Portugal


The title of this post says it all: Some Big-Hearted, Two-Fisted Reds for That Memorial Day Cook-Out. We cover a wide geographical range: Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Australia, Napa Valley and Lake County in California. Whether you’re grilling hots dogs or sausages, burgers or steaks; pork chops or leg of lamb or ribs, there’s a robust red for you. No technical, historical or specific regional/terroir-type information; just quick, incisive, evocative reviews intending to whet the palate and create a craving. If you’re lucky enough to merit a three-day weekend, have fun, consume alcohol moderately, drive safely and remember that Memorial Day honors the men and women of the American military forces who gave their lives so that we could enjoy our rights and freedoms — whatever party and philosophy we subscribe to and however ambiguously we regard the notion, the operation and the effectiveness of our pretty darned great but surely imperfect democracy. These wines were samples for review or were tasted at trade events. There are some truly great bargains among these reviews.
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Monte Velho 2010, Alentejano, Portugal. 13.5% alc. Grapes: trincadeira 40%, aragonez 40%, castelao 20%. Well, this is really different, beginning with the trio of indigenous grapes. Boisterously spicy, buoyantly fruity, dark and alluring; currants, plums, mulberries and more than a touch of some wild exotic thing; briers, brambles, soft slightly grainy tannins; notes of dried spice, dried flowers; fruit and spice-packed finish with a graphite-slate element. Nothing complicated, mind you, but tasty and, well, different. Very Good. About $10, an Amazing Value.
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San Huberto Malbec 2010, Castro Barras, La Rioja, Argentina. 13% alc. Inky-ruby color; clean and fresh yet dusty, earthy and minerally; black olive and celery seed, thyme and cedar, black currants and black cherry with a hint of blueberry; wild, untamed, close to exotic, solid structure with dusty, fine-grained tannins and spicy oak; touches of licorice and pomegranate, quince paste and macerated figs wrapped about a black tea and bittersweet chocolate core; dense, dark, almost brooding finish. Now to 2015 to ’16. Excellent. About $11, a Bargain of the Century.
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Lamadrid Single Vineyard Reserve Malbec 2008, Mendoza, Argentina. 14% alc. Dark ruby-purple; ink, iron and iodine bouquet, mint and lavender; dusty, intense and concentrated black currants and plums with a hint of wild berry; impressive weight and substance married to a paradoxical sense of refinement, even delicacy; finely-milled tannins; subtle, supple oak; bright acidity; a moderately long finish freighted with clean earth and underbrush qualities. Now through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $15, representing Great Value.
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Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz Cabernet 2008, Limestone Coast, Australia. ?% alc. Medium ruby color; intense and generous, a little fleshy and meaty, mint, eucalyptus, cherry-berry and an unusual touch of strawberry; exotic spice; earthy, smooth, honed tannins, a minerally-foresty back-note. Lots of personality, almost charming. Now through 2013. Very Good+. About $17.
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Burgo Viejo Reserva 2006, Rioja, Spain. 85% tempranillo, 10% garnacha, 5% carignan. Deep ruby with a dark violet rim and a purple center; tobacco leaf, sandalwood, bacon fat and tar; vivid notes of black and red currants and cherries, undertones of rose petal and fruitcake; then hints of leather, cloves, sandalwood and green peppercorns; beautifully balanced and integrated, dense, slightly grainy tannins, a subtle and supple oak influence for a firm foundation and framework, a burgeoning element of graphite-like minerality; spiced and macerated black and blue fruit flavors; vibrant acidity, a sleek, spice-and-floral finish. Through 2015 or 2016. Excellent. About $19, a Great Bargain in a mature Rioja.
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Obsidian Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Red Hills, Lake County, California. 14.3% alc. 94% cabernet sauvignon, 3% each cabernet franc and petit verdot. Deep ruby-purple; sleek and scintillating, notably clean and fresh, a powerhouse of spicy black and blue fruit scents and flavors strictly tempered by layers of earthy, dusty graphite and plush finely-milled mineral-laced tannins dressed out with vibrant acidity; comes close to being elegant, though concealing a barrow-load of coiled energy. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $30.
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Mullineux Syrah 2008, Swartland Wine of Origin, South Africa. Dark ruby color; black and red currants, plums, fruitcake, a spike of black pepper and cloves; very earthy and spicy, wild and ripe mulberries, blueberries and plums; deeply earthy, supple, sinewy, bolstered by plush, grainy tannins and dusty granite; exuberant acidity and a long, spice-packed finish. Quite a performance. now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $33.
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Priest Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Napa Valley. 14.9% alc. With 3% petite sirah. Dark ruby-purple; penetrating graphite and granite minerality, a real charcoal edge; cranberry, mulberry and black currant, very dry, dense and chewy, velvety, touch of iodine and iron, smooth integrated tannins; deeply spicy and slightly austere finish. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.
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One of the advantages of tawny port is that it has already been aged for you and is ready to drink when opened; another is that it tends to be less expensive, often much less, than the Vintage Porto that grabs all the headlines and is produced in small quantities. Tawny ports are left to age in barrels until they reach the desired point of maturity and character, so that, unlike Vintage Porto, they do not develop once they have been bottled. Tawny ports that carry age designations, usually 10, 20, 30 or 40 years, are typically made (or should be made) from high quality grapes to maintain a level of integrity. Those age designations are approximations, generally meaning an average; a 10-year-old tawny may be blended from wines from five to 15 years old. Remember that port is a fortified wine whose fermentation is stopped by the addition of pure spirits, resulting in sweetness and relatively high alcohol, about 19 to 20 percent.

