jamie goode's wine blog

Friday, February 20, 2009

Foz De Arouce, a Portuguese red

One of the wines I bought from the Vinmonopolet was a Portuguese red that I've actually not tried before: Quinta de Foz De Arouce 2006 Beiras. I've tried the reserve version (Vinhas Velhas), but not this, the regular wine - a blend of Baga and Touriga Nacional. It's made by Joao Portugal Ramos from his wife's property, and it's really attractive. The nose shows sweet plummy fruit with some spiciness. The palate is quite Italian in character, with plummy, damsony bitterness as well as sweet cherry fruit, and quite firm structure, as well as fresh acidity. There's some modernity here, but there's also a more traditional earthy spicy character. A solid 88/100.

It's nice to be able to get a wine like this - the Portuguese selection was quite good at the Vinmonopolet, as was the Italian. France was rubbish. German Riesling was one of the few other categories with a decent selection, but then this is a tiny resort town. Prices were quite high with very little under 100 Kr (£10).

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Surprised by an older Portuguese bottle

Man City lost again today. They're in the relagation zone. It will be tough to win the premiership from this position, but we need to keep believing.

Anyway, tonight I'm drinking an older Portuguese wine that surprised me. First of all, because it's actually really good indeed, and I wasn't expecting it to be this good. And secondly, because it's a proper wine offering good value for money from Laithwaites, who are best known for their own label brands that they price highly and then sell at 'discount'.

Quinta do Poço do Lobo Garrafeira 1993 Beiras, Portugal
From Caves São João, this is a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Bairrada region. It’s evolving really nicely with a beautiful nose of tar, herbs, earth and sweet blackcurrant fruit. The palate is fresh and elegant with good balance between the sweet fruits and savoury, gravelly, earthy notes. Delicious structure and drinking perfectly now. It's great to be able to buy a wine with some bottle age on it like this. 91/100 (£10.49 Laithwaites) 12/08

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Bairrada rocks!

I've finished a long but enjoyable day in Bairrada, which I reckon is one of Portugal's most interesting wine regions. The key grape here is Baga, a red variety that is best known for its firm tannic structure, usually coupled with high acidity. This is no bad thing: well made red Bairrada is extremely food friendly, as well as being long-lived. Some of the wines I tasted today reminded me a bit of Italy's best reds. Full report to follow, of course, so I won't go into specifics. I also tasted quite a few wines from Dao, the other main region in Beiras, which is the collective name for the broader region that includes Bairrada, Dao and Beiras interior. Lots of very exciting discoveries.

Tomorrow, the focus is on Dao, and tonight I'm staying in a very nice hotel in Visieu, the Montebello Hotel and Spa, which boasts five stars. I managed a quick dip in the pool before dinner, and tomorrow we are not leaving until 10 am, so I may get to swim then as well.

Pictured is the view from the balcony at Dao Sul's Quinta da Encontro winery and restaurant in Bairrada. This post is generated by my remarkably dainty EeePC, which I'm now going to use to check my emails. Then I'm going to sleep.

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Friday, May 30, 2008

A rainy Guimaraes and some old wine with Dirk

Yesterday was appallingly wet. It rained and rained, and then rained some more. There were sheets of rain, and then there was drizzle, and then the clouds were so low they were at street level, and then the sheets of rain started again. So we hopped in the car and drove through Porto, past the impressive, compact FC Porto stadium and out the other side, heading for Guimaraes, the ancient capital of Portugal (above).

Portuguese drivers have a bad reputation, and there were a few hairy moments with crazy drivers on the motorway, but we got there safely. It was even wetter in Guimaraes, but that didn't spoil the beauty of this old town. We walked up to the beautifully preserved castle, where you can walk round the ramparts, as long as you have a head for heights (no guard rail here, as you can see in the picture below). Then we lunched well and cheaply on some typically Portuguese fare. I ordered a 25 cl jug of house red, and it was utterly fantastic - and just E1.25. It was a red Vinho Verde: amazingly bright red/purple in colour, with a bit of spritz and lovely vibrant, forward fruit. The acidity was really high, but in combination with the fruit this made it a brilliantly refreshing drop.
Then we were off to Dirk Niepoort's for dinner. It was brave of him to invite all four of us over. We were joined by Niepoort general manager José Teles and winemaker Luis Seabra. Time for a cellar raid. Dirk told me and Luis to pick something interesting, but he retained the right to veto. His cellar has a lot of Riesling, white Burgundy, red Burgundy (including a couple of rows of DRC), a bit of Rhone, quite a bit of Bordeaux and lots of old Portuguese bottles, as well as plenty of Port and Madeira.

