It started as a cellar clearout, a post-Christmas stock take. I found that I had lots of individual bottles of mature Portuguese wines, mostly reds that I had collected on my travels over the years. Unless I pulled the corks soon the wines would never see the light of day so I invited a number of colleagues to taste the wines at home on a wonderful spring morning in early may. Most of the wines came form my own collection but I am very grateful for contributions from Danny Cameron, Amelia Pinsent, Charles Metcalfe and especially Roy Richards who I learn’t last year is a closet fan of mature Portuguese reds. The three Carvalho Ribeiro & Ferreira Garrafeiras at the end of the tasting come from his cellar.
The tasting is best described as a mixed bag with more disappointments than pleasant surprises. The words ‘sinewy’, ‘lean’ and ‘dried out’ appear in my tasting notes rather more frequently than I would have wished. I readily admit that many of these wines in this tasting were not made to last but that makes the exercise all the more fascinating.
All the wines (except one) date from 2000 or earlier and the tasting goes back to 1945. Most are red. A few wines that I thought I had in stock were missing including a bottle of 1979 Mouchão which had developed a hairline crack and leaked out slowly over the floor leaving nothing more than a dark coloured crust. I also kept one or two wines from the 1990s in reserve so that we can repeat the exercise in ten years time with some of the new Portuguese icons from the current decade.
Vinha Formal, 2000 (Luis Pato) **/***
Lovely honeyed aromas and soft creamy flavours with well-integrated creamy offset by fresh acidity. 14.5
Redoma Reserva Branco, Douro 1999 (Niepoort) ****
Good burgundian nose, savoury buttery-toasty aromas and flavours, minerally acidity, still very fresh. 17.
Colares Chitas Branco 1983 ***
Golden colour, old fashioned lanolin aroma, resembling an old dry white Bordeaux, still retaining fresh acidity – a taste of old Portugal, mata saudades. 14.5
Redoma Rosé, 2000 (Niepoort) ****
I love serious rosé and this is nearly as serious as it gets: pink turning onion skin colour; soft strawberry fruit with a savoury touch of wood. Still very fresh after 9 years. 17
Chryseia, Douro, 2000 (Prats & Symington) **/***
Deep colour; ripe, open slightly jammy fruit, surprisingly loose-knit; plum jam flavours, dry tannins. Disappointing. Already fully mature. 14.5
Quinta do Vale Meão, Douro 2000 ****
Deep ruby, closed, dense, rich tar-like fruit; ripe blackberry fruit and broad tannic spice, with well-integrated new oak. This has plenty of life left in it. 17.5
Casa Cadaval, Merlot, VR Ribatejano, 1999 *
Soft, simple plum jam aromas and flavours, sweet but short. Falling apart. 11
Lagoalva de Cima, Alfrocheiro, VR Ribatejano, 1999 *
Hot, dusty aromas and similarly dusty hot country flavours, a touch rubbery, not a style I like. 11.5
Quinta Cova de Barca Reserva, Douro, 1999 (Companhia das Quintas) ***
I have no idea where this property is and have never seen this wine before or since: lovely cherry fruit, slightly medicinal, ripe, supple tannins and standing up well, good balance. 15.5
Quinta do Mouro, Alentejo, 1998 *****
Ripe, open almost burgundian aromas; rich, supple cherry and berry fruit, firm tannins a touch of tar, traditional, cedary and slightly leathery on the finish. Very good indeed, representing the best of the Alentejo. 19
Vallado, Douro, 1997 *
Hollow, dry some spice, the fruit having died. Drink up. 10
Tapada de Chaves, Alentejo, 1997
Muddy colour, horrid cheesy nose. Not tasted. Sad, tragic in fact given that this estate used to produce outstanding wine for long keeping.
Fojo, Douro, 1996 **
Attractive berry fruit on the nose, quite dry and extractive in style, foursquare and rather graceless, drying out. 14
Vinha do Fojo, Douro 1996 ***
Firm, rather more powerful than above, still foursquare in style but with rather more fruit and freshness. 16
Quinta Touriga Chã, Douro, 2001****
This wine crept into the tasting at the last minute because I couldn’t find the 1996 I thought I had: lovely ripe, opulent vibrant fruit, very pure, fresh plum and cherry character, fine, firm tannins. Has finesse. 17.5
Vinha Pan 1995 (Luis Pato) ***
Typical mature, baga-berry nose, somewhat burgundian but rather dry, lean and sinewy, austere but retains some elegance on the finish, should survive for another decade. 15.5
Quinta do Ribeirinho, Primeira Escolha 1995 (Luis Pato) *
Matured faster than the Pan, now hollow and drying up, all tannin with little fruit remaining. 11
Confradeiro, Douro 1995 (Sandeman)
Sandeman’s brief flirtation with Douro wine, from a vineyard that is now Quinta do Portal: dusty, vanilla-scented but all dried up.
