Here in America, it's time to start thinking about what wines to serve with all your favorite Thanksgiving desserts, like pumpkin pie and apple pie. My family usually has some lovely sweet wine accompaniment, and this year it is going to be 20 year Tawny Port. 20 year Tawny is the sweet-spot (pardon the pun) and when you taste with the producers in Porto, it's clear that each house compares itself to others with the quality of their 20. For holiday time, it's the perfect wine if you are looking for something that is sweet and seriously delicious. If you are serving anything that would benefit from a touch of caramel, look past the 10 year Tawnys on the shelf, and grab a 20. If you don't finish it, don't fret, as they last 3-4 weeks in the fridge so you can have a sip on the eve of your next big holiday.
Through the generosity of The Institute of Douro and Port Wines, The Association of Port Wine Companies, and many of their producers, I have tasted a lot of Port Wine in the last 2 months! When I was in Porto in September, it occurred to me that I should publish an overview of the 20s in time for holiday buying. Alas, some of these are very hard to find in the U.S., but may be easier for my European readers to look out for. My favorites are in RED. November 12, 2016 I invited several friends and wine colleagues to taste several of the wines easily available in the US. Top marks went to Dow's, Graham's, Smith-Woodhouse, and Churchill's. In my previous tastings, my favorites included Bulas, Kopke, Blackett, Poças Junior, Barros, Ramos PIntos, and Andresen.
And we're off!
As the starting point of last month's Port Wine Day 2016 festivities, our group of journalists invited from all over the world, were divided up into small groups and sent off with a host from one of the amazing Port houses to their respective Quintas to tour, taste, and lunch. I was scheduled originally to go to another, smaller Quinta, and was secretly hoping I would end up at the Symington Family Estates...and I got the golden ticket! My group's host was Euan Mackay, sales director for Symington Family Estates. We were off to Quinta do Bomfim in the Upper Douro, situated on the bank of the river near the village of Pinhão.
The group took a bus from our hotel in Porto to the Museu do Douro to meet up with our hosts. There is a point where the highway came through the famous 6 km tunnel, the Túnel do Marão, where the mountains suddenly open up to reveal the most beautiful wine country I have ever seen. The Douro Valley is covered with ancient grape terraces, some carved out hundreds of years ago in horizontal, vertical, and honeycomb-like rows in the hillsides.
No museum visits for us! It was all business (on my agenda for next time). We were quickly divided up and were personally driven to our host's Quintas. In Euan's car on our way to Quinta do Bomfim, we were treated to a detailed insider's guide to the history of the Symingtons and their place in the world of Port. Especially interesting was Euan's perspective on the acquisition of Cockburn's in 2006 and the subsequent rebirth of Cockburn's Special Reserve to award winning status in 2011 after years of mishandling. While the actual viticulture feeding the Cockburn's brand remained top-notch during the years Cockburn's was owned by Allied Domecq(owners of such brands as Harvey's Bristol Cream and Maker's Mark) the wine was cold-filtered for stabilization and subsequently lost it's soul. Glad to hear the Symington group was able to give Cockburn's its mojo back.
Go! Visit Porto and the Douro Valley!
Over the last 150 years, there has been a lot of consolidation in the world of Port, and while I can't profess to be an expert after one visit to the region, I can say with confidence that if you have limited time to visit the valley, it's a good idea to visit one of the visitors centers associated with a group of Port producers. The Symington group owns Graham's, Cockburn's, Dow's, Warre's, Quinta do Vesuvio, Altano, and Pratt & Symingon. Their multi-brand tasting room is a great place to learn both a lot about the history of the region as well.
We had a unique opportunity to taste in their stunning new tasting room overlooking the Douro, focusing on gaining an understanding of the "house style" of Dow's, Warre's, and Graham's by comparing their respective 20 Year Tawnys.
Euan MacKay's quote of the day will always stay with me: "10 year Tawny is on the way somewhere. 20 year Tawny is where it's going".
I would add that 30 and 40 year Tawny shows deeper and deeper into the past, with sometimes ancient vintages being added to the 30 and 40 year offerings.
We started in the museum, which traces the history of both the Quinta and the Symington family back 14 generations, then off to see where Dow's is made. Lots of Portuguese grapes are still crushed by foot in wide concrete lagars, including some of the best Symington wines like Quinto do Vesuvio, but finding enough experienced grape trodders is getting more and more difficult, and like all wine, timing is everything. So at Dow's Quinta do Bomfim, they use a mechanical robotic lagar made of stainless steel, with neoprene "feet" that squash the grapes with the same pace and pressure as human feet. Fermentation is calculated to the minute, and at the right time, the side of the steel lagar lifts up and pours the must over the side of the lagar to awaiting containers below --truly an engineering marvel. In traditional lagars, the must has to be removed by hand --backbreaking work. Several of the Symington houses use these awesome mechanical lagars.
