Archive for the ‘Wine’Category

Craggy Range shows original NZ wines

Matt Stafford of Craggy Range
Matt Stafford (above) isn’t just any winemaker. He’s a winemaker who came to the trade originally as a soil scientist. The post-grad diploma in viticulture and oenology came later, but the grounding (no pun intended) in soil might just make him the ideal person to make wine for Craggy Range (www.craggyrange.com) in New Zealand. Stafford was in Boston a few weeks ago to introduce some of his wines. New Zealand has become notorious for popular sauvignon blanc and pinot noir–even though the former often tastes medicinal and the latter like cherry cough syrup. It was a pleasure to taste elegant New Zealand wines that spoke first and foremost of terroir.

It was clear that Stafford wanted to confound expectation when a few of us gathered at L’Espalier for dinner. Instead of pouring a sauvignon blanc as an aperitif, he poured the intense Kidnappers Vineyard chardonnay that drank like a Chablis. It’s grown in Hawke’s Bay on a shallow, clay loam soil aired out by cool sea breezes, a combination that intensifies the varietal flavors. At $22 a bottle, it’s a good alternative to its French counterpart.

By contrast, Craggy Range’s Gimlett Gravels vineyard, also in Hawke’s Bay, is a patch saved from being turned into a gravel mine. The combination of stony soil with terrific drainage and intense sun and heat makes the vineyard excellent for growing the very ripe components for Te Kahu, a soft Bordeaux blend of merlot, cabernet franc, cabernet sauvignon, and malbec. Also priced at $22, it was gentle enough to pair with quail breast served with walnut polenta.

Stafford contrasted Te Kahu nicely with Sophia, a different Bordeaux blend (it includes more petit verdot than malbec). Although the blend is closer to the right bank Bordeaux wines, the cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc are much more pronounced than in Te Kahu, giving Sophia more of a left bank flavor profile. Le Sol from Craggy Range All the grapes represent the best from Craggy Range’s vineyards and they’re all hand-selected and destemmed. At $76, Sophia has good aging potential. The 2013 we tasted is still a little closed and the tannins are tight, but there’s a lot of promise in the fruit.

The biggest red from Craggy Range is another Gimlett Gravels wine, Le Sol. Made from 100 percent syrah from heritage stock brought to New Zealand 150 years ago, it provides a powerful flagship for the winery. Rich, seemingly sweet from the high alcohol content, and full of fruit with licorice and green herbal overtones, Le Sol has the approachability of a good pinot noir, but the body and intensity to drink well with strong meat dishes. L’Espalier threw a veritable mixed grill at the wine—rack of lamb, spare ribs spiced with ras el hanout, garlic sausage, and some charred eggplant. The spare ribs and eggplant were the best match, but it was interesting to see how a New Zealand syrah could bridge the gap between the balanced style of the Rhone Valley and the more aggressive hot-weather style of Australia. Suggested retail is $107. It would be spectacular with a powerful game dish, though we’d suggest double-decanting.

12

07 2015

Mullan Road shows the grandeur of Walla Walla red

Dennis Cakebread having Mullan Road poured at Strip by Strega in Boston
Given that his family name is practically synonymous with Napa, it was a pretty good bet that when Dennis Cakebread started making wine near Walla Walla, Washington, he was going to call it something else. So he named his new winemaking venture for the historic wagon road across the Rockies from present-day Montana to present-day Walla Walla that was surveyed in 1854 and built 1859-60. We suspect that what appealed to Cakebread was that Lt. John Mullan was a pathfinder and a visionary. More than 150 years later, portions of I-15 and I-90 follow the same path that Mullan took over the Rockies. Cakebread is looking to pioneer a Washington red worth laying down in your cellar. His first Mullan Road Cellars red (2012) was released last fall.

As Cakebread looked into the Columbia River Valley for a possible expansion project, he was both impressed with the unusual soils and with the camaraderie of Walla Walla winemakers. Not that Cakebread has completely made up his mind exactly which terroir Mullan Road will attach itself to. “When you think you might move to a new city, you don’t just go out and buy a house,” he says. “You rent a while and see how you like the neighborhood.”

