Living the dream, my Quinta do Centro Blog
"What gives our dreams their daring is that they can be realized"
- Le Corbusier
To New York, for a tasting of pre-phylloxera Madeiras (see Madeira tasting notes) and a visit to our NYC / East Coast distributors to deliver some samples. 2013 was to have been ‘The Year of Portugal’ I am told but it didn’t happen. I spend a day walking around the city visiting independent wine stores to look at their range.
The serra has been shrouded in grey mist for most of this year but when it lifts there is a large red and white crane on the ridge for all to see. They are mounting a wind farm.
Supermarkets love wine. Unlike heavily branded products (soap powder or razor blades for example), the wine sector is very fragmented. It means that no one knows what the bottle they are drinking is really worth.
An early start to assess our wines from 2013. It is always best to taste before a meal when your senses are at their sharpest. Against the sound of rushing water I taste from cask to cask, tank to tank. The wines are very cold and one 5,000 vat is still to complete its malolactic and tastes a bit spritzy as a result. It’s still early days!
It is the time of year when it is colder indoors than out. Portuguese buildings have an ability to store the cold and damp, transferring it to your bones. This winter I have invested in a pair of Doc. Martens, not the bovver boot kind but a pair of demure waxed shoes with the famous AirWair soles.
The flooding in the south of England has made international headlines but Portugal is drenched too. I have never seen the rivers so full, including the Ribeira de Seda (‘Silk Stream’) which rises in the Serra de São Mamede and flows into the Baragem de Maranhão near Avis.
After constant travelling back and forth for the first nine months of 2013 I resolved to stay put from mid-October whilst keeping in regular contact with our importers and customers.
The adega is a hive of activity today as we bottle Duas Pedras 2012. I spend the morning tasting quietly through the wines we have made this vintage. Our potential Duas Pedras blend, made from grapes picked before the rain, is already showing well with plenty of fresh fruit and a characteristic touch of spice.
After a week of heavy rain, today is the last day of vintage. We are picking the Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon, always the last of our grapes to ripen and they are especially late this year.
This is turning into a rather fraught vintage. It has been raining since last Thursday and pick has had to come to a halt. Two more days of rain are forecast before the sunshine returns. This was always a risk with a late harvest like this. My 55 day calculation (see entry 8th August) was about right!
Torrential rain (as forecast) today as a deep depression moves in from the Atlantic, so vintage is on hold until tomorrow. There is going to be a let up tomorrow followed by more rain early next week if the forecast is correct.
There is a good smell emananting from the adega today. With the cooler air tempeatures, an aroma of fresh, clean fermenting fruit hits you before you even walk in through the door. Much of this is coming from our Trincadeira which was crushed yesterday and has just begun to ferment.
A change in the weather today. I woke this morning to find heavy grey cloud hanging over the serra. It is so much cooler and it even feels a bit autumnal, much to the relief of the pickers who began this morning at daybreak. Today we are picking Trincadeira and in the nick of time I think.
An interesting meeting today with representatives of ATEVA - Associação Técnica dos Viticultores do Alentejo who are in the Serra de São Mamede collecting plant material from old vines.
The first day of autumn and it still feels like mid-summer. The thermomenter has been in the low to mid-thirties today and the air is still unseasonably warm, even into the night. We have now picked all the young vine Aragonez and we move onto Trindcadeira on Tuesday.
I arrived here yesterday, heavily constipado (with a head cold) after a week of distinctly depressing autumnal weather in the UK. The harvest began here at the start of the week and by the end of the day today we will have four cubas (vats) fermenting.
I attended the most fabulous dinner tonight at the The Banqueting House in Whitehall to celebrate 60 Years of the Institute of Master's of Wine. We began by drinking Bollinger from magnums in the undercroft (the drinking den of James I) then climbed the stairs to dine below a ceiling painted by Rubens.
An inauspicious day for some, but thankfully we are on the cusp of vintage. The weather has been kind (although a shower of rain would have been welcome) and the thunderstorms threatened this weekend seem unlikely to materialise.
How many people know that Portugal is the fourth largest producer of tomatoes in the world? If you open a can of tomatoes or pour tomato ketchup on your food you will have almost certainly eaten wonderfully ripe tomatoes from Portugal. Only the USA, China and Italy produce more.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the recent blast of heat we are heading for a late harvest this year. The pintor has only just arrived this week, a good two weeks later than normal. The pintor or painter is the local name for veraison when the grapes change colour.
After a cool, wet spring, we have a week of summer heat with temperatures suddenly up in the high 30s (at much the same time as last year). The heat always seems to be on when we have important visitors.
To Porto for the biannual tasting of our Portuguese distributor Portfolio. I say tasting but it is really more of an entertainment for clients; restaurateurs, hoteliers, owners of garrafeiras (wine shops) from all over Portugal. There are wines to taste, arranged in groups to be tasted at different ‘moments’ over five hours.
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 is thoroughly drenched after a month of relentless rain. There is water standing amid the vines in places where I have never seen it before. Soil compaction does not help and the too-ing and fro-ing of the tractor has left tramlines of water in some poorly drained parts of the quinta.
I am supposed to be travelling to Dusseldorf to present our wines at ProWein, Europe’s largest wine trade fair. But due to an unseasonal dump of snow accompanied by high winds in the north of England I am unable to get to Manchester Airport to catch the plane.
It has been a cold wet winter. We had snow in the serra a couple of weeks ago and the forecast is for more unremitting rain. There is much to be done in the vineyard. Pruning is finished, the grass between the rows has been cut and weeds have been sprayed with herbicide.