Another great step forward is that the Symington group has 126 hectacres of organic vineyards, primarily at Quinta do Ataide. On land where the schist is so dense, organic farming is challenging, but they are committed to the practice where it's practical.
Our tasting started with some un-fortified wines from the Doruro, all of which are worth seeking out.
2012 Altano from Quinta do Ataide
Has a bit of American oak. Dusty tannins are tamed a bit by black pluminess. '12 was not a super-ripe year so though the wine has a plush style, it's still has a lovely lift to it. Lots of fresh red fruits(cherries/currants).
2014 Post Scriptum
'14 is also lighter than '11 or '13. Post Scriptum is the second label of the famous Chryseia label and is a great thing to look out for in restaurants around Portugal for about 25 euros. This has a bit of salinity to it but lovely fruit to compliment.
2012 Quinta do Vesuvio
Clearly the most serious wine of the bunch, Vesuvio was bought in 1989 and home to some great Port as well. Euan's description of this was "Tweed, but not Herringbone." Serious, but not precious. Round and full of amazing cocoa scents. Screaming for a nice piece of beef.
On to the Tawny Ports
20 Year Tawny is the perfect way to compare styles. And think about what it must be like as the Symington Family, trying to maintain many different historical styles and marketing to different audiences, it is a real study in brand management. Each brand needs to carry with it a marketing personality which fits the wine.
Warre's Otima 20
(Profile: Feminine), elegant, floral.Picked later. Fresh herbs, delicate pear, apricot jam, more red wine freshness.
Dow's 20 year Tawny
(Profile: Powerful) Drier, more complex, Serious. Fermented 30 minutes longer, more complex than the Warre's. A bit hotter on the palate and more concentrated.
Graham's 20 year Tawny
(Profile: High roller. Note the new scotch whiskey bottle shape (no accident)
Lush and citrusy. Very elegant. My favorite of the three.
Next came single Qunita Ports, which may be new to most readers. These wines are treated like vintage ports, held only briefly in cask before bottling, in mostly non-declared years. These wines are meant to drink a bit earlier usually, and give you a sense of the single property where the grapes were grown. Keep your eyes out for all of these special ports! They are terrific values.
2005 Quinta do Bomfim Vintage Port
Racy freshness on the nose, lots of black fruit, menthol/camphor, fresh tannins.
2004 Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Port
Clean red fruits, more fresh grapes come through on this and it feels a little sweeter than the Bomfim. Balanced and rich.
2001 Warre's Quinta da Cavadinha Vintage Port
Delicate floral aromas, great texture, plums and blackberries. A steal at less than $40US if you can find it.
The Good Life
When it was time to retire to lunch in the Victorian-era family house's lovely terrace, we had delicious Porto Tonicos made with Dow's White Port. We then spent the rest of the afternoon slowly dining on delicious Portuguese dishes of rice and pork with a fine salad paired first with Altana White Douro wine, then more Graham's 20 with superb Portuguese farm cheeses. Taking in the spectacular view, snacking on cheese, sipping Port, I was reminding myself how fortunate I am to have these kinds of experiences. I hope you readers make the effort to get to Portugal, get out to the Douro Valley, and take it all in yourself.
Huge thanks to Euan Mackay of Symington Family Estates and of course, the I.V.D.P. for the opportunity to attend this excellent weekend celebrating the 260th anniversary of the region's demarcation.
In all my trips to the SoCAL wine country, one winery has always intrigued me, but I never had the chance to visit: Loring Wine Company. You know LWC by the cool purple stenciled logo on what seems like an endless assortment of Pinots from the best vineyards in California...I had a chance to barrel taste the 2015 releases with Brian Loring just days before they were bottled.
I came to the winery expecting mostly Pinot, but when I first walked in and saw his small riddling machine, Brian and I went deep into our mutual love for Champagne. He started in retail, at Victor's in Hollywood back when a bottle of Pol Roger Churchill was a minor splurge and the rappers hadn't pushed Cristal prices through the roof. What he is making in California isn't trying to be Champagne. It's pure California juice and the bottle I took home and tried was remarkable. There was a peachy, pear, deep Chardonnay flavor and a ripe roundness that makes this a great aperitif.
LWC is a small, family run operation, most duties handed either by Brian or his sister, Kimberly. They have designed and built a custom winery that seems to be just the right size --no plans to start making ten times the volume he makes now, all the barrels on one level for easy tasting and topping. We tasted maybe 20 barrels, many wines in both new-ish and then neutral oak, which I love to do. It's a great education tasting the same juice in various ages of barrels, and picking winemaker's brains about their barrel choices. For Brian, it's a mix that includes mostly French, but many American barrels --judiciously used.