Mullan Road 2012Mullan Road Cellars purchases most of its grapes from other growers, most notably Seven Hills Vineyard on the south end of the Walla Walla Valley appellation and a number of vineyards in the area close to the Oregon border soon to be recognized as Royal Slope. Other parcels it leases on a three-year recurring lease program. Compared to many winemaking regions, eastern Washington is very dispersed, with miles of rough road between vineyards. “One thing you really need to make wine in Washington,” says Cakebread, “is a good truck.”

Leasing parcels also lets Mullan Road experiment. One year Mullan Road contained a small percentage of Malbec, but it wasn’t up to Cakebread’s standards or those of Washington native winemaker Aryn Morell. The next blend used cabernet franc to balance the merlot and cabernet sauvignon.

At this point, Mullan Road Cellars makes just one wine known as a Columbia Valley Red. It’s a Bordeaux blend carefully balanced to cellar well yet also drink fairly well while young. Cakebread calls it “balanced and robust,” and we have to agree. We enjoyed a bottle of the 2012 at Strip by Strega in Boston at a working lunch over a grilled pork dish and a steak. The wine held up well with both, showing a little cassis and dark berry fruits on the nose, supple tannins to grip the meat, and finished with a satisfying Bordeaux-style bittersweet note. We can barely wait for the 2013, due to hit the shelves in October.

Click here for more about Mullan Road Cellars.

06

07 2015

Bordeaux is just the beginning for Lafite

Lafite wines at The Palm Boston Château Lafite Rothschild is legendary for its red Bordeaux, many of them too expensive for all but special occasion meals. Fortunately, the parent company, Domaine Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) (www.lafite.com), has been spreading Lafite’s winemaking skills around the globe to create more affordable wines. And back home in Bordeaux, they’ve developed a series of soft, ready-to-drink red and white wines under the Réserve Spéciale line. We had the chance to try several of the different branches of Lafite at a wine dinner at The Palm Boston, and we’re happy to say that the Lafite junior lines show that good wine can be made at a good price.

We started by drinking the Lafite Réserve Spéciale Blanc 2013. White Bordeaux, especially from the Entre-deux-Mers district, doesn’t get a lot of respect but this Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc combination had just enough fruit to complement its pronounced acidity. The minerality made it a fine aperitif wine while our palates were still fresh. It nicely complemented a course of seared sea scallops. Wine shop price is $13-$15.

Los Vascos Chardonnay Among the white wines, Los Vascos Chardonnay 2013 stole the show. In 1988, Lafite became the first French firm to invest heavily in Chile and the reward for their boldness are the Los Vascos wines. They are distinguished among bargain Chilean wines (about $7!) for the cleanness and clarity of the fruit. The chardonnay character is well-rounded and the full mouth feel makes it a real contender with strongly flavored seafood and even soft-rind cheeses. (Yes, it’s the perfect arts reception wine with a wheel of Camembert.) At this dinner, it more than held its own paired with a roasted beet and arugula salad that had been dressed with a quite tart champagne vinaigrette.

Bodegas Caro We also drank two reds that demonstrate Lafite’s flexibility. Lafite isn’t the only Bordeaux name to team up with a top Argentine wine producer, but Bodegas CARO (a Mendoza partnership with Nicolas Catena) is one of the most successful, at least to our taste. We drank a Bodegas CARO Cabernet Sauvignon/Malbec 2010 with a powerfully beefy serving of braised beef short rib. Harvested from old vineyards at very high altitudes, the two grapes were fermented separately and underwent malolactic fermention separately (15 percent in barrel, 85 percent in stainless steel). The blended wine was aged 18 months in French oak from Lafite’s Bordeaux cooperage and allowed to mellow in the bottle for a few years before release. The resulting wine has the hairy-chested bombast of great Malbec with the tuxedo elegance of superb Cabernet—just about perfect with an intense beef dish. Retailing at $60-$65, this wine is worth planning a meal around.

