Category: Fortified Wine

Taylor’s, Vila Nova de Gaia

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Nestled among the dense collection of port houses on Vila Nova de Gaia is Taylor’s lodge in Oporto. It’s almost hidden except that through the inconspicuous entrance is a grand cellar, restaurant and garden. And a pair of peacocks. Not to forget of course that Taylor’s, as part of the Fladgate Partnership, also owns the luxurious hotel next door, The Yeatman, as well as Croft and Fonseca.

 

It’s no small port house but it is still family owned.

Taylor’s began as port shippers, establishing their lodge in 1692, before acquiring their first vineyard. Today, 30% of the grapes comes from their own vineyards in the Douro Valley, where they are fermented and spend the winter at the winery before being transported to the lodge for ageing. At Vila Nova de Gaia, they spend a year in barrels during which time the quality of the wine is assessed and they are funnelled into a category of port.

Barrel corridor, Taylor's, Oporto

My visit to the lodge coincided with the London Wine Fair, where Taylor’s launched their 1863 Single Harvest tawny. Sadly I didn’t get a chance to taste that historical wine but I did try seven of their more widely available ports and one rarer variety.

Ports, Taylor's, Oporto

The first in line was the Chip Dry, a white port created to counter the sherry shortage during the Spanish civil war. It was a creamy port with a lightly floral nose. Although it’s considerably less sweet than the next seven ports, you’ll still be able to taste some residual sugar.

Next in line was the Late Bottled Vintage 2009, which was aged five years in large barrels before release. As a reference for size, the largest of these barrels for Taylor’s is 110KL. With little air contact, the LBV is holding on to much of its ripe berry fruit notes and showing some violet, blackberry and black cherry. It goes extremely well with dark chocolate.

The LBV was followed by a flight of four tawny ports. The 10 Year Old Tawny, Taylor’s best seller, was a nutty blend of white chocolate and raisin. The 20 Year Old Tawny, made for every day drinking, also showed nuts and raisins and, strangely perhaps, a little rawness of youth. Or maybe it was just a yearning for more complexity – there was certainly potential. When it came to the 30 Year Old Tawny, it was a little closed but there was a greater intensity of chocolate with a very rich palate and less nuttiness. The last tawny, the slightly smoky 40 Year Old Tawny, had a lot less dried fruits notes with more wood showing. It also somehow felt a little confected.

I tasted two vintage ports. The first was the Taylor’s 2011 vintage port which was sort of reminiscent of a Brunello di Montalcino in its intensity. For this, think Maraschino cherries, cedar and violet.

The second vintage port, and the final wine I tried, was the Quinta de Vargellas Single Quinta 2001. Despite more than a decade in the making, it’s still remarkably youthful, perhaps even too young as demonstrated by the slight roughness of the alcohol on the palate. In flavour, it showed raisins, a slight hint of vanilla and a long, complex and very sweet finish.

www.taylor.pt

Ramos Pinto, Vila Nova de Gaia

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Ramos Pinto was one of the last port houses to be established in Vila Nova de Gaia. The original owner, Adriano Ramos Pinto, was clearly a visionary from the beginning.

Entrance, Ramos Pinto, Oporto

While most of the port houses at the time shipped to England, Pinto targeted Brazil from the start. With this liberal market came the romanticised, almost cinematic, posters and, at times, slightly racy advertising campaigns, which did wonders to promote the Ramos Pinto brand. It became an instant success. These days, the port house’s colourful history can be garnered from the lively museum and cellars on Vila Nova de Gaia.

In terms of wines and ports, Ramos Pinto produces a sizeable selection. For ports, mixing into cocktails seem to be highly encouraged though we didn’t try any. Instead, we tasted a selection of their wines and ports unadultered.

Tasting bench, Ramos Pinto, Oporto

Duas Quintas Reserva Branco 2011, a foot-tread white wine, was very savoury with lots of citrus and a little smokiness. The Duas Quintas Reserva Especial Tinto 2007 had a truffled tinge to its leafy tannins and fruit.

