Great wines from Mr Duck
What better way to start my freelance life than a long lunch, with some great wines.
Today was the Luis Pato ('Pato' is Portuguese for 'duck') tasting and lunch at London's leading Portuguese restaurant Portal. Luis is one of Portuguese wine's great ambassadors. Not only does he make great wines, chiefly from an unfashionable grape variety (Baga) in an unfashionable region (Bairrada), but he also does the leg work of presenting them to journalists and merchants across the globe. And he's a friendly, engaging guy, albeit in quite a low key sort of way.
The wines today were very impressive: the triumvirate of top reds, Vinhas Velhas, Vinha Barrosa and Vinha Pan, from the 2005 vintage, are all exceptional wines that need some time in the cellar to show their best. Quinta de Ribeirinho Per Franco 2005, a small production number, is also exceptional.
We were treated to some older wines. By way of almost bizarre coincidence, one of the three older wines on show was a bottle I'd recently opened for Portuguese journalist Luis Antunes when he came to dinner (the report is here). It was the Vinhas Velhas 1995, and I wasn't expecting much of this when I showed it to Luis, because I'd bought it a decade previously in a Majestic bin end sale for just a few pounds, while I was visiting my brother down in Southampton. But it's a wine that has aged really well, and it gave me a strong reminder that Bairrada makes some serious, ageworthy wine. We also tried a Vinha Pan 1995, which was even better and still quite tannic, and a 1985 Bairrada which was very evolved but still alive.
One of the best wines we tasted was the 2005 Vinha Formal, a white wine of great presence, depth and minerality that will age beautifully - it's one of Portugal's best whites.
Apparently you can still buy vineyards in Bairrada for between 125 and 400 Euros per square metre. Tasting these wines makes me think this might be a gamble worth taking. Luis reckons Bairrada is best for sparkling wines, whites, and high-end red wines. With a quality minded approach, you could make some great ageworthy reds here that combine elegance and power to good effect - think Nebbiolo from the great Piedmont terroirs, and you have an idea of what Baga at its best can achieve.
Portal performed. Eel pie to start (no connection with the island), then a stunning slow roast wild boar that had been seeped for 24 h in Madeira. The green bean and chorizo mash it came with didn't complement it terribly well, but the boar was so sensational I didn't mind. Pudding was custard tarts. Very Portuguese, and utterly delicious.