Warre’s launched its Otima label a few years ago in an effort to modernize the rather staid image of port in general and tawnies in particular. The design is simple and stylish, and unlike most port bottles, the glass is clear rather than opaque. Warre’s, the oldest British Port house, established in 1670, is owned by the Symington family, which also owns Cockburn’s, Dow’s, Gould Campbell, Graham’s, Quarles Harris, Quinta do Vesuvio and Smith Woodhouse.

Warre’s Otima 10 Ten Year Old Tawny Porto sports a radiant medium copper-amber color with a faintly lighter rim; as the case should be with a 10-year-old tawny, the nose is a subtle yet complex weaving of toasted coconut, toasted almonds, rum-soaked raisins and citrus fruit, and fruitcake with overtones of orange rind and a touch of the exotic in hints of cloves, sandalwood and mango. In the mouth, this tawny is fairly direct, rather fiery initially, and it slides over the palate with sleek ease; what it lacks in depth it makes up for with the suavity and smoothness of its brown-sugar-and-rum-tinged citrus, plum and fig flavors and the authority of its vibrant acidity; sweet on the intake, it turns quite dry by the finish. Made for sipping after dinner sitting out on the porch. 20 percent alcohol. Serve slightly chilled. Very Good+. About $26 for a 500ml bottle.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, American Canyon, Ca. A sample for review.


Yes, I know that it’s Saturday, but I was severely under the weather yesterday — but aren’t we always under some kind of weather? — suffering from the insult of a sinus infection added to the injury of bronchitis; my chest is wheezing like a broken concertina. Duty calls, however, so, for this entry of Friday Wine Sips, eight varied red wines from various places (because it’s cold today), arranged in order of ascending price (as good as any other order) and eschewing the details of history, geography, personality and winemaking techniques for the sake of brevity and immediacy. These were all samples for review.
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Santa Carolina Reserva Pinot Noir 2010, Maule Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. Weedy, briery, sinewy, tannic. Upon what evidence does this astringent wine claim to be pinot noir or anything drinkable? Not recommended. About $10.
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Roth Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County. 14.4% alc. 83% cabernet sauvignon, 16% cabernet franc, 1% merlot. Dense, intense, concentrated; grainy tannins and sleek oak; cedar, sandalwood, bay leaf and vanilla, black currants and cherries; briery, foresty finish; nothing offensive, but feels as if it were designed by a committee from a check-list. Very Good. About $28.
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Pombal do Vesuvio 2008, Douro, Portugal. 13% alc. A table wine made from the Port grapes. Dust, graphite, stewed blueberries and plums, cloves; roasted and fleshy but with a distinct mineral edge; bright, clean acidity; real backbone and structure; earthy, robust, a little wild and rustic. Quite a mouthful for hearty braised meat dishes. Very Good+. About $28.
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V. Sattui Henry Ranch Pinot Noir 2009, Los Carneros, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Lovely pinot but with grip and grit; black cherry, woody spice, rose petal and lavender, cloves and sassafras; mulberry, graphite; acidity that cuts a swath on the palate through black and blue fruit; beetroot, moss, briers, deep satiny texture. Lavish yet elegant. Excellent. About $39.
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V, Sattui Black Sears Vineyard Zinfandel 2009, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Deep and rich but fleet and light on its feet initially; black currants, mulberries, plums; macerated and slightly stewed black and blue fruit hedged by burgeoning tannins; earth, leather, brambles, Platonic dark cherries; dense and succulent but not plush or opulent; plenty of stuffing and grit. Excellent. About $42.
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V. Sattui Quaglia Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel 2009, Napa Valley. 15% alc. Deep, spicy, very rich; plummy and jammy blackberry and black currant; radiantly floral; but very dry, very austere, ultimately unbalanced, tons of tannin; too dense, too thick, too cloying. Not recommended. About $39.
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Tenuta Sant’Antonio “Selezione Antonio Castagnedi” Amarone della Valpolicella 2007, Veneto, Italy. 15.5% alc. 70% corvina, 20% rondinella, 5% each croatina and oseleta. Generous, expansive, rich, warm and spicy; deeply imbued with roasted and slightly macerated black currant, blackberry and plum aromas and flavors permeated by cloves and sandalwood; deep-down earthy and tinged with graphite-like minerality; brooding yet manageable tannins; exotic, savory. A modern Amarone perfect for venison and game birds, for the trappings of black truffles and blood sausages. Excellent. About $42-$45.
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Antiyal 2009, Maipo Valley, Chile. 14.5% alc. 41% carmenère, 35% cabernet sauvignon, 24% syrah. Ambitious, a bit showy; smoky, syrah-carmenère wildness and funkiness; black olive, cedar, thyme, black currants and blueberries; lip-smacking acidity, dry gritty tannins; lots of power and sheen. Bring on the dry-aged ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the grill. Very Good+. About $65.
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Sunday is the Big Day, and millions of Americans will gather in their caves around open fires, er, I mean, in their dens, media rooms and home theaters around the hypnotic glow of large-screen televisions to watch Super Bowl XLVI and devour billions of chicken wings, pigs-in-blankets and cheesy barbecue nachos. Many will drink beer, of course, yet there are wines perfectly suited to the hearty, fat-and-calorie-laden snacks that will be crammed into mouths, er, I mean, politely nibbled during the hours when the Giants and Patriots are pummeling each other in Indianapolis. Here, then, are 10 deep, dark, spicy, wild and/or brooding wines that call out to your bowl of chile, your platter of grilled sausages.

