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50 Great Portuguese Wines

by Tom Cannavan, 07/12

In 2010 I was honoured to be named as Portuguese Wine Journalist of the Year, culminating in the unveiling of my own 50 Great Portuguese Wines in June 2011. I handed over the baton to the 2011 winner of the title, Julia Harding MW, and in June 2012 I found myself attending the tasting of Julia's personal selection of 50 great examples of Portuguese wines.

julia Just like me, Julia (right) managed to make six trips to Portugal during her reign, tasting over 1200 wines in order to narrow down her choices. Although there is no restriction and no theme imposed on the selection process, Julia decided to limit her 50 wines to those made from indigenous Portuguese varieties. She also says that she chose "wines I want to enjoy over the course of an evening and share with friends, not wines for sipping and spitting."

I was hugely impressed by Julia's selection. Of course there were many producers and wines that were familiar to me, but equally there were several producers and many wines I had not come across before. The breadth of enjoyable, personality-packed wines and styles showed the quality and diversity that Portugal can produce. Freshness and vitality was a key, and the fact that not as single Cabernet, Chardonnay, Syrah or Sauvignon made the cut shows what a treasury of grape varieties are available to the country's wine producers.

the 50 Great Wines

The notes and scores are my own, for wines tasted when ViniPortugal and Julia brought the wines to Edinburgh as part of a small roadshow. Some of these wines are not in the UK at present, but where known, links to retail stockists are given. Note that Port and Madeira wines are not eligible for this selection. Click the map for a larger, more detailed version.

sparkling wine

Quinta das Bageiras, Grande Reserve Bruto Natural 2003 Bairrada
Loads of sour, bruised apple fruit and then lanolin and honey develops. Lots of autolysis and intriguingly wild and herbal. Beautifully aged character, staying really fresh and vital, shimmering with life and acidity and long, hinting at sweetness in the finish but dry too with its fresh acidity. Delightful. 91/100.

white wines

portugal map Biomanz, Dona Fátima Jampal 2011 Vinho Regional Lisboa
Very pale, this sees oak but it is virtually undetectable on the nose with lifted, gently floral aromas that are delicate and spicy, quite exotic but utterly fresh. The palate has a freshness and mountain-stream clarity. It is fairly light and arguably just a touch dilute on the lemony, very clean finish, but then the hints of honeyed richness are there. 90/100

Casal Figueira, António 2011 Vinho Regional Lisboa
Beautiful nose, plenty of creamy, honeyed, gently toasty French oak but the freshness and clarity of the Cox's pippin apple fruit is there. Beautiful palate - so much freshness and citrus clarity. Intense, with juicy lemon and grapefruit flavours, but the light, oatmeally support comes through giving this a bit of honeyed depth. 92/100

Filipa Pato, FP 2011 Vinho Regional Beiras
Tightly defined, with quite flinty and racy aromas, but huge fruit ripeness too showing juicy peach and tangerine. On the palate lots of juiciness, lots of flavour and a hint of residual sugar to add creamy lusciousness. Long, lovely. 91/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Dominó, Monte das Pratas Branco 2010 Vinho Regional Alentejano
Gorgeous nose - creamy and crushed almond notes, subtle tropical fruits and a citrus freshness. The palate can't quite deliver on the fireworks of the aromas, but it is creamy-textured and really quite lovely, with a fresh, balanced finish and some genuine elegance. 91/100

Rui Reguinga, Terrenus 2010 Vinho Regional Alentejano
Gentle creamy oak, with some vanilla but a powerful herby background too, with taut apple and under-ripe melon fruit character. On the palate it is pristine and clear, little notes of flowers and exotic fruit all constrained and buttressed by the tight apple and gently salty mineral freshness. 91/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Fitapreta, Palpite Reserva 2009 Vinho Regional Alentejano
The French oak gives a definite wisp of exotic, smoky spice here, though the creamy and full, ripe apple fruit comes through. There's a richness here, a touch of lanolin too. On the palate this has bracing clarity: ultra fresh, there is texture here and a bit of layered nuttiness, but the clear, pithy quality is what drives the finish. 92/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta do Quetzal, Reserva Antão Vaz 2010 Alentejo
Brazil nut creaminess and richness here, the oak fairly prominent, but vegetal, Burgundian aromas come through powerfully. The Burgundy impression continues on the palate, edged with vegetal notes but pure orchard fruits, a hint of minerality and juicy into the long, gently oaked finish. 91/100.

