The New Douro – tasting the difference, 2008 vintage review

The annual New Douro tasting is a great opportunity not just to assess a vintage but also to catch up with latest developments.  Looking back over my notes from previous years, the number of New Douro producers has increased, as has the number of white wines and the range of wines.

I’m particularly excited to see more mid-priced, terroir-driven wines, which bring the Douro’s unique qualities to a wider audience.  In fact, if there’s a wine that’s stayed with me after the tasting it’s Jorge Moreira’s Pó de Poeira Red 2008.  Moreira has always favoured elegance over power and it seems to me that a less is more mentality is creeping into the Douro – I hope so, bigger is not necessarily better!

And speaking with a former supermarket buyer at a Wine Workshop I presented on behalf of ViniPortugal in Harrogate yesterday, I’m not the only one who thinks so – Quinta do Noval Cedro do Noval 2007, Niepoort Drink Me 2008, Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Red 2008 and Quinta do Vallado Red 2008 seduced with their charms.

As for whites, Wine & Soul Guru 2009 and Alves de Sousa Reserva Pessoal Branco 2005 could not be more different, the latter putting me in mind of a Josko Gravner Friuli amphora-aged wine.

The New Douro continues to excite – check out my tasting notes below,

The 2008 vintage

I must say I loved the 2007 vintage for its flowers, fruit and elegance but I think 2008, which like 2007 had a relatively mild summer, is more elegant still.  I was bowled over by some particularly refined, mineral sluiced wines with lovely definition and freshness to their bright fruit.

My tasting notes are based on this July visit but also the New Douro tasting in London on 26 October where I had the opportunity to taste the wines once more.  Before launching into my tasting notes, here’s a quick summary of the 2008 vintage which I’ve taken from the New Douro 2008 tasting booklet:

“2008 was an excellent year in the Douro.  There was enough rainfall during the spring and at the beginning of summer, which allowed the soil to maintain good water levels until harvest.  However, humid weather during the flowering season led to very low yields, which happily guaranteed high quality fruit, with great acidity and balanced sugar levels at harvest time.

Overall, the 2008 vintage in the Douro brought fine wines full of spiciness, freshness and subtle aromas.  The wines of 2008 show lighter alcohol than previous vintages and therefore are immediately attractive and are great food wines.”

The 2009 vintage

Though 2009 was similarly mild during the summer, from 12 August, a heat spike accelerated the ripening process and harvest started earlier than usual.  Unsurpisingly, the whites were more forward than the 07s and 08s, with powerful fruit.

Lavradores de Feitoria

An innovative collective of 15 estates lie behind this label, contributing fruit from all three of the Douro’s sub-regions, which explains why they can produce a cool, crisp Sauvignon Blanc as well as full-bodied reds!

Três Bagos White 2009 – this white blend initially seems quite soft with round fruit and a leesy richness but there’s a salinity/good acidity behind.  Good.

Três Bagos Sauvignon Blanc 2009 – excellent varietal typicity in a characterful Touraine-like mould with spicy bay leaf notes to its cool, crisp, textured palate. Does the world need another Sauvignon?  I’m not sure, but this one is very good.

Lavradores de Feitoria 2008 – plenty of ripe but sappy black cherry with floral lift.  Well done, smooth, approachable wine.

Três Bagos Red 2008 – lovely juicy, persistent palate with brambly fruit and a lick of spicy oak.  Very good.

Quinta da Costa 2008 – the nose and palate is a touch reduced/closed but there’s an attractive seam of dark berry fruit; good freshness, structure and poise.  Well done.

Ramos Pinto

Founded in 1880 by Adriano Ramos Pinto and acquired by the Roederer Group in 1990, I’ve always found the top reds to be impressively concentrated and ageworthy with excellent fruit purity.  At this tasting, the 2008 oak-dominated Reserva clearly needed more time and didn’t give much away; the 09 whites showed very well.  My notes on the 2007 vintage date back to the Oporto tasting in July 2010.

Duas Quintas White 2009 – a salty, mineral nose with sweet vegetal notes and citrus acidity – nice weight with freshness to balance.  Well done.

Duas Quintas Reserva White 2009 – creamier yet with good freshness and an attractive blossom note to its white stone fruit and sweet vegetal notes.  Very good.

