Great red wines from Portugal’s Douro region
Monday August 27th 2012, 4:30 pm
Filed under: wine
In the world of wine, Portugal is best known for producing port. The best ports come from the north of the country, in the Douro region.
In recent years, Douro winemakers have started making table wine from the same grapes used to make port: touriga nacional, touriga franca, tinta roriz and sometimes tinta cao.
Quinta da Romaneira is one of the great historic vineyards (quinta is Portuguese for vineyard) of the Douro valley. It overlooks the majestic Douro river, in a natural amphitheatre, with magnificent terraced rows of vines.
Schistous rock is the basis of the unique terroir of the property and it imparts noticeable flavours to the wine.
Romaneira has experienced a renaissance since 2004. The partnership of Christian Seely and António Agrellos has been the main reason for the rebirth. Seely has been managing director since 2004, having been also managing director of Quinta do Noval since 1993. Noval is a neighbouring vineyard that also produces excellent wine.
Agrellos is the consultant winemaker at Romaneira. He has twice been named Portugal’s winemaker of the year and has been based at Noval since 1994, where he produced three wines that received the maximum 100 points out of 100 in wine awards.
Romaneira’s introductory wine is the Sino da Romaneira red. It is a blend of touriga nacional, touriga franca, tinta roriz and tinta cao. Sino is Portuguese for bell, and the wine is named after the bell that overlooks the entrance of the property.
The latest release is the 2009 vintage. All Romaneira reds I tried had soft tannins. This red appears meant for early consumption. It is easy to drink with pleasant blackberry aromas from ripe fruit.
The Quinta da Romaneira red is a major leap in quality from the Sino. The 2009 vintage, recently released, has gained a significant number of awards since Seely and Agrellos took over the property. The prestigious Wine Spectator magazine has given the wine at least 93 points out of 100 every year since 2004. In 2010 Decanter magazine gave the 2005 vintage a gold medal.
The 2009 vintage is a 50:50 blend of touriga nacional and touriga franca. It has intense colour, with an earthy nose and soft tannins. The black cherry colour is reflected in its flavours. The wine is well balanced with soft acidity that suggests it would repay a few years in the cellar.
The 2009 Quinta da Romaneira Reserva red is an even bigger leap in quality compared with the previously mentioned red. Quite simply, it is a superb wine. The previous vintage, the 2008, was named the best red wine in Portugal at the national wine show. It is one of the outstanding wines of the Douro valley.
The tasting notes on the vineyard’s web site describe the 2008 as the “supreme expression” of terroir. While the notes refer to the 2008 vintage they could also apply to the 2009. Again it is a blend of touriga nacional (50 per cent) and touriga franca (40 per cent) with a touch of tinto cao.
The wine comes from vines that are a quarter century old, which means those vines are at their peak. They produce excellent fruit with intense flavours of blackberry and cherry. The wine feels concentrated and harmonious, with superb balance and elegance – the mark of a great wine.
The tasting notes do not mention the type of oak but it would be safe to assume that only the best French has been used. This wine would be a joy to drink in two or three decades, as the flavours integrate. Yet it is also easy to drink now.
One small point to note: this wine needs to be served at about 16C. In a hot climate, even in air conditioning, this lovely wine loses its charm if it gets too warm in the glass.
Images of wines can be found at the web site: www.quintadaromaneira.pt
Wines were tasted courtesy of Antonio Coelho, owner of Antonio’s restaurant in Macau. These wines are the highlights of an impressive wine list.
* Published in the China Post, 30 August 2012, page 10. Find a link here.
Same grapes but different spelling, depending on country
Monday August 20th 2012, 8:06 am
Filed under: wine
The albariño grape, though relatively unknown in Asia, makes an ideal white wine for summer.
The grape is known as albariño in Galicia in northwest Spain but is spelled alvarinho in neighbouring Portugal. There it is sometimes known as cainho branco. In all cases it is used to make varietal white wines.
Various reference books suggest Cluny monks brought the grape to the Iberian peninsula in the twelfth century. The term “alba-riño” means “the white [wine] from the Rhine, which suggests it could have been a riesling clone from either Germany or the Alsace region of France. Some oenologists have theorised the grape is a relative of the French variety petit manseng.
California grows albariño in the Santa Ynez Valley, and around the towns of Clarksburg and Los Carneros.
Australia started selling albariño as a varietal wine from the end of last century until, in 2009, DNA tests confirmed that the grapes were savagnin blanc.
Viticulturalists in Australia had been sold cuttings of French savagnin grape by mistake, meaning that almost all wine in Australia labelled as albarino was savagnin.
