Talha Tales – book review

I first read about talhas (Portuguese clay fermentation vessels) in a World of Fine Wine article written by Paul White back in 2015. On reading it again a few years ago, I decided I’d like to visit the Alentejo myself, and drink Talha wine in situ, but I could find very little information about how I might organise such a trip. What I needed was this book – a few years before it had actually been written. Paul White’s book, Talha Tales, is available from Amazon in Hardcover (£28.13), Paperback (£20.00) and Kindle edition (£9.99).  I was sent the Kindle copy to review and, while very grateful for the opportunity, my first comment would be that if you want to buy this book I suggest you spend a bit extra and get the paperback. As with many books of this type, you quite often want to flick backwards and forwards between pages, and it’s not so easy in Kindle.

And the content? For an overview, I couldn’t put it better than Paul himself:

There are three main sections. The first is full of background information and esoteric geeky wine and cultural stuff I love as a former historian. The second part explores individual producers and their wine in relative detail, to guide readers to the wines they may want to taste or wineries they may want to visit. The third part is more oriented towards the wine tourist. What to eat, where to stay and what to do beyond drinking.

Even as someone who was not a former historian, I think it was the background with “esoteric geeky wine and cultural stuff” I enjoyed most. I loved to hear the story of how the tradition of making wine in talha was saved from the brink of extinction, and is now starting to thrive again – I feel happier and more at home in a world where there is a place for maintaining historical traditions and diversity.

Also, as someone a lot more familiar with Georgian qvevri wine, I found the comparisons of talha and qvevri winemaking fascinating. Despite the historical and geographical points of difference, they have a lot in common. In terms of more recent developments, with both talha and qvevri there is increasing experimentation with the addition of wood ageing, and also of course bottling to allow broader distribution in cities and abroad, when historically the wine was more likely to go straight from clay vessel to the table.

Those were some of the geeky highlights for me (oh, also the bits on how the inside of talha are coated), but there is plenty more to get your teeth into. Paul’s enthusiasm and informal style carried me along through the story, and there is much I’d like to return to when I have more time.

The rest of the book, I must admit I read less avidly. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it difficult to concentrate on reading about producers and lists of wines I know little about. Were I to revive my plans to visit the Alentejo though, perhaps inspired by the 3rd section of the book (actually written by another author, Jenny Mortimer) they would suddenly become a lot more relevant.

The long and short of it is that if you are like me: fascinated by, or even just curious about, ancient winemaking methods and how they persist into modern times, or if you have a specific interest in talha wines, you really need this book. You should also be keeping in touch with Paul on his website Wine Disclosures (and check the archives of my blog). If on the other hand you are not so fascinated…. well, maybe you should be 🙂

Moscatel do Douro

I have undoubtedly drunk Moscatel do Douro before, but I must have thought they were either Douro DOC wines or varietal white Ports, because it came as a bit of a surprise to discover that it has its own DOC. The wines are made from at least 85% Moscatel Galego Branco (AKA Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains), and have their fermentation stopped by fortification to at least 16%, but typically less than Port. The wines described below were brought back from the Douro by a friend, and offered for tasting at my local wine group.


The parish of Favaios lies roughly 10km to the North of Pinão, in the Cima Corgo region of the Douro, and Adega de Favaios is a coop winery located there. It is probably best known for its range of Muscats, but does also make other wines.

Adega de Favaios, 10 year old, 17.0%, 75cl, €15 in Portugal, £28.00 from a UK merchant
Blend of different vintages with an average age of 10 years. Medium pale tawny colour. Smells a bit cheesy, something I also tend to notice on cheaper Madeiras. It is something I dislike, but does not seem to bother many other people; friends round the table found this wine more agreeable than I did. Vague caramel. Medium low acid. Sweet, but not as lusciously sweet as some wines. Drink now. Maybe OK at the Portuguese price, but no way would I pay £28. Just about scrapes ***

Adega de Favaios, Colheita 1999, 18.5%, 75cl, €30 in Portugal
Wine of a single vintage, and quite a bit older than the 10yo. Very similar in the basic dimensions, but this is a lot more elegant and classy, with a figgy caramel nature that is both intense and fresh. Dread to think how much this would cost in the UK if it were available here ****


The producer Fragulio is also from the area just North of Pinão but, unlike Adega de Favaios, it is a family run business, and this is its only Moscatel.

