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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tour de Portugal, A Mark Squires Production

Aren’t people supposed to come to you when you live in New York City? I mean who goes from NY to Philadelphia for a wine tasting? Well, I guess I do. I removed that rather large, borough sized chip off my shoulder and trekked my way to Pennsylvania w/ my wife, Ejehan. After a maddening hour or so crawl through the Holland Tunnel, Ejehan and I weren’t sure if the Portuguese wines possessed enough alcohol to quell our city-fueled hate. Nevertheless, we arrived fashionably late (what’s 45 minutes amongst geeks?) and snuggled up to a street that was littered w/ free-parking, a more than welcome site. Maybe Philly isn’t so bad after all?

Even though the Pennsylvania based group was mid-beverage once we arrived, they seemed to welcome us w/ open arms (perhaps because they were under the impression that my last name lent itself to knowledge about Portuguese wines?). Don’t let the Coelho in me fool you; I grew up on heavy doses of Lancers w/ an occasional Casal Garcia spritz thrown in for good measure. I do know that Tinta Roriz is in fact Tempranillo, but the rest of my skills are limited by my spiky hair and over-exuberant youth. That being said, I really enjoyed the company of the Philly crowd.

Rich Trimpi and Mark Squires did a great job putting together multiple flights of various Portuguese wines, beginning w/ the staple white grape, Alvarinho (known as Albarino in Spain). High quality Vinho Verde sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, but that is becoming more and more of a misnomer as time goes on. Anyone w/ a fondness for the crisp wines of Rias Baixas, Spain owes it to themselves to explore what’s going on in the Vinho Verde region of Portugal.

Andreza Loureiro Vinho Verde, ‘06
The nose has a likeness to Sauvignon Blanc, w/ zippy, fresh floral aromatics shooting from the glass. Bright and clean in the palate, not short on focus to the grass, chive and citrus flavors that linger easily, 88 points.

Andreza Vinho Branco, Alvarinho ‘06
Not nearly as precise as the first of the flight, marred by an attenuated, angular personality that comes across as one dimensional and short. This could have suffered from being opened too long or simply by being served at too warm a temperature, 81 points.

Solar de Serrade 2007
The roundest, most plump offering of the flight, w/ a core of melon and baked apple flavors that were somewhat reminiscent of a Falanghina. While the texture is soft and supple, there is no shortage of vivacity and follow-through to this beauty, 88 points.

Quinta Do Feital, Auratus, ‘07
The distribution of this wine has penetrated pretty deeply in the Northeast, as I see it on more and more retail shelves. A perennial favorite for me over the last couple vintages, the ’07 is a sneaky little wine, weaving in complex white flower, lime candy and crushed stone notes through the inviting, yet surprisingly layered and deep mid-palate. Auratus always has something to say, it just demands that you pay close attention to its delicate details, 89 points.

The first flight of reds all came from Herdade de Esporao, spanning from the nation’s two flagship grapes, Alicante Bouschet & Touriga Nacional, to the more upstart Syrah. I asked Mark where the recent love affair w/ Syrah came from and he responded ‘probably because it seems to make solid varietal wine from just about anywhere you plant it.’ Just wait until I force a Long Island Syrah down your gullet, Mark!

Alicante Bouschet, ‘05
A lavishly toasted, yet provocative red w/ scents of charcoal, tar and sun-kissed black and blue fruits leading the way aromatically. The sweet entry pumps over a slightly hollow mid-palate, yet gains grip and steam over the finish, 85+ points.

Syrah, ‘05
This performed poorly in the line-up and might have benefitted from a bit more oxygen exposure (at least from an aroma standpoint). A reduced, somewhat sweaty nose demonstrated a heavy layer of high toast and seared blackberry fruit, turning hard and chewy in the mid-palate. The extraction levels seemed too high for the wine’s underlying substance, leaving the finish clipped and disjointed, 77 points.

Trincadeira ‘04
A much flashier, ostentatious wine that brought some spicy aromatic fireworks to the table, expelling black pepper, smoky plum and sweet black currant fruit notes from the glass. The entry is a bit awkward, yet the flesh of the wine is enveloped w/ good stuffing, w/ rich, juicy berry fruit trickling through the youthful grit of finish. Good stuff, and would have been a better product if the winery eased up on the elevage, 85+ points.