Lafite Pauillac We also drank a Lafite Réserve Spéciale Pauillac 2011. It was a classically balanced light Bordeaux—almost a throwback to old-style claret—redolent of nutmeg and cedar cigar box. It’s Bordeaux as winemakers used to make it for the English market. Soft Bordeaux calls for a lower-profile meat, at least to our taste. The Palm served lamb, which was a good choice, but we thought the aggressive spice rub overpowered the wine a bit. At about $40 per bottle, it’s a pleasant Bordeaux for everyday drinking—if you drink $40 bottles every day.

At the end of the night, we enjoyed a sip of Sauternes (Château Rieussec 2009) with apple strudel. It’s a classic pairing, but the wine wasn’t quite ready. Unctuously fruity, this Sauternes needs more time in the cellar to marry the intense sweetness with the full-bodied Sémillon fruit. It’s retailing around $35 for a split, $55-$70 for a full bottle. Buy it now and lay it down for five years.

19

05 2015

Pantelleria vineyards honored by UNESCO

Bringing in the harvest of Zibibbo grapes on Pantelleria It’s a delight to learn that the United Nations has honored the grape growers of Pantelleria, naming the island’s viticultural technique part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. And here I thought it was merely heroic. That’s what the Pantellerians themselves call it.

Donnafugata Zibibbo vineyard About halfway between Sicily and Tunisia, the rocky island of volcanic origins is arid and scoured by ferocious winter winds that stunt even the olive trees. Typically, houses are cut into the rock to provide protection from the wind and the blistering sun. The grapes are grown on “head trained bush vines” (vite ad alberello, in Italian). Each one is planted in a depression and trained in a low, broad bush system with two to four branches. Vines are typically 100 years old at minimum, and the vineyards are terraced inside rock walls, as if each area was a cellar hole. Maintenance is minimal, as the winds tend to keep the vines pruned. Picking is all done by hand.

Zibibbo grapes set to dry on Pantelleria The main grape grown on Pantelleria is known locally by its Arabic moniker, Zibibbo. Genetically, it is the ancient Muscat of Alexandria—considered one of the oldest genetically unmodified grape varieties in existence. Tradition holds that Cleopatra drank wine made from it. One of the world’s great aromatic wine grapes, this strain of Muscat is found all around the Mediterranean rim.

Antonio Rallo Pantellerian viticulture is the model of small-plot vineyards. Of the island’s population of 7,679, about 5,000 inhabitants own a plot of land where they cultivate Zibibbo in the traditional way, handing down the techniques from generation to generation. The old vines produce grapes that achieve powerful sugar and acid levels as well as a spicy aromatic quality lacking in a lot of hot-weather Muscat. Although Zibibbo is a tasty table grape (albeit with a tough skin and big pips), most of the harvest is dried on screens to concentrate sugar and acid before being pressed to make a sweet passito wine.

Ben RyéThe Khamma winery, owned by the Rallo family of Donnafugata (that’s Antonio Rallo above holding a cluster of grapes), handles the lion’s share of the island’s harvest, drying and pressing each region’s grapes separately to create a final blend for Donnafugata’s Ben Ryé, possibly one of the greatest Muscat wines in the world.

26

12 2014

TWL: Prosecco lifestyle at Villa Sandi

prosecco villa sandi Villa Sandi (Via Erizzo 112, Crocetta del Montello; +39-0423-665-033; www.villasandi.it) is one of the most striking producers of both Prosecco DOC and Prosecco DOCG wines. The winery’s headquarters and cellars sit amid formal gardens in a verdant landscape. The property resembles a fairytale version of how a distinguished Italian winery should look.

prosecco villa sandi Nestled into the hills of the Marca Trevigiana about 25 kilometers northwest of Treviso, the estate borders the Piave river. The cellars once had a passageway that led to the riverbank, which Italian soldiers used to move surreptitiously during World War I. The villa itself, pictured above, is a splendid example of Palladian architecture built in 1622. It is a real period piece, with several rooms maintained in high 17th-century style, complete with Murano glass chandeliers and furniture with intricate marquetry. Not surprisingly, Villa Sandi serves as a venue for a number of important wine events in northern Italy, including courses for sommeliers and a regular lecture series.