Duas Quintas Red 2008 – a very bright nose, inky and floral with delicious dark chocolate-edged soft berry and bramble fruit on the palate.  Very good.

Duas Quintas Collecion Red 2008 – a very deep, vivid purple hue, this super-concentrated wine shows small berry and currant fruit supported by a firm backbone of tannins; looking a little woody/charry but lots of potential here.

Duas Quintas Reserva Especial Tinto 2007 – a deep colour with a wonderful mineral, schistous quality to the nose and palate with tight crushed blackberry and blackcurrant fruit.  Fine tannins make for a long finish.  Very good.

Duas Quintas Reserva  Tinto 2007 – more open knit than the Especial 2007, a touch creamy even, with a lovely saturation of black cherry and juicy blackcurrant fruit and a charry, toasty edge.

Quinta da Gaivosa/Alves de Sousa

Alves de Sousa draws on a rich diversity of terroirs (Gaivosa, Vale da Raposa, Caldas, Estação, Aveleira and Oliveirinha) which makes for among the Douro’s most characterful wines.  When I met with his son Tiago in July 2010, referring to their wildest red wine Abandanado, he said “rusticity is always seen as something bad but it can be good if it’s relating to place/terroir, something not completely polished.” 

The whites are even more characterful, which stems from a philosophy which Tiago describes as “related to the [white] port tradition but introducing something new.”  In essence, grapes are picked quite ripe and, following a period of skin contact port-style, the resulting herbaceous flavours are blown off by hyper-oxidating the juice before fermenting it in barrel.

The following tasting notes are based on both the July and October tastings.

Branco da Gaivosa Reserva 2009 – yellowing, this warm, spicy, textured, oxidative style of white is pretty callow right now; needs time to strut its stuff. (October 2010)

Alves de Sousa Reserva Pessoal Branco 2005 – from old vines located at 400m in Quinta da Gaivosa, Regua this put me in mind of a Josko Gravner Friuli amphora-aged wine with its pinky beige hue with bronze highlights and intriguing palate.  A little smoky, whispy smoky, on nose and palate, it’s got good body – not just fruit flesh but skin/minerals too – a sense of extract/texture, also freshness.  It shows rose petal, pink grapefruit, white pepper and tawny-port-like notes of orange peel and pith.   Excitingly different if not for everyone! (July 2010)

Vale da Raposa Touriga Nacional 2008 – a lush floral nose, but less “sweet” than the 2007 (a good thing) with its ruffled tannins and salt lick minerality.  Well done but I prefer the blends – a little mono.

Quinta da Gaivosa Tinto 2008 – sweet oaked and fruited, the wood dominating at the moment though the tannins are fine grained.  Needs time; one to review.

Alves de Sousa Quinta da Gaivosa Tinto 2005 – deep in colour with a sweet plum nose and palate and fine tannins, it’s very 2005, which is to say very giving/expressive yet balanced.  A hint of tar and resin reminds you it was the driest year on record between March and September.

Alves de Sousa Abandonado 2008 –  expressive of the vintage with its sappy, fresh nose and palate but not yet the vineyard (see below) – needs time to unravel but I reckon it’ll be worth the wait!

Alves de Sousa Abandonado 2007 –  right on the tip of the estate, this steep 80 year old vineyard borders pines and eucalyptus, which menthol notes appear on the palate together with a distinctive smoked paprika note which I often pick up on this wine.  Yields are tiny (c. 10hl/ha) which account for its muscularity and Barrosa-like weight of ripe black fruits wed to bony tannins.  Raw power.  Very good.

Alves de Sousa Reserva Pessoal Branco 2005 – a deep colour with rich but bright black fruits and powerful ripe tannins shot through with menthol, minty notes. A touch warm on the finish.

Alves de Sousa Quinta da Gaivosa Vinha de Lordelo Tinto 2007 – at around 100 years old, the amphitheatre-shaped Lordelho vineyard is one of the Douro’s oldest, with a muddle of some 30 varieties including a little Touriga Nacional (according to Tiago ”the most planted grape on back labels, not vineyards”), lots of Tinta Amarela (of which the de Sousas are planting more because it gets ripe but holds its acidity well).  Its spicy black fruits are beautifully supported by super-fine, polished tannins (which Tiago says this wine seems to have from the off); a long and persistent palate.  Excellent. (July 2010)

Quinta de la Rosa

Owners the Bergqvist family have made port since 1815 and were also table wine pioneers, initially with David Baverstock at the helm and, since 2002, the super-talented Jorge Moreira with whom the Berqvists jointly make Passagem wines.