Spain produces a lot of albariño in the Rias Baixas “denominación de origen” (DO), or region of origin, around the town of Cambados. DO is the Spanish food and wine classification code, similar to the French appellation system.
Alvarinho is also common in the Vinho Verdhe region of northern Portugal, but officially it is only allowed to be grown in Moncao and Melgaco.
The grape is best known for its distinctive aroma. I tried a 2009 Pazo Barrantes from the Rias Baixas region of Spain. The nose is very similar to gewürztraminer – with hints of musk, rose petal and lychee, and sometimes apricot and peach. The flavours tend to depend on the level of ripeness of the grapes.
The wine feels light in the mouth and is appropriate for drinking on a summer’s day in Asia. The acidity in this grape variety is generally high, as was the case with this wine. This acidity gives a feeling of freshness, and helps it cope with oily or fatty foods.
The few years in bottle meant the 2009 edition had taken on a golden sheen, and the wine has a bone dry finish. Alcohol levels tend to be moderate, around 11.5 to 12 per cent. This is an easy-to drink wine with lots of character.
The other major white wine variety Spain and Portugal share is verdejo (in Spain) or verdelho (in Portugal).
Verdejo is grown in the Rueda region of northern Spain, near the river of the same name. In Portugal to the west, the grape variety is known as verdelho, and the river and region changes its name to Douro. Flavours change depending on the terroir where the grape is grown.
Wines designated as Rueda Verdejo must contain a minimum 85 per cent of verdejo. Grapes are generally harvested at night to ensure they are kept between 10 and 15C. The aim is to retain the fresh fruit flavours.
If harvested during the day in September, when temperatures can reach 30C, the juice will become oxidised and lose its freshness.
Verdejo wines are usually full-bodied yet soft, with medium acidity. They smell herbaceous and flowery, and they pair well with most seafoods. These wines should be served cold, so an ice bucket is a necessity in summer.
I tried a 2010 Marques de Riscal from the Rueda region. It was light and fresh and had a citrus tang. I found it quite refreshing, though verdejo does not have the pronounced aromas of albarinos.
Both grape varieties should be available in shops that specialise in Spanish wines.
Published in China Post, 23 August 2012, page 10, under the headline “Same grapes but different spelling, depending on country”. Find a link here.
Release of 2007 Grange by Penfolds
Sunday August 12th 2012, 4:57 pm
Filed under: wine
Australia’s best-known wine is the iconic Penfolds Grange, which has been receiving global accolades for two decades. Part of the wine’s success is based around its sense of history and place.
Dr Christopher Rawson Penfold migrated to Australia from England with his wife, Mary, and in 1844 founded Penfolds winery partly to advocate the medicinal benefits of wine. Before leaving for Australia Penfold obtained cuttings from southern France – presumably Rhone varieties such as hermitage, known as shiraz in Australia.
Penfold practised medicine at Magill on the eastern outskirts of Adelaide, the South Australian capital, and planted vines around his stone cottage. That cottage he named The Grange after his wife’s former home.
For decades, Penfolds concentrated on fortified wine. But during the 1940s and 1950s the company focused on table wines to accommodate changing tastes. Experiments by chief winemaker Max Schubert eventually led to the production of what has become known as Australia’s most famous wine, Grange Hermitage, later renamed as Grange.
The wine has been made every year since 1951, when Schubert began his experiments after a study tour of France.
The 1990 vintage catapulted the Grange to international recognition. That vintage featured on the front cover of the influential US magazine Wine Spectator, and the magazine named it wine of the year.
The wine demonstrates the synergy between shiraz grapes and the soil and climate of South Australia. The 2007 edition, just released, contains 97 per cent shiraz with 3 per cent cabernet sauvignon.
Grange is always matured in new American hogsheads. In the case of the 2007 vintage, it was for 21 months. This means the wine will last for decades, and probably should not be opened for at least 20 years.
Peter Gago, chief winemaker at Penfolds, described the nose as offering soy, cola, peat and Dutch black liquorice with a touch of sesame. Stephanie Dutton, another of the Penfolds winemakers, said the Grange spoke loudly of the terroir of South Australia. It is a powerful expression of the company’s philosophy of blending grapes from multiple sites. Find a video interview with Dutton here.
The 2007 is a blend of fruit from three areas of the state: Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and the original Magill estate. The key to Grange was the selection of the best fruit, Dutton said. One is reminded of the advertising slogan for a brand of tuna that said it was the fish that John West rejects that makes John West the best.
