concentrated on the vine, some Rabigato was affected by botrytis and the Viosinho was made vin de paille-style. Charles Hawkins
A lovely fresh, pure nose shows well defined peach, hints of pineapple and honey. The palate is honeyed, with great purity of pineapple and fruit salad, well balanced by fresh citrussy acidity. Toothsome but not oversweet. This is an impressive maiden vintage – great balance and purity.
Quinta da Bacalhoa Moscatel de Setúbal Roxo 1999
Port and Madeira are justifiably among the world’s best-known fortified wines, but Moscatel de Setúbal is a fabulous alternative that offers tremendous pleasure on release. Setúbal’s Roxo is a rare treat and, at this level, quality is world class. Bacalhoa’s Roxo featured in 2009’s Muscat du Monde® Top 10, bagging 1 of only 3 gold medals. Ehrmanns
A lovely perfume, more lift/florality than the white; very well balanced with a nutty, orange peel edge and good persistence.