So what did we drink?

Billaud Simon Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir 2002
Fine, bready and minerally, this is fresh and bright yet rich and deep at the same time. Quite serious. 92/100

Bernard Van Berg Le Vin Le Plus Simplement 2005 Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire
This red Burgundy shows what you can do with a lowly terroir and yields of just 18 hl/ha. It's quite reductive (burnt match) along with vibrant red berry fruit. It's fresh and quite elegant with freshness and nice depth of fruit and a bit of meatiness. Very stylish for this appellation, and with a few years in bottle should shed its reductive youth and turn out very nice. 90/100

Caves S. Joao Reserva Particular 1959 Portugal
This old bottle is a blend of fruit from Bairrada and Dao. A deep colour with some brown hints, this has a wonderfully aromatic nose that is dark and meaty with a lovely spiciness. There's old wine complexity here, but it is still really alive, with bloody, iron-like notes in the background. There's also a bit of herby undergrowth character. Brilliant old wine. 94/100

Chapoutier Hermitage 1978
Very fresh and complex with minty, herby notes emerging, as well as some dark fruit character. This an appealing wine with brightness and elegance to the fore. It's not a big, heavy wine, but instead shows a precise, well focused personality, and you get the feeling that this has still got a bit more to give. 93/100

Niepoort Pinot Noir 2006 Douro
Still in cask, soon to be bottled. This is from the highest, coolest Niepoort vineyards, and this year Luis Seabra said he cut his holidays short to pick on the 24th August, to keep the wine fresh. It certainly is fresh, with bright, ripe red fruit character and a bit of mintiness. There's some elegance and nice texture, with hints of vanilla oak on the finish. This is actually pretty stylish. 89-93/100

Robustus 2004 Douro
Robustus was the name of Dirk's first table wine, made in 1990 (for more, see here). This new Robustus is a wine made repeating many of the 'mistakes' Dirk made back in 1990, and it's fabulous. It's half Redoma, half Batuta fruit, bottled after four years in wood. Deep coloured, it has a fresh, pure dark fruits nose that leads to a focused palate with elegant fruit and some oak imprint. There's brilliant freshness here with good tannins. It's quite firm with lovely freshness and density. Serious stuff. 'Not a modern, fruit-driven, square wine', says Dirk. Just four 1200 litre barrels made. 94/100

Niepoort 1963 Vintage Port
We tasted this blind. The others were in the 1970s; I was in the 1960s but got no closer. It's mature, super-elegant, spicy and a bit floral. There's nice freshness here as well as a seamless texture. Almost perfect balance: this isn't a big, heavy wine at all. 95/100

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I love Portugal...

Post from the road. I'm in Portugal, this time with my family. As well as visiting solo on several occasions, I've been here with Fiona a couple of times before, but this is the first time we've brought the kids along, and I'm really glad we did. There's something special about this country that I wish my two boys could 'catch' a little of.

The reason behind the visit is to learn more about cork and its production, courtesy of the leading cork producer in the world, Amorim. I'm keen to find out more about the sorts of measures that Amorim are taking to eradicate taint issues, which still haunt the industry, and also about the natural cork-based alternative closures they are marketing. I'm also looking at issues such as sustainability, which are of great current interest.

It's the first time I've really tried to juggle a work trip and a family trip in this way. It's fraught with danger, in the sense that if Amorim were to foot the whole bill this would be a significant conflict of interest (rather than just a mild one). I guess the only way to deal with this problem is to be honest, and disclose any such information, and trust that readers realize that at all times, I'm trying to deliver the best, most balanced, most informed perspective on any particular issue that I'm writing on.

After all, my reputation, and thus my future earning potential, depends on this. If gathering data means spending time with winemakers, staying in their homes, eating dinner with them, having flights paid for, and receiving samples, all in order to get the best perspective and inside line on any particular story and issue, then as long as it is disclosed, it is not a huge problem. It's the undisclosed, behind the scenes deals that are worrisome. And for me, in half-term week, being able to combine family time with work on the road is hugely advantageous.

Last night we stayed in the Alentejo at Monte dos Arneiros. It's a beautifully quiet, secluded country retreat just an hour's drive from Lisbon, and we liked it so much we intend to go back there in the near future. While I visited Amorim's plants at Coruche, the kids and Fiona swam and rode bicycles through the 500 hectares of cork oak forest that this property manages. Food was authentic local fare, presented without any fuss or pretension. The weather was atypically cool and damp, but we still had a good time.