As is the case with these “Friday Wine Sips,” I go straight to the brief review and offer no technical, historical of geographical data. What you see is what you get. Unless otherwise indicated, these wines were samples for review. Image from 123rf.com.
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Alamos Red Blend 2010, Mendoza, Argentina. 13.5% alc. 40% malbec, 18% tempranillo, 14% bonarda, 14% cabernet sauvignon, 7% petit verdot, 7% syrah. Very tasty; robust, hearty, deep, dark and spicy; ripe black and blue fruit scents and flavors permeated by briers and brambles, dense and chewy tannins and sifted mineral elements, all bolstered by vibrant acidity. Not a blockbuster, but definitely a bruiser. Very Good. About $13.
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Zanthos Zweigelt 2009, Burgenland, Austria. 13% alc. Black as the night that covers me from pole to pole, this one radiates tarry, earthy spicy black currant, boysenberry and plum fruit edged with leather, graphite and wild mulberry jam. These boots were made for drinking. Very Good+. About $14 and Worth a Search.
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Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Paso Robles, California. 13.5% alc. Miles better than most cabs at the price; loads of character and integrity; weaves the requisite strands of vivid, fresh black currant, black raspberry and plum aromas and flavors supported by spicy oak and clean, tightly-drawn acidity, all spread over a bedrock of earthy, graphite-like minerality and a bit of forest. Delicious intensity and simple purity. It’ll ring yer bell. Very Good+. About $14, a Real Bargain.
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Lee Family Farm Silvaspoons Vineyard Rio Tinto 2009, Alta Mesa, Lodi. 13.4% alc. Made from Port grapes: tinta roriz 34%, touriga nacional 28%, alvarelbo 19%, touriga francesa 19%. Blackish ruby-purple color; spicy oak, spicy black currant, black raspberry and blackberry fruit; did I say spicy yet? Deep and dark, yet placid, smooth, despite grainy tannins and elements of underbrush and earthy graphite; then, a whiff of violets. Manly but not muscle-bound. 400 cases. Very Good+. About $16.
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Lenore Syrah 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington State. (Corvidae Wine Co., by Owen Roe) 14.4% alc. Big, shaggy, juicy; black currants, blueberries and blackberry jam infused with Port; smoke, ash, roasted plums, furry tannins set amid earthy, glittering iron filings-like minerality. A fountain of fortitude. Very Good+. I paid $16, but you see it around the country as low as $12.
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Modern Wine Project Malbec 2007, Columbia Valley, Washington State. (Sleight of Hand Cellars) 14.5% alc. 100% malbec. A Rough Rider of a red wine, robust and rustic, a bit shaggy in the tannin arena, but bursting with dark, smoky and spicy black currant, blueberry and black plum flavors — a little fleshy, a little meaty — framed by polished oak and dusty graphite. Neither bashful nor apologetic. Very Good+. Prices all over the map, but look for $19 to $22.
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Maquis Carmemère 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile. 14% alc. Dry, dusty and earthy; blatantly spicy, earthy and mineral-laced; very intense and concentrated; the blackest and bluest of fruit, spiced and macerated, a little roasted and fleshy; lots of stones and bones, bastions of fine-grained tannins. Needs a bowl of chili to unleash its testosterone. Very Good+. About $20.
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Vale do Bofim Reserva 2009, Douro, Portugal. (Symington Family Estates) 13.5% alc. Mainly touriga nacional grapes. Fresh, spicy, another wild, uninhibited wine; penetrating and poignant aromas and flavors of blackberry, black currants and plums with clear tones of blueberry and mulberry, etched with floral elements and leather, vivid acidity and polished tannins; dry, dense, chewy. Excellent. About $23.
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Owen Roe Ex Umbris Syrah 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington State. 14.1% alc. If deep purple had a smell and taste, this would be it. Rich, warm, spicy, enticing bouquet; black currants, black raspberries and blueberries; deeply imbued with leather, underbrush and forest floor; hints of wet dog and damp moss; ripe, fleshy, meaty; dusty granite and a touch of rhubarb and boysenberry. Cries out for barbecue brisket, ribs, osso buco. “Ex Umbris” means “from the shadows.” Excellent. About $24. (I paid $30.)
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I have been inundated by press releases suggesting that Port would make an appropriate gift for Father’s Day, despite the fact that a great deal of the country is sweltering under unprecedented high temperatures. (“Hey, honey, the paint’s melting off the walls. Let’s open that bottle of Port!”) I do understand the impulse, though. Fathers are men and men are manly, and manly men sit enthroned in their studies or libraries, comforted by the ease of their leather wingback chairs, surrounded by ancient leather-bound books, dim portraits of famous racing horses and beloved hunting dogs, admiring their collections of antique canes, dueling pistols, hand-colored maps and shaving brushes and sipping on a fine old vintage Port, while a Cuban cigar importantly smolders in an ash-tray nearby. I mean, that’s how I live and I assume that’s how the rest of you fathers and manly men live; Port is just a natural part of being a man, n’est-ce pas?

So I will recommend a Port that you can run out today and buy for Dad and that can be drunk now, rather than waiting five or 10 years for a Vintage Port. This is the Fonseca Bin No. 27 “Finest Reserve” Porto, and it’s the finest, to borrow that word, reserve-type port I have tasted in years. A “reserve” Port is basically a Premium Ruby Port that offers more character and depth than a typical pedestrian Ruby Port, the latter having earned a reputation over the years as a catch-all for the lowest-common denominator of blended and pasteurized products suited for a cheap and easy binge. After all, didn’t Pope pen a couplet something like this:

By the lamp-post a tilting sot holds down the fort,
awash in the sickly reek of ruby port.