Touriga Nacional ‘05
To me, this was the best of the bunch, simply because it came across as the winery didn’t try so hard and let their staple grape shine through. An elegant, suave red w/ excellent symmetry to the cola, anise and sweet berry flavors that pump over a velvety textured, juicy finish. Superficial for a Touriga, yet delicious and finely tuned, 88 points.

The last two flights shined brightest & gave us a glimpse into what terrific values this country is capable of producing.

Quinta Do Alqueve Tradicional ‘05
Let the QPR parade commence, as this ‘Cotes du Rhone’ priced beauty matched good weight w/ verve, letting the sappy berry fruit & cocoa flavors glide effortlessly over a bed of fine, well-rounded tannins. This has textbook balance and harmony, w/ enough structure to keep the fruit honest & should provide pleasure over the next couple years, 90 points.

Leo d’Honor, ‘03
The first wine that left me completely smitten had to be the Leo d’Honor, starting w/ its exotic perfume of vivid blueberry, menthol and violet notes that came off in such a kinky pitch that I couldn’t help but be seduced. The mouth-feel one-upped the nose, exhibiting an ethereal grace and plush texture that reminded me of a Pinot Noir, tap-dancing its way to a whispering finish, 92 points.

Conde de Vimioso Riserva ‘05
The darkest wine I’d seen yet, w/ an opaque hue and heady nose, revealing scents of freshly ground coffee, boysenberry, lilac and a varied array of crushed berry fruit. Not as showy in the mouth, yet exceptionally refined and suave, sneaking up on you until it really stretches its legs on the finish. She’s keeping it all in reserve, so watch out, 91+ points.

Terra do Zambujeiro, ‘05
This could be an exceptional wine, if it weren’t for the unnecessary over-oaking which I’m hoping will resolve in time. Shaved vanilla bean, mocha, milk chocolate and warm fig sauce flavors are polished, round and downright delicious, yet the wood is frank, invasive & distracting at this stage in the game. If the flavors integrate, I imagine the wine will merit an outstanding rating, 89+ points.

Paving the way for the wine of the night…

Quinta do Pellada, Dao ‘05
According to Mark, this is the top producer in the Dao region and after this performance, who am I to argue w/ him? At first glance I noticed that the color was flat out black, so dark so that I even obsessed over it for a moment (which I never do) and that was just the beginning of the obsession. The aromas were spellbinding, almost as if it married the savageness of an Alban Syrah w/ the sleekness of a Colgin. Dazzling scents of barbeque spices, cracked pepper, licorice, sizzling bacon fat and crushed blue fruits oozed from the glass. The entry was slick, unfolding its spicy, tremendous layers of flavor from cheek to cheek, yet staying light on its feet to the intense, persistent finish. What a stud, 95+ points.

Quinita do Noval Cedro, ‘05
While the Pellada is a tough act to follow, the Cedro didn’t do itself any favors by bring its vanilla game to the stage, w/ its milk shake-like concoction of shallow, sweet and innocuous flavors. Sure she’s creamy and cute, but a one night stand at best. An un-enthusiastic yawn- 86 points.

Pocas Reserva, ‘05
To me, the tragedy of the evening, because this seemed like a structured, savory gem at first, perhaps in a backward stage that didn’t allow it to fully sing. As it sat in the glass, TCA reared its ugly head and even though the character was bright, it wasn’t quite up to the challenge this evening, N/A.

Quinta Do Vale Meao, ‘05
I don’t know if the rest of the group saw this in a similar light that I did, but I think it is going to be an absolute homerun. The Meao is an exceptionally young, even monstrous wine that is completely undifferentiated, yet its substantive heft is undeniably impressive. Espresso roast and pure crème de cassis explode through the mouth in a fantastic, multi-dimensional array, rendering descriptors other than ‘wow’ & ‘blockbuster’ fairly useless. This is an exploding rocket on the launch path, but its potential is obviously years away from take-off, so patience is obligatory, 94+ points.


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