Quinta do Mouro, Alentejo, 1994 ****
Not as impressive as the 1998 but still supple, sinewy, leathery fruit, traditional, slightly roasted but kept alive by fresh acidity. 17
Cabernet Sauvigon, Esporão, Alentejo, 1994 **
Soft, sweet, herbaceous, berry fruit, drying up and rather hollow but recognisably Cabernet after fifteen years. 13
Trincadeira, Esporao, Alentejo 1994 (“Este vinho foi produzido com a magnifica ajuda do Exmo Sr Richard Mayson”)
Dry and leathery, rather hot jammy rubbery fruit, falling apart, of sentimental value only as this was the vintage I worked at Esporão
Esporão Garrafeira, Alentejo, 1994 ***
Better, some sweet, ripe fruit holding up, round, quite dense and complex. 15
Casa de Saima Reserva, Bairrada, 1994
Stalky, possibly corked, rotting fruit. Not tasted.
Redoma, Douro 1994 (Niepoort)
Farmyard and stables nose, marred by a strong bret character, still tight knit but rustic in style. Disappointing
Cabernet Sauvignon, Esporão, 1993 (“Reserva Especial para Richard Mayson”)**
Medicinal berry fruit, still alive, minty, jammy; cool summer in the Alentejo. 13
Mouchão, Alentejo, 1992 ****/*****
Very deep in colour; lovely ripe, warm country fruit, still very much alive with sweet, fleshy, spicy tight-knit flavours, solid tannic finish. Well built. Very good indeed. 18.5
Quinta de Foz de Arouce, VR Beiras, 1991 ***/****
Good deep colour; still retaining the wild berry character of baga, hedgerow, stalks; some sweet, ripe fruit combined with high tannins quite lean and sinewy on the finish. 16.5
Redoma Douro, 1991 **/***
The first vintage of this now iconic wine from Dirk Niepoort: rich, leathery, slightly rustic; savoury cherry fruit, firm with good length. 14.5
Casa de Saima Garrafeira, Bairrada, 1990 ****
Deep, dark colour; funky resin and beeswax aromas, very Baga; lovely leathery spicy-casky flavours, very tannic and austere, very traditional in style, a wine that will probably go on for ever. 17
Mouchão, Alentejo, 1989 ****
Very deep youthful colour (Alicante Bouschet); lovely ripe, minty aromas, opulent, meaty, chewy tannins, fine, supple length. Holding together very well indeed. 17.5
Tinto Velho, José de Sousa Rosado Fernandes, VR Alentejo, 1988
Fallen apart, completely dried up.
Casa da Insua, Dão 1988
Green, stalky, tastes like thin, green Cabernet.
Quinta do Cotto Grande Escolha, 1987
Ullaged and volatile
Cartuxa Garrafeira 1987
Mouldy saline aromas. Horrid. Not tasted.
Quinta do Carmo Garrafeira, 1987
I had high hopes for this pair of wines from one of the Alentejo’s leading estates: this was hollow and dried up with a slightly soily flavour on the finish. A big disappointment.
Quinta do Carmo Garrafeira, 1986
Slightly fresher with a vestige of fruit but still dry and dusty on the finish. Foursquare, extractive. Disappointing
Esporão Reserva, 1986
Volatile, had it!
Tinto Velho, José de Sousa Rosado Fernandes, Alentejo 1986
Rustic, dried up.
Carvalho, Ribeiro & Garrafeira 1985
Farmyard aromas, savoury and drying out.
João Pato 1985 **/***
Named after Luís Pato’s father: elegant burgundian aromas, fully mature but retaining some freshness, good length, balance and finesse. 14.5
Quinta do Cotto Grande Escolha 1985 (magnum)
Deep in colour; herbaceous, green Portuguese oak perhaps, dry resiny with green tannins overwhelming the finish. Very disappointing.
Reserva Especial, Casa Ferreirinha 1984 ***
Declassified Barca Velha: leathery, cedary character, firm, some plummy fruit, sinewy length and poise. 15
Luís Pato, Bairrada 1984 *
Stalky Baga nose, very lean and rather boney – skeletal but faithful in style. 11
Barca Velha 1983 (Ferreira) ***
Deep colour, still displaying ripeness on the nose, quite dry but with cherry fruit and chocolate depth, solid foursquare finish. Not a great vintage for Barca Velha. 15.5
Dão Porta dos Cavaleiros Reserva 1983
Two bottles, both musty, corked?
