Monday, October 22, 2007

Tasting of Port and Douro Wines - October 22, 2007

Port … to wine lovers it has nothing to do with fish, boats or huddled masses seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time. It’s about sweet, supple wines with 20% alcohol. Words like Tawny, Vintage, Ruby, 10-, 20- and 30-years old adorn the labels. Names like Fladgate, Graham’s, Warre’s, Dow’s and Sandeman get palates salivating for dark chocolate, almonds and blue cheese. Flavours of cherries, plums, tangerine, hazelnuts and countless others fill both the nose and the mouth. And, of course, real Port means Portugal – like Champagne, Sherry, Tokay and Sauternes, Port has a particular region of the world to call home … and that’s where they make those potent, delicious and intoxicating elixirs. But Portugal is not just about Port wines, as the Port and Douro tasting proved – though some of the most memorable moments are of sipping the sweet red and amber nectars.

Portugal is not only about red wines they do make whites wine too, but when 85% of your show is stained red, those are the wines you concentrate on. We’ll kick off this look at Port and Douro wines with the still table wines then move onto the Ports themselves. Finally, I will tell you my best of show winner … a table that was a must visit.

Kicking it off in the Red …
You will notice the flavours and smells of Portuguese red wines have some similarities to Port, that’s because they use some of the same grapes they make port with to make their red table wines, and you can find some very good reds coming out of this part of the world at very reasonable prices.

There’s the Jose Viseu Carvalho & Filhos 2003 CSE Reserva ($19.00 – Alivin Inc.) with its smooth cherry, chocolate, plum and spice notes. There’s also one of my favourites that’s still kicking around the LCBO (in Vintages), Sogrape’s Callabriga 2003 Red ($18.95) – spicy plum, black cherry, pepper with a creamy smooth mouth-appeal along with some earth and spice notes that hang out an extra long time. The same wine made in the Reserva style ($34.95) brings more anise and pepper into the mix with some oaky-cedaryness and mucho ageability. (Charlton & Hobbs Inc.)

I tried a Quinta do Crasto Reserva ($30 – Vintages March 1, 2008) that was heads and tails above its non-reserve counterpart. The fruit comes from 70 year old vines and spends 18 months in French and American oak giving it smoke, black fruit and cinnamon flavours and aromas. Best value red of the show was the Vinhos Romanz VQPRD 2005 Red ($9.65 – Golden Anchor Imports Inc.) – strawberry, cherry and licorice on the nose, with an enjoyable in-mouth feel of smoothness and lots of red fruit, herbs and spice … all for under $10 – it’s a bargain.

Of course there are also high priced reds and the VT’05 ($56) was tight and young, but stunning (sounds like Britney Spears in her “Baby One More Time” days). Each vintage of this wine spends 18 months in new French oak and it’s the only wine this winery makes, so you have to know their heart and soul goes into each and every bottle. Black fruit and cocoa were the only aromas I could pick up, but the mouth had cassis, blackberries, cedar, and good acidity with balanced tannins. Another 5-plus years of aging will do it some good for opening up … and in a decade it will still be going strong.

Interesting and Different …
Favaios (currently seeking an agent) has four interesting sweet “Moscatels”, 3 of which were very enjoyable – the fourth tasted similar to the first. A fruity, apricot and pear dominated Aperitif ($21), a 10-year-old version ($52.50) which was an interesting combination of fresh fruit with sherry-like nuances, and a vintage 1989 ($63) tasted like a sweet sherry.

On to the Port …
Port is the mainstay of this show and it’s what brings most of the people out. Its those sweet succulent cherry flavours, nutty almond nuances and those in-your-face dried fruits that lure us through the door; and every producer in the room knows it, because everyone makes one. One person turned to me at the show and said, “once you’ve tasted one Port you’ve pretty much tasted them all … problem is, they’re all good.” I would agree to some extent … but it’s also why the stunners really stick out.

I tasted two from Sandeman, which were lovely – first, the Sandeman Ruby Port ($15.45 – LCBO) a sweet, easy drinker with cherries, plum and cinnamon all wrapped up in a smooth delivery. More interesting is the Sandeman Vau Vintage 2000 ($51.95 – LCBO) – a vintage port made to drink sooner. Fresh and fruity with the tannic bite of Vintage Port, but to a lesser degree. Let’s call this one an over-dressed teenage Port, it’s meant to seem older than it is.

How about the gold medal winner at the Austrian show, Vinhos Romariz Reserva Latina ($18.95 – Golden Anchor Imports Inc.) is loaded with nutty-dried peach (and other dried fruits) almonds and a little smokiness thrown in for good measure.

A perennial favourite is Fonseca Bin 27 Reserve Port ($16.95 - #156877) always enjoyable with its smooth, rich and delicious flavours of sweet red fruit; it’s one of those ones you swear you’ve tasted a hundred times before … but it’s worth every penny.

Symington Family Estates, bringers of Silva & Cosens, Smith Woodhouse, Graham’s and Warre’s have two on my list that are worth your drinking dimes. Graham’s 10-Year-Old Tawny Port ($28.15 – LCBO) has nutty apricot aromas that follow-up in the mouth along with almonds, hazelnuts and orange peel. Then there’s everybody’s Christmas favourite (I say that because during the holidays it seems to be more prominently displayed at the LCBO), Warre’s Otima 10 Year Old Tawny ($22.95 - #566174 – 500ml). Sweet, lush, nutty, orange peel, apricots, dried fruits – everything you’d expect from a good 10-year-old Tawny and then some.

Another on the general list is Quinta do Portal LBV 2001 ($22.60 – LCBO) with its lush black fruit, dark cherry, sweet chocolate and light tannins that blanket the tongue in succulence.

Stole the Show …
I mentioned to someone that they should end at this booth (Table 17) because, “once you’re tried this stuff the show is pretty much over for you.” Quinta do Infantado is an A list vineyard in Portugal (the highest rating a vineyard can have) and everything I tried was of exceptional quality, and the shocker was the price: all very reasonable, especially for what was in the bottle. Starting with the 2005 Douro Red ($21.95 - #681486 – private order) – elegant and smooth with black fruit, cherries and cinnamon on the nose; cherry, plum and red fruit dominated with an elegance and finesse unparalleled in the room on this day … wow! The late bottled vintage, LBV 2004 ($28.95 - #680223 – private order) was smooth as silk with a lush dark fruit finish and tons of black cherry. Finally, the real show stopper – Infantado Ruby Port ($15.95 - #979898 – private order) is an absolute steal at that price ($15.95) for this quality Ruby: sweet cherries and milk chocolate, fresh clean crisp acidity that flows through the mouth with sip-appeal which keeps you craving more … dark chocolate is the perfect match for this one. If you’re looking for any of these three wines contact MCO … Interesting Wines and Spirits (905-562-1392) or petition the LCBO to put them on their shelves … I know I’d be buying them.

For more wine reviews and related articles go to,
while there sign up for Michael's free bi-weekly newsletter.

No comments: