Portuguese Wines – Part Three

Final installment about the wines I tried at Essência do Vinho.

There were two groups of wines I enjoyed very much, Muxagat and Quinta do Pinto, which were being shown by their distributors, eWine.  Subsequently I visited João Mesquita at eWine to learn more about the wines, and incidentally about the distribution business, as I know fairly little about it so far.   Among other things, I learned they also distributed several other wines I had found hugely appealing.  Going back to my comments a few days ago about finding a salesman whose palate preferences you share, and then you know you can trust his recommendations – I’ve found my first such Portuguese contact in João and eWine.

Muxagat is a tiny winery in the Douro Superior – 10 km south of the river and the end of the train line at Pocinho and only 20 km short of the Spanish border, it is at a high altitude of 300 m.  The winemaker is Mateus Nicolau de Almeida, son of Joao Nicolau de Almeida of Ramos Pinto (largely responsible for the plantings and winemaking at Quinta de Ervamoira, see my post below “yes I’m still here”), and grandson of Fernando Nicolau de Almeida who created Barca Velha – the first Douro red table wine to be recognised internationally for its quality.   Mateus trained in Bordeaux and Muxagat is his own project, though he continues to make the wines for Lucinda Todo Bom.

At the show, I tasted two wines:

Muxagat Branco 2008  Rabigato 95% balance a combination of Gouveio, Côdiga and Viosinho  from roughly 40 year old vines, on a combination of schist and granite soils.  The wine is 30% aged in new french oak and 70% in small (2000 litre) stainless vats.  Total production is small, only 8 – 10,000 bottles.  The nose was fresh, citrus, and palate also very fresh, minerality.  This is a wine that could age in bottle a bit, I think, fabulous – €10.50

Mux 2007 Tinto  Blend of 60% Touriga Nacional, 40% Touriga Franca, 15-20 yrs vines, vinified in small, temperature controlled lagares trod by foot, then aged in 1 or 2 year old French oak barrrels for about 14 months, the wine is not filtered.  This was lovely, very smooth, my notes include tannic, fruit, tar.

When I visited eWine, João showed me the last of a Muxagat Rosé 2007 which he recommended as an excellent food wine, try with tapas (have to get my Spanish friend round again to help me with that…).   They will not be making the Rosé again, have decided to focus on the reds and whites.  (Update 2015:  Mateus is again making Rosé and it is wonderful.)

For readers in the Porto area, João will be showing the Muxagat wines at El Corte Ingles in Gaia on Friday and Saturday March 19 & 20, from 14:00 to 21:00.

Another group of wines distributed by eWine is Quinta do Pinto.  This is an interesting project, in Lisboa, if you look on a map for Alenquer (which has its own DOC), about 30 km north of Lisbon and 20 km inland from the Atlantic, the vinyards are situated just east of a line of protective hills.  They have planted some French varieties, not just the usual Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but the Rhone varieties Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne.

The Quinta’s entry level wines are under the label Lasso.  They make a red which unfortunately I was unable to try, a blend of Touriga Nacional and Merlot aged one year in French barriques and one year in bottle before release.

I did try the Lasso Branco 2008 – made with no wood,  pretty fresh nose, lemony, gentle acidity, blend of Arinto and Viognier.

Under the Pinto label, they make a variety of whites, both single varietal and blends:

Pinto 100% Viognier 2008  Fresh citrus nose, palate fruit first then floral notes come up, fresh but low acidity.  Sandier soils than in Rhone.

Pinto Viognier Arinto 2006  This is their premier wine, a blend of 50% Arinto, 25% Viognier, and the balance a blend of Marsanne and Roussanne.  This one had notes of fruit and slight whiff of biscuit, more acidity than prior.  Really pleasant.

Pinto Viognier and Chardonnay 2007  50/50 blend.  Definite Chardonnay nose, and more minerality on the palate than others.

Finally, they pulled an unlabelled bottled out from under the table, and I tasted it blind.   I could not identify the nose, probably partially sensory overload by that time, but on the palate this was lovely, a rather tropical fruit palate but often for me at least, tropical fruit tastes can create an impression of sweetness even when the wine is a dry wine – sugary aromas perhaps.  This did NOT have that impression of sweetness, rather it was crisp and really refreshing.  Rather surprised to learn – Pinto 100% Sauvignon Blanc 2009.  This is a new wine for them, which will be launched shortly.

All of these were around 13% alcohol – which also surprised me, they didn’t taste it, would have thought closer to 11% for most.