Fragulho, Reserva, DOC, 2010, 19.0%, 37.5cl; €15
Note that the quoted price is for a half bottle, so volume for volume it costs the same as the Favaios colheita wine. Pale amber.  Intense, fresh, and I think drier than the other Moscatels tried this evening. A bit sharper too, with medium acidity. Aromatic and grapey, with Muscat varietal typicity. Finishes dry. Drink now ****

So not wines that I will be dashing out to buy, but it was interesting to try a few side by side. However, nothing much wrong with them though, and others were a lot more positive than me. I am a lot more fussy about sweet wines than I am with other styles, tending to favour those that achieve balance through extremes of acidity and sweetness – unlike these wines, which were more moderate in both respects.

Madeira: The islands and their wines – book review

madeira islands winesThe book is Madeira: The Islands and their wines by Richard Mayson. If you are expecting a wine book, don’t worry about the subtitle: apart from brief sections on tourism, it is actually about wine. The RRP is £30.00, but I was given a review copy. It is the paperback version, published by Infinite Ideas earlier this year, with 268 pages and, like other books in this series, the general design and physical impression is good. Black and white illustrations are scattered throughout the book, mainly old engravings, but also some label images, and a map of the island. While not terribly detailed, the map is up to the task of identifying the regions discussed in the text. There is also a small collection of colour plates bound together roughly in the middle of the book. Sidebars (if that is the right term when the text goes the full width of the pages) are used in many places, usually to good effect. Though I failed to understand their place in the Vintage Madeiras and Historic Wines chapter, where the content was exactly the same as the main text – here they just served to confuse by unnecessarily breaking the helpful structure of the chapter. The structure was also initially a bit confusing as the first Madeira collection mentioned in the chapter happened not to have any tasting notes associated with it, but that is a different issue.

The timing of publication is important for this book, as a raft of new regulations and definitions relating to Madeira wine came into force in 2015. I am not sure to what extent they were adequately dealt with in the 2015 hardback edition of this book, but they are certainly covered in the paperback, and this in itself might be reason enough for Madeira enthusiasts to get hold of a copy. It also becomes clear from reading this book that in the last 15 years or so there have been many initiatives to improve Madeira quality and the standards of record-keeping, imposing more order on what was very chaotic production. Again, anyone with a serious interest in Madeira will find it convenient to have all these developments gathered together here. Personally I write as someone who also owns, and has great respect for, Alex Liddell’s 1998 book, Madeira published by Faber and Faber, but it is now woefully out of date if you look to it for a picture of contemporary Madeira. Without wanting to criticise either writer, I feel Liddell is more academic, while Mayson is briefer and perhaps more accessible to a modern audience. I am now motivated to reread Liddell sometime.

Mayson covers his ground well, with chapters on Madeira history, geography, vineyards, production and producers. The chapter on producers also includes tasting notes on selected wines that are currently readily available from each one. In a separate chapter there are also nearly 100 pages – over 35% of the whole book – devoted to the tasting notes of old Madeiras, many from the 18th and 19th centuries, and notes about the collections from which they originated. The chances of me ever getting an opportunity to try any of these wines is practically zero, which means my interest in them is very limited, and I would question the wisdom of devoting so much space to these wines. Not that I am averse to a good vintage Madeira, but old for me in practice means mid-20th century. The main thing I learned from the chapter was that, if you take Mayson’s star ratings at face value, you can get Madeira of equal quality for a lot less money if you look to the colheita wines currently available from the producers, and wines with older age indications.

There were a few places in the book that seemed unclear or confusing, which left me feeling I’d like to ask the author, or his sources, for clarification. But to an extent I suppose Madeira is still essentially rather confusing, and at least I felt engaged enough to care. One example was the statement that “Older vineyards are supported on latadas, low pergolas about a metre or so in height, under which other crops such as potatoes, cabbages and beans are frequently grown”. Wow, I thought, that is very low and it must be a real pain to work on the vines – not to mention the vegetable patch! Can it really be true? This was followed by a quotation from an 18th century description that I found difficult to understand completely, but laths 7 feet high were mentioned. Also colour plates purported to show latadas growing over trucks and the heads of people. I resolved this issue by referring to Liddell’s abovementioned book, and learned that latada heights vary: over paths and around houses you can walk under them, whereas in other places they are usually 1 to 1.5m high.

