Dreaming of Douro
A few months ago I attended a tasting of the newly declared 2011 Vintage Port at the W hotel in San Francisco. It was a really fun and informative event. It was apparent from the attendance by industry heavy hitters like Christian Seely and Adrian Bridge they wanted to make sure the American audience was aware the 2011 harvest had been declared vintage.
During harvest in 2011 I fortunately received an invitation to tour the Douro region of Portugal. I toured the vineyards tasting freshly harvested fruit, played around on the sorting lines, stomped a few grapes, and drank a tremendous amount of port. My first forays into the Douro’s red table wines circa 1988 thru 1992 did not bode well.
About a decade ago I heard rumblings things had changed and the Portuguese had decided to follow the technological and stylistic revolutions of winemaking taking place in Italy and Spain. Just like those winemaking regions, the Portuguese were making a new style of wine that would appeal to the American market. With the demographic of traditional port buyers shrinking the Quinta‘s need a new customer base to make up the difference. Port Cocktails anyone? How about White port? There are three social graces I should celebrate more often and they are sharing vintage port, especially if a good cigar is a consideration then ordering a proper cheese course long after dessert was served.
Marketing table wines should be where port houses concentrate their efforts. The non-fortified wines coming out of the Douro now are consistently proving those old vines make great table wines too. Hearty and bold are the words often expressed to describe Douro red table wines. I enjoy red table wines from the Douro often and suggest everyone seek them out. Two entry level wines I highly recommend are Altano Douro and Val Do Bomfim from the Symington Family. Altano is sold in most TJ’s and distributed almost everywhere. Val Do Bomfim sort of flies under the radar of most wine enophiles, but with the quality they are putting into the bottle it’s doubtful that trend will continue. Comparably inexpensive they are good introductions to Douro wines and as with all Portuguese red wines just remember to be sure to allow a good amount of breathing time to insure the wines smooth out.
A bit more upscale are the two red non-fortified wines reviewed below. They are also from a Symington Estate property Quinta De Roriz. During the fall of 2011 I walked this property during harvest as we descended from Quinta da Gricha headed for the river.
Rupert Symington at the helm of the boat pointing out the immensity of the Symington empire
Tasting fruit on the sorting line it was immediately apparent wine made from those grapes would turn out well. Moments later I was cruising up and down the Douro River with Rupert Symington at the helm of his boat pointing out the other Symington properties that line the banks of that beautiful river. Those memories of the people I met and the places I went while in the Douro will always be some of the fondest times I’ve ever experienced. The wines we drank were just as phenomenal.
2011 Prats and Symington Douro Post Scriptum de Chryseia
Year after year the quality of the non- fortified wines from Portugal’s Douro region have been gaining ground and they just keep getting better especially the Prats-Symington joint project coming out of Quinta de Roriz. Complex aromas of dark sweet plum and crushed anise seed begin the party; bringing attractive clean plush flavors of super sweet plum, cherry and Marion berry. Those flavors resonate through the mid-palate with a creamy mocha crushed velvet texture that complement the medium to long finish. A perfect dish to be paired with this wine would be Arroz de Pato. 6,000 case production.
Rating: Excellent (91) | $25 | 14.0% ABV
2010 Prats & Symington Prazo de Roriz Douro Red Blend
Primarily consisting of 37% Tinta Barocia and 18% Old Vine field blends finishing with16% Touriga Nacional, 15% Touriga Franca, 7% Tinta Cao and 7% Tinto Amarela, this wine rises above its peasant beginnings with the careful and tasteful blending of those varietals creating a balanced package that performs like a workhorse at the dinner table. Exhibiting red stone fruit aromas combined with the smell of fresh sage brown butter, then moving to a palate pleasing package of red fruit, fresh crushed peppercorn and moderately expressed tannic structure through the finish. Prats and Symington has offered up great wine for any complex cuisine that requires a bold red with subtle nuances without cloying complexities. It fits the bill for those meals where your wine should be a supporting character instead of the star. Prazo de Roriz will turn in an Oscar worthy performance in that supporting role but would also star if paired with a Francesinha. Douro reds keep approaching new heights and this 2010 vintage is drinking exceptionally well. A wine with grace, guts and backbone, it should become your go to red when you want a great value and intriguing flavors. 4,500 case production.
Rating: Excellent (90) | $16 | 13.5% ABV
Even if these wines are not on your retailers’ shelves they should be available from the distributor that supplies retailers with ports from Dow, Graham’s, Cockburn’s, Smith-Woodhouse or any of the other fine products from Symington Family Estates.