At the New Douro tasting, with some of Portugal's finest

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Today’s New Douro tasting was remarkable. Five new producers have joined the ND fold, so the tasting expanded to take in two rooms at the Portuguese Ambassador’s residence in Belgrave Square. It meant there was no lunch, which upset some trade people, but I’m of the opinion that if you put a tasting on, you shouldn’t automatically have to provide lunch – something that can add considerably to the cost.
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The main focus of the tasting was the 2011 Douro table wines. 2011 is an exciting vintage in the Douro, and there were just so many really fabulous wines here today. When will people have the confidence to acknowledge that Portugal really can make world class dry reds? It seems that until very recently influential international publications had a somewhat patronising approach to Portugal, with a points ceiling that wines couldn’t break. Internet guys like me have been championing the best Douro reds as being truly world class for ages – as have the Portuguese wine journalists – but it seems that the major wine media outlets have held back, unsure whether to go big or not. ‘It’s Portugal, after all,’ seems to be the sentiment.
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Griping aside, there really were some lovely wines on show. Let’s start with Niepoort. In the last couple of weeks, Dirk has just bought a 25 hectare estate in the Dão to complement his recent acquisition of Bairrada property Baixo. Meanwhile, in the Douro, he parted company with long-term winemaker Luis Seabra at the end of 2012, and in 2013 put his brutal travel schedule on hold while he got more involved with the winemaking. He told me that this wasn’t a move that was entirely welcomed by the Niepoort staff, who didn’t seem to trust him. ‘I tried to do things, but no one helped me,’ he says. He blended the 2011s, and thinks they are the best wines that Niepoort has yet done. Although it wasn’t easy saying goodbye to his long-term winemaker, he thinks that this change came at ‘the perfect time for me personally, and the perfect time for Niepoort.’ Blending the 2012s will be a challenge, because he didn’t personally make the wines, but he seems very upbeat at the change in direction that has been taken here.

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The Niepoort wines are all brilliant. Tiara in 2012 took 14 months to ferment, and it’s such a lovely wine. The 2012 Drink Me Red is a super wine, and is affordable, too: ‘this is how I think it should be,’ says Dirk. So fresh, pure and drinkable. I really like the 2011 Redoma, which is the wine that represents the Douro the most, not a perfect wine, but a lovely one, with up to a third stems and ageing in large oak rather than barriques. Batuta and Charme are both excellent in 2011, each expressing their differences: Batuta sleek, concentrated, polished; Charme elegant, fresh, nervous and a little tense in its youth. Robustus 2009 is remarkable, as you might expect. And there’s a new red wine, Turris 2012, from a high, old vineyard, showing sappy, fresh, elegant cherry fruit: it’s profound.

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A new discovery for me was Quinta da Touriga-Chã. It’s the personal property of Jorge Rosas (above), who has a dayjob as export manager of Ramos Pinto (his cousin is Joao Nicolau de Almeida). Jorge’s father José used to manage Ramos Pinto before it was sold to Roederer in 1990, and then he set off to use his years of knowledge to find the perfect spot to plant his own vineyard. He wanted a flat plot in the Douro Superior, and found a plateau (chã in Portuguese) which he planted largely with Touriga Nacional. The wines from this vineyard are remarkable: sweet, ripe and dense but with a lovely fine-grained structure. They are among the Douro’s best: we tried 2004, 2008, 2010 and 2011.
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Jorge Borges was showing the Wine & Soul wines, which includes Pintas (exceptional in 2011) and the fabulous wines from Quinta da Manoella. The regular Manoella 2011 is profound; the Manoella VV even more so. Jorge also makes the wines at Passadouro, and the Touriga Nacional and Reserva are both beautiful.

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Xito Olazabal, Vale Meao

Xito Olazabal, Vale Meao

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Another Jorge – Moreira – makes Poeira, one of the Douro’s first growths, if you will. It’s on song again in 2011. Vale Meão would probably also qualify as a first growth, and in 2011 is utterly lovely. But I also have a soft spot for new Vale Meão wine Monte Meão, a varietal Touriga Nacional from granite soils, which is so distinctive, floral and beautiful. There is also an as yet unofficial Monte Meão Tinta Roriz from the alluvial, pebble-rich soils of the estate that I had a sneak preview of, which was very fresh and focused.
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Another new wine for me was the Vinha da Francisca 2011 from Quinta Vale D. Maria, which is a lovely focused, fresh, aromatic red that’s a step up from the already very good quinta wine.

Maria Emília Campos, Churchill's

Maria Emília Campos, Churchill’s

I was also really impressed by the offerings from Churchill’s, and in particular the beautiful 2011 Quinta da Gricha, which has a lovely mineral dimension to the focused fruit: it’s really serious. Duorum’s small production O Leucura 400 is also a pretty serious wine if the 2011 cask sample is representative of the final wine.

It seems a bit mean to pick out only these wines from what was a really impressive bunch, but it’s all I have time for right now. I think 2011 could be the breakthrough year for Douro table wines.

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