Quinta das Maias Malvasia Fina 2011 Dão
Discreet, delicate, abundantly mineral and taut aromas, hinting at downy peach skins, but the minerality is the key. That lovely under-ripe character that suits Malvasia so well - no hint of blowsy quality here, it is all about clarity but with no shortage of creamy texture and nicely judged fruit to keep this vital but not difficult in any way. 92/100

Quinta de Saes, Reserva Encruzado 2010 Dão
Cool, clear, gently smoky and ashy, lovely stuff. The oak adds some creaminess, but all about clarity. On the palate quite pure, cool and long. Certainly on the lean side - arguably a bit austere - but fresh and vital. 90/100

Quinta da Pellada, Primus 2009 Dão
Delicate, beautifully fruity and floral around the edges. Terrific style on the palate, with a sour lemon tang and grip, but such delicate gossamer and peach down nuances to the flavours. Lovely stuff. 92/100

Vales de Ambrães Avesso 2011 Vinho Verde
Terrific nose, so fresh, herby, floral and dry but attractively bright. Lemon peel and tangerine tang. Great palate: crunchy, vibrant, searingly peppy and tangy, with so much zest and vitality. Flavour is packed in here, though there is a bit of gunflint reduction that you can taste in the finish. 91/100

Adega de Monção, 2011 Vinho Verde
In many ways simpler, with a clear citrus character, cool orchard fruits too. On the palate tangy and spritzy: very vivavcious, very sherbetty and cool with the lovely fruit flooding the mouth. Classic in style, and very juicy and vital. 90/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta de Soalheiro, Primeiras Vinhas Alvarinho 2010 Vinho Verde
This piles on the depth and intensity of fruit and aroma. Honey and obvious ripeness here, hinting at tropical. More luscious fruit. Some vergetal notes add to the complexity of the palate, but so much flavour, so much broad, green-bean tinged, fat lemnony fruit and huge natural concentration and freshness. 93/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Afros, Loureiro 2009 Vinho Verde
This has a lift of honey and flowers, really attractive, hinting at the exotic, but not overblown. Beautiful palate: pristine, ripe, sweet-edged fruit but such lime and lemon intensity and freshness. A touch of vanilla, but all about the fruit. 92/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta de La Rosa, Branco 2010 Douro
Terrific nose, some vanilla and woolly, lanolin, waxy apple and lemon too. Gentle oatmeal and almond. Delicious palate - so much fruit, but decisive, pithy, herb-tinged character too. Ultra dry and zesty. Delicious. 91/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Niepoort, Coche 2010 Douro
A bit of gunflinty reduction, but lovely orchard fruits: taut and lean, but with juicy, pristine fruit quality. The palate is dry, lean and savoury. Mineral, yes, but a burgeoning sense that there is richness and a bit of buttery fat constrained inside this young, intense and mineral wine. Striking stuff and a big nod in the direction of Burgundy. 93/100

Wine & Soul, Guru 2008 Douro
Nice ripeness here, a touch of vanilla and smokiness, but the limpid, ripe pear and delicately exotic, star fruit aromas come through. There is some vanillin oak on the palate too, but this is all about the ripe but lean, clean, full but crisp fruit quality; fleshy and ripe, but enticingly tangy and spicy too. 92/100

Van Zellers, VZ 2010 Douro
Some toast here, some honey, but ripeness too and a touch of the exotic hinting at nectarine. Huge ripeness on the palate, no blowsiness though - the vanilla and almond layering of the oak is there, but so too is the precision of the cool white fruit, finishing with a blast of citrus freshness. Very good, very stylish. 93/100

sweet wines

Herdade do Mouchão, Licoroso Alicante Bouschet 2006 Alentejo
Fabulous lift, lightly volatile, but soaring from the glass with wild flowers, cherry and kirsch and intense syrup of blackberries. Oh my goodness - what a hedonistic wine: it is sweet, the alcohol barely susceptible and the pleasure principle in full force: dark, full, sweet and beautifully poised, this is striking and fabulously decadent. 94/100

Casa AgrÍcola Horácio Simões, Excellent Moscatel Roxo NV Moscatel de Setúbal
Walnuts, honey and fig in a sweet and dark-hued melange of aromas. The nutty, Seville orange richness of the palate is ravishing. Ravishing on the palate too - rich, liquoricy, bright and focused orange with length and finesse. 93/100

Jose Maria da Fonseca, Alambre 20 Year Old Moscatel NV Moscatel de Setúbal
Drier, more varnishy aromas, plenty of nutty and oxidised pleasure to be had here. What a lovely bright tang of apricots - so vital and alive, the sweetness playing against the nutty richness delightfully. Fabulous, a beautiful wine of infinite complexity and interest. 94/100

Adriano Tiago, Tiagos Moscatel Superior 1993 Moscatel de Setúbal
Walnutty and deep, there are notes of cappuccino and orange here, a dark, stewed fruit compote character too. Wow, what texture on the palate - mind-blowing richness and viscose weight, spices, essential oils, orange and clove, all brightened bt citrus freshness at the core. A fabulous wine. 95/100

red wines

portugal map Valle Pradinhos, Porta Velha 2009 Tràs-os-Montes
Lovely brightly focused cherry fruit. Has sappiness and a tight, structured palate, with lots of juiciness but a really tightly defined, rigorous finish. 90/100

