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The Port wines of Cálem 11/00

These notes were taken on my recent visit to Cálem, in their tasting room at the cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia.

The tasting rooms have such commanding views across the Douro river to Oporto that concentration on the job in hand is a must.

A range of over a dozen wines was on show, from the basic and massive-selling white, ruby and tawny; through some "vintage character" wines; to Cálem's finest Colhietas and old Tawnies. Colhieta Ports come from a single vintage year, but unlike Vintage Port, are aged in wood for a many years.

In effect the long cask-ageing of Colhietas results in tawny wines, whereas Vintage Ports, which spend only two years in wood, are ruby coloured and usually needs many years in bottle to mature and show their best.

Over the course of my few days in Portugal most meals were preceded by a glass of well-chilled White Port. I was surprised how quickly I developed a penchant for this marriage of lemony freshness, rich nuttiness and succulent fruit. These wines really make for a delcious aperitif, though their high alcohol means a little prudence is required! I thought Cálem's old Tawnies and Colhieta's really were superb, and as good as those from any producer I have experienced.

Flight One. White Ports

White and Dry (not sold in UK)
Pale lemon colour. Sweet nose of toffee, herbs and walnut. Quite sweet as it strikes the palate and very luscious, but then a nutty dryness spreads over the palate and finishes quite long and smooth. Good.

Fine White (COL, PEC, RAC, UNW, VIC, WIM - £6.99)
Intriguing nose of lemon, lemon zest, wax, caramel and nuts. Full-bodied with lovely sweet pear and apple fruit then a nutty, dried-raisin mellowness. Finishes with some sweetness reasserting into a long, mellow finish. Good.

Lágrima (sweet white, not sold in UK)
Pale gold colour. Nose is fine and sweet with gentle floral notes. Palate is rich and very sweet, full-bodied and lush, but fairly straightforward and lacking real interest.

Flight Two. Basic Ports

Fine Ruby (COL, PEC, RAC, UNW, WIM - £6.99)
Medium/deep ruby. A simple brown sugar and red cherry nose. The palate is a little harsh and spirity, but against that is plenty of round, sweet cherry fruit and good acidity. Moderate length.

Fine Tawny (COL, PEC, UNW, WIM - £6.99)
Nice dark tea colour. Sweetness apparant on the nose of fudge-smothered red fruit. Lots of demerara sugar and sweet fruit on the palate. Quite smooth, fine and very pleasant.

Vintage Character (bottled as Safeway's Vintage Character in the UK - £6.99)
This medium ruby wine has an earthiness on the nose and a pleasant sweetness. On the palate there is good sweet cherry and sweet dried plum fruit with hints of spice. Good.

Reserva (not sold in UK)
Deep ruby colour verging towards tawny. Quite a tight, creamy nose with a slightly spirity and grapy note. Lovely silky mouthfeel, still just that little harsh edge, but good cherry fruit and a decent finish.

Late Bottled Vintage 1994 (COL, PEC, RAC, UNW, VIC, WIM - £9.49)
Medium to deep ruby with a little browning rim. Some sweet fudge and caramel, with nutty notes. On the palate lots of rich, ripe, fruity flavours and a nice dried fruit and raisined complexity. Good finish. Good plus.

Flight Three. Premium Ports

10-Year-Old Tawny (COL, UNW, VIC, WIM - £14.99)
Medium to light tawny colour. Quite rich. Lovely caramel and tobacco nose, hints of stewed fruits. On the palate, more toffee and tea flavours, orange peel and spices. Long and very silky and delicious. Very good.

20-Year-Old Tawny (COL, NIC, UNW, VIC, WIM - £27.50)
Fine medium tawny colour. Very rich, walnutty, raisin and stewed fruit compote nose. Sweet and fine. Gorgeous mouthfull with lots of marmalady orange, nuts and sweet vanilla, spices and caramel. Lovely balance and great length. Very good indeed.

30-Year-Old Tawny (not sold in UK)
Quite a pale tawny colour. Luscious sultana and aromatic herbal nose, again a cinnamon spice note. Palate has quite powerful herb and sweet nutty flavours with slightly higher acidity but good balance and length. Very good.

40-Year-Old Tawny (COL, UNW - £65.00)
Much flatter, more brown colour. Real candied peel aromas. Quite distictive and a touch syrupy. Palate shows much darker, baked flavours. There is an earthiness to orangy fruit, but I think I prefer the younger wines.

Colheita 1990 (RAC, TAN, UNW, VIC, WIM, TWS - £12.99)
Dark amber colour. Lots of vivid red berry fruit and real Christmas cake spice, hints of clove and cinnamon. Fruit is soft, like mulberry and sweet briar wood. The palate is soft, rich and full with little complex nuances of tea-leaves and a lush fruitiness, a little herbal note. Long, pure finish. Very good.

Colheita 1961 (not sold in UK)
Pale tawny/golden colour. Quite punchy still with a lemony note to raisins, tea, tobacco and smoke. The palate shows delicious Seville orange fruit and there is real richness. Integrated and soft, this maintains fine acidity and sufficient backbone, pushing through into a long, gentle finsih. Very good indeed.

Read my report on a visit to Cálem in October 2000.