Despite any niggles, and with the exception of the vintage wine tasting notes which I largely skipped, I enjoyed reading this book and learned a lot, especially about the more recent changes on the Island.

Grape Harvest (Vindima), by Miguel Torga

vindimaI have been doing a lot of reading over the last few weeks, so I am afraid my blog has been mainly book reviews of late – and there are more to come. But this is a bit different. It is a novel from 1945 by the Portuguese writer Miguel Torga, so it’s nothing new but I thought it might be of interest to wine lovers. The title is Vindima in Portuguese, but in English translation it is rendered as Grape Harvest – a grape harvest in the Douro in fact. Firstly, some practical details. I could only find electronic editions of the English translation, and I bought the Kindle version, though it is also available for Kobo. Check for the latest prices, and price-matching deals, but expect to pay well under £10. There were no major practical issues with the Kindle edition, though I presume that the “nosyclarity of a dawn was an OCR glitch, and there were quite a few superfluous hyphens in words that must have corresponded to line breaks in a print version.

Let me set the scene. A lot of the action takes place at Quinta da Cavadinha, a property now owned by Warre’s, and one that makes a vital contribution to their Vintage Ports. I visited the estate a few years ago and found this plaque with a quotation from the book.cavadinho plaqueIn English: “A vine-strewn slope gazing down at the river and up into the heavens, Cavadinha, its name writ in huge letters on an iron arch over the wide entry gate, is the most enchanting of estates“. And here is that vine-strewn slope from the vantage point of Cavadinha. The river Pinhão, a tributary of the Douro that joins the main river at the eponymous town, is here just about visible in the trees at the bottom of the valley. cavadinha view

Sadly, the panoramic grandeur of the Douro is rarely expressed well in small images – you just have to imagine the vista below extending over 180º or so. But don’t be fooled by the quotation. Grape Harvest is not a sentimental glorification of Cavadinha. It covers mainly the dark aspects of gritty reality. Very much not the sort of thing you would expect to be proudly displayed on a plaque.

As suggested by the title, the book does indeed cover events associated with a harvest. It starts with the harvesting team being hired from a poor farming village, and ends with their return home. In between, there is a depiction of many complex relationships, focussing on Douro society, but extending also to Porto and beyond. We have the exploited harvest workers; the uncaring nouveau riche quinta owner and his family; the more benevolent old-money family who own the neighbouring quinta; and a doctor visiting from Lisbon. There are deaths, love affairs, infatuations, broken hearts and illicit sex. Despite there being an awful lot going on, the writing is deep, poetic, unsentimental, and life-affirming, where the human spirit rises above the literal blood, sweat and tears. A lot of it reminded me more of Victorian times than 1945, so the first mention of a motor car came as a bit of a surprise. But we must remember that Portugal was very isolationalist under Salazar, and the Douro was particularly backwards, even by Portuguese standards. At times, I also felt transported into the world of D H Lawrence, as a sexually charged atmosphere pervades a lot of the book. On reading that the treading of grapes was “reminiscent of sensual copulation” I was completely baffled, but by the end of the two-paragraph extended metaphor I was left in no doubt what the author had in mind, and grape-treading will never be the same again for me. One wonders what Torga would have made of the robotic lagares at the modern-day Quinta da Cavadinha.

It’s fiction of course, but the author’s personal experience must have formed the basis for a lot of the novel. Torga’s humble roots were in the mountains just to the North of the Douro – precisely the area from where the villagers recruited for the Cavadinha harvest might have hailed. He was himself well-educated, but his profession as a doctor kept him in constant touch with all walks of life, and doubtless informed the character of the doctor in the novel, and the incidents of child-birth, illness and medical emergency. A little bit more about Torga, with medical excerpts from his diary, is available towards the end of this issue of the British Journal of General Practice. I decided I liked Torga so much that I have already ordered a collection of his short stories in translation, and would very much suggest that anyone with an interest in literature and Port should at least grab the free initial chapters of Grape Harvest – together with Torga’s 1988 introduction, they give a good feel for what is to follow.

The novel was written over 70 years ago now and, as Torga himself says in his introduction, the extremes of poverty and exploitation described in the novel no longer exist in the Douro. But it is sobering to realise that colheitas from that period still exist in Villa Nova de Gaia, and that if you love Port you may even have drunk some.