Brian is sourcing from some of the best properties around in Santa Barbara County, Santa Lucia Highlands, Santa Rita Hills, and as far as the Russian River Valley (Brian's pal, Adam Lee at Siduri helps him deal with his long-distant fruit), so if you see LWC wines on your winemonger's shelf, grab it. My favs are the Sierra Mar Vineyard, Rosella's Vineyard, Gary's Vineyard, and Clos Pepe. Check out his site for details on individual wines. He only makes a few Chardonnays, but they are terrific as well. The crisp Santa Lucia Highlands and the Sierra Mar Vineyards both really popped. If you run across his Russell Family Vineyard Mouvèdre, grab it! I was treated to a 2011 and it was unabashedly rich, earthy, leathery juice. Great with grilled sausages.
Key tidbits from my visit: Everything is destemmed. Brian's not crazy about green food and says he doesn't want green vegetal flavors in the Pinot either! As I toured and tasted in the area for the next 2 days, I had lots of other juice that was partially whole cluster and it is a very different beast. Brian's wines are intentionally clean and high-toned, brightly colored, fresh tasting wines. Highly Recommended.
Every once in a while, the stars align, and I'm able to accept one of the wine dinner invites that come into my inbox. When the promise is some great Portuguese wines paired by a Portuguese wine expert with Chris Cosentino's creative food at Cockscomb, I clear my calendar! All the Portuguese tastings that I have attended have always had some well aged surprise in the mix, and this was no exception. This dinner was hosted by the Port and Douro Wines Institute. There was also a large scale trade tasting that I could not attend due to schedule conflicts.
Just a quick post to thank my table neighbors last night at PRIMA in Walnut Creek who after ogling their tasting group spread, sent over a glass. Of what, you may ask?
1982 Chateau Margaux
First of all, the wine was shockingly fresh and bright. The color had not an inkling of brown, cementing its place as a historically significant wine that will gracefully mature through the ages. I might even say the wine came through as not fully mature, stunning for a 34 year old wine. Insanely well balanced, with hints of menthol, smoke and cocoa --but hints, not hit-you-over-the-head aromas. Quite simply, the most finessed Margaux I have ever had.
The rest of the story:
My family loves Prima, and feel it really is the best restaurant in Walnut Creek. I brought a nice 2008 Matthiasson Red Blend to go with our meal.
When the four guys sat next to us and pulled out 3 bottles of Margaux, 1982, 1983, and 1989 I quickly introduced myself! They also proceeded to pull out a 1989 Haut Brion after ordering a nice bottle of bubbly. After just a few pleasant back-and-forths, they sent over a glass of the '82.
Thanks again, oh generous strangers! I'll be happy to join one of these evenings, guys! Sorry I didn't have one of my cards! Just ping my email!
Started my evening the other night by stopping by Yield Wine Bar for a taste of something and found a treat, the Vitivínicola Lafken, Casablanca, Chilean Riesling 2013. This is worth seeking out. It's fresh, clean, crisp --like a new world wine, but has an old-world heart. There are hints of petrol along with the lime and apricot scents with bracing acidity.
I was by myself, so I didn't have the whole menu...but I did try all the wines, of course. Started with a salad of garden greens, shallot, herbs, radish, flowers, and a red wine vinagrette. Followed that with an excellent braised pork rotolo with local moro beans and roasted purple potatoes.
Favorite #1: 2012 "Chianta" Etna Bianco - This golden colored, slightly sherried white from Carricante, Cataratto, and Minnella grapes, may not be for everyone, but it spoke strongly to me. It's toasty and bready, like a beautiful flat champagne with a nice grip of acid.
Favorite #2: 2010 Cisterna Fuori Etna Rosso - I hoarded this during the meal as it kept my interest both as a great pairing to the pork, and a great sipping wine on its own. It's medium bodied, has a lightly aged Nebbiolo nose to it and was in perfect shape. I would expect this wine has a few more peak years in it as well. Made from Nerello Mascalese & Nerello Cappuccio grapes.
The 2014 "Outis" Etna Bianco was a lovely light white, with an unusually strong white peach scent. Very appealing for a summer drink.
The 2012 Cisterna Fuori Etna Rosso was very ripe and fruity, deep in cherry fruit. This was a crowd pleaser in the room.
The 2013 "San Niccolo" Etna Rosso had a cru-Beajoulais nose, bright but deep. Very nice now at this young age, but will be stunning in a few years. I'll be looking out for this one.