Beira Mar, 1983 (Paulo de Silva Chitas) *
From one of the most romantic cellars in the world on the cliff tops near Colares: high toned, now dry, austere, simple with a touch of wild berry fruit. 11.5
Buçaco Tinto 1982 **
From the cellars of the legendary Palace Hotel, given to me by the late Sr. Santos: slight ullage, very poor cork, touch of coffee bean on the nose, tight and tannic, dry austere but still holding together. 13
Quinta do Cotto Grande Escolha, Douro 1982
Very deep, youthful colour (Sousão?), volatile on the nose but with some richness underlying.
Reserva Especial, Casa Ferreirinha 1980 **
Another declassified Barca Velha: mid-deep colour; high-toned, medicinal plum and cherry fruit, firm tannins with fresh acidity, quite austere but retaining some poise. 14
Dão Reserva, Vinicola do Vale do Dão 1980 (Sogrape) *
Fully mature, tar and leather with some raisiny fruit remaining, dry casky finish, fading. 10
Caves São João Reserva Particular 1980 *
Looks mature; savoury, meaty tannins but sinewy and drying up fast. 11
Frei João Reserva, Bairrada 1980 ***
Deep colour; casky nose (slightly corked?), very traditional in style, still quite rich with pronounced wild berry character from the Baga grape, firm tannins, quite boney but good. 15
Tinto Velho, José de Sousa Rosado Fernandes, Alentejo 1980 ****
Deep centre, amber rim; rich, roasted coffee bean nose, lovely warm country fruit, solid ripe tannins, bold, as it should be. A historic wine, fermented in large clay pots. The vineyard was still occupied by communists at the time. 17.5
Dom Rafael n/v *
From the Mouchão estate in the early 1980s: dry, earthy, leathery fruit, rubbery but with a vestige of chocolatey intensity. 10.5
Frei João Reserva, Bairrada 1979 ***
Mature colour; beeswax and resin on the nose, wild and funky again, stalky, hedgerow fruit, characteristically austere but still alive and kicking. 15
Grão Vasco Reserva, Vinicola do Vale do Dão 1978 (Sogrape)
Thin, dry, attenuated, not faulty but dried out
Dão UDACA 1977 ***
Pale, mature colour; coffee and spice on the nose; leathery, still with some strawberryish sweetness, fresh acidity keeping the wine alive. 15.5
Reserva Particular, Caves São João 1976 *
Leathery, dry and earthy, still upright but dried up. 11
Frei João Reserva, Bairrada 1975
Good colour, encouraging but oxidised and dried up, mouldy finish.
Dão, Caves Aliança 1974
Still with some colour; hollow and attenuated with a vestige of sweetness, falls away fast.
Colares Chitas 1974 (Paulo de Silva Chitas)
Good colour but dry and dusty - hard as nails. Did Colares ever have any fruit to balance those astringent oh so tannins?
Carvalho, Ribeiro & Ferreira Garrafeira 1970
Sadly corked - with no second bottle to draw on. These wines used to be very good.
Dão, Porta dos Cavaleiros, Reserva Seleccionada (cork label) 1966 ***+
Retaining a good youthful colour; savoury and ripe, leathery tannins and coffee with liquorice-like richness and depth, fine, focused peppery tannic finish. Good. 16.5
Collares Reserva Tinto 1965 (Viuva Gomes)
Deep colour; a wild nose, soily, nasty! Second bottle (a half) the same.
Caves São João Reserva Particular 1964 ***
Mid deep, mature colour; rich wild berry aromas, pepper and spice, still with some fruit if typically austere. A fine example of a mature Bairrada. 15.5
AE Garrafeira 1964 (José Maria da Fonseca)
Bottle ullaged: low shoulder. Dusty and dried out.
Carvalho, Ribeiro & Ferreira Garrafeira 1955 ***+
Wonderful colour; fine, rich cherry fruit aromas, some coffee bean character; meaty, chewy and supple, firm tannins but still plenty of fruit left. 16.5
Carvalho, Ribeiro & Ferreira Garrafeira 1945 (Deacantado 1964) ****
Mature, mid-deep colour; ripe, leathery, quite rich, meaty with just a touch of coffee; lovely supple rich Burgundian fruit, sinewy, firm but still retaining plenty of natural sweetness after 64 years. A happy note to end on. 17.5
Sweet and Fortified
Late Harvest ‘Botricised’ 1982 (João Pires & Filhos)***
Made from botrytis-affected Fernão Pires grapes grown near the Tagus: rich, sweet and complex, caramelisaed flavours, grapefruit acidity and honeyed richness. Aged gracefully. Surprisingly good. 15
Bastardinho de Azeitão 30 Anos (José Maria da Fonseca) ***+
High toned, madeirised aromas, smokey, rich and raisiny. Pruney. Thick cut marmalade character with a rich texture and a dry tang to the finish. 16.5
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