Moving on to the port, we started with a white port, the Adriano White Reserva, which was fairly heavy though simple in its style. It would have been great on top a rum and raisin ice cream.

On the vintage front, the RP Late Bottled Vintage 2009, an unfiltered port, was woody with violet and prune notes. The Quinta de Ervamoira Porto Vintage 2007, a single Quinta port, was rich in its chocolate notes though still youthful.

We also tried three tawny ports. The 10 year old RP10 Quinta de Ervamoira had rich caramel and raisin notes but lacked a little acidity. The 20 year old RP20 Quinta do Bom Retiro is slightly more floral with a long, nutty finish. The 30 year old RP30, made with wines from a blend of estates, had an oloroso sherry character in its nuttiness alongside caramel and dried fruit notes.

Inside the Ramos Pinto museum at Vila Nova de Gaia

www.ramospinto.pt

Quinta do Seixo, Cima-Corgo

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Ports, Quinta do Seixo, Douro Valley

Quinta do Seixo (pronounced Saycho) is perhaps more readily recognisable as the winery where Sandeman port is produced. It’s owned by Sogrape Vinhas, the same parent company which owns Mateus. Knowing this, I think, contributed towards the corporate feel of the Quinta.

Incredibly well organised and decorated, it’s very much geared to receiving a large number of visitors. Case in point, three or four coaches, filled with Douro cruise visitors, made their way up the winding road, through the vineyards, to the Quinta while we were there. Then, like us, they would have received a video introduction followed by the Sandeman tour with a guide who’s dressed as the Don.

This is just the visitor centre in the Douro Valley. There’s another one at the Lodge on Vila Nova de Gaia.

Our tasting was more extended than an average consumer tasting but it began with a round of cocktails. Some intriguing and interesting combinations, which, while occasionally on the sweet side, was actually really rather good.

The first port we had was the Sandeman Apitiv White, a brownish amber off-dry port that’s slightly oxidised, though not quite nutty, with notes of dried prunes. This, with an icy lemon sorbet, was dessert in a glass. The Sandeman Founder’s Reserve, a reserve ruby style port, was an easy, fruity wine with a very dry finish. Refreshing though, in a citrusy wine cocktail.

On to the more serious ports, we had a Late Bottled Vintage 2009, a fruity and youthful wine with notes of blackberry and raisin. The Sandeman Vau Vintage 2000, with two years in the bottle, was much more fruity and complex, with orange peel and citric bittterness. And finally, the Sandeman Vintage 2011, a seriously intense wine with mouth puckering acidity and laden with smooth tannins, showed highlights of prune and raisin.

www.sograpevinhos.com

Quinta do Tedo, Folgosa

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Quinta do Tedo rests on the converging point of the river Tedo and the river Douro; a picturesque little winery owned by Vincent Bouchard. Bouchard, some might recognise, as in Bouchard Pere et Fils in Burgundy.

Quinta do Tedo, Douro Valley

While the owner might be French, the winemaking is very much traditional. The grapes produced on the 14 hectare estate, entirely red and harvested with the help of horses, are foot trodden and fermented in the lagare before resting and being fortified in concrete tanks.

Wines, Quinta do Tedo, Douro Valley

We tried a small selection of their dry wines and ports starting with the Reserva 2010, a reserved wine with violet overtones, dull fruit, of blackcurrant and sour cherry, and grainy tannins. The Grande Reserva Savedra 2009 was comparatively warmer in its fruits, of cherry and black plum, with considerably more spice.

We also tried a small selection of their ports.

The Fine Tawny, with its hint of sugary caramel and boiled sweets, was a smooth drinking tipple with nice acidity. The Late Bottled Vintage 2007 was floral with intense notes of blackcurrant, prunes and grainy tannins.