The 2007 Grange features shiraz at its most intensely-flavoured best. Grange is a unique Australian style, recognised as one of the most consistent of the world’s great wines.
Previous vintages have rated very highly in global tastings. Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate gave the 2004 vintage 99 points out of 100; the 2005 received 97 points, and the 2006 got 98 points. The 2007 will receive the same kind of points.
What if you cannot afford Grange, which typically retails for about $US 655 a bottle? The answer might be the “baby Grange” – the Bin 389, a blend of 51 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 49 per cent shiraz. Again, the wine is a combination of fruit from across the state. It sells for about a tenth of the price of the Grange.
The cabernet sauvignon provides structure and palate length and the shiraz gives intensity and richness.
The Bin 389, first made in 1960, has gained a reputation for consistency and longevity. It gets the name “baby Grange” because it is matured in the oak hogsheads used for the previous vintage of Grange, and because it had the same creator, the legendary Max Schubert.
The wine leaves a joyful feeling in one’s mouth, and the tannins are soft and approachable. The multiple fruits offer a choir of flavours: rhubarb and stewed quince with hints of cocoa and cedar. Like the Grange, everything is in place and in the right proportions.
Dutton said Bin 389 was an Australian grand vin – a result of the selection of the best parcels of fruit from the best vineyard sites, made by a winemaking team “steeped in the traditions of a great Australian wine style”.
Published in China Post, 16 August 2012, page 10. Find a link here.
Celine Rousseau of Chalkers Crossing
Tuesday August 07th 2012, 9:11 am
Filed under: food
French winemaker Celine Rousseau long held a desire to work in Australia’s cool climate regions to make subtle and delicate wines, similar in style to wines from her own country.
Born in Paris, Celine worked at prestigious chateaux in Bordeaux, Champagne and Languedoc in France before moving to Australia in 1997.
She initially worked in Western Australia, but in 1999 she became the winemaker at Chalkers Crossing in the town of Young in the cool climate Hilltops region of New South Wales. Young is about 370 kilometres west of Sydney.
At Chalkers Crossing Celine was responsible for fitting out a new winery. In 2002 her wines won several national awards and attracted lots of attention from noted wine writers.
That year she was named Australia’s young winemaker of the year – a remarkable achievement given it was only a decade after she completed an MA in enology and marketing from the University of Reims in France’s Champagne region. She also earned a national diploma of winemaking from the Institute of Enology in Bordeaux.
James Halliday, Australia’s best-known wine critic, has praised Celine’s winemaking style, based on showing off the terroir of the wine. In his annual Australian Wine Companion Halliday classified Chalkers Crossing in the top 5 per cent of Australian producers, giving it five red stars, his highest award.
Chalkers Crossing was purchased by a Hong Kong mining resources company, Nice Link Pty Ltd, three years ago. It exports to the UK, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Singapore, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Halliday was enthusiastic about Celine’s 2009 chardonnay, made from grapes from the cool-climate Tumbarumba region of New South Wales. It offers aromas of white peach and stonefruits such as nectarines, with a touch of butterscotch. The wine has an acid zing that works well with the fruit flavours, and it hangs around in one’s mouth like an echo of a delicious kiss.
Celine said she picked the fruit for this wine at night to preserve the acid levels. These acids mean this wine would make an ideal accompaniment for creamy dishes or meals cooked in oil, the acid balancing the richness of the fat. Recent vintages of the chardonnay have won several gold medals and Halliday named the 2009 wine in his top 100 for 2010.
I also enjoyed the 2010 Hilltops riesling, with its intense lime flavours and an attractive floral character with hints of green apple and pear. This is a crisp and elegant wine whose acid zing makes one want to reach for a second and third glass. Its minerality, Celine said, comes from the red sandy loam of the vineyard.
Her 2010 sauvignon blanc is much more like a Sancerre style wine than a flabby Australian version produced from this grape variety. It is dry with aromas at the ripe and passionfruit end of the tasting spectrum. Its dry finish and crisp acid would make this wine an ideal companion for oysters or grilled fish.
The CC2 is the second label from Chalkers Crossing, though one hesitates to use the phrase “second” because this is a value for money wine. The label, interestingly, was designed in Beijing. The 2010 shiraz comes from young vines in the high-altitude Hilltops region around Young.
It has spicy, pepper aromas with a hint of violets, and soft tannins from time in old oak barrels. This wine would pair well with slightly spicy foods like mild curry, or a marsala dosa.
France’s loss has been Australia’s gain.
Published in China Post, 9 August 2012, page 10, under the headline “French winemaker takes her passion for the vine Down Under”. Find a link here.