prosecco villa sandi The cellars are somewhat newer than the villa. The oldest section dates from about 1700, and the full 1.5km extent of the passageways was finished in the 20th century. The cellar walls are all lined with brick and the barrels sit on beds of gravel to ensure good drainage and air circulation. Tours of the villa and cellars can be arranged Mondays-Saturdays by calling the main number (+39-0423-665-033) or by email to info@villasandi.it. Tours are available in Italian or English.

prosecco villa sandi Villa Sandi is owned by the Moretti Polegato family, and the aristocratic Giancarlo Moretti Polegato serves as the company’s president. (His brother, Mario, is the founder and president of Geox shoes, in case you were wondering how well the family manages.) For travelers who wish to stay in the immediate area, the winery also owns a rustic country house, Locanda Sandi, about 10km away (Loc. Zecchei, Via Tessere 1, Valdobbiadene; +39-0423-976-239; www.locandasandi.it). There are just six simply-finished rooms. The one single room costs €60, the five double rooms are €85 each. The Locanda also has a superb restaurant that seats 70, with an additional 100 seats on the outdoor terrace in the summer. Open Friday-Tuesday for lunch and dinner, it serves traditional local dishes of the Veneto—and the wines of Villa Sandi. Figure on €25 per person for a modest three-course meal with wine.

Villa Sandi Prosecco

prosecco villa sandi Villa Sandi straddles the Valdobbiadene DOCG region and the Montello and Piave DOC wine regions. Moreover, the company owns 4 hectares in the highly prized Cartizze cru of Valdobbiadene. To give an idea of the significance of that plot, Cartizze has only a total of 107 hectares divided among 140 producers. Although the company makes a number of still wines, the core of its production consists of Prosecco, including nine different spumantes and two frizzantes. Just to confuse things, Villa Sandi also makes a limited number of sparkling wines from chardonnay and pinot nero using the “classico” method (i.e., in-bottle secondary fermentation in the manner of Champagne).

prosecco villa sandi I can’t say I tasted them all, but I was struck by the complexity and depth of the Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Millesimato, and the sheer quaffability of the Prosecco DOC Treviso. Judging by the smile on his face when we sat down to lunch, Giancarlo was pretty happy with the Millesimato as well.

25

10 2014

TWL: Prosecco over the line in Friuli

San Simone welcome2 The most rarefied Prosecco may come from the hills between Conegliano and Valdobbiadene, as suggested in an earlier post but some superb examples also come from the plains and river valleys eastward toward Pordenone in Friuli. It may be an entirely different political region from the Veneto, yet it’s less than 40 km (25 miles) from Conegliano.

Maglio 1Driving east on the A28, it’s even worth taking a 15-minute detour to the village of Francenigo to see the historic power-hammer smithy — the Maglio di Francenigo — that’s one of the last touchstones of the agricultural heritage. The Pessot family started making tools to till the fields and vineyards, using water power from a falls on the Livenza River to raise and lower the power hammer on the anvil. The smithy was converted into a museum in 2000, and during the summer tourist season, someone is usually around on weekends to demonstrate the forge and mill-wheel powered hammer. During my visit, it was the august 74-year-old Beppe Pessot, who started work at the smithy at age 14, and is seen here at the forge. Nowadays the museum makes a few fireplace tools and other simple fabrications for sale as souvenirs.

Prosecco at San Simone di Brisotto

Seeing the industrial roots of farming in this bucolic landscape was a reminder that however idyllic and rustic the vineyards and farms might seem, there’s a lot of hard and dirty work behind that green facade. My visit to Francenigo was a stopover en route to a glamorous Prosecco house, San Simone di Brisotto (Via Prata 30, Porcia; +39 0434-578-633, www.sansimone.it). Located at the far western edge of DOC Friuli Grave and in the heart of the Prosecco DOC region, San Simone can (and does) make a number of excellent DOC wines. They also manage to make those wines in about as green a fashion as possible. (Antifungals and sulfur have their place in even organic practices.) San Simone is operated by three siblings—Chiara, Anna, and Antonio—who represent the family’s fourth generation in the business. (Anna Brisotto is at the top of this post at the entrance to the estate.)

millesimato bottle2 San Simone makes four different Prosecco DOC frizzante wines (lower alcohol, less carbonation) as well as brut and extra brut versions of Prosecco DOC spumantes, and a Millesimato (single vineyard) brut Prosecco DOC (Perlae Naonis) that is one of the most complex examples of Prosecco DOC brut that I drank during my travels in the region. It was creamy on the palate (great mouth feel), fruity on the nose, with just a hint of toasted almonds in the aftertaste. The acidity gave the wine a real freshness yet enabled it to hold up to a small feast prepared by the winery’s cook staff.