On the vintage front, the Vintage 2003 had a relatively closed nose but showed a nice balance of sweetness and acidity as well as lots of prune and fig and a slight hint of rose. The final wine, a Vintage 2007, had a much more fruity nose, showing the same floral quality as well as prunes and a touch of mint tea leaf herbaceousness.

www.quintadotedo.com

Quinta do Portal, Celeirós

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

The winery at Quinta do Portal is impressively large (it’s capable of producing some 1.2 million bottles of wine a year) considering that the estate itself is only around 15 hectares. But that’s because the family owned estate is also part of the group that owns Quinta do Confradeiro, Quinta dos Muros and Quinta da Abelheira. Between all those Quintas, the area under vine is more like 105 hectares.

Winery, Quinta do Portal, Douro Valley

The man in charge of creating all those wines is Paulo Coutinho, who has been at Quinta do Portal for more than 20 years. You get the sense that he is very self-assured as he claims to be able to make any wine that he wants to.

The considerable creative flexibility that he’s been afforded has allowed him to experiment with wines that you probably won’t find on many other estates in the Douro Valley like a sparkling rosé. That rosé, incidentally, was the Super Reserva Rosé Espumante do Douro 2008, which, while a little too tart on the palate, had a nice strawberry nose with a slightly savoury finish. It’s a one-off, however.

Moscatel is the other grape that Coutinho liked to play with. We tried a Moscatel Galego Branco 2013, a slightly tart and savoury wine that’s otherwise classic in the moscatel category. Quinta do Portal also had a Colheita rosé, the Colheita Douro Rosé 2013, which was fresh, aromatic and crisp with plenty of strawberry notes and a very dry finish.

The aforementioned three “fun wines” were what Coutinho later introduced into cocktails. In fact, he was one of the strongest advocates for wine cocktails that we met on the trip.

Wines, Quinta do Portal, Douro Valley

To more serious wines, we started with a Douro Branco 2006, a well rounded wine with notes of honey, melon, lychee and a fresh, creamy finish.

Switching to one of the few sweet wines (that’s not port) in the Douro Valley, we tried the Late Harvest 2009 – honeyed nose, white fruits and a hint of Botrytis on the finish. A second sweet wine, which we tried later, was the Moscatel do Douro Reserva 2004, a floral but nutty and raisined wine that’s slightly oxidised.

With the reds, we started with a Grande Reserva 2007, a fresh, violet-forward wine that’s backed with blackcurrant and a little taste of iron. The still-evolving Touriga Nacional 2001 had a hint of mushroom and leathery overtones though there was still plenty of fruit.

Finally, finishing with a small round of port, we started with a 20 year old tawny. It felt a little one-dimensional but had good acidity to counter the sweetness. The 1999 vintage port, meanwhile, had developed with mushroom notes, a hint of chocolate and a smoky savouriness.

www.quintadoportal.com

Quinta de São José, Ervedosa do Douro

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Barrels, Quinta de Sao José, Douro Valley

Quinta de São José, a small, family run estate of just 10 hectares, lies in the heart of the Douro Valley, a short boat ride up from Pinhão. Although accessible by road, it’s much easier to get to the Quinta from the river.

Most of the wines produced at the estate are dry Douro wines but there’s also a small amount of port produced owing to the family heritage – João Brito e Cunha, owner and winemaker, is a direct descendant of Dona Antónia Ferreira, the doyenne of port.

While winemaking is the core business, they’re also beginning to develop a tourism aspect with vineyard tours and accommodation. At the top of the hill, where they do all the lab work, the view across the valley is truly spectacular.

We tasted through the small selection of wines (in a good year, they would make four reds, including reserves, two whites and one port) starting with the Flor de S José Branco 2013. It opened with a slight sulphur to the nose but had a light and refreshing palate of pear and citrus.

It’s relatively rare for a Quinta to produce a single varietal wine in the Douro Valley but S. José had a Touriga Nacional 2011. It’s the first vintage of this wine and is a vibrant red, tinged with purple, showing a smoky, cedar top note followed by cherry, blackberry, rose and a little vanilla on the finish. That vanilla was also obvious in their Reserva Douro Tinto 2011 which showed blackberry and herbaceousness of tomato vines, though it was also ripe with violet and rose.

