Tag: Oporto

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

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

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