Port and the Douro – book review

port and the douroHere I review Port and the Douro by Richard Mayson. This is the 3rd edition, which was originally published in 2013, but I have a paperback version published by Infinite Ideas in April 2016. It has an RRP of £30, but I didn’t pay a penny of my own money as I was sent a review copy. This printing was apparently “heavily revised” – from the first printing of the 3rd edition presumably. But as I do not have the original 3rd edition, I cannot really comment on that, apart from to say that all vintages are described up to and including 2015, and the sales and production statistics now go as far as 2014.

The look and feel is very similar to Biodynamic Wine, which I reviewed in my previous blog post: a 234 x 156mm paperback with clear printing and a rather nice general feel to the book. But this is a bigger book of 308 pages and a slightly smaller typeface. Most of the illustrations are hand painted sketches, but there are a few diagrams and maps, and several colour plates clustered together in the centre of the book. The text is also broken up by boxes. This is something I generally do not like, as I would much rather the author figure out for me how best to incorporate everything into the flow of the narrative, but here I thought the series of boxes on the theme Men who shaped the Douro worked rather well.

The book is very much in the mould of many other specialist books on wine regions, and in that sense it works well – very well indeed, to extent that it is difficult to fault. Better maps perhaps? But I am very much aware how much good quality cartography costs. Tasting notes? Maybe, but I personally find them of very limited value. Another possible criticism is that it somehow fails to excite. But what sort of excitement can one reasonably expect from a book on Port and the Douro? For me, perhaps only in the sense that I regard the Douro region to be the most atmospheric wine region I have ever visited, with its vastness and haunting beauty, and it would have been nice to have more of that feeling communicated. Though I admit it is a big demand on a specialist wine writer – there are only so many Andrew Jeffords in the world 🙂 However, still on the subject of the feel of the Douro region, I was delighted to find that Mayson mentioned Miguel Torga’s novel Vindima (Grape Harvest in English translation). It is a novel I had been intending to dig out after visiting Quinta da Cavadinha, which features in it, but later forgot the name of the author and book –  now I am grateful to be reading it in translation on my Kindle, and it is giving me my required shot of Douro poetry. But I digress… there follows below a description of the contents of Port and the Douro.

The first chapter covers in some detail the history of Portugal – Porto and the Douro in particular. This is followed by one on the vineyards, vines, major grape varieties, and quintas (farms or estates). Then a description of the various types of Port, with a separate chapter devoted to Vintage Port. Port producers and shipper then get their own chapter, which is followed by one on Douro (unfortified) wines. Finally there is some guidance for the visitor to Porto and the Douro.

So – a very good solid book with very little to criticise (even if I seem to have spent most of this review writing about my criticisms).

Blandy’s Bual 1954

blandys_bual_1954I was recently at John Dickinson’s 60th birthday celebration in Maxwell’s Café and Delicatessen, and having a great time. The dinner was accompanied by 17 wines, most of which were generously provided by our host. Let me try to put the quality of the wines into some sort of perspective. We kicked off with Krug Grand Cuvée, and then the wines got better.  They included Palmer 1996, Talbot 1985 and Quinta do Noval 1966.

But for me they were all eclipsed by the final bottle: Blandy’s Bual 1954.  I say “for me” because only 3 of the 15 or so present voted for it as wine-of-the-night, and most people sitting by me were rather underwhelmed.  Indeed, I had to be quick to intercept a glass on its way to the spittoon.

I can understand how it divided opinion.  It was searingly acidic. And despite Bual usually being one of the sweetest styles of Madeira it came over as off- or medium-dry, as by the standards of most sweet wines it had little by way of balancing sugar. The flavours were hugely intense, and everyone within ear shot of me seemed to agree about their profile – varnish, French polish, eucalyptus, camphor.  In other words, it was weirdly volatile. The only point of disagreement was how desirable the flavours were.

Albeit to a lesser extent, I have experienced that sort of volatility occasionally in other old Madeiras, and I regard it as a positive thing. It is also present in some Colheita Ports, and I sense it is often referred to as complexity. But in most styles of wine, of course those flavours would of course be totally unacceptable. Faulty or not, I enjoyed this wine tremendously. It would be sad if we all liked the same thing.

Blandy’s Bual 1954 gets ******.  Cheers, John, and here’s to the next ten!

(And thanks to John for providing the photos, as well as the wine itself.)