For the last few decades (!) my family has been spending New Year's Eve with our dearest friends and we do lots of fancy cooking and drink some sumptuous wines. This year, we made the call to make a fancy Mexican feast and the gauntlet was thrown for wine. I can recommend two wines for your next Mexican Food pairing as they were great compliments to our menu.
There are few big challenges with paring with Mexican food. Chiles (heat), Tomatillos (acid), Cilantro (herbal) all demand careful selection. First and foremost with any spicy food, keep the alcohol level down as low as you can. Alcohol makes all hot food taste hotter, so leave your 15% Zinfandel and your 14.5% Carneros Chardonnay in the cellar. Reach instead for wines that are in the 13% or lower range if you can.
The menu was Sopas de Albondigos (Mexican Meatball soup) and 3 kinds of tamales: Puero con Chile Rojo, Pollo con salsa verde, and Queso con Chile.
For the white paring, I chose the 2012 Gramona Gessami (Penedes, Spain), from my favorite Cava producer, Gramona. I knew this would be very round in the mouth, low alcohol (11.5%) and low acid from the blend of 54% Muscat de Alejandría de grano gordo, 20% Muscat de Frontignan de grano menudo and 26% Sauvignon Blanc. I highly recommend this for pairing with chicken and tomatillos, or enchilladas suisas and it's both pretty easy to find and inexpensive. I paid around $17.
To pair with red chile dishes, I chose the wonderful 2010 Pithon-Paille Chinon “Vieilles Vignes” (France) This is all biodynamic Cabernet Franc from 80 year old vines in the Loire from an excellent producer, and around 20 dollars. Clocks in at 13% alcohol and it has both dark fruit and balanced tannins after a few years in the bottle. The cocoa powder notes of this wine paired would also pair very well with any red chile-based Mexican food. Look for great Chinon, Bourgueil, or Samur-Champigny rather than Cab Franc from the New World to keep the alcohol and ripness levels in check.
I began this year's Pinot Days at 7 a.m. Checking out all the links on the PD site of the new-to-me wineries and planning my day. This is a pretty big tasting, consisting of maybe 100 wineries, each with between 2 and 8 wines, so I needed a plan.
You can see my past survival guide posting, but this was pretty similar: get there early, bring a sandwich to have something to absorb what little wine actually goes down the gullet, drink a lot of water, start with new discoveries and finish with some old favorites. Spit Everything. (OK, maybe swallow some of the good stuff...)
Here are my favorites of new things to watch for. Most things were the 2012 vintage which are either just released or soon to be released.
2012 Wayfarer Vineyard and 2012 Golden Mean. Both top off the show. Awesome new project from Jayson Pahlmeyer. Look for 4 releases in Spring 2015.
2012 Dierberg -wow
2012 Dierberg Pommard Clones - deliciously darker than the Dierberg blend. I liked both a lot.
2010 Santa Maria - this is an AVA blend but spot-on Santa Maria character. A bit less expensive than the vineyard-designate wines.
Fel Wines (part of the Cliff Lede group, and owner of a Savoy Vineyards)
2012 Anderson Valley
2012 Savoy - great example of the fine grapes coming out of Savoy
2012 Sonoma Coast - loved this. White pepper and blackberry life-saver
2012 Keefer -delicious.
2012 Occidental Ridge pre-release
2012 Hirsch pre-release. Tight, but will be super
Merriman (Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette, Oregon)
2012 Cummins Road -this is his non-reserve and I preferred this light, young-Burgundy scent, body, and taste. One to watch in the coming years.
Bucher (famed grower for Williams-Seleyam, etc)
2012 Estate Pinot Russian River - picked low-Brix and is pretty, without the sometimes stewed character of RR Valley Pinots
In addition to my Tuesday tasting notes, D-G had two more exceptional Pinots:
2012 Fox Run - nice little brioche on the nose
2012 Devil's Gulch - Spicy. This will get less angular in the cellar.
Ellero (Central Otago, NZ) currently no California Distribution
2011 Pisa Terrace Central Otago - nice young Burgundy style
2011 Laurbach Vineyards -cool-style Russian River. Nice.
2011 Bersini Vineyards - nice Carneros offering
2011 Atune - a touch of sweeter fruit on this, but still leaning on the red-berry fruit side.
2012 Atune nice. One to watch.
2011 Santa Catalina - yes! From the first grapes planted on Catalina Island.
2012 Solomon Hills - nice example from Solomon Hills!
2012 Santa Rita Hills Reserve - fine dark berry center
2011 Russian River Valley Pinot - I like the boost from more whole clusters
2011 Gap's Crown - Delicious Sonoma Coaster! One to keep watching.