I have so often been surprised by the character of French grapes in Portuguese wines, I looked up some old tasting notes, starting with some Rhone Condrieu Viognier wines – it looks as if I never found one I liked much, even after four or five years of Rhone en-primeurs.  Most of my notes indicate they were pleasant but a bit too sweet-fruit for me, often giving a cloying impression.  Not one ever got flagged as a possible purchase.  Similarly for Sauvignon Blancs – Sancerres always hit me as a bit too grassy and vegetal for my taste, often too sharp, and New Zealand ones again often too herbaceous except one that was definitely cheap fruit punch tasting (at nearly £30 a bottle from a major name!).  But at this point I’ve lost track of the number of Portuguese Viogniers and Sauvignon Blancs, either solo or in blends, that I have found really appealing.

Another group eWine represents is PV Wines.  This is a project by a trio of wine makers based at Quinta da Foz in Pinhão – if you have seen my photos from last October’s trip to Pinhão (first day, second day), many of them are of the vinyards of Quinta da Foz, which is situated just behind Quinta de la Rosa from the Douro, but on the east side is bordered by the Pinhão river.

I tried three wines at Essência:

Mutante 2006  Douro DOC Tinto  40% Touriga Nacional and 60% vinhas velhas – old vines, which in the Douro means a mixture of varieties, easily a dozen or more.  My notes are that this was very smooth and well integrated, easy drinking.

VT ’06 Douro DOC Tinto  This one is 65% Touriga Nacional and 35% vinhas velhas, 18 months in french oak.  My notes are sketchy:  “more elegant, tannic, craving meat and cheese…” (I really do prefer to eat when I drink wines, I get the most awful cravings when I am at tastings!)

Quinta da Foz 2006 Douro DOC Tinto  50% Touriga Franca, 25% Touriga Nacional, 25% vinhas velhas  Half fermented in in new oak, half in inox, and aged 18 months in oak.  This one struck me as the freshest of the group, though still complex and tannic.

eWine also distribute Quinta dos Avidagos, whose Grande Reserva 2007 Tinto was the number 2 red wine of the top 10 wines at Essência do Vinho, and Dona Berta Reserva Rabigato (for more on both see my notes in prior blog entry).  Others I’ve not yet tried include Quinta do Além Tanha (made by the people at Quinta dos Avidagos), Montinho São Miguel (Alentejo), Quinta do Vallado (Douro).

Finally, one other pair of wines I tasted at Essência – I had never had Moscatel de Setúbal, a fortified sweet wine, so stopped at the table of José Maria da Fonseca to try theirs.  The wine is made from 100% moscatel, nose was “darker” than a sauternes, but not a very sweet nose, palate was honey, roasted apricot, wood, and had a good acidity.

The second wine I tried was their Colecção Privada Domingos Soares Franco Moscatel.  Like port, moscatel’s alcoholic fermantation is arrested by the addition of grape spirit, so that the resulting wine is sweet but high alcohol.  In the case of this Colecção Privada wine, instead of the usual neutral grape spirit, Armagnac is used to arrest fermentation and fortify the wine.  The nose of this wine was lighter than the prior, but had a distinct alcoholic whiff, the palate also lighter, sweet fruit but also an almost floral quality, and with a stronger acidity.  The winery makes a broad range of dry wines as well, learn more at the José Maria da Fonseca website.

Finally, in case you were wondering, the top ten wines of the Essência do Vinho event, chosen by an international panel of judges, were as follows:

BRANCO

1ºRedoma Reserva 2008 Douro Branco Niepoort

TINTO

1º Quinta do Crasto Vinha Maria Teresa 2007 Douro Tinto Quinta do Crasto

2º Quinta dos Avidagos Grande Reserva 2007 Douro Tinto Quinta dos Avidagos

3º Malhadinha Matilde 2007 Alentejo Tinto Herdade da Malhadinha

4º Quinta do Couquinho Grande Reserva 2007 Douro Tinto Maria Adelaide Melo e Trigo

5º Charme 2007 Douro Tinto Niepoort

6º Scala Coeli 2007 Alentejo Tinto Fundação Eugénio de Almeida

7º Quinta da Touriga Chã 2007 Douro Tinto Jorge Rosas

8º Quinta do Vale Meão 02007 Douro Tinto F. Olazabal e Filhos

VINTAGE

1º Warre’s Vintage 2007 Vinho do Porto Generoso Symington Family Estates

Essência do Vinho is an enterprise that publishes the popular Wine magazine and offers a full range of food and wine courses and events all around Portugal.  Their website is in Portuguese, but if you can read English and/or French you can probably puzzle out quite a lot, there are relatively few “faux amis” in Portuguese (unlike French!).

To whet your appetite…