Back on the booze

As you may be aware, I have been off alcohol for a while on medical advice. I must admit I did make a few exceptions for particularly attractive tasting opportunities, but last weekend was the first one where my wine drinking was back to normal.  As it happened I managed to find three very enjoyable, though relatively modest wines, to break my fast with.  These are the experiences that really make wine worthwhile for me.

The Talbot was drunk at home with a shoulder of lamb, but the other bottles mentioned below were opened at our local BYO restaurant, Aladdin.  The restaurant was on fine form.  It has expanded to occupy all of the ex-Indian restaurant next door – it moved into the first floor a year or so ago, and has now taken over the ground floor too.  They do not sell alcohol, and so forgo the generous markups usually applied by restaurants, and I don’t think they have increased their prices in the seven years or so I have been going, but clearly they are successful.  Presumably it is because they offer a product that people like, and it always seems to attract a broad range of customers.  But anyway – the wine:


Ryzlink Rýnsk, Víno S Prívlastkem, Pozdní Sber, Polosuché, Tomáš Krist, Oblast Morave, Podoblast Slovácká Obec Milotice Vinícní Trať Šidleny, 2009, 11.5%, members’ price at The Daily Drinker is £11.70. Firstly, I think some translation and explanation is in order.  I shall do my best – corrections welcome.  This is a Riesling produced by Tomáš Krist, in the Oblast Morave region of the Czech Republic.  Confusingly it is not easy to spot the country of origin on the label, but you do see the word Slovácká, which you might think is Slovakia – actually it is a subregion of Oblast Morave.  This wine is a pale watery green.  On the nose I get intense fresh lime and lemon.  It has medium high acidity, and perhaps the merest hint of some residual sugar.  On the palate the aromatics are as on the nose.  The wine is refreshing, but the acidity is not at all searing. In fact it seems to have a creamy note, so I wonder it has perhaps gone through a malolactic fermentation, which I believe would be unusual for a Riesling. Decent length and rather a nice balance.  Probably best to drink now, but I would be interested to see how it ages over the next few years.  Pleasant but simple. ***

Terra d’Alter, Vinho Regional Alentejano, Touriga Nacional, Portugal, 2010, 14.0%, members’ price at The Daily Drinker is £9.00. FWIW, this is an IWC Gold Medal winner. Medium pale purple ruby colour, with an intense, fresh, blackberry and raspberry nose.  Medium high acidity. Intense, but light. Fresh feeling to the wine.  Aromatics as nose. Medium low tannin. Excellent length. Good juicy fruit. Nice bitter finish. Drink now.   I am not sure about the extent to which sulphur was used with this wine, but freshness of the fruit reminds me of some of the best natural wines I have tasted.  Other Touriga Nacional wines I have tasted have been a lot heavier than this one.  ****

Cordier, Chateau Talbot, Saint-Julien, France, 1974.  I bought this recently for a very modest £8.00 from someone who picked it up at auction.  On wine-searcher at the time, I saw it being offered for £60 and £140 by different merchants.  Pale tawny colour.  On the nose and palate, it is has mature red fruit, and attractive gentle warm spicy notes.  Medium acid and medium astgringency, with excellent length.  Despite 1974 being a poor vintage, this was not at all dried out or oxidised.  It might well have been better many years ago, but is still a nice wine that gave me a lot of pleasure, and at £8 it was a bargain.  Not sure I would want to pay anything like £60, but those who appreciate mature wines more than me might see that as a reasonable price. ****

An encounter with The Don

Some companies are more interested in developing their brand, and projecting their image, than others.  After visiting several Port houses and Douro quintas, it became clear that Sandeman’s was definitely one of more brand-obsessed wine companies.

We had two encounters with Sandeman’s.  One was by ourselves in Vila Nova de Gaia, where we bought our tickets for the standard tourist tour and tasting.  The next tour in English was not to start for another 20 minutes, so we looked around their museum.  Not a museum celebrating their wine, or even the company in general, but one dedicated to The Don.  It was moderately interesting, but not really what I wanted to learn about.  How up-yourself to want to devote a museum to your own marketing material!  Then, as shown above, we had a tour conducted by an appropriately dressed guide, through cellars adorned with spooky images.  The tour finished by the shop, where you could buy your own black cape for around €€100 – hat extra.  And then we were given two glasses of basic port, white and tawny, and left to wander off.

