Portuguese Wines – Day One

Visited Essência do Vinho, a public wine tasting at the Palácio da Bolsa in Porto this evening.  As I plan to visit for several evenings, I started gently, visiting some familiar wine makers but tasting wines I’d not yet tried.

Cortes de Cima

This was my first stop, having enjoyed the Cortes de Cima 2006 whilst in Denmark.  Had an interesting conversation with Hamilton Reis, one of the wine makers, about some of the more technical aspects of their viticulture and wine making.  More about that another time, as I hope to visit and learn even more.

First I tasted the Chaminé Tinto 2009 – yes, 2009 – it has just been bottled.  This is their entry level red, and is a wonderful exuberant fruity wine, no complex mineral or earth or animal notes, just good clean fruit fun.  Tasting notes are so incredibly subjective, I try to avoid the name-that-fruit game, but I have to say I tasted blueberries – which I don’t think I’ve encountered in a wine before!  The other thing that impressed me was that for such a cheap and cheerful wine it had a great pleasantly persistent full-mouth finish.   To get price bearings, their on-line shop has this at a price that works out around €6.50 a bottle.

But then Hamilton pulled out another bottle from under the table, and asked if I liked Touriga Nacional.  Yes indeed… for those not familiar, this grape is one of the foundations of Port wine in the north of Portugal, and it is not commonly grown in the south (Cima de Cortes is in the Alentejo, so think due east of Lisbon, give or take).  It is known for providing the backbone to long lived ports – power, concentration, complexity, all that good stuff.  I have never before had a wine made of 100% Touriga Nacional; this was the 2005.  And yes, the wine was powerful, concentrated and complex, also very subtle which maybe is unexpected given the other qualities.  The flavours for me were earth and floral – not sweet pretty cute floral, but dark earthy warm floral, think violets.  It definitely made me crave steak.  For price bearings – this one is at the other end of the spectrum, around €50 a bottle.  And yes, for a treat to share with a friend I knew would “get it”, I would spend that money for this wine.

Side bar note – a couple weeks ago I bought one of their whites, the Chaminé Branco, intending it primarily for use in some soup.  I opened it, had one sip, then got a phone call, so re-corked it straightaway, and by the time the call was over, I abandoned the soup making for the day.  I think it was two days later I finally thought, oops… and went to work on the soup, and the bottle.  First off, the flavours were undiminished from the first taste two days prior; granted I re-corked within minutes of opening, but I have known other (more expensive and pretentious) wines to not survive that.  Like the tinto, this is an every day wine, cheap and cheerful and fruity and I remember thinking the flavours were surprisingly tropical – didn’t expect that.  I just looked it up on their website – it contains Viognier and a little Semillon as well as Antão Vaz and Verdelho.  I paid €4 on special for this.  And, by the way, the majority of the wine went into a fennel soup, and I drank the last glassful with the soup, and both soup and food pairing were fabulous – and I think fennel is tough to match, I’ve had some really stunningly bad pairings!

Hamilton mentioned that Cortes de Cima were the first winemaker in Portugal with a website and selling their wine by internet – and it’s an excellent site, good blog and lots of technical notes re vintage conditions, wine making techniques, etc.

Fonseca Port Wine

Next, I visited Fonseca’s table – I’ve heard or read it said that this is what the other port shippers drink when they don’t need to be seen drinking their own brands.  I tried the Quinta do Panescal 1998 – a single quinta port made when Fonseca do not declare a general vintage – and the Fonseca 10 Year Old Tawny.  Both were lovely wines, very elegant.  Some people object to ports as being too heavy and cloying – I would suggest trying the Fonsecas before giving up.

Ramos Pinto

Finally, I tasted some more Ramos Pinto wines – I did taste one port, the Lagrima, which is the sweetest style of port made.  It is indeed very sweet, but this was a white port, so the flavours are more tropical and honey end of the scale – no deep dark flavours here – which I think makes it all a little easier to bear.  I asked about food pairings, instant response was “ice cream” and then, after some thought, “maybe some fruit…”  A bit like PX sherry.

But what I really wanted was to try more of their non-fortified wines.  In my previous posting I mentioned the Quinta de Ervamoira – nearby is the Quinta dos Bons Ares, which is similarly relatively level, but at a higher altitude and on a granite soil, not the usual Douro schist.  Grapes from the two are blended to produce the Duas Quintas line of wines (more of which in a moment).  First I tried a Bons Ares Tinto 2006 – which blends some Cabernet Sauvignon with Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca (but all from the one quinta).  Handsome cranberry colour with very little rim fade.  Very earthy nose, the palate very minerally as well as earthy, good acidity but it’s the tannins that come to the fore.  I liked it very much.  Note that the Bons Ares wines are only available for sale in Portugal (you’ll have to come visit me).

Next I tried the Collection 2006 and Collection 2007.  These wines blend traditional port grapes (Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca as well as the unidentified “mixture” so typical of the older Douro vinyards) from Quinta de Ervamoira and Quinta do Bom Retiro which is in the Cima Corgo, south of Pinhão.  In the 2006, both nose and palate were a balance of earth and fruit notes for me.  In the 2007 the fruit comes forward, though my note says not lush juicy.  Both have vivid tannins.  And the 2006 has hands down the best label I’ve ever seen – the serpent twined around a rather coy and naked Eve, offering her a glass of wine rather than an apple.

Finally, Duas Quintas.  I will back up and say I had the basic Duas Quintas Tinto a couple weeks ago at a friend’s housewarming, and it was a treat.   He opened the bottle and we tried it, and his eyes lit up, I’m sure mine did too, but we agreed the wine was a bit cold, so he handed the bottle to me and I cuddled it for a good 15 minutes or more.  When we tasted again (and again, and… ), it was much more expressive.  Tonight at Essência I tried the Duas Quintas Reserva 2007, which has not yet been released.  The first impression was the contrast to the Collection in terms of tannins – here they were much more integrated – I had to stop and really think, search in my mouth for a minute, but yes, good tannins, just wonderfully integrated.  Again, earth and fruit on the palate, maybe spices in the mix.  An incredibly elegant, supple wine, all the elements knit together seamlessly.  But the fun thing was, I was given a bit of dark, rather bitter chocolate, and after that, the fruit suddenly leapt to the fore in my mouth.  Fascinating.

As mentioned before, Ramos Pinto have an enchanting website, do take a look, in English, French or Portuguese.

Of course I am unable to take pictures in the wine tasting, and this is not a great photo, but… I know ISO glasses are supposed to concentrate the aromas so you can get the nose better and all that, but I still think the Portuguese have the right idea – thinking back to the tastings I’ve had at quintas, they have always been in generous glasses, which rather says it all for me.