TRAIPSING THE DOURO Part 2: The Wines
In my last post, after rambling on about the beauty of the Douro Valley in Northern Portugal (home to Port and many an unfortified ‘table wine’), I promised I’d give you some wine recommendations from the region. After all, it’s the wine itself that really does the talking. So, in order of our visits, here are a some of my favourites from the trip that are available in the UK and the US:
Quinta do Noval
Old stalwarts of the Port industry, Quinta do Noval always make my list of top Douro producers for both their fortifieds and their unfortifieds. They follow extremely traditional winemaking methods (they have been around since 1715), however they produce a good mix of traditional wines and more modern ones.
Cedro do Noval: Named after the big old tree you see in the picture above, this approachable, modern wine is a good example of a well made Douro red. Loaded with rich black fruits, spice and coffee notes from the oak, the 2008 I tried was still grippy and tannic but try an older vintage if you don’t want to wait for it to age. It’s available from lots of places all over the UK (start with Everywine) for about £11-13 a bottle.
Quinta do Noval 2008: It’s got a lot bigger price tag but it’s well worth it. A beautifully balanced wine that weaves sweet spices and herbs with a sliver of salty minerality. This is Douro winemaking at its best. Again, fairly widely available. Try Seckford Wines who sell it for £38 a bottle.
‘R’ de Romaneira 2008: Same winemaker, different quinta. It was stalky and slightly vegetal like a good Bordeaux Cabernet Franc, but was focused and fresh with dried fruits and an incredibly long finish. The ’08 seems tricky to find, but you can try the ’06 from Slurp for £15.45 a bottle. Bargain.
Noval Black: Port for dummies. And by no means do I intend that as an insult. This is an ultra-modern, likeable Port that I’d be confident to break out at any dinner party, no matter how eclectic the guest list. Its bright cherries, plums and raspberries make this the perfect end-of-meal wine with chocolatey desserts and salty soft cheeses. It’s easier to find in the US, but in the UK it looks like you can get it from Drinks Direct for £16.48 a bottle.
Noval 20 Year Tawny: I often find that 20 year Tawnies are a massive step up from their 10 year counterparts, and well worth chipping in the extra mullah. This guy was no exception. While the 10 year was a lovely caramel, toffee specimen, the 20 year was more elegant and expressive, with a nose of candied fruits and almonds, and a palate of coffee and caramel. That blend of more oxidised, older wine really makes a difference. Get your mits on a bottle at Tanners Wine Merchants for £39.60.
Tawny Colheita 1997: Oh man I loved this guy. A ‘colheita’ as I mentioned in the last post, means that rather than being a blend of years like the previous Port, all of the wine grapes come from 1997. A gorgeous deep amber colour, it’s endless walnuty, dried fruit finish and high acidity were a real feat for a wine left in oak cask for 14 years. You can get a bottle from Gonzalaz Byass for £39.49.
Quinta do Crasto
Lunch spot at Quinta do Crasto. They are not short on beautiful views at this Quinta.
Crasto are leading producers of Douro table wine (aka unfortified non-Port) although they do make a bit of Port. They are certainly well liked in the industry (that could also be because they have the most stunning swimming pool I’ve ever seen!). There’s no denying their wines are well crafted, but they’re sometimes a bit too ‘accurate’ for me. In other words, they tick all the boxes, but can lack a certain flare, originality, or charming rusticity. In Crasto’s defence however, many of the wines we tried were still too young (all 2009) and a few have potential age beautifully. But one can only guess.
Of the line up we tried (over a delicious lunch), I thought the Old Vine Reserva was drinking the best. It was complex and laced with vanilla coffee, red fruits, and spice with powerful fruits on the palate and a roundness from the use of 15% American oak. Perfect for stews and rich meat dishes. You can find it at Classic Wine Direct for £19.79 a bottle.
Winemaker Luís Seabra surveys his vineyards from Niepoort’s state of the art winery
Niepoort have always been a favourite of mine. They are a company who understand how to stand out in a saturated market with clever labels that reveal equally memorable wine inside. Although they do buy in some grapes, in their own vineyards they practice organic farming, use a horse to plough, and use only indigenous yeasts for all of their wines. They have a delicate touch in the winery, and are always trying out small batches of new and unusual wines. While there, I tried lots of barrel samples and many more bottles at a fabulously boozy dinner with winemaker Luís. Unfortunately, the writing of tasting notes went out the window. And even more frustratingly, many of my favourites are not available in the UK (their Bioma 2009 Port for instance, and their fabulously cinnamon-y Bastardo 2009 need to get to British shores NOW! ).