Well, actually, I wrote that, but you see what I mean, right? No wonder we don’t encounter the term “ruby port” much on labels nowadays; “reserve” conveys a far better tone, and most Port firms now offer a brand of Reserve Port that exemplifies their house style.

Anyway, the color of the Fonseca Bin No. 27 “Finest Reserve” Porto is dark ruby-purple, opaque at the center, with a tinge of plum/magenta at the rim. The aromas begin with a high grapy note that expands into blackberries, black currants and plums infused with spice cake and plum pudding — there’s a plum motif — licorice and lavender, a touch of bacon fat and stewed rhubarb; a few minutes in the glass bring in a touch of dusty graphite. This Reserve Porto is powerfully sweet initially but quickly goes dry, from mid-palate back, under the influence of sleek dust-laden tannins and rollicking acidity; luscious black and blue fruit flavors fill the mouth and arrow brightly over the tongue, bringing hints of cloves and citron, slate and potpourri. The finish is long, rich and deep. A Reserve Port of uncommon intensity which, once opened, will drink nicely for three or four days. 20 percent alcohol. Excellent and A True Bargain at about $19.

Imported by Kobrand Corp., Purchase, N.Y. A sample for review.


Dow’s Vale do Bomfim 2008, from Portugal’s Douro Valley, is a great little wine to drink with pizza and red-sauce pasta dishes, burgers, braised meats, barbecue ribs and such. Dow is, of course, one of the distinguished Port houses owned by the Symington family; this wine is made from the same kinds of grapes that go into vintage and reserve Ports, in this case 55 percent tinta barroca, 22 percent tinta roriz (the Spanish tempranillo), 3 percent each tourga nacional and touriga franca and 17 percent “mixed old vines,” which I assume means a field blend of several “old vine” varieties. The wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks and then aged nine months in American oak barrels. Winemakers are Charles Symington and Pedro Correia. The wine is as dark as night, exuberantly smoky and spicy, plummy and peppery, with whole baskets, it seems, of black plums, blueberries and mulberries woven with notes of lavender, violets, potpourri and graphite and just a hint of dried thyme and black olive. If that description makes the wine sound irresistible, it is, though along the parameters of basic, direct appeal. Still, Vale do Bomfim 2008 gradually delves into depths of spice and granite-like minerals, dusty tannins and meaty black and blue fruit flavors supported by vibrant acidity. 13.9 percent alcohol. Now through 2012. Very Good+. About $12, representing Great Value.

Imported by Premier Port Wines, Inc., San Francisco.

Weary of winter’s woe? In my neck o’ the woods, we’re heading into balmier weather — though at this moment some attempt in the sky is being made to fling down a few rain-drops — but I see from my Facebook friends in other parts of the country that cold temperatures and even snow continue to prevail. Perhaps one or several of these fresh, spring-like wines — eight white and one rosé — will lift your spirits and set your minds on a more pleasant path.

