The Wines of Portugal Vancouver Tasting 2014

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This year’s Wines of Portugal event is the best Portuguese wine tasting I’ve been to in the city, and greatly expanded and improved from previous iterations. There were several hundred wines being poured, including many from regions outside the Douro, which dominates most people’s attention whether it is with Port or the dry reds. There were also quite a few fascinating and fresh white wines on offer, many of which I hope to see in the B.C. market soon.

Overall Impressions

Portugal has come a long way in a short couple decades. B.C. has had a small niche for Portuguese dry reds for some time with producers such as Quinta do Crasto and Niepoort (both outstanding), but the Province specifically and North America in general are far behind the U.K. when it comes to top quality Portuguese dry wines from regions that extend well beyond the Douro. This event proved it is time to change that.

Having travelled to Portugal myself about 5 years ago, I was lucky to experience some superb producers. My favourite of which was Conceito (not present at the event), who astonished me with a beautiful, varietally driven barrel fermented white. I tasted their Bastardo a couple years later at Toronto’s Black Hoof (a wine recommended by Vancouver’s Jake Skakun) – it was delicious and reminiscent of the Jura, which is fully appreciable given Bastardo is Trousseau.

But enough digression, this year’s Wines of Portugal event has for the first time presented a huge range of fine quality whites and reds that go well beyond the standard fare. In general, the whites are crisp, fresh, fruity, balanced and unique. With so many indigenous grapes, there are a lot of interesting flavours to discover. These wines also tend to sit perfectly between too much and too little acid, and are clearly versatile, ranging from clean, steel fermented easy drinking whites to serious, barrel fermented age-worthy wines. In more cases than not (with some exceptions) the varietal character comes through and is not dominated by barrel or lees stirring.

I was also quite excited about the diversity of Vinho Verde, the quality of which far surpasses what most people associate with that region – green, ice cold, insipid. Instead, many producers are making characterful, Atlantic-fresh Vinho Verde from entry-level to complex and serious.

As for the reds, some displayed the flaws common in old-wave Portuguese wines: jammy, too much residual sugar and flabby acidity. But, unlike past tastings in BC these wines were in the minority. In contrast, there were a large number of fresh, balanced and varietally correct wines. Further, within the band of quality wines there was quite a lot of diversity, from modern styled wines with international grapes to modern-style indigenous grapes to very classic, french styled blends, and even some great old-style field blends. There were also a reasonable number of organic, biodynamic or “sustainably farmed” producers, a big change from past years. The producers are enthusiastic and generous in sharing their passion and knowledge. There is a ton of potential here – now is the time for sommeliers and trade to start educating consumers, because the values, quality and character are palpable.

Top Choice #1: Casa de Cello – DOCs Dao and Vinho Verde

Casa de Cello has two estates, one in the Dao (reds) and one in Vinho Verde (whites). Both are remarkable.

Quinta do Vegia in the Dao was my top choice red producer of the event. The Dao is surrounded by mountains and so protected by the Atlantic influence. That said, there are significant diurnal shifts here that, with proper viticulture, keep the wines fresh and balanced. The wines of Quinta do Vegia are restrained, complex masterpieces reminiscent of Bordeaux. They are planted in granitic soils and the vineyards are about 30 years old, though the winery dates back to the 19th century. The French theme continues through both whites and reds, likely due to both estates’ agronomist who trained in the south of France. The vineyards are farmed sustainably with very minimal chemicals and a philosophical embrace of vintage differentiation and terroir.

Quinta de San Joanne in Vinho Verde is making wines of distinction, with tremendous freshness and an idiosyncratic voice unique to this estate. Vinho Verde has the highest rainfall in all of Europe (and is not dissimilar to Vancouver). Thus, it is lush and it is easy to grow grapes here. Despite this ease it is now increasingly common to see very high quality wines. These wines are not just the easy drinking, bright and simple summer sippers of years past. The wines of Quinta de San Joanne are a perfect example of just how complex Vinho Verde can be. Their top white can clearly age.

In sum, an agent would be foolish not to import these wines.

Top Choice #2: Terra d’Alter – DOC Alentejo

This estate made focused, modern but authentic, varietally correct wines of tremendous balance. Other than my choice #1, they were the best balanced wines of the tasting. Alentejo is a huge region in south eastern Portugal. I doubt it can be easily lumped into one easy set of characteristics and Wines of Portugal divides it into several main regions: the north mountainous region that is cooler and thus makes elegant wine, the central region with flatter, hotter land and the southern region that has considerable daylight hours and heat. Soils throughout all regions are varied, ranging from granite to schist and chalk.

The wines from Terra d’Alter are labelled Vinho Regional Alentejano, which allows for greater versatility in winemaking and also allows for some international varieties.

While all the wines were fantastic, my standouts were, surprisingly, a powerful but fresh and balanced Viognier (tellingly, the winemaker told me his favourite producer was Georges Vernay) and an elegant, pretty Alfrocheiro.

Currently imported by Select Wines and Spirits, so these should be available to order in BC soon

Top Choice #3: Quinta dos Roques – DOC Dao

Back to the Dao, this winery was particularly interesting for their focus on research. While they believe the top quality wine must be a blend of varieties, they have started a range of single variety wines in order to understand the individual varieties better. One of the most interesting was the Jaen, which is the same grape as Spain’s Mencia. However, this was not imported from Spain, but indigenous to the Dao itself. And while the winery still believes blends are the best, the Jean was an outstanding tank fermented Mencia with huge varietal character, but a unique Portuguese bent. The Touriga Nacional and Reserva blend were also very good.

This winery is currently unrepresented in BC.

Top Choice #4: Herdade do Arrepiado Velho – DOC Alentejano

This producer was my top choice for modern styled wines made with international varieties. Both their Riesling and Syrah were delicious, true to the varieties but also uniquely Portuguese with great structure and acid. The Riesling in particular had a unique combination of deep citrus but also ripe orchard fruit on a mineral laced backbone, finishing completely dry. It was delicious. The top blend was a delicious, modern rich ripe red.

This winery is currently unrepresented in BC.

Other Picks

The above four producers were my picks for the best four of the show, but there were plenty of other interesting and worthy wines. I provide photos, below:

Delicious Biodynamic Vinho Verde. Fresh, well made, nice label, not expensive, should be in this market. 2.5 euro ex cellar.

 

60 year old vines, indigenous grapes. Cool stuff. I think around 4 euro ex cellar.

Field blend of 30 grapes from the Dao. Lifted and highly aromatic. Fruity and rich.

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