I am in New York promoting our wine at Skurnik’s annual tasting entitled ‘Paint the Town Red’. It is an opportunity for me to get the measure of our new importers and the US market.
It is very gratifying to find that Duas Pedras 2010 is Decanter Magazine's Wine of the Month with a score of 17 out of 20. Their note reads well too: 'Meaning 'two stones' in English, this Touriga Nacional-Syrah blend with a splash of Viognier is names after the schist and granite soils of the area.
I don’t think I have ever felt so cold as I have this week in Portalegre. Although nothing like as cold as in the UK where it is currently snowing, the damp cold here quickly gets into your bones and there is really no way of warming up. The buildings seem to capture the cold.
Pruning is underway, albeit slowly due to the wet weather. Where we can, we are doing mechanical pre-pruning prior to hand pruning each vine. It is rather like a clipper cut before a scissor cut and the Alicante Bouschet now looks like it has had a short back and sides after all the previous year’s growth.
A rather dismal start to the year. Tomba Lobos, the excellent restaurant that we have in Portalegre, closed its doors just before Christmas and is not going to re-open. The owner and chef, José Júlio Vintém, has left for Recife in Brasil.
To Madeira for the Essência do Vinho wine fair. I take the opportunity to visit a number of restaurants in Funchal who either already list our wine or have missed out on the opportunity of doing so.
Sadly Joanne Twentyman of Mr Thomas’s Chop House in Manchester didn't win the Sommelier award but she did really well to come in the top five runners up.
It has been an extraordinary year throughout Portugal. I have talked to people in their eighties who cannot recall a year so dry. Springs and wells have been drying up all over the country. But far from being a disaster, some good wines have been made from varieties like Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira that seem to withstand the drought.
After a few days of rain, clear weather has returned and we resume picking. It seems as though the remaining Touriga Nacional (towards the bottom of the slope where the soils are deeper) has taken up the water.
Heavy rain. Fortunately all the rot-prone Trincadeira has now been picked as well as our old vine fruit for Pedra e Alma. We all desperately need the rain but perhaps not just yet. It will be interesting to see the effect it has on the grapes still remaining in the vineyard.
The last day of summer. It is still warm but overcast and, as if on cue, a few drops of rain land on my windscreen as I drive south to the Algarve to conduct as tasting.
It has taken five years to register the gift of some land from Quinta do Centro to the Câmara Municipal de Portalegre. It started when the bulldozers moved in, 'by mistake' to widen a corner at the bottom of the quinta before my permission had been given. Today I spend an hour at the notary drawing up and signing the deed.
I drove over the serra this morning to see a large black cloud hanging over the plains to the north. My first thought was a change in the weather but I later leant that this came from the fires that have been burning all night in the Beiras.
Our vintage finally got underway this week, with Syrah, Aragonez followed by vinha velha today. It rained for a few minutes last night and thunderstorms are threatened this afternoon. It was 33ºC at 3.30pm and as I write this I can see huge thunderclouds looming behind the serra.
To Porto (for a tasting of Cockburn’s vintage Port back to 1896 – see Port pages), then to the Douro for the weekend. It is striking whilst travelling through Portugal just how many construction projects have come to a complete standstill.
Vintage is going to be about ten days later than last year. The drought has delayed ripening and with no rain in prospect at the moment there is no hurry to pick. Fortunately it is nowhere near as hot as it was this time last year when the thermometer was reaching 35ºC.
We are in the news again, thanks to sommelier, Joanne Twentyman of Mr Thomas’s Chop House in Manchester. She has been shortlisted to the top 10 in the UK in the Wines of Portugal Sommelier Challenge in association with Imbibe magazine.
Two months absence: I have been lecturing in the USA followed by a month of self-imposed purdah while writing the third edition of my book, Port and the Douro. Late spring and early summer have been relatively cool but, unlike the UK, there has been insufficient rain to make up for the shortfall over the winter.
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.
My base for this week is Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim, a property I know well thanks to the Symington family who offered me accommodation here when I was writing the first edition of my book in 1998. I am here on my own today so I have time to peruse the bookshelf and my eyes settle on a copy of the Which Wine Guide from 1985.
Today is the first day of the London Wine Trade Fair and it is the day that the Decanter World Wine Awards are officially announced. We submitted two wines this year, Pedra e Alma 2009 and Pedra Basta 2009. I have known our results for a few days already but they are officially embargoed until today.
After a very dry winter we have has some rain at last. The thermometer rose into the 20s in March but has now fallen back to 12oC today. It has been raining on and off since the end of last week so, as they say here ‘Abril, aguas mil’ (April brings water in thousands!).
To London for our importer's (Richards Walford) annual portfolio tasting. We have our full range of wines on show for the first time: Pedra Basta 2009 alongside Duas Pedras 2010 and Pedra e Alma 2009. All the wine are showing really well, especially the 2009s.
Something has happened to methat has never happend before: I have completely lost my sense of taste and smell. I caught a very nasty bug (almost certainly from one of the children) towards the middle last month and by Christmas Day, alongside all the symptoms of a heavy cold, I couldn’t taste a thing.
19 - 20 An outstanding wine (*****)
17 – 18 An excellent wine in its class, highly recommended (****)
15 - 16 A good wine, with much to recommend it (***)
13 - 14 An enjoyable but simple, straightforward wine (**)
10 – 12 A very ordinary wine without faults but with no great merit (*)
8 - 10 Disagreeable (no stars)
Below 8 Faulty