These wines were samples for review.
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The Broadbent Vinho Verde, nv, is made from the traditional grapes of Portugal’s Vinho Verde region, loureiro (50%, in this case), trajadura (40%) and pedernã (10%). The wines are typically bottled with a fritz of carbon dioxide to give them a sprightly hint of spritz, and this lively example is no different. The Broadbent VV, made all in stainless steel, is fresh, crisp and exhilarating, with touches of roasted lemon and lemon balm, thyme and bay and a bit of hay-like grassiness; it’s quite dry and snappy with vigorous acidity and a background of chalk, but all very light, delicate and free. Delightful for immediate drinking and an attractive aperitif. 9 percent alcohol. Very good. About $11.
The Vinho Verde region lies mainly to the north but also to the east and southeast of the city of Oporto in northern Portugal; in fact, one drives through Vinho Verde to reach the Port country of the Douro Valley, passing from the light-hearted to the sublime.
Imported by Broadbent Selections, San Francisco.
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“Lucky Edition” #9 is actually the 13th release of Sokol Blosser’s cleverly conceived, made, marketed and, one assumes, profitable Evolution series of blended white wines, though since the premise is partly based on the notion of luck, well, they couldn’t put the bad luck number 13 on the label, could they? So the “#9″ pays homage to the array of grapes of which the wine is composed: these are: pinot gris, muller-thurgau, “white” riesling (the great majority of producers just use “riesling” now on labels), semillon, muscat canelli, gewürztraminer, pinot blanc, chardonnay and sylvaner. The wine carries an “American” designation because the grapes derive from several states; in that case, also, no vintage date is allowed by the TTB, that is, the federal Trade ‘n’ Tax Bureau that oversees label terminology. Anyway, Evolution “Lucky Edition” #9 — which I wrote about before yet this is the bottle that was sent to me recently (O.K., several months ago) — is about as beguiling as they come, brothers and sisters, wafting in the direction of your nose a winsome weaving of jasmine and honeysuckle, ripe peaches and pears, lychee and guava imbued with loads of spice; the wine is gently sweet on the entry but by mid-palate it turns quite dry and crisp, with a taut, rather spare texture running through juicy roasted lemon, pear and lime peel flavors devolving to a limestone-and-chalk-laced finish awash with bracing grapefruit acidity. Drink up. A pretty damned lovely aperitif and, at the risk of triteness, great with moderately spicy Asian food. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
(Evolution 14th Edition is now on the market.)
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“Sauvignon blanc” says the label of The Climber Sauvignon Blanc 2009, California, but the rule is that for a non-estate-produced wine, the proportion of the grape stated on the label need only be 75 percent, so this is 80 percent sauvignon blanc. What’s the balance? Thirteen percent pinot gris, 5 percent riesling and 1 percent each pinot meunier (seldom seen outside of Champagne) and muscat. These grapes derive from Lake and Mendocino counties and from Lodi. The color is pale straw; first one perceives leafy, grassy aromas permeated by dried thyme and tarragon, and then pungent earthy notes followed by a flagrantly appealing parade of roasted lemon and lemon balm, pear and melon and tangerine. In the mouth, we get pear and melon jazzed with lemon drop, lime peel and grapefruit; the wine is quite dry, quite crisp and lively, though crackling acidity cannot quell a lovely, soft, encompassing texture. The wine is made all in stainless steel, with no malolactic fermentation, to retain freshness and vitality. 13.7 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12.
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Most producers in California label their sauvignon blanc wines either sauvignon blanc, implying a Bordeaux-style white wine, or fumé blanc, a term invented by Robert Mondavi in the mid 1960s to indicate, theoretically, a Loire Valley-style sauvignon blanc in the fashion of Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé. Murphy-Goode has it both ways with “The Fumé” Sauvignon Blanc 2009, confirming what many people assumed long ago, and that there is no differentiation between whatever was once meant by the two designations. Anyway, the Murphy-Goode “The Fumé” Sauvignon Blanc 2009, North Coast, bursts with florid notes of caraway and tarragon and thyme, lemongrass, lime peel and grapefruit with a hint of dusty shale and grassy leafiness; quite a performance, nose-wise. (There’s a dollop of semillon in the wine.) Then, the wine is crisp, dry, snappy, sprightly, scintillating with vivacious acidity and limestone elements that support lemon and lime flavors with a high peal of leafy black currant at the center. Through the 2007 vintage, this wine carried an Alexander Valley appellation but now displays the much broader North Coast designation. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12.50.
Founded in 1985 in Alexander Valley by Dale Goode, Tim Murphy and Dave Ready, Murphy-Goode has been owned since 2006 by Jackson Family Wines of Kendall-Jackson.
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The Crios de Susana Balbo Rosé of Malbec 2010, Mendoza, Argentina — produced by Dominio del Plata — sports an entrancing watermelon/cerise color that practically shimmers in the glass. This smells like pure strawberry for a moment or two, until subtle hints of raspberry, melon and red currant sneak in, pulling in, shyly, notes of damp stones and slightly dusty dried herbs. This pack surprising heft for a rosé, though it remains a model of delicacy as far as its juicy red fruit flavors are concerned. It’s quite dry, a rose of stones and bones, with a finish drawn out in Provencal herbs, shale and cloves. Drink up. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very good+. Prices around the country range from about $10 to $14.
Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Cal.
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The Hugel et Fils “Cuvée Les Amours” Pinot Blanc 2008, Alsace, represents stunning value. The bouquet is ripe and exotic, even a little fleshy for a white wine, with notes of spiced and macerated peaches and pears, a hint of lemon and camellia and touches of ginger and quince. The wine — and this is Hugel’s basic “Hugel” line made from grapes purchased on long-term contract — offers a supple, silken, almost talc-like texture shot through with exciting acidity and a vibrant limestone element that burgeons from mid-palate back through a crisp, spicy, herb-infused finish. There’s something wild here, a high note of fennel and tangerine, a clean spank of earthiness that contributes to the wine’s depth and confident aplomb. “Cuvée Les Amours” 2008 should age and mellow nicely, well-stored, through 2015 or ’16. Alcohol content is 12 percent. Excellent. About — ready? — $15.
Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York.
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Here’s another wine that’s a combination of multiple grapes. The Peter Lehmann Layers White Wine 2010, from Australia’s Adelaide region, is blended from semillon (37%), muscat (20.5%), gewürztraminer (19.5%), pinot gris (19%) and chardonnay (4%). Made all in stainless steel, the wine offers a shimmering pale straw color; aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, lemon balm and lemon curd, greengage and yellow plums and peaches entice the nose, opening to slightly leafy and grassy elements and a hint of bee’s-wax. The wine is delicate, clean and crisp and to the citrus and yellow fruit adds traces of tangerine and pear, with, in the spicy, stony finish, a boost of grapefruit bitterness. Completely charming, a harbinger of spring’s easy-sipping aperitif wines or sip with asparagus risotto, chicken salad, and white gazpacho, made with bread, grapes,cucumbers, almonds, olive oil and garlic. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.
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The Tesch Riesling-Unplugged 2008, a trocken or dry wine from Germany’s Nahe region, embodies what we mean by the term “pure minerality.” (The estate, by the way, dates back to 1723, which is venerable but not as old as Hugel, which was founded in 1639.) Every molecule of this wine feels permeated by limestone and shale, even its hints of peach and pear and touches of yellow plum and lychee; every molecule of this wine feels permeated by nervy, electrifying acidity, as if you could take its staggeringly crisp, pert nature in your hands and break it into sharp-edged shards. It might as well have the words “fresh oysters” etched into its transparently crystalline presence. The restrictive term Gutsabfüllung on the back label means that the wine was bottled by the producer; the more common usage is Erzaugerabfüllung. Drink now through 2012 or ’13. Alcohol content is 11.5 percent. Very Good+. About $20.
Sorry, I can’t find the name of the U.S. importer for wines from Tesch, but the Riesling-Unplugged 2008 is available in this country.
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I was a fan of the 2007 version of Swanson’s Pinot Gris — I didn’t taste the 2008 — and I was equally pleased with the Swanson Pinot Grigio 2009, Napa Valley. Made completely in stainless steel, this is smooth and suave, freighted with spice and touches of roasted lemon and lemon balm, lemongrass, lychee and, in the background, a hint of softly macerated peach and the grape’s characteristic notes of almond and almond blossom. Bright, vibrant acidity keeps the wine, well, bright and vibrant, suitable support for cleanly-defined pear and melon flavors ensconced in a slightly weighty body that deftly combines lean, transparent muscularity with a silken blur of spice and dried herbs. Terrific character for a sort of northeastern Italian-styled pinot grigio, though not many from that area are nearly this good. 13.6 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $21.
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We were introduced to sorrel soup by Justin Young, who was chef at the now closed La Tourelle (in Memphis) in the early 2000s. Not having had such a thing in years, we bought a pound of sorrel at the Memphis Farmers Market last Saturday — the market will not open again until April — and looked for a recipe, which we found in the essential Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters (HarperCollins, 1996).

Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is a green leafy vegetable, accounted more as an herb that vegetable in some national cuisines, whose chief characteristic is a sour grassy character that derives from oxalic acid, which is fatally poisonous in large quantities. How large? Sources aren’t very specific about that point. More than a pound certainly. Perhaps a bale.

Anyway the issue that intrigued me was what wine to drink with sorrel soup. That notable sour quality, which possesses a hint of sweetness — LL likened it to pulling up a grass stem and sucking on the root, a memory from childhood — might be a challenge to any number of wines. (The sourness is leavened somewhat by the gentle stewing in chicken stock of diced potatoes, carrots and onions.) In the interest of research, I lined up five white wines, several of which seemed probable matches and at least one of which seemed doomed to failure by its very nature. These were the wines we tried: Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuissé 2008; Grinalda Vinho Verde 2009; Albert Mann Pinot Blanc 2008; Mendel Semillon 2009; Unus Old Vine Macabeo 2009. These wines were samples for review.
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Among this experiment’s surprises was how well, even how profoundly so, the Domaine Ferret Pouilly-Fuissé 2008 went with the sorrel soup. The domaine was founded in 1840; the Burgundian negociant Louis Jadot acquired the property in 2008. The wine is, of course, made completely from chardonnay grapes; it ages half-and-half in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels and sees no new oak. I had doubts about chardonnay pairing with the earthy sourness of the sorrel, but the wine’s purity and intensity, its crystalline acidity and minerality created a risky synergy that practically vibrated in our beings. The wine is a medium gold color; aromas of roasted lemon are permeated by ripe peach and pear, with traces of quince and ginger and a hint of camellia. Befitting its pedigree and reputation — “the Montrachet of Pouilly-Fuissé” — the wine delivers wonderful presence and body yet remains delicate, fleet and racy. Citrus flavors dominated by lemon with a touch of lime peel are deeply imbued with baking spices but even more with depths of limestone-like minerality and scintillating acidity. Drink now through 2014 or ’15 (well-stored). Alcohol content is 13.5 percent. Excellent. About $30.

Imported by Kobrand, New York.
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Let’s turn to the simplest of these wines, simplest yet definitely lively, tasty and appealing. This is Aveleda’s Grinalda Vinho Verde 2009, from the vast Vinho Verde region that stretches north from the seacoast town of Oporto to the river Minho and also east and southeast of Oporto. (You drive east through this area to reach the Port estates of the Douro Valley.) The wine is a blend of loureiro grapes (55%), trajaduras (32%) and alvarinho (13%). These “green wines” are fresh and vigorous and intended for early drinking. Made all in stainless steel, the clean, fresh Grinalda Vinho Verde 2009 bursts with scents and flavors of apples, pears and spiced lemons bolstered by heaps of earthy limestone and vivid acidity. There you have it, and you could not ask for anything more from such a fresh, delightful wine. Drink over the next six months. Alcohol content is 11.5 percent. Very Good+. About $14.

How did this match with the sorrel soup? It didn’t. The sourness of the sorrel washed right over it, tromped on it, obliterated it, left it for dead.

Imported by Winbow, New York.
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Let’s go back to France for the Albert Mann Pinot Blanc 2008, from Alsace. The estate is the result of the joining of two venerable grower families in Alsace, the Manns and the Barthelmes, each of which has been cultivating grapes since the first half of the 17th Century. The Albert Mann Pinot Blanc 2008 is absolutely lovely in every aspect. The color is bright, shimmering medium gold; aromas of apple and spiced pear, with a touch of leafy fig and orange rind, all founded on the dominent presence of limestone, balloon from the glass. The paradox of a texture that’s both suave and elegant, on the one hand, and nervy and crisp, on the other hand, contributes considerably to the wine’s charm and fascination. It’s quite lively and dry, vibrant with limestone- and shale-like minerality, and its spicy, slightly earthy citrus qualities increase through the finish. The estate is organically managed and certified by Ecocert. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Closed with a screw-cap. Excellent. About $20.

This was lovely with the sorrel soup, having the interesting effect of bringing out the herb’s hint of sweetness.