We also tasted their vintage ports starting with the Single Quinta Vintage 2009, a fruity, approachable port, rich with cherry and obvious residual sweetness. The younger Single Quinta Vintage 2012, a tank sample, was fruity but still closed and a little woody with a much drier finish.

www.quintasjose.com

Quinta de la Rosa, Pinhão

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Quinta de la Rosa, an impressive and imposing estate on the edge of the Douro river, was purchased as a Christening gift for Claire Bergqvist 1906. Actually, it would be more correct to say that, while the winery is sizeable (to include the family home, visitor centre and B&B accommodation), the estate itself has only 55 hectares under vine.

Logo, Quinta de la Rosa, Douro Valley

In the early days, all of the grapes produced on the estate were sold to large port producers such as Sandeman. Today, under the management of Claire’s grand daughter Sophie Bergqvist, the estate produces around 80% wine and 20% port from their grapes. And aside from the tourism aspects (they run winery tours as well as hosting visitors), they also produce olive oil.

The family owned estate is very much traditional in its wine production. Foot treading in the concrete lagares is still used for its ports, followed by ageing in French oak barrels. And there are some really excellent wines at the end of it.

After the winery visit, we had a taste of some of their core products at the small visitor centre.

Ports, Quinta de la Rosa, Douro Valley

We started with the Quinta de la Rosa Douro Tinto 2010. It was an intense red wine with a smoky, pungent nose, spicy palate and plenty of red fruit. Alongside grippy tannins, there was also blackberry, chocolate and a certain plumminess. The second wine, a joint venture between Quinta de la Rosa and its winemaker, Jorge Moreira, was the Passagem Reserva 2010, made at Quinta das Bandeiras. This, a more tart wine, was reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon and would definitely be interesting with some age. Right now, however, it’s holding on to a woody herbaceousness.

The ports in this basic tasting started with a 10 year old tawny. Alongside that oxidative character, there were lots of raisins and a little caramel and nut, making a smooth and elegant port with nice acidity and balance. Next came the Finest Reserve, a rich, ruby coloured port with lots of sweetness, fruit and acidity as well as a hint of liquorice. Finally, we tried the Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) 2010 which was only bottled two months prior to tasting. Beginning with a lightly floral nose, it showed delicate and complex nuances amongst the fine tannins. But, while there was plenty of fruit, there was perhaps not quite enough acidity for balance.

Over lunch, we had a rather more extended tasting.

For this, we started with a dry, white Douro wine, the Quinta de la Rosa Douro Branco 2013. Crisp and aromatic, it had notes of apple and lemony citrus. The other dry wine we tried, the Quinta de la Rosa Reserva Douro Tinto 2010, was where violets came out with blackberry and plummy fruit.

Moving back on to the port, we tried an older 20 year old tawny. Showing more caramel and dried fruits, there was also a hint of Turkish Delight about it.

Given the quality of the dry red wines, I think the vintage ports are really where Quinta de la Rosa has its strength and we tried two vintages. The Vintage 2011 was still very youthful (there was detectable tea leaf bitterness) with a floral nose in a decidedly sweet and fruity style. I actually acquired a bottle a few months later, which I’m intending to cellar for a good ten years. The Vintage 2000, visibly more aged, had caramel, prune, toffee and chocolate notes, backed by great acidity.

www.quintadelarosa.com

Graham’s Port, Vila Nova de Gaia

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley series

Symington Family Estates, which produces Graham’s (as well as Cockburn’s, Dow’s and Warre’s), have been port producers since 1882. Still family owned, they are the single largest vineyard owner in the Douro Valley, with over 1,000 hectares under vine. Not all of those grapes are for port of course as they also produce a number of dry wines under the Douro appellation.

Graham's, Oporto

Graham’s itself was actually established in 1820 by William and John Graham. Having already established a reputation for quality, it was acquired by the Symington family in 1970.