That included, as pictured below, some frico (Montasio cheese grilled until crisp), a fresh asparagus salad with quail eggs, a shrimp risotto, and cheese ravioli in a Prosecco sauce.

san simone food

15

10 2014

TWL: Visiting the school for Prosecco

Prosecco Conegliano

Vineyard of Glera clones at Oenology School.

According to the Prosecco DOC consortium, farmers in the Friuli Venezia-Giulia village of Prosecco began making sparkling wine from the grape now known as Glera around 1600, and it became so popular that it spread to nine provinces in the 17th century. (Those provinces now lie within Friuli and the Veneto, and the symbol of Prosecco DOC is nine wine glasses.) Originally a farmhouse wine, Prosecco would stop fermenting in the fall when the weather cooled, then begin again in the spring, when it was sold as a “frizzante” wine. Antonio Carpenain invented modern Prosecco in the mid-19th century when he began using a pressurized tank for a second fermentation. His adaptation of France’s Charmat process quickly became known as “The Italian Method.”

Prosecco The full history lesson is something you can learn at the School of Oenology & Viticulture in Conegliano — or better yet, at the adjacent Enoteca Regionale Veneta (Via Giovanni Dalmasso 12, Conegliano, +39 0438-455-138, www.enotecaveneta.it). Carpenain established the school in 1876, and it still trains more than 90 percent of the region’s winemakers. It’s also a research center for establishing the characteristics of different grapes and clones of known varietals. (That’s one of the school’s vineyards above.)

While the school does have a Bottega del Vino on the property where you can learn about some of the experimental wines made at the school (and purchase them after a tasting), it is open mainly on weekdays. The Enoteca is for both the more considered drinker, and possibly the partier. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 6 p.m. until midnight with light snacks and the opportunity to taste any of the wines in the library. The collection includes about 500 still wines from the Veneto, as well as about 100 different Proseccos. There are typically a dozen open bottles of chilled whites, about half of them Proseccos. But if something else on the shelves piques your curiosity, you need only ask.

Some technical matters

The street of the Enoteca is named for Giovanni Dalmasso, who proposed the first delimitation of “Prosecco Superiore” around Conegliano and nearby Valdobbiadene in 1936. Finally, in 1969, the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOC was created. In 1977, the Prosecco IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica, or “typical of the region”) was established and in 2009, the Prosecco DOC was created to certify IGT producers who met all the consortium’s criteria. Just to confuse things more, the Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOC is now Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG. Total production varies by year, of course, but in 2013 there were about 241 million bottles of Prosecco DOC and 70 million bottles of Prosecco DOCG.

What does this mean in practice for the buyer at an American wine shop? As a rule of thumb both DOC and DOCG certification indicates that the wine hails from the Prosecco region and is made according to some fairly strict regulations. The main grape is Glera (a rebaptism of the Prosecco grape to stop other countries from making sparkling wine called Prosecco), and there are three styles. The simplest and cheapest is frizzante, which has less than 2.5 atmospheres of pressure. Bubbles tend to dissipate quickly and most frizzante wines are low in alcohol. Prosecco brut (the most popular style in the U.S.) has higher alcohol, tighter and more persistent bubbles, and is bottled around 3 atmospheres. Extra dry, often with less persistent bubbles, is bottled around the same pressure but has more residual sugar than brut.

Prosecco

Vineyards in the rolling countryside of Conegliano.