Tonight we are staying in Espinho, at the Hotel Solverde. It's on the coast, some 18 km south of Porto, and despite the dire account of Espinho in the Rough Guide, it seems quite a nice spot - well, at least, the hotel is rather plush and well managed, boasting indoor and outdoor pools, a spar, and a helicopter pad. We haven't hit the town, yet.

Much merriment was had this evening when we checked out the indoor pool, and were told that we had to wear swimming hats. All of us. We purchased these from the spa reception - elder son chose pink, younger son red, I was yellow and Fiona was blue. They made us all look very daft indeed, and it reminded me of the time when we fell foul of French swimming pool laws that insisted on males wearing speedo-style trunks and not swimming shorts (so, as a mark of protest, we swam in our briefs, which was, rather strangely, allowed).

Tonight we dined on room service and ordered some wines from the restaurant list. Even in a five-star joint like this, you can drink well reasonably cheaply. The wine list had some good names (alas, no vintages or descriptions), but we enjoyed the Quinta das Bageiras 2003 Bairrada (good, complex, earthy, spicy Baga that tastes wonderfully natural and traditional) and the Casa de Togeira Vinho Verde 2007 (laser-sharp, crisp and attractively fruity). The former was 17 Euros, the latter just 11.
Tomorrow I meet with Amorim's technical expert Miguel Cabral, and then we're off to Antonio Amorim's home for dinner with the kids. I really hope they behave themselves. His kids are of similar age, and ours have been sternly warned...

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Monday, March 03, 2008

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.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Some wines with Luis Antunes

Continuing my recent Portuguese theme, Luis Antunes came round for tea last night. He's an academic (home page here) at the University of Lisboa, and in his spare time he writes about wine for Revista Vinhos, Potugal's leading wine magazine. I first met Luis for real (i.e. other than online) at Dirk Niepoort's 40th celebration weekend in Porto back in 2004, and have subsequently rubbed shoulders with him in the Douro and Bordeaux. So we had a really fun evening of modest excess.

We began with some fizz. Champagne Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque 1999 is pretty serious stuff. I suppose it should be, retailing at £75 and coming in a beautiful painted bottle. It has a lovely expressive, Chardonnay-dominated complex nose that is toasty and lemony. The palate is crisp and toasty with delicious savoury, lemony complexity. Sylish and quite serious. 93/100

Then we had a look at the Tapanappa Whalebone Vineyard Cabernet Shiraz 2004 from Wrattonbully in South Australia. It's an elegant Aussie with sweet, smooth fruit. Some structure, too. This is still noticeably Australian, with its sweet fruit profile, but I think it will age well.

So, to Luis' bottle - a rare bottling from Alentejo producer Esporao.

Herdarde de Esporão 2000 1o Prémio do X Concurso Os Melhores Vinhos do Alentejo 2000 Alentejo, Portugal
This rare wine from Esporao has a sweet, aromatic, slightly volatile nose with sweet red fruits and a bit of tar. The palate is quite spicy with dense, rather sweet red fruits and good acidity. It's still fresh for a 2000, the volatility the only thing that gives its age away. Interesting but not great: I expect that this would have been very impressive a few years ago, made in a very fruit-forward modern style. 89/100

This is the stage where I dug out an old Portuguese bottle that I wasn't that hopeful about. I'd bought it for peanuts many years ago from a retailer in a bin-end sale, and it hadn't been terribly well stored since. But it proved to be a brilliant wine, ageing nicely.

Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas 1995 Bairrada, Portugal
60 year old Baga vines have made this wine, which was aged for 10 months in new oak. It's really fantastic now, 12 years on. It has an earthy, spicy, savoury red and black fruits nose which is quite stylish and aromatic. The palate is smooth with a nice spicy, earthy savouriness and still quite a bit of fruit. Quite fresh and drinking very well now, especially with food. 90/100

Then we hit some sweet stuff. A brilliant Tokaji. Every time I drink a Tokaji, I kick myself for not drinking them more frequently. For me, this was the wine of the night, although the Bairrada was the one that left the strongest impression just because it had aged so unexpectedly well.

Disnók? Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 1995 Tokaji, Hungary
Orange/gold colour. Complex, sweet marmalade, apricot and spice nose. The palate is complex and sweet with spice, vanilla, apricot, citrus and tea notes. Quite viscous and dense with lovely lively acidity. Fantastic, complex sweet wine. 94/100

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