Later, on Roy Hersh’s trip this time, we travelled up the Douro and visited Sandeman’s Quinta do Seixo.  The very knowledgable Ligia Marques was our gracious host, and we had a great visit.

But again the Sandeman’s branding was very much in evidence – a lot more so than at other places we visited.  Above, you can see the brand etched onto the window of the panoramic tasting room.  What you cannot see is The Don etched into every tasting glass, and thoughtfully turned towards the taster.  But my worst branding experience happened as we were being shown around by Ligia.  I thought our group was alone with Ligia, but at one point, in a dimly lit room, I turned round to find myself unexpectedly staring into the pale face of another guide dressed up as That Sodding Don.  I cannot remember ever having been so frightened.

Dear Mr Sandeman – can I suggest you consider replacing your nasty scary don by a friendly teddy bear or similar?  Or, even better, just concentrate on your wine.

Afros in Vinho Verde

This visit was organised as part of the 2012 Port Explorer’s Tour I introduced in an earlier post.  If you are already wondering what Afros has to do with Port, congratulations for spotting that!  Really the only relationship is that Vinho Verde, the region of Quinto do Casal do Paço where Afros wine are produced, is geographically very close to Porto.  This was the “and now for something completely different” moment of the tour, and one I was looking forward to.

We started off by surveying Casal do Paço’s vineyards.  The weather was not great.  It was cold and we did a lot of shower-dodging, but the soft light, with occasional rainbow, was very photogenic.

Vasco Croft, the producer and our generous host, was obviously very proud of the biodynamic viticulture employed at Casal do Paço and we were shown the specially constructed wooden hut, away from power lines, where the biodynamics preps were made. Initially, all the preparations were made from scratch here and hand-stirred, but as the business grew they now need to buy in some raw materials and employ an electric mixer.

And just outside the hut was a fountain “designed by an English scientist”, which pre-dynamises the water used for the preps, by way of a series of vortices.  At this point I am tempted to launch into one of my anti-biodynamic rants.  I am not going to, but I will say that I don’t believe a word about anything that biodynamics layers on top of organic agriculture.

Anyway, enough of all this biodynamics.  We headed slowly back to the main building for a tasting and lunch. En route we passed the mobile bottling line that was in operation at the time, but saw nothing of the winemaking itself. Inside and warmed-up, we started with a standing-up tasting, and then sat down to lunch with the wines and opened a few more bottles. And what a fantastic, long and relaxed lunch it was. My description here does not do it justice, but the first course was based around some wonderfully meaty prawns, the mains was wild boar with a honey coating, which was followed by a chocolate and olive oil mousse-type dessert. It was certainly one of my favourite meals of the trip – but then I did have a lot of favourite meals!

Here is Vasco at the table while we were waiting for lunch to be served.

Finally, the wines. Some of these wine used the “Aphros” spelling on the label – this is used to avoid the hair-style connotations that “Afros” might have in the USA.  Note that all the wines were from the Lima sub-region of Vinho Verde, and Loureiro and Vinhão are the white and red grape varieties used for these wine.  Where available, I have given approximate UK retail prices.

Afros, Ten, Vinho Verde, Loureiro, Branco, 2011, 12%
Watery green. Intense, fresh, floral and lemon. Medium high acidity. Soft and creamy. Excellent length. Drink now ****

Afros, Daphne, Vinho Verde, Loureiro, Branco, 2011, 12%
This has some skin maceration. Watery green. Intense, fresh, floral and lemon. Medium high acidity. Reminded me a little of red lips sweets. Excellent length ****

Afros, Vinho Verde, Loureiro, Branco, 2009, 12%, £13.00  
Watery green. Intense.  Petrol, lemon, peach. Not overpowering.  Medium high acid. Soft on the palate. Excellent length ****

Afros, Espumante de Vinho Verde, Loureiro, Reserva, 2008, 12%
Pale green. Intense.  Fresh, yeasty.  Medium acidity.  Soft and light. Excellent length *****

Afros, Vinho Verde, Vinhão, Tinto, 2009, 12.5%, £13.00
Opaque purple. Intense sweet dark fruit. Medium high acid. Low tannin. Slightly frizzante?  Drink now ****

Afros, Silenus, Vinho Verde, Vinhão,  2009, 13.5%
Aged in barriques.  Opaque purple.  Crispy bacon. Medium high acid. Low tannin. Drink now ****

Afros, Espumante de Vinho Verde, Vinhão, Super Reserva, 12%
NV, but this was from 2005 and 2008. Intense purple ruby.  Intense funky dark fruit.  Medium acid. Dry. Drink now ***

I am afraid some of the details of the wines got a bit hazy towards the end, but I think I have them right.  We were also offered a fortified red at the end of the meal, but if I remember correctly this was not commercially available.