Quinta Lagoalva de Cima, Grande Escolha Alfrocheiro 2008 Vinho Regional Tejo
More obvious oak character here, a touch of mint and great ripeness. Some floral, cedary perfumed lift. Delicious palate - flooded with fruit and again that lean, tight, beautifully focused mineral and tight black fruit clarity. 92/100

Campolargo, Alvarelhão 2011 Bairrada
What a beautiful nose; laden with fresh summer flowers and hay meadows, bright red fruit and rose hips. Delicious stuff, light- to medium-bodied and so fresh, with a refined tannin structure and delightful clarity. Not a big wine, but a beautiful one. 93/100

Quinta dos Barreiros, Gravato Vinhas Velhas 2008 Beira Interior
Nicely fruited, more subdued nose, with lots of freshness and juicy fruit, but a layering of sappy green to lift it. Lovely palate again, the fruit purity is what impresses, and the cherry and plum skin tart definition of the acidity and tannin. Delicious. 92/100

Filipa Pato, Calcário Tinto 2010 Bairrada
The first wine in the line up with really obvious oak influence giving toast, cedar and some exotic Sandalwood. Chocolaty and red berry fruit beneath, spice and slightly wild, gamy nuances of the Baga. Lovely freshness in the finish with juicy acidity and tight tannins. 92/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Luis Pato, Quinta da Ribeirinha Pé Franco 2009 Vinho Regional Beiras
Gorgeous nose licked with vanilla and very creamy raspberry fruit, a minty note and cedary too, quite complex, but boldy fruity. The palate has a serious, vinous character, with ripe but savoury fruit bolstered by sinewy tannins and fresh, pert acidity. 93/100

Dulcineia dos Santos Ferreira, Sidónio de Sousa Garrafeira 2005 Bairrada
Outrageously heavy bottle, and a big wine aromatically too: a certain overripe charcter, with a vegetal note too giving lots of layered intrigue. On the palate this offers and explosion of fruit: creamy and rich, but juicy definition too. Silky textured, with soft plum at its core, but plenty of vital freshness. 92/100

Quinta do Escudial, Vinhas Velhas 2007 Dão
Dark, intense, blue-black fruit with a suppleness and tightly-wound, but silky character. On the palate this has lovely juicy freshness - not a lot of oak to encumber the lithe, polished fruit, but a bit of roughening tannin into the lean, mouth-watering finish. 91/100

Quinta das Maias Jaen 2008 Dão
Undergrowth and herby, woodland aromas, some creamy but quite delicate black fruit beneath. The palate has fine freshness and rounding, supple tannins to back it up. Touches of liquorice and cherry, but there's a little wild garrigue complexity too in the dry finish. 91/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Casa da Passarela, Vinhas Velhas 2008 Dão
Another direct, delicate, cranberry and redcurrant fruit-style red with delicate barrel component barely discernible. Hugely tasty on the palate, a big flood of ripe berries and gentle leather and spice, but really quite elegant, the nip of rusticity in the tannins just ruffling the surface nicely. 90/100

Julia Kemper, Tinto 2009 Dão
Very classy, sophisticated stuff, immediately showing quality French oak sheen and polish, savoury black fruits beneath with a little raspberry lift. The palate is quite rich and full, but maintains a keen edge, the oak filling in, but the balance impeccable. More international in style than some, but absolutely beautifully done. 92/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta do Mouro, Touriga Nacional 2006 Vinho Regional Alentejano
Lots of grassy, green lift adds an edge to the lightly balsamic richness of this, with taut black fruit and plenty of creamy oak too. The tight and focused blackcurrant floods the palate, with dry, fully- (but not over-) extracted flavours and a tight definition in the finish. Lovely. 92/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Esporão, TN Touriga Nacional 2008 Vinho Regional Alentejano
Gorgeous stuff, showing a little of the TN spice and floral character, but layered with pencil-shaving classy French oak and with a chocolate and liquorice suggestion of density. A flood of bittersweet fruit hit the palate, with absolutely delicious density and supple, svelte character. Long, sweet and focused and so polished. Again, arguably more international in style, but a mighty wine. 93/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Sonho Lusitano, Pedra e Alma 2009 Vinho Regional Alentejano
Very dry, very savoury, with a balsamic richness to the aromas and palate. A rich, mouth-filling wine layered with texture, fruit and concentrated flavour. 91/100