Imported by Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, Penn.
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Another very attractive match with the sorrel soup was the Mendel Semillon 2009, from the Altamira-Uco Valley area of Argentina’s Mendoza region. The vines, which stand at 3,600-feet elevation, are more than 60 years old, lending the wine irresistible depth and character. Fifteen percent of the wine aged eight months in new American oak barrels. Hay, honey and waxy white flowers, roasted lemon and lemon balm are woven in the seductive bouquet. If you can tear yourself away from these heady aromas, you’re treated to a wine that in texture and structure is as refined and ingratiating as you could ask for, though I don’t mean to imply that the wine is wimpy or over-delicate; in fact, it feels rather as if it had been honed from limestone and slate and burnished to a sheen with a little of that oak (and plowed by keen acidity). It’s sunny, leafy, with touches of fig and fresh-mown grass, hints of cloves and ginger, greengage and pear. Quite an experience, round, complete, balanced, complex. 900 six-packs were imported. 13.6 percent alcohol. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $25 and Worth a Search.

Imported by Vine Connections, Sausalito, Cal.
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Last, we come to a wine that was fine, you know just fine, with the sorrel soup but opened to more astonishment than the other wines because of its amazing quality and price ration. I wrote previously about the great bargain called Agustin Cubero Unus Old Vine Garnacha 2007. Today it the turn of that wine’s stablemate, the Unus Old Vine Macabeo 2009, likewise from Spain’s Calatayud region, situated about halfway between Barcelona and Madrid (but closer to Zaragoza). The macabeo grape is also known, perhaps better-known, as viura, though clearly we’re not taking sauvignon blanc here. Made all in stainless steel, the wine is beguiling, intriguing and really pretty. Grass and hay, dried wild flowers, cloves and allspice, apple and pear, quince and ginger — all combine to charm and enchant. Now in truth these sensual qualities so seductive in the bouquet also characterize what goes on in the mouth; there’s no sense that flavors develop beyond the aspects of the bouquet (though the texture — the “mouthfeel” — is graceful and delightful), but who cares when the price is — ready? — a wallet-busting $9. Buy this by the case for drinking over the next year. The rating is Very Good+. A Bargain of the Century and Worth a Search.

Scoperta Imports, Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
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Except for vintage port, the wines of Portugal have languished in relative obscurity. That has not been a bad situation, because it has kept international trends and the pressures of the marketplace from the doors of small producers. Circumstances have changed in Portugal, as indeed everywhere, since the middle of the 1990s, bringing more Portuguese wines to our shores as well as opening producers to global marketing and ideas. This process is certainly occurring in an off-the-beaten-track region like Alentejo, nestled against the Spanish border southeast of Lisbon. Here the kings of the vineyards are tempranillo, which goes by the local name aragonês, and the alicante bouschet grape, which doesn’t get a whole hell of a lot of respect elsewhere in the world.

The unusual wine I’m urging on you today — as a great gift for a wine person or for yourself because you were so good this year — is Malhadinha Tinto 2004, made in the Alentejo region by the small producer, Herdade da Malhadinha Nova. The simple winery and the vineyards occupy an abandoned farm purchased by the Soares family in 1996. Winemaker is Luis Duarte. This is the first vintage of the wine brought into the U.S.

Composed of 45 percent aragonês grapes, 40 percent alicante bouschet and 15 percent cabernet sauvignon, Malhadinha Tinto 2004 is drop-dead gorgeous. Yes, I actually wrote those words, and I’m not sorry. You could stop at the Penelope Cruz-like bouquet of cassis, hot stones, smoke, coffee, mocha and tar, but then you would miss the wine’s lovely shape and tone, its robust and vigorous nature, its ripe black currant and plum flavors infused with baking spices and sweet oak, all tempered by supple, chewy tannins and a background of crushed gravel. Malhadinha 2004 aged 14 months in new French oak barrels, but the wood influence is beautifully integrated into the texture and dimension of the wine, so there’s no taint of new oak toastiness or creaminess; instead, vibrant acidity gets the last word. Production was 1,433 cases. Excellent. About $90.

More accessible, at one-third the price, is this wine’s cousin, the Monte da Peceguina Tinto 2007, composed of 50 percent aragonês grapes, 25 percent alicante bouschet, 9 percent touriga nacional and 8 percent each cabernet sauvignon and tinta caiada, a grape that apparently grows only in Alentejo. The wine is solid and resonant, stalwart but with a sense of light-boned delicacy, a prime example of the marriage of power and elegance. The color is dark ruby-purple, the flavors are dark, too, in the black currant, blackberry and black plum range, and the spicy character carries a tinge of dark exoticism. Aged seven months in new French oak, the wine is sleek and polished but not superficially sophisticated; the finish is an amalgam of finely ground wood, dried flowers, granite-like tannins and slate. When it comes to a rib-eye smack-down, this wine would be all over a piece of rare beef. 7,083 cases. Excellent. About $30.

Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Cal., which provided these samples for review.

Readers may have been thinking, “So, F.K. went to the Douro Valley, and so far he has written about red table wines and white wines and eating cod innards, but what about Port, which is of course what the Douro is all about?”

Today we get to that, but first some history.

How Port Got Fortified

Trade between England and Portugal, which had been carried out profitably and peacefully since the 1400s, received a boost in 1689, when war between France and England cut off access to French wine. The hearty red wines of the Douro Valley represented an alternative; these were often shipped with a dollop of brandy added to the barrels to ensure their survival during storage and the sea voyage. In the early 18th Century, merchants discovered a monastery in the Douro where monks added brandy to the wine during fermentation, resulting in a wine that was powerful (“fortified”) and sweet, because the alcohol killed the yeast cells and left residual sugar in the wine. Thus was Port born and a whole area of manufacture and trade, long dominated by the English, established.

