Portuguese Notes - Recent
It is spring in the Serra. I heard the first cuckoo today. After a long, cold wet spring (there was snow in the Serra da Estrela as late as last weekend) we finally have some summer warmth with temperatures rising into the mid-20s. The vineyard has never looked better with neat rows of vines sprouting that indescribably tender spring green that you only find for a few days at this time of year. We have a potentially large crop of grapes although much will now depend on what happens to the weather next month during the flowering.
The only area of real concern is the older vines. Every year we are losing a few more plants to a disease the French call eutypiose. This is known in English as eutypa die back or ‘dead arm’, a fungal disease that first manfests itself by killing of an arm of the vine before finishing off the vine in its entirety. There is no cure. Big bald patches are now apparent in the midst of my older vineyards, mostly corresponding to drier patches on the soil where eutypiose is managing to take hold. I fear that it won’t be long before yields from some of the older vineyards fall to a level where they become unmanageable and I will have to replant. This will be to the detriment of Pedra e Alma, our prestige wine based on older, low yielding vines.
The silence on my website has been deafening over the past few weeks, at least to me. I have been busy finishing the third edition of my book Port and the Douro which is due to be published in the autumn. With nearly all the i's dotted and t's crossed I can go back to posting tasting notes on my website. One of the highlights of updating my book was spending a day with António Agrellos at Quinta do Noval. At the end of lunch he served two wondefrul wines, Noval Colheita 1968 (bottled in 2012) and Quinta do Noval Nacional 1994. I was too busy talking about clonal selection with Nuno Magalhães, viticultural consultant to Noval, to take detailed notes on the '68 Colheita, but suffice to say that it was a beautiful wine, quite sweet and rich in style with highlights of chocolate and torrefaction. It is bottled to order. However I never miss an opportunity to take notes on a Nacional:
Quinta do Noval Nacional 1994 ****
Mid-deep, youthful colour as you would expect from an eigthteen year old wine of this calibre; wonderfully pure fragrance, surprisingly delicate, open and floral in character, cherry fruit, not especially big, powerful or muscular and seemingly quite forward (surprisingly so), pure, great finesse, long and very charming. Despite being ready to drink this is a beautifully poised Nacional which I suspect will surprise us with its longevity. Only 240 cases made. 18
Location: Quinta do Noval
Colares 2005, Manuel José Colares, Fundação Oriente *** / ****
This is a highly unusual wine which I was delighted to see had made its way onto the Wine Society’s most recent fine wine list. Colares, on the coast north-west of Lisbon, is a place for incurable wine romantics (like myself). The wines are grown in the sand dunes close to the cliff tops on this wild and frequently wind-swept coast. The sand resists phylloxera so the vines are still planted on their own roots rather than being grafted on to American root stock. The region’s principal red grape variety, Ramisco, is also unique producing fine, fragrant wines with a fresh raspberry character when give the opportunity to perform. The problem is that over the past few decades, wine- making has been monopolised by the antiquated local co-operative and the wines have generally been rasping, astringent and fruitless. This wine is the result of a brave investment in the 1980s by the now defunct Carvalho Ribeiro & Ferriera. Sold on by Cockburn in 1999, it was acquired by a charitable foundation the Fundação Oriente who took three years to replant 9 hectares of vineyard. This now accounts for nearly half of the entire Colares DO which, at its peak early last century laid claim to 1,500 hectares. Portuguese nineteenth century author Eça de Quieroz described Colares as 'the most French wine in Portugal'.Jo Locke MW, Portuguese buyer for the The Wine Society describes this in similarly international terms ‘recalling the savoury flavours of Italy and the sweeter strawberry notes and silky texture of Pinot Noir, with a touch of Nebbiolo-like tannin’. I can’t disagree with that but my own note reads as follows: mid-deep colour, pink with just a touch of brown on the rim; fragrant, gentle, fresh raspberry-like aromas with just a touch of savoury old wood; slightly attenuated, firm, a touch of characteristic Atlantic astringency, dusty tannins, raspberry fruit with sinewy tannic length, quite elegant. Probably the best Colares for 50 years! 16.5