The current Graham’s Lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia, inaugurated in 1890, had been refreshed fairly recently with a spacious museum-style visitor centre. In fact, the new wood smell was still in the air when we visited. And with freshly painted blanched walls and strong black lettering, the Graham’s brand image is clear. A second visitor’s centre is said to be opening in Pinhão later this year and will be the brand’s first inside the Douro Valley. But the old lodge is still, and will probably always be, where all of the Graham’s tawny ports are kept in barrels for ageing.

At the Lodge, there’s also a great restaurant called Vinum but it was at one of the bars that we had a tasting of some of the wines and ports from the Symington portfolio.

Ports, Graham's, Oporto

We started with the Altano Douro Branco 2012, a dry, white Douro Valley wine with a peppery nose which opens up to crisp apple, grapefruit and citrus notes.

Next came two dry red Douro wines. The Altano Douro Tinto Reserva 2010 still had a young, purplish tinge with notes of violets and herbaceous blackcurrant. An elegant but reserved wine. The Post Scriptum de Chryseia 2010, made with the Prats family, had an almost minty freshness with fine tannins and plenty of cherries coming through.

Moving on to the ports, we started with the Graham’s Six Grapes Reserve Port which was a blend of young vintages, bottled and ready to drink. Supposedly an every day port for the vintage drinker, it was very approachable and fruity with good acidity.

The Quinta dos Malvedos 2001, a vintage port, had complex notes of prunes, figs, eucalyptus and chocolate, and perhaps even a hint of cigar and mushroom.

The collection of tawny ports, chilled to 12°C, was the real Graham’s part of the tasting.

Going up in age, we started with the Graham’s 20 year old tawny, a rich and delicious fortified wine with complexity of dried figs, dried apricots, nutty caramel and prunes. The Graham’s 30 year old tawny, a more “sessionable” port if you will, had less of the nutty character and more concentration of fruit, complete with a luscious caramel finish. The Graham’s 40 year old tawny showed considerably more viscosity and displayed intense dried fruits alongside the acidity, slight hint of cigar and a sort of leafy bitterness.

Finishing the tasting was a fantastic Graham’s 1969 Single Harvest tawny (also known as a Colheita), which had more intense oxidative notes showing through alongside macadamia and almond from the nut angle and fig and prune from the fruit. But there was still plenty of acidity to challenge that sweetness.

www.grahams-port.com

Spotlight on: Oporto and the Douro Valley

Now that we are in December, I think it’s safe to say that we are in the thick of winter, which of course makes it the perfect time to talk about port and Douro wines.

Tribuary, Douro Valley, Portugal

I visited the Douro Valley way back in sunny June when temperatures had already scaled the 30s. Degree C, that is. I think there was talk of it being so hot that it’s essentially nine months of hell, and we haven’t even begun talking about working on the region’s famously steep slopes.

Port really needs no introduction to the English market, especially given English merchant’s heavy involvement in creating this fortified wine. Dry Douro wines, like the lesser known cousin, needs a little more help.

The easiest way of describing these is that they are the unfortified version of port, which they are in many respects. After all, they are both made in the Douro Valley and from almost the same sets of indigenous Portuguese grapes. And the most obvious similarity can be drawn between the red Douro wines and vintage ports, especially at youth. The Douro Valley has some great dry, white wines too but there are far more differences between the dry, white Douro wines and the white ports.

Quintas along the river, Douro Valley, Portugal

The dry, red Douro wines have an intensity of fruit and colour that’s incredibly distinctive and appealing to those who like powerful wines with more than a little wood spice. Vintage ports, meanwhile, fortified and aged in giant barrels with little contact with oxygen, retains much of their fruit but with the added touch of sweetness and of course alcohol. Tasting the two side by side, the connection is immediately obvious.