The Niepoort dinner line up (yep, that’s a circa 1917 white Port on the left, and an ’81 LBV-my birth year!
But I always go back to a ‘comfort wine’ for me–Niepoort’s ‘Drink Me‘. As the name suggests, it manages to be easy drinking and extremely approachable while still retaining a complex minerality that says it couldn’t be from anywhere but the Douro. It’s widely available in the UK, but try Roberson where it’s priced at £11.95 a bottle.
Quinta da Gaivosa
Domingos and Tiago Alves de Sousa
Over in Baixo Corgo, Father and son Domingos and Tiago make a great team. Domingos represents tradition, and Tiago brings a youthful tenacity to Gaivosa. We had a wonderful dinner with both men matching their wines with a multi course meal, and we were so taken with them, we asked to visit their quinta and try some more. Tiago took us high into the hills of their stunning vineyards, the highlight of which was the ‘Abandonado’ vineyard that provides the grapes for their wonderful ‘Abandonado’ wine. We tried a vertical tasting of three vintages.
The 2005 Abandonado emerged as my favourite. It was a big wine but had a delicate elegance, and mint, sweet spice, watery coffee, and dark fruits abounded. The 2007 was also lovely with softer tannins, more mint, and liquorice on the palate. It’s the 2007 that I found available here in the UK at Christopher Keiller for £11.95 a bottle.
Kopke, Burmester, Barros
Sogevinus owns all three of these labels and Calem too. They all specialise in Tawny and White Ports, mainly colheitas. We had a very special tasting at Calem’s Port house in Vila Nova de Gaia, just across the river from the city of Porto. Their older Ports, dating to the 1930s, are extraordinary and if you need a celebration drink, you can’t get any better than an aged Colheita Port.
Barros 1978 Colheita Tawny: Deep amber in colour, powerful and elegant, sweet on the palate to start turning dry, with fresh eucalyptus and a very long minty finish. Mouthwateringly scrumptious. Available from Everywine for £60 a bottle.
Burmester 1937 Colheita Tawny: Translucent green tinge, very oxidative with notes of furniture polish, Christmas cake, balsamic, with walnuts, mocha, and dried fruits on the palate. It was still amazingly fresh and delicate with an endless finish. This was a truly glorious experience. It’s available from The Vintage Port Shop for (gasp) £245 a bottle.
Kopke 1935 Colheita White: It was an incredible privilege to get to taste not only a fairly rare Colheita White Port, but one from 1935 (only 5000 bottles were made). It was bright gold in colour with a green tinged rim and had a nose of cumin, lime and orange blossoms. On the palate it had a real tang to it with more cumin and bitter orange peel. An extremely complex wine to ponder over for hours. I couldn’t seem to find it from any UK shops, but it seems you can get it shipped from this Dutch retailer for (bigger gasp) 384 euros a bottle.
The dynasty that is the Fladgate Partnership owns three labels: Croft, Taylors, and Fonseca. Before a splendid lunch at Taylor’s restaurant overlooking Porto, I tasted through a good line up of their Ports (they don’t make table wines).
I’ve always been a fan of Taylor’s 20 year Tawny (like with Noval, a big step up from the 10 year) with its chocolate, almond, and coffee notes. Their 30 and 40 year are nice too, but in terms of best value for money, I say stick with the 20 year. It’s widely available in the UK but prices seem to vary quite a bit. Try Underwood Wines where you can get it for £31.46 a bottle.
Fonseca Terra Prima NV: Made from organic grapes and organic brandy sourced from Spain, this approachable, affordable Port is has a silky smooth texture and plenty of blackberry herby goodness. Get a hold of it at Wine Direct for £14.95 a bottle.
Fonseca ‘Guimaraens’ 1996 Vintage Port: It was an undeclared vintage and therefore is much more affordable than Ports around the same age, but I thought it had a lovely acidity, notes of dried fruits, spice, and chocolate and a very long finish. It won’t age which is a good excuse to pop it open right after you buy it! Get your hands on a bottle at Waitrose Wine Direct for £24.21.
The city of Porto reflected in an aged Tawny
So there are my picks of the trip. There were a few other gems from small, independent producers but sadly they don’t yet have an importer in the UK. However, I’ll keep an eye on things and cross fingers they make it over here eventually. In the meantime, these should hold you over for the next month or so. Happy Drinking!
*Note: If you live in the US, put these wines into Wine Searcher to see where they’re available near you.
*Another Note: To view more pics from my trip to the Douro Valley and Porto, visit my Facebook page.