Portugal is rightly famous for its port, but its fine wines should not be ignored, writes Clive Platman.
In Northern Portugal, the Douro Valley hosts two of the greatest classic wine regions – one the eldest, the other quite junior.
Port was demarcated in 1756, but the Douro DOC was created as recently as 1979. There is, however, a fundamental difference between making the two, as port has a very short fermentation process and requires maximum extraction from the grape skins at an early stage.
To make a fine wine, though, the extraction method must be gentle and the fermentation process much longer and slower.
Since the 1990s, there has been enormous investment and import of know-how, exemplified by the establishment of the Prats and Symington Partnership in 1998, whereby Bruno Prats (of Cos d’Estournel) has joined forces with the largest vineyard owners in the Douro. It’s an ideal fit, whereby Prats has the expertise and Symington access to the best grapes.
The result of the collaboration has been christened Chryseia, the Greek translation of Douro, meaning gold. Initially, the grapes were drawn from three estates, Vesuvio, Bonfim and Vila Velha, but, since 2009, they have decanted to a new home at the magical Quinta Roriz, supported by Quinta da Perdiz, both located in the heart of the Cima Corgo (the best part of the Douro).
The principal grapes for Chryseia are Tourigas Franca and Nacional, although for the second and third cuvees other varieties such as Tinta Roriz, Barroca and Aramela are also employed, amongst others. The grapes are rigorously sorted prior to vinification, and following fermentation the wines are transferred to 400-litre casks for maturation, as opposed to the standard 225-litre. The reason is to restrain the excessive effects of oak and to enhance the fruit characters.
At the Quinta, I tasted both the 2008 and 2009 Chryseia vintages, the latter now being on opening offer at Tanners for £198 for six. It is profound and complex, with minerally, black cherry characters, and notes of violets and toast.
The second wine, Post Scriptum, is equally svelte and elegant, and while it lacked the depth and concentration of the Chryseia, it’s still very fine (£75 for six ). The entry wine, Prazo do Roriz, reveals more vibrant red fruits, particularly cherry.
It is the success of Prats & Symington, and other like-minded producers, that has put the Douro firmly on the wine-lovers’ map. They are now consistently producing some of the best-value reds (and, to a lesser degree whites) on the market.
For those unfamiliar with Douro reds, their profile lies somewhere between Bordeaux and the southern Rhone. I find they have the weight and generous fruit of a southern Rhone, combined with the acidity and structure of a good claret. In today’s market of over-inflated prices, the Douro is looking increasingly attractive.
Such is the demand that Tanners of Shrewsbury opened its doors for the “Douro Event of the Year, showcasing some 30-plus 2009s. For reference, the 2009 vintage was marked by extremes of heat and drought. The resultant wines have a little more power and body than the 2007s and 2008s, yet still retain freshness and aroma. In addition to the Chryseia stable, amongst my picks for the evening were the full-textured Tons de Duorum (£22.50), the juicy-fruited Altano Organic (£28.50) and the more polished and funky Altano Reserva (£42).
More upscale was the Niepoort Ventente (£72) with splendid fruit and balance, and the more full-bodied and spicy Quinta Vale d. Maria (£120), using a spectrum of 41 different varieties, all co-fermented. For a premium treat, I cannot recommend highly enough the Niepoort Batuta (£261), an effortless expression of minerality, finesse and polish.
Two whites were also on show, from grapes grown at higher altitude to give more elegance and acidity. Highly recommended is the Nova Grainha Branco 2010 (£54) with zingy, white grapefruit flavours, but special mention should be made of the Pintas Guru Wine and Soul 2010 (£99). Incredibly minerally and finely poised, this adds a kiss of oak to the grapefruit, giving it a touch of real class. It compares favourably to any fine white Bordeaux.
* Prices exclude duty, shipping and VAT. Allow an extra £2.56 per bottle, plus VAT. For further details, contact Tanners on 01743-234455, or go to the website at: www.tanners-wines.co.uk