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Portuguese Estate Wines

by Tom cannavan, 04/00

This was a tasting organised by Scottish fine wine and food chain Peckham's. Peckham's have a strong line-up of estate-bottled wines from Portugal, many supplied by specialist importer Raymond Reynolds (info@raymondreynolds.co.uk).

The wines ranged in price from budget to upper-moderate level, the evening culminating in two of the finest Ports of the superb 1997 vintage. Some of the wines on show fell squarely into the "international style" category: some employing Merlot in the blend; others being aged in Limousin oak. These showed quite high extraction with deep colour, clean primary fruit and good tannins. Having said that, most of the wines were made from Portugal's indigenous grapes and in a more traditional style: which came as a huge relief given so many tastings of sound but relatively unexciting Chardonnays and Cabernet Sauvigon, and was a real pleasure.

This tasting proved without a doubt that Portugal is indeed producing good and interesting table wines. These are wines with fruit and balance, but also that extra dimension of being just a bit different. Given their modest prices, I would recommend trying a few of these or other mid-priced Portuguese wines: they might just give a jaded palate a bit of a lift! Peckhams has branches across central Scotland, but Raymond Reynolds will advise of other UK retailers. Prices are in pounds sterling (approximately £5=$8US). The tasting was not blind.

Quinta dos Roques (Dão) Espumante 1996 - £8.99
The Dão actually has quite a tradition of producing quality sparkling wines by the Champagne method. I had tasted the 1994 vintage of this rosé and thought it fascinating but a bit oddly flavoured and not totally convincing. This was much better. It has a very delicate salmon-pink colour. The nose is pleasantly yeasty with aromas of caramel and toffee. The fruit has a baked quality, with syrupy raisins but also clean, soft strawberry. It is fruit-driven. On the palate the mousse is fresh and light and there is a bright fruit profile of strawberry and raspberry and refreshing pear and apple nuances. Quite long, there is good acidity and a little tannin. Both very good and extremely interesting in style - a good food wine too, even with quite robust dishes.

E.A. Branco (Alentejo) Adega de Cartuxa 1998 (white) - £4.99
Pale lemon/green colour. Quite a waxy, almost paraffin nose with hints of honeysuckle, pear and apple skins. Attractive. The palate is a little washed-out with more delicate pear and lime fruit and there is reasonable balance, but a little insipid.

Quinta de Giesta (Beiras) Boas Quintas 1996 - £5.49
Medium to deep vibrant ruby colour. Nose of summer berries and cream with a hint of spice. On the palate it has a fleshy, fruity and juicy character but a slightly jarring astringent note that detracts slightly. Not bad, better with food possibly.

Cartuxa (Alentejo) 1996 - £10.99
I enjoyed the '95 of this wine when served blind last year for its earthy, blackcurrant and cherry fruit and classy palate, though I also detected a certain nervy, acidic edge. This has a dark ruby colour and a cedary, concentrated nose with aromas of vanilla, leather and tobacco and smoky berry fruit. On the palate it is deep and chocolaty with ripe tannins and a plummy fruit quality. There is a nice savouriness and the wine has balance and length.

Quinta de Maias (Dão) Jaén 1997 - £13.99
Jaén does not carry a reputation for making quality wine, but these particular vines are said to be 60-70 years old on average, and the wine is expensively matured in new Limousin oak. The winemaker here is also responsible for Quinto dos Roques, whose 1997 Touriga-Nacional I really liked and wrote about in January. This intense crimson/black wine shares a surprisingly similar aromatic profile given these are totally different grapes, with super-concentrated sweet, jammy, minty fruit on the nose. There are notes of buttery mint-humbugs and blueberry with a liquorice and mulberry edge. On the palate it is fairly straightforward with a lovely clarity of blackberry fruit and some tannic grip showing up in the finish. Not complex, nor terribly structured, but delicious.

Redoma (Douro) 1996 - £14.99
Another old-vines wine, this has something of a cult following amongst Portuguese fans (and the Portuguese, who are big consumers of their own quality wines). It is a very dark crimson colour and the nose is distinctive with a herbal and vegetal character to the fruit, with notes of liquorice and truffle. There is a slightly baked quality to the fruit (not unpleasant) which is very concentrated and there are nuances of flowers and game. Some creamy oak too. On the palate it has lovely fruit and a nice sweet and sour character that makes it very chewy and succulent. Some more floral, spicy, toasty notes from new oak fill-out the finish, and there is a tannic bite. With excellent length and definition, this is outstanding.

Port

Niepoort Senior Tawny Port - £11.99
Most of the serious Tawny Ports are dated tawnies, that is they declare "10 Year Old Tawny" or "20 Year Old Tawny" on the label. Niepoort's example doesn't specify its average age, but it has all the character of a serious wine. The colour is pale and mellow. The nose is redolent of raisins, sweet brown muscovado sugar and dark, nutty, oxidised aromas of orange peel and fig. Quite full-bodied and luscious, the palate has a flavour of sweet alcohol-soaked sultanas. Rich and velvet-textured, there are hints of chocolate and caramel. Smooth and mellow, though with some tannin and acidity freshening the finish. Very good.

Quinta do Passadouro Late Bottled Vintage Port 1995 - £14.99
Apparantly this is a Port that might easily have been released as a vintage, but the quality-obsessed Niepoort effectively "declassified" it, gave it an extra 18 months in barrel, and released it as an LBV at half the price. It has a dark, dense crimson colour.The nose is quite closed and there are only subdued aromas of mulberry fruit and a little fragrant, animal, gamey edge. The palate is nicely sweet with very clean and pure blackberry fruit. This wine is very tightly-wound, with a tough sheen of tannins that suggests it might well be one for laying away over the next decade. Quite a serious style, hinting at very good structure.

Niepoort Vintage Port 1997 - P.O.A
I tasted a barrel sample of this wine a few months before release and thought it was superb, so a nice chance to try it again, especially alongside the '97 Taylor. Opaque black colour. Immediately elegant and classy on the nose with finely-wrought fruit and a sweetness of violet and candied cherry. Massively ripe and concentrated on the palate with superb fruit. The whole picture is clamped by gripping tannins, but there is a great purity of blue/black fruit that is beautifully focused. Outstanding.

Taylors Vintage Port 1997 - P.O.A
Not quite so sharp and elegant on the nose, this almost seems chunky in comparison. The palate has a wonderful depth of fruit though. Definitely more burly than the Niepoort, but crammed with lush plum and chocolate, little exotic hints of aromatic spices. There's a real edge of bitter-cherry acidity and searing tannins which dominate the finish. This is another wonderfully concentrated and powerful wine, that power perhaps at the expensive of a little complexity compared to the more refined Niepoort. Excellent.