Fifty Great Portuguese Wines

Every year ViniPortugal (Portugal's generic wine marketing body) asks a UK journalist to select their top fifty Portuguese wines. I was privilaged to be the first to be asked to make the selection back in 2005 and, with the steady improvement in Portuguese wine making, the selection has become more difficult to undertake. This is soemthing that this year's journalist, Jamie Goode, ackowledged in the introduction to the tasting. When I made the selection I chose to focus on red wines, with the logic that with so few  few really good white wines to include, it would only serve to show up Portugal's weakness. This year Jamie included five white wines, all from the Vinho Verde region, perhaps emphasizing this weakness but I sure he could have found more good characterful whites from the Douro, Dão and Alentejo.  I am not going to write up every wine here but merely highlight the ones in the line-up that scored well from my point of view. There is a bias in my scoring towards the north of Portugal, perhaps because 2005 and 2006 were such warm years and the wines were more successful here as a result. As always the wines are presented in the order that I tasted them.  Where relevant I have included approximate UK retail prices in my notes. 

Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas Colheita 2007, Vinho Verde ****

Pure Alvarinho from, in my opinion, the very best producer. Delicate, floral, jasmine and apple blossom. Some weight too. Just as Alvarinho should be. Lovely.    17

Alvarinho Anselmo Mendes 2007, Vinho Verde ***

Anselmo Mendes is a leading consultant winemaker in the Vinho Verde region. This is made from his own vines: very pure, refined, clean, dry flavour with a fine minerally character. Made with skin contact.  15.5

Quinta do Ameal, Escolha 2007, Vinho Regional Minho ***

Made entirely from Loureiro, a grape variety that  is never quite as expressive Alvarinho but has a touch of Riesling about it: clean and minerally, steely dry and properly refreshing. Surprisingly this is oaked but it does not compromise the gentle Riesling-like fruit. Very well made and one of the best expressions of this grape. 16  

Afros 2007 Vinho Verde ****

I adore red Vinho Verde but I know that I am in a minority. When the wine is well made it works brilliantly with the local food, from sardines and bacalhau to rojões (a hearty dish of pork and tripe). The best grape variety is Vinhão, also known as Sousão in the Douro. It is a teinturier grape (i.e. red fleshed) and makes a wine that is inky in colour. This example is scented, floral on the nose, typically rasping with tannin and acidity piled on top of one another and with some lovely sappy cherry and raspberry flavours. An excellent example of an under'apprecoated genre.  17.5   

Conceito, Bastardo  2007, Vinho Regional Duriense ** / ***

The Bastardo grape used to be a mainstay variety in the Douro but it has fallen from favour. Baron Forrester eulogised over it but today's wine makers looking for colour and body find it produces pale,  incipid wine. This is certainly pale, almost rosé in colour, with simple, scented strawberry fruit. It is light, delicate and closely resembles a rather attenuated Pinot Noir from the Loire. A curiosity but a fascinating one.    14.5   

Quinta do Vallado, Touriga Nacional 2006, Douro  *** / ****

Touriga Nacional is the Douro's ex-libris (although it may have originated in Dão) but on its own it often produces wine that is somehow tiresome, even cloying and sickly after one glass. Vallado (who also pioneered a brilliant varietal Sousão) get this right: ripe but not over-scented, typically rich fruit offset by fine-grained tannins, soft, fleshy and very good. 16.5 

Quinta Vale D. Maria 2006, Douro  ****

From Cristano van Zeller's quinta in the Torto valley: well-integrated new oak, savoury, ripe and rich, chewy-leathery tannins, broad finish. Shows the concentration and power of old vines. Very good indeed. 17.5 

Quinta do Crasto, Vinha Maria Teresa 2006, Douro ****/ *****

Tiny yields (300 grms per vine)  from this well-sited 100 year old vineyard: ripe, hot country nose, big, broad and fleshy, dusty tannins, wonderful power and length.  Hugely impressive but pricey at £34 a bottle. Much cheaper in the UK than in Portugal and  well worth it.  18.5  

 Poeira 2005, Douro ****

From old vines belonging to Jorge Moreira, wine maker at Quinta de la Rosa: rich, scented, good depth and balance, especially coming from such a hot dry year, supple, naturally sweet fruit and fine-grained tannins. Polished, very well made. £24.60 17

Quinta de São José 2005, Douro  ***/****

 On north facing slopes between Pinhão and Tua in the heart of the Douro, João  Brito e Cunha aims for freshness and finesse rather than power. In 2005 he got both: closed, dense, dark cherry fruit, rich yet elegant, supple tannins. Good. 16.5