Passagem White 2009 – this maiden white, a blend of 60% Viosinho and 40% old vine material planted at 440m, joins the red Passagem. Moreira told me that the old field blend element brings freshness but, in the (warmer) Douro Superior, aroma is not a strength, so he focuses on mouthfeel instead.  This wine sees an element of skin and lees contact with batonnage and shows good depth and roundness of vanilla-edged fruit with talc and fresh balancing mineral/saline acidity.  Great debut.

DouROSA Red 2008 – bright, fresh, well-defined fruit with a cherry stone core and textured ripe tannins.  A classy entry level wine – seemingly a hallmark of this vintage.

Quinta de la Rosa Tinto 2008 – finely focused, very tight and structured with vivid juicy blackcurrant and bilberry.  Very good, lovely purity and directness.

La Rosa Reserve 2008 – very refined, with juicy fresh crushed raspberry, bilberry and pomegranate supported by oak and fruit tannins both.  An elegant, youthful expression of the vintage.  Very good.

La Rosa Reserve 2007 – a heady floral nose with sweeter red and black fruits teased out by long fine tannins.  Though still elegant, in the mouth it shows greater generosity/sucrosity than the 2008 and those effusive 2007 floral notes.  I like both but, if push came to shove, I’d go for the  restraint and fluidity of the 2008.

Passagem 2008 – from the Douro Superior this always shows more heft than Quinta de la Rosa’s reds (from the Cima Corgo) and can seem a little solid in comparison.  In this vintage, while there’s no shortage of oomph, its red and black fruits are more animated than usual – a very good thing!  It’s big but well structured/tailored.  Behind the charry toast there’s plenty of fruit (liquorice) spice too.  My favourite Passagem to date.

Poeira

This is Jorge Moreira’s own project – a north-facing (relatively cool) vineyard in the Pinhao Valley perfectly suited to his restrained style of winemaking.  Last year, Moreira also took on the role of Technical Director at Real Companhia Velha where he worked between 1986-2002.  The company has very extensive vineyard holdings and Moreira told me that he plans to really focus on the vineyards/vineyard expression and make some top class Douro wines.  I’ll be visiting in March and look forward to reporting further.

Pó de Poeira White 2008 – sadly the 09 was corked but the 2008, which made the cut for my 50 Great Portuguese Wines, is still looking beautiful with great freshness and drive to its green apricot fruit and a mineral undertow.  Very good and, I think unique in its blending of Alvarinho and Gouveio.

Pó de Poeira Red 2008 – one of my picks of the tasting, this relatively modest silky, mineral-sluiced wine just sings, with gorgeous violet top notes to its black cherry fruit and a subtle hint of spice.  Just lovely!

Poeira 2008 – fabulous intensity to its inky, floral nose and palate with well-defined, subtly spicy red and black fruits ably supported by ripe powdery tannins.  Very fine indeed.

Pintas/Wine & Soul

Established in 2001, Wine & Soul is the lovechild of husband and wife team Sandra Tavares da Silva and Jorge Serôdio Borges.  First made in 2004, Guru is among the Douro’s most exciting whites and just gets better and better every year (see why here in a report of my visit with Borges in December 2009).   As for Pintas reds and vintage port, they are vey concentrated, ageworthy wines.

Guru 2009 –  one of my November wines of the month, the 2009 sports a fresh, saline nose.  In the mouth, it shows well defined stone fruits (not an ounce overweight/overripe) with subtly textured and tangy lees deliciously animated by a thread of minerality.  Terrific balance, fruit and thrust.

Pintas Character Red 2008 – the aim here is to capture the complexity of the Douro in a smooth, broachable package. There’s no compromise on complexity that’s for sure.  This has a mineral charge and floral lift to its concentrated red and black berry and cherry fruits with a salt lick edge to its finish.

Pintas Red 2008 – toasty and mineral-chiselled with very tightly furled blackcurrant and berry fruit.  Tons of potential – yet to strut its stuff.  I’m happy to wait!

Pintas Red 2007 – a big wine, long on flavour with velvety dark fruit, spicy bay leaf, fine tannins and well integrated oak (July 2010).



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