Overall, I was very impressed by these wines.  What I remember best after several weeks were the white wines.  These were not recognisable as the cheap and cheerful Vinho Verde that I remember from the UK.  But neither were they like the intense and searing Vihno Verde Alvarinho variants that I enjoyed a few times in Porto on this trip.  The memory that lingers is one of soft, subtle and nuanced wine – a bit like the image of the vineyards at the top of this post.

Porto, the Douro, and some Vinho Verde

I returned a few weeks ago from the most most amazing holiday in Portugal.  The focus of our trip was Roy Hersh’s 2012 Port Explorers Tour, but we also spent a few extra days in Porto.  We stayed in Porto and Régua, visiting Port houses in Vila Nova de Gaia, and quintas in the Douro.  Additionally, we went on a refreshing excursion to Vinho Verde.

I recommend both Porto and the Douro very strongly as a wine destination. Even before the Port Explorers Tour started we enjoyed Porto very much, and found everyone friendly and helpful.  It was also nice that none of it has yet become a sanitised tourist destination, though bits of Vila Nova de Gaia are heading in that direction.  And if you want to have great tastings set up for you and meet the people behind the wines, I doubt you could do better than to join one of Roy’s tours.

I intend to blog with more thoughts from this trip – nothing too structured, and probably not many tasting notes – just the things that made the biggest impact on me.  For now here is a quick pictorial summary.

Here are some barcos rebelos with part of Vila Nova de Gaia in the background.  This was the style of boat that used to bring the wine down the Douro to Vila Nova de Gaia for storage before shipping.  Now they are used to advertise Port houses, and the wine arrives by road in small tankers.

This was how we spent a lot of our time.  Here we are at our very first tasting with Roy – at Porto Poças.  Someone has to do it – that wine will not taste itself.

And this was our first meal with the group, at Adega e Presuntaria Transmontana II in Vila Nova de Gaia.  A selection of nibbles, which we soon were to learn was a common way to start a meal, and a mackerel dish in the foreground.

The Douro valley.  Back in Porto, everyone seemed to speak of it with misty eyes.   Now we understand why.  Wow!  The most impressive thing was the sheer scale of the landscape – horizontally as well as vertically.

And finally an example of some of the wine-making kit we saw.  These are the robotic lagares at Sandeman’s Quinta do Seixo – the modern version of the place where all the grape treading goes on.  See the robotic feet at the far end.

Below is a complete list of the significant wine and food related events on our trip.  Those marked with a star, were set up as part of the Port Explorers Tour.  I am not going to get round to writing about all of these, so if you want an opinion get in touch – use the comment box or drop me an email.

Port Lodges
Taylor’s (touristy tour and tasting)
Sandeman’s (touristy tour and tasting)
Dalva (tasting, in shop only)
Porto Poças (tour and tasting) *
Burmester (tour and tasting) *
Offley (tour and tasting) *
J H Andresen (tour and tasting) *
Graham’s (tour and tasting)

Quintas in the Douro
Pintas, Wine and Soul (tour and tasting) *
Passadouro (dinner) *
Seixo (tour, tasting and lunch) *
Crasto (tour, tasting and dinner) *
Tedo (tour, tasting and lunch) *
Vista Alegre (tour and tasting) *
Cavadinha (tour and tasting) *
Quinta do Portal (tour, tasting and lunch) *

Vinho Verde
Casal do Paço (tour, tasting and lunch) *

Dom Luis – Vila Nova de Gaia (lunch)
Fishe Fixe – Porto (two lunches)
Majestic Café – Porto (dinner)
Adega e Presuntaria Transmontana II – Vila Nova de Gaia (dinner) *
Ar de Rio – Vila Nova de Gaia (lunch) *
Bufete Fase – Porto (Francesinha bar for dinner) *
Pedro Lemos – Porto (dinner) *
Rui Paula, DOC – Folgosa (lunch) *
LBV 79 – Pinhõa (dinner) *
Rui Paula, DOP – Porto (dinner) *