Niepoort, Robustus 2007 Douro
A delight, with such refinement to the small red berry aromas, Sandalwood and a wisp of ashy woodsmoke. On the palate this has a beautifully fresh character - a big seam of citrus freshness really comes through, with a lean, sinewy, mineral and juicy freshness. Tangy in the finish, spice and dry fruit are the final impressions. 93/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Symington Family Estates, Altano Quinta do Ataíde Reserva Touriga Nacional 2008 Douro
Dry on the nose, the oak is just a touch resinous at this stage, with the fruit ripe and freshly juicy beneath. Rich on the palate, this has gloss and power, hints at some under-ripe, greener notes, but unlikely from the Douro. This is about freshness and some herbal clarity in the finish, licked buy pepper and spice. 90/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta de Chocapalha, CH Touriga Nacional 2008 Vinho Regional Lisboa
A huge depth of coffee, chocolate and charry oak here is currently dominating. There is a delicate cherry and violet quality beneath, the fruit really quite fine and elegant. Beautiful seam of purity of the palate - a tunnel of focused, pure black fruits, edged with minerals and those herbal notes, but absolutely pure and supple into a long, long finish. A striking and beautiful wine. 93/100

Quinta do Noval 2008 Douro
A little herby and olive edge here too, plenty of pencil shaving and cedary French oak. This is perhaps in a slightly awkward stage - it's a wine I know and love, but this is just lacking a little fleshy weight on the mid palate on this tasting. One to return to for sure. 90/100, but really, judgement is reserved as previous tastings have been more like 93-94/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Ramos Pinto, Duas Quintas Reserva 2009 Douro
Plenty of deep, luscious black fruit but also an edge of black plum skin fragrance, a polished sheen of high quality French oak. Deliciosly juicy and concentrated palate - intense and tightly-wound, a big raft of sour cherry acidity and drying tannin, but all focused on fruit and structure for ageing too. 93/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta do Crasto, Reserva Vinhas Velhas 2009 Douro
A big creamy seam of black cherry and supple, plummy and liquorice depth. Hints of chocolate, but more savoury, more muscular than that. Perfect, elegant old vine natural concentration, with delightful fruit and savoury tannins, loads of spice and meaty structure, but never losing freshness. 92/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta da Gaivosa, Abandonado 2009 Douro
Soaring, lifted nose with hints of volatility and a little resin from the oak, but really it's about some wild, black pepper and garrigue freshness, and elusive, wild and sauvage lift. The palate is hugely sweet-fruited, such a lovely density of ripe, creamy black berries and cassis. Lip-smacking stuff, the elegant refinement of the chocolaty tannins and fine acid structure all adding up to layered complexity. 94/100

Quinta de la Rosa, Poeira 2009 Douro
Perfumed and savoury, the layering of tight-grained, polished oak and dense black fruit is pretty seamless. On the palate this is tightly wound and dense. The concentration is obvious, and this has terrific precision allied to weight and muscular, tight power suggesting a wine with serious cellaring potential. 94/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Wine & Soul, Quinta da Manoella VV 2009 Douro
Plenty of dusty, blue/black dry fruit extract on the nose, a little layer of fragrant ashy oak and glimpses of violetty, floral character. The palate is very juicy and pure - a lovely spine of pure black fruit, a silky texture and yet the spice and concentrated juicy power is there, with a huge, dry, spicy finish that suggests this needs five to ten years to show its best. 93/100

Quinta do Vale Meão 2009 Douro
Loads of fruit weight and concentration here, a velvety overlay of pure black fruit, slicked with vanilla and polished spices from the French oak, and a tight mineral intensity. The palate has a really dry, mineral clarity, hugely sour cherry and plum attack, but very refined and very long. 93/100. See all UK stockists on wine-searcher

Quinta do Vallado Sousão 2009 Douro
Vibrant, gloriously juicy stuff with a deep seam of blueberry and cherry fruit, smoothed by nice quality French oak. Delicious palate, the sweetness of the fruit playing against a big bittersweet chocolate structure with supple tannin, refined oak and juicy acidity. Lovely and convincing Sousão, if arguably a little international in style. 91/100

Quinta da Palmirinha Vinhão 2010 Vinho Verde
Organic and wild-yeast fermented, this has that slightly wild, sour cherry and Indian inky density and dryness of the Afros Vinhão I selected last year, with minerals and keen raspberry fruit too. Wow! An almost Champagne-like vivacity on the palate - not sparkling, but so much acidity and keen, lean, mouth-watering citrus and racy acidity. Deliciously different. 91/100

Casca Wines, Monte Cascas Ramisco 2009 Colares
An enormous change of pace with this light-ruby, amber-tinged colour. Graceful, elegant, faded old roses and polished wood, such ripeness at the core of the aromas, but elegantly soft and developed. On the palate herbs and fresh, non-fruity flavours, hints of mint and soft oak, and an elegant Burgundian character. 90/100

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