Quinta de la Rosa, Vale do Inferno, 2005, Douro ****

'Hell's valley' is the warmest part of Quinta de la Rosa:  aromatic, floral Touriga Nacional aromas, fresh, vibrant, sappy flavours, obviously hot country (and a hot vintage to boot) but very impressive nonetheless. 17.5

Quinta do Noval 2005, Douro **** / *****

The second vintage of this red from one of the leading Port producers: closed yet broad and fleshy in style, firm flavours, well integrated new oak, good length, very impressive and not over heated like so many wines from this vintage. £34  18.5

Pintas 2005, Douro (Wine and Soul)  ****

Made by husbund and wife team Jorge and Sandra Serodio Borges. He is the wine maker at Quinta do Passadouro and she makes the wines at Quinta Vale D. Maria. They have their own plot of old vines in Vale de Mendiz producing Pintas: closed, firm, tight-knit, ripe, foursquare finish, good length but pricey at £40. 17.5

Duas Quintas Reserva Colheita  2005, Douro (Ramos Pinto) ****

Made from 80% Touriga Nacional but this does not overwhelm: scented, floral, firm, gravelly fruit, well balanced, very flavoursome, not over-ripe.  18

Robustus 2004, Douro (Niepoort) ****

The first vintage of Dirk Niepoort's Robustus (he already produces Douro reds under the names Redoma, Charme and Batuta). This is fine, very nicely balanced sweet fruit, fine grained tannins, not big (like Batuta) but suave and sophisticated. Expensive at £65.  17.5

Barca Velha 2000, Douro (Casa Ferreirinha) ****

Only made in 16 years since it was first released in 1952 (good in-between years are released under the name Reserva Especial). The standard of Barca Velha has improved in recent years despite losing its original home (Quinta do Vale Meão): lovely savoury-leathery fleshy fruit, floral too, good depth and length.  18 

Quinta da Pellada, 2005, Dão  ****

Lovely scented wine made by Álvaro Castro, 65% from Touriga Nacional. Savoury-sweet flavours, very good use of oak, still young and unyielding and even better in a year or so. 17

Pape, 2005, Dão **** / *****

Álvaro Castro’s best wine, a 50-50 blend of Touriga Nacional and Baga: rich, tight-knit, well-defined fruit, firm with lovely freshness and acidity in spite of the hot, dry growing season. Dão at its best and not that expensive at around £20. 18.5

Quinta do Ribeirinho Pé Franco 2005, Vinho Regional Beiras *** / ****

From ungrafted Baga vines, hence the name pé franco, grown by Luís Pato. Wonderful wild berry aromas, firm and spicy with good density and depth for the Baga grape. Lovely fresh acidity lingering onto the finish.  Excellent Bairrada in all but name. 16.5

Quinta das Bageiras Garrafeira 2005, Bairrada ****

Closed, some wild berry fruit on the nose, pronounced hedgerow character, firm, leafy tannins, stalky, unusual these days but very well made. Will last for ever. Archetypal Bairrada, made from Baga without any destemming and aged in large oak vats. 17.5

Lokal Sílex 2006, Vinho Regional Beiras ****

Impressive, ripe, quite complex, rich, fleshy red with balance weight and poise. Made mostly from Touriga Nacional the Dão region by Filipa Pato, daughter of Luís Pato. 17

Quinta de Foz de Arouce, Vinhas Velhas de Santa Maria 2005, Vinho Regional Beiras. **** / *****

Very expressive old vine Baga. Wild berry fruit with freshness and poise, supple, chewy tannins. Very well balanced, quite expensive (£45) but very, very good. Made by João Portugal Ramos in a very different style from his Alentejo reds.  18.5

Quinta de Sant’Ana Reserva 2005, Vinho Regional Estremadura *** 

Ripe, polished red made entirely from Aragonez, very pure fruit (young vines?) offset by new oak. Sweet and sleek. One to watch. 15.5   

Dona Maria Reserva 2005, Vinho Regional Alentejano ***

Smoky new oak, rich, suave blend of Alicante Bouschet (50%) Petit Verdot and Syrah. Sweet, reflecting the heat of the vintage but not over extracted like so many wines from this year, with a savoury finish. 16 

Mouchão 2002, Vinho Regional Alentejano *** / ****

Big, ripe leathery-gamey wine, deep and dense, made from a high proportion of Alicante Bouschet. Very traditional in the best sense of Alentejo tradition. 16.5 

Preta 2005, Vinho Regional Alentejano *** 

Ripe, reflecting the vintage and well-structured, fine, sinewy tannins with good length and balance. A new venture from English grower David Booth. Quite pricey at £18.50 15.5

   

Location: The Lowry Hotel, Manchester

Scoring

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