Nothing Is That Simple

It would take more space than we have to describe the intricacies of the history of Port and its making, and so let’s encapsulate.

>By the early 18th Century, Port was so popular in England that its manufacture had become corrupted though over-production and adulteration, leading to:

>The demarkation of the Douro and its best growing areas by the Marquis of Pombal in 1756.

>Ports were made upriver and than taken to Vila Nova de Gaia, across the river from the city of Porto (Oporto) for storage in the manufacturers’ warehouses or lodges. The barrels were brought to the lodges on flat-bottomed barges. This practice was eventually codified into law, and shipping of Port from individual quintas upstream was forbidden, until Portugal’s entrance into the EU in 1986. Thereafter, quintas were allowed to by-pass Vila Nova de Gaia, and some quintas nowadays have no presence in that traditional site. In addition, in the 1950s and ’60s, the Douro was dammed in several places, making the boats obsolete.

>The styles and nomenclature of Port have changed considerably over the years. The most famous product of the Douro, Vintage Porto, represents at most two percent of port production, the rest being Ruby Port (now usually called “Reserve”), Late Bottled Vintage Port (LBV), Tawny Port of various ages, so-called “crusted” Port, white Port and different proprietary branded Ports. Vintage Porto from a “declared” year, however, remains one of the world’s great wines and, compared to Burgundy and Bordeaux and the cult wines of California and Australia, a relative bargain. Remember that Vintage Port, aged in barrels two years, is intended to mature in the bottle, most not being considered ready to drink until 20 or 30 years after harvest. In youth, they are powerful, potent and monumentally tannic. Which leads to:

A Tasting of Ports from 2007.

Thursday, Sept. 3, our team of six regrouped at the Niepoort winery at Quinta do Napoles to taste 15 Ports from 2007. The trick was that we were tasting three examples of each Port, one bottle that had been opened two days previously, decanted and poured back into the bottle; one that had been opened one day previously, decanted and poured back into the bottle; and one that had been opened the morning of the tasting but not decanted. The idea was to give us some hint as to the wine’s potential for development and to counter-balance the immense difficulty involved in tasting very young, tannic Ports. So we didn’t taste 15 Ports; we tasted 45 Ports, AND we tasted them blind AND we did this between about 7:30 and 9 p.m. And that’s why we’re called Professionals!

My notes will try to trace the evolution of the Ports we tasted; remember that as we were doing this, we didn’t know which bottles of a particular house or brand were the ones that had been opened two days ago or the ones opened 12 hours ago, but believe me, when you take in a sip of wine and the tannins would strip the wallpaper from your mouth (if your mouth were, say, a living room), then you know you have the most recently opened example. As the tasting proceeded, and I realized that my notes on the Ports tended to run: 1. Opened two days ago; 2. Opened one day ago; 3. opened this morning, I sensed that there was a pattern, and indeed the pouring of the examples did not vary from that scheme.

These Vintage Ports from 2007, a year described as “classic” and “exceptional,” are just coming into retail markets in the United States. Prices will range from about $75 and $85 to $115 and $125.

These notes are in the order of tasting.
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Churchill’s Vintage Port 2007. Massive tannins, searing tannins, followed by a clearing of the air, so to speak, broadly intense and concentrated and smoky; then, aromas of grapes, orange rind, spice cake and plum pudding; clean earth and minerals, deep, intense and concentrated, spicy black fruit, dense and chewy; walloping tannins; great presence and weight. Excellent potential.
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Croft Vintage Port 2007. Very tannic but rich and succulent; coffee, mocha, cocoa bean, fruit cake, toasted walnuts and orange rind; cool, clean minerals; dark chocolate, smoke and tobacco leaf; plummy and jammy, mint and minerals; leather, briers and brambles, packed with tannins. Exceptional potential.
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Dow’s Vintage Port 2007. Punishing tannins; then … big, jammy, minerally, slatey; bright, clean, black fruit infused with smoke and dark chocolate, dense yet almost buoyant tannins, tough and rooty, branches and briers. Very Good+ to Excellent potential.
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Fonesca Vintage Port 2007. Powerful tannic structure, huge presence and substance; then rich, warm and spicy, fruit cake and cookie dough, currants and plums, toasted almonds; intense and concentrated, platonic plums; black pepper, bitter chocolate-covered raspberries; crushed gravel and slate; immense. Excellent to Exceptional potential.
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Graham’s Vintage Port 2007. Fathomless tannins; then — fairly closed-in but hints of toast with orange marmalade or plum jam; grapey, alcoholic; clean, pure, intense, concentrated; tannins continue to build in scope and power. Needs 25 to 30 years. Maybe Excellent potential.
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Niepoort Vintage Port 2007. Deep, clean, pure and intense, smoky and toasty, tightly focused on sleek and stalwart tannins but opens to bitter chocolate, tobacco leaf, lavender and potpourri, plum jam and black currants; very dense and chewy; a finish of briers and brambles and forest floor, and a burgeoning mineral element. 25 to 40 years. Excellent, possibly Exceptional potential.
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Niepoort Pisca Vintage Porto 2007. From a single vineyard. Difficult to assess because of the massive tannins, though in the example that had been opened two days previously, decanted and re-bottled, the tannins felt smoother and more integrated. Clearly a Port that exudes self-containment, confidence and power, purity and intensity and concentration. 25 to 40 years. Excellent potential.
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