50 Great Portuguese Wines. Part 2: The Reds

POSTED ON 15/03/2010

Only 14 of the ’50 Portuguese Great Wines’ were white (an achievement, however, given Portugal’s reputation as a stolidly red wine country), so that meant to my mathematically challenged brain that there were 36 reds. Ok I lie, there were actually 34 reds. How come? You guessed it, because the last two wines were sweet wines, a 2007 Portal Late Harvest Douro, a deliciously fragrant citrusy, elegant sweet blend of rabigato, moscatel and viosinho at only 11.5% alcohol, and an altogether more robust, exotically raisined sweet sticky in the 1999 Bacalhõa Moscatel Rosso. Back to the reds and no Vida Nova from Sir Cliff Richard, He will be disappointed, but this tasting was about Portuguese greats and it wasn’t just because Sarah Ahmed was born after Bachelor Boy.

What was there was a fine M.J.C Colares 2005, an elegant yet concentrated red made from the ramisco grape that was at once smoky, spicy and cherryishly juicy. This led into a handful of good reds from Beiras, the best of which was a truly fine 2008 Lokal Silex, a blend of touriga nacional and 15% alfrocheiro from Luis Pato’s daughter, Filipa Pato. This is a quite delicious single vineyard red, with a floral, almost violet-like perfume and bright, with an intense quality of bright cherry fruit, spice and dolcetto-like acidity that really seems to express the terroir perfectly. Almost as good was Luis ‘Mr Baga’ (careful how you say that) Pato’s own 2005 Vinha Barrosa, Vinho Regional Beiras, a fine eucalyptus-tinged red made from 80-year old baga grapes and showing the concentration, succulence of texture and intensity of damson-like flavour that only comes from low-yielding old vines.

The reds from Dão were an illustration of how just important this region ha s become for blends of touriga nacional, tinta roriz and alfrocheiro. The pure, unoaked touriga nacional 2007 T-Nac by Falorca was a very pure, aromatic and vibrant dark berry-fruited red with a touch of chocolatey sweetness and lovely seamless fruit quality aided and abetted by a marked freshness of acidity. Alvaro Castro followed this with a deeply coloured, smoky , dark cherry and chocolatey blend of touriga nacional and tinta roriz, the concentrated, succulent and very moreish 2006 Quinta de Pellada Reserva. Best of the Dão lot was the aromatically intense 2003 Quinta dos Roques Garrafeira , a fine rich and vibrant dark-berry fruited blend of touriga nacional, alfrocheiro, tinto cão and tinta roriz, that didn’t appear to have suffered from the torrid heat of the 2003 vintage.

And so to the Douro, probably the most celebrated of Portugal’s red wine regions thanks to the acclaim brought by the Douro Boys and the generally high quality of the fruit now that not all the best material is necessarily diverted into Port. I really enjoyed the 2007 Cedro do Noval, Vinho regional Duriense, from Quinto do Noval, a blend of the usual Douro suspects with some syrah whose vivid dark cherry fruit quality and savoury acidity bring a lovely freshness and balance. From the same stable, Quinta da Noval’s 2007 Labrador, is a modern, classy red with spice and black fruit that suggests syrah could have a future in the Douro. And why not? Dirk Niepoort’s 2007 Redoma, another classic Douro blend, was as good as you might expect, intense, concentrated and yet at the same time remarkably elegant. More muscular and chunky, the 2007 Passadouro Reserva from Jorge Borges was rich in black fruit flavours and concentration as well as fine freshness and a stylish veneer of smoky oak.

For all its excitement, I found the Douro inconsistent however. I was not a fan of Lemos and Van Zeller’s hefty and very oaky, Parkereqsue-style 2007 CV-Curriculum Vitae, despite its excellent name, nor Alves de Sousa’s smoky bacon oaky 2005 Abondanado (another fine name). I thought on the other hand that Crasto’s 2004 Reserva Old Vines, a blend of mixed Douro varieties of 30 years age and more, really was exceptional, a pure, concentrated red with lovely dark cherry fruit and old vine opulence in which the oak and acidity were beautifully balanced. I also very much liked Cristiano vn Zeller and Sandra Tavares da Silva’s lovely intense and yet elegant 2004 Quinta do Vale D. Maria.

Meanwhile the Alentejo too came up with some excellent reds, notably the black-hearted succulent 2007 São Miguel Descobridores Reserva, an alicante bouschet, touriga franca and touriga nacional blend, and the vibrantly vivid alicante bouschet and aragones blend of 2007 Esporão Private Selection, and while the 2007 Maladinha Tinto was pretty oaky, its compensating chocolatey-rich sweet fruit and fresh acidity made up for it. All in all then an excellent tasting and a great job done by Sarah Ahmed. As Sir Cliff himself might have said: Congratulations, Sarah!

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