It is always an interesting crowd that comes to the Portuguese Annual Tasting: A mixture of curious and professional seekers in search of the “Wine”.
I remember The Annual Portuguese Tasting in the very hot spring of 2003, the weather was extremely humid and the wines were equally heavy and tannic! It was an uphill struggle keeping one’s composure and walking in a straight line!
I went for the high end range price which came to a rather short list. Of course, most of those producers come to the Annual Portuguese Tasting to promote their wines and to find a retailer, so most do not have their wines priced. By choosing priced wines, I went directly to those already on the market. But it gives me a better idea of what has been chosen for the UK market.
By first sampling wines above a retail price of £20, this quickly eliminates most Portuguese wines. (I have counted them: only 13 above the £20 bracket –with one at £19.99 I leave you the comment). In this list, I knew three producers who are doing an extremely good job, so they will belong to the last categories of wines to taste. (Oh, do I need to mention that I leave ports to the very end of the tasting. By this time even those who started out being inaccessible open up nicely once the ports are circulated!)
What about the rest of crop? In a sense, most of them look alike and going back through my notes; I struggle to find other terms to qualify them: all were big, tannic, spicy, ripe fruits wines with a sharp finish. I would like to avoid using the generic term “New World Style” but I cannot think of anything else to define the general feeling: A touch of New World Wine Style. Some will have a more velvety texture and developed a nice long finish but I had troubles to differentiate those made from Touriga Nacional, Tino Cao, Tinta Amarela from those made only from a single varietal.
Quinta Do Portal Grande Reserva 2004 and Quinta Do Portal 2003 from Douro, offered some lighters vintages, more flowery than most I tasted during the course of the day. The nice leathery and spicy touches gave these wines a pleasant finish. Though they fell short of the perfect balance.
Ramos Pinto’s Duas Quintas Reserva 2004 D.O.C Douro was nicely balanced in alcohol and acidity though on the powerful side. Tannins were still high but with a fruity aroma and some spice too. A good food wine which made me long for a thick slice of red meat!
Going around the tables, I spotted a fine Viognier which is not a traditional grape for Portugal, with a very nice long finish and 3easy drinking qualities" (Dona Maria Amantis 2005) From Alentejano. On the whites, I tasted a blend of Bical, Arinto, Maria Gomes from Sao Domingos Barrada Colheita 2007 D.0.C in the bairrada region. It was very aromatic and perfumy with an appealing acidity, though the overwhelming peach melba aroma rendered it a rather "frivolous easy-going after sun and beach downer". Nothing to boast about.
Around the £10 mark, all the reds were highly tannic and you would not want to meet your boss or career advisor after these wines as our demeanours soured with every sip!
My best surprise and best wine went for one not on the UK market yet: Quinta da Sequeria in the Douro. Mario Cardoso is doing a brilliant job with his blend of Touriga National, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela and Tinta Barroca. This wine got a 4+ out of 5 on my ladder which is a very high!
His 2003 Quinta da Sequiera Reserva, was extremely minty, peppery, leathery and spicy… not to mention the taste of marzipan, almond and soft fruits – big tannins with a velvety texture. The finish was long and pleasant. Alcohol content discernible but not overpowering. It was a relief to drink it after searching for something DIFFERENT. Quite an achievement for a 2003 Douro. The weather was particularly wet in winter which proved to be worth it as the summer was very hot. The photosynthesis slowed during July after three weeks of intense heat with daily temperature over 40°. Harvest began in September with sugar’s level exceptionally low. So it could have given a flabby, less aromatic wine. In the case of Quinta de Sequiera, it went brilliantly. His 2004 was similar though probably lighter in style and more tannic, another year or two and it will be perfect.
My last tasting went to Sandra Tavares de Silva and her husband Jorge Serôdio Borges. The pair is exceptionally successful and both of their wines were delicious. I am more attracted to Sandra’s wines which I found perfectly balanced which plenty of aromas, nice acidity and balance volume of alcohol.
Her Pintas 2006 was really delicious, velvety on the palate and extremely complex. Plenty of spice, leathery, chocolaty aromas with a very long and special finish. This wine is made of a mix of grape varieties from very old vines. It certainly helps to give a very complex and unique flavour to this wine. I gave it 5 out of 5, the only full marks of the day in my book.
The wines from Quinta do Passadouro were brilliant as well, more tannic and probably less elegant than the Pintas of Sandra. As a food wine, they came across too tannic compared most other wines that day. They were definitely on the soft side though probably more traditional than those of Sandra.
I could not resist in trying Prats and Symington’s wines. Interestingly, I tasted the Chryseia 2001 a few weeks before when my comment was: too young. The 2006 had the same comment. The complexity of this wine needs time to develop and although it was very nice drinking, I would give it a few more years to let the grape’s aromas settle and secondary aromas to develop. This Douro DOC wine is made out of Touriga Nacional 61.5% and Touriga Franca 38.5% and due to its complexity, it does confirm that you can make beautiful wines out of these variety of grapes. The Prats and Symington wines have topped the list for several years now.
To round off this wonderful day, I struck out for the ports. My favourites were the Ramos Pinto and especially its 30 years NV which was the only port wine getting a 5 out of my 5 points marking ladder. It was lovely with plenty of almond and nuts, figues, spices, tobacco. The acidity was impressive and the finish extremely long and the best taste to end with.
Interestingly, comments varied around the table whether the 20 year-old was worth it or not. Squeezed between a £15 Tawny which was nicely balanced and the divine 30 year-old NV, the 20 did seem to lack consistency. For me it was restrained and very much less aromatic than the 30 years old...
It was a good day for me and I came away with a few pleasant surprises. Generally, I would say there is still plenty of room for improvement but knowing how Portugal has developed over the past few years, the prospects are positive. But I do admit Portugal has some way to go before earning a regular place on my favourites list.