The IVDP’s website is a great resource for learning about how these wines are made: www.ivdp.pt

Innovation in the Douro Valley

I think what surprised me the most, apart from discovering some incredibly nice wines, is how open to change this very traditional part of the world is. Sure, the slopes remain steep, the sun is just as intense and some Quintas still foot-tread the grapes in the lagares (the shallow, concrete tanks used for foot treading) but the way that port is produced and served is always open to innovation. Pink ports, for example, only arrived on the scene in 2008 with Croft Pink being the first.

Croft Port from the river, Douro Valley, Portugal

For port, the first push for change is about unveiling the alternatives. In the UK at least, we’re always caught up on vintage, ruby and tawny ports, forgetting that there are also white and pink ports as well as a number of esoteric styles that are made by only a handful of producers. For example, Taylor’s Chip Dry, which has been around for a while, was originally produced as an alternative to Fino sherry.

Of course, it’s not just about creating new product lines – there needs to be a certain level of quality guarantee too. It took a while for Croft Pink to be accepted as a port because the category for pink ports did not exist. And indeed the IVDP does a lot to ensure that quality of port we see is maintained at a certain standard – more on that later.

The second push for change is about how port is drunk. It would probably be unthinkable to put a vintage port into a cocktail but dry white, ruby and tawny are all fair game. (I collected some port-based cocktail recipes which you can read on Yahoo) Sometimes, it’s even the winemakers themselves leading the charge like at Quinta do Portal.

Port producers have certainly recognised the need for evolution but I hope the quality of the Douro’s ports and wines don’t suffer as a result of it.

Here are the stops on my Douro trip:

Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP)
Graham’s
Quinta de la Rosa
Quinta de Sao Jose
Quinta do Portal
Quinta do Seixo
Quinta do Tedo
Ramos Pinto
Taylor’s

Domaine Haut Gléon, Durban

This is a post in the Spotlight on: Languedoc-Roussillon series

Domaine Haut Gléon showed all the promising signs of a good winery.

Domaine Haut Gléon, Durban

It’s located in the heart of the Corbières, a region well-known for its red wines owing to the abundance of sun to ripen the fruit while the winds kept the temperature down. The vineyard also happens to be in a relatively sheltered valley creating what’s said to be a micro-climate. The valley itself is called Vallée du Paradis, with obvious connotations. Even the name, perhaps wrongly assumed, aspires to Haute Brion.

And yet Haut Gléon is in a pretty terrible shape when it comes to wine.

Young vine, Domaine Haut Gléon, Durban

 

The 260 hectare estate had apparently been left to fend for itself by the previous owner but has since been acquired by a collective of winemakers. And yet even under new ownership, there’s a lot to be done.

While new vines have been planted, old vines seem to have been neglected with patches left unpruned in the mid-June sun, running untamed as its wild cousins. The focus instead seems to be on the tourism side, with wine being an added bonus.

When it comes to wine tourism, the estate suddenly becomes very promising. Well appointed rooms are located at the heart of the working winery, though without any obvious means of transport to go to anywhere else. It would seem to be somewhere quite perfect for those who want to get into the centre of wine making country and had no desire to do anything else.

But back to the wines. (It’s unclear which of the wines were made before the takeover and which ones after.)

Wines, Domaine Haut Gléon, Durban

The IGP wine, Vallée du Paradis Blanc 2012, was a fresh, crisp white but also a little creamy. The more premium AOC Corbières Blanc 2012 had seriously good minerality and notes of green apples and citrus. It was also interesting to find out that the white version of the label was more expensive than the red wine.

For the rosé wines, the basic Vallée du Paradis Rosé 2012 was fresh enough with high acidity but also hinted at some tannin. The AOC Corbières Rosé 2012 was much more fruity with bags of strawberry coming through in its long finish.

For the reds, I tasted only the AOC Corbières Rouge 2009. It was still feeling incredibly young but there was good structure and plenty of black fruits.

Haut Gléon also produced an incredibly nice Vin de Liqueur Carthagène Rouge, which tasted richly of cherries. That’s one for after dinner chocolates.

www.hautgleon.com

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