24

09 2014

Making PEI mussels like the mussel master

Mussels to steamAs a native Belgian and as the man who launched mussel aquaculture on Prince Edward
Island (see post), Joel Van Den Bremt has eaten his share of mussels over the years. When I asked him how he preferred to cook them, he thought a bit and told me, “steamed, but with the vegetables soft enough to eat. I like the vegetables, too.” I agree with him. Some diners will pass the mussels to someone else at the table and just concentrate on the mussel-flavored broth. I prefer the three-bowl plan: one for the mussels, one of the spent shells, and a third for broth and vegetables. Although you can steam mussels in a dry pan, relying on their own juices, many people add raw vegetables to the pot. But by the time the mussels are cooked, the vegetables are neither cooked nor raw. If you keep cooking to finish the vegetables, the mussels will come out vulcanized. Joel’s solution is to sauté the veggies first.

MUSSELS A LA JOEL

Serves 4 as an appetizer

Ingredients
1/4 lb butter, cut into pieces
6 shallots, minced
2 stalks celery, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 large carrot (2-3 salad carrots), cut in 1/2-inch dice
2 cups white wine
5 lb. (about 3 quarts) live blue mussels

Directions
In large stockpot over medium heat, melt butter, and add shallots, celery, and carrots. Stir steadily and cook until vegetables begin to soften.

Add wine and mussels. Bring to a boil and cover pot. Steam for about 5 minutes, or until all the mussels have opened their shells.

Remove mussels to four bowls using slotted spoon. Ladle broth and vegetables into four smaller bowls.

Portugal: wines from the edge of Europe

Aveleda estate Having just spent a week popping around some of the wine regions of Portugal, I’m struck again at what good value modern Portuguese wines offer and, with the exception of port, how little known they are in the U.S. As noted in my last post (see below) even the port world is trying to catch up with contemporary drinkers, emphasizing cocktails with white port and (I think) somewhat less successful rosé port.

Vinho verde is another category of Portuguese wine that a few Americans know. Certainly the low-alcohol, often bracingly acidic wines of the north coastal region are a perfect fit with summer dining. I stopped at historic Quinta da Aveleda (above), where the venerable low-end Casal Garcia brand with its blue and white lace label has financed more sophisticated wines. Aveleda replantingThe quinta has stunning gardens full of aristocratic follies, but the recent turn toward planting many more vineyards with the Alvarinho grape is no folly at all. The adjacent area in Spain, the Rias Baixas in Galicia, has proven that this noble white grape can stand with any of the cold climate whites in Europe. Aveleda and a few others are bent on proving that the Portuguese-inflected version can be every bit as robust and sophisticated as the Spanish.

With a few exceptions, Portuguese winemakers seem very conflicted about their grape varieties. On one hand, they work with at least a dozen major grapes and several dozen lesser varieties. Traditionally, most wines were labeled by region (Dão, Douro, Alentejo, etc.) or by the house name (Lancer’s, Mateus). But Portuguese winemakers are convinced that modern wine buyers want to know the grapes in the bottle. Personally, I’m not so sure. A concern for putting unfamiliar grape names on the bottles has led to some interesting but not always integrated blends that include Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, both international varieties that grow well in Portugal but often lack regional character.

Quinto do Crasto

Quinto do Crasto vineyards But then I visited Quinta do Crasto (above), a Douro producer in one of the hardest-to-reach spots on the north bank of the Douro between Pinhão and Régua. It pays to make the trip because the wines are terrific and they now offer a few rooms where travelers can stay in style (www.quintadocrasto.com, +351 254-920-020), as you can see here. Quinto do Crasto room We tasted our way through the whole portfolio, and it was an eye-opening experience. Hands down the greatest of the reds (Vinha da Ponte) came from vineyards more than 95 years old that were planted in a field blend of at least 30 different grapes.

V_Ponte_2004 Quinto do Crasto is involved in a project to identify each grape by its DNA and plant “ark” vineyards to preserve these varieties—many of which are obscure even to the Portuguese. At the same time, the quinta is also replanting vast areas of vineyards in single varietals. Winemaker Manuel Lobo has produced a series of single varietals, including the noblest of the Portuguese grapes, Touriga Nacional, and the quintessential grape of the whole length of the Douro River, Tinto Roriz (called Tempranillo in Spain where the river is the Rio Duero).

Both wines are pressed by foot treading in open stone vats (lagars) before continuing fermentation in open stainless steel vats. Interestingly enough, the same process was followed for the old vines field blend Vinha da Ponte. All three were aged in 225-liter new French oak barrels—the single varietals for 16 months, the Vinha da Ponte for 20 months.

Bottles_02All three were 2010 vintage wines, and all three are superb. At this stage, they all benefit from decanting (or at least opening) a few hours before consumption, and their firm structures promise a long life in the bottle. Yet I find them ready to drink and true to type. The Vinha da Ponte balances a lot of fresh red fruit character nicely with finely structured tannins that should give it good longevity. The Touriga Nacional is a natural winner, from the violets on the nose to the hints of dark chocolate in the aftertaste. The Tinta Roriz appeals to me because Tempranillo is an old friend dressed in new clothes here. Lobo coaxes out the piney high notes to complement the dark fruit and doesn’t back away from the mineral finish. It’s a great food wine.

But to be truthful, I would base my decision to buy these wines on the quality I expect from Quinto do Crasto, not the name of the grape. I’m delighted to drink the single varietals, but I’m just as happy to drink the Quinto do Crasto name.

08

07 2013

Port opens its collar a bit

vindimando pinhao 2The fourth generation of the Symington clan that came to Portugal in 1882, Dominic Symington is one of a passel of cousins who run the wide-ranging port empire that includes Cockburn’s, Warre’s, Dow’s, and Graham’s, along with Quinto do Vesúvio and Altano table wines. When a group of us touring wine estates in the Douro Valley stopped in Pinhao to see the amazing tile murals at the train station (like the one above), Symington offered to pick us up for lunch – by boat. Dominic

We met him at the town dock, where one of his daughters and a friend were helping him dock his small speedboat. “It’s much faster than driving on the road,” he shrugged, as we sped a half hour upriver to the Quinta dos Malvedos of the Graham’s port company. He was particularly keen to show us the technology – first the traditional concrete lagars in which port grapes are pressed by foot. “This is wine as it was made in Biblical times,” he said. “If Caesar’s legion came marching in at harvest time, they would know just what to do – to climb in the lagar and start marching back and forth.”

There are tremendous advantages to this type of grape treading. The human foot crushes the skins just about perfectly to extract the deep color and the phenolic tannins that a wine like port needs to be full bodied and age well. The system has disadvantages, too, particularly when it comes to temperature control. Over the three weeks of harvest and crushing for port, the concrete warms up a lot from the combination of human body temperature and chemical reactions during the fermentation.

lagarEnter the Symington clan’s robotic treader: The lagars (troughs about knee deep) are replaced with stainless steel trays only slightly larger. Heating and cooling elements in the sides keep the fermentation temperature under control. And a robotic treader – with foot-sized pistons coated with silicon rubber – replaces the grape stompers by providing exactly the same pressure are the human foot (for geek readers, that’s 20 kg per square centimeter).

Symington also noted that almost everyone in the port wine business understands their vineyards much better than 20 years ago. That has meant better port year to year – and a lot more vintage port, which is the fruity version of port that ages in the bottle rather than in the cask. But for all the improvements in high-end vintage port and the older, more complex tawny ports (he poured a 20-year-old tawny port and a 1991 vintage port to illustrate the differences), The Symington brands are “seeking to deformalize port,” as he put it. tawny

It was a blisteringly hot day (not uncommon in the Douro Valley), so he offered an aperitif. Clink-clink-clink went three ice cubes into a lowball glass. Symington filled it half full with white port, topped up with tonic water, and slid a thin slice of lemon into each drink, apologizing that he was out of lime for the moment. The reinvention of the white wine spritzer was the perfect antidote to the heat. With its touch of sweetness and crisp, mouthfilling acids, it was about as far as I could imagine from a ruminative post-dinner glass of tawny port.

“Stick the port in the freezer for an hour,” Dominic said, “and you can skip the ice cubes.”

29

06 2013