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MORE PORTUGUESE TABLE WINES

 
CHURCHILL'S
The name Graham's is probably familiar to you if you're a fan of Portuguese wines.  The Port firm of Graham's is an elite producer of top quality Ports and it's owned and operated by the Symington family.

You can imagine the Symington's must have been surprised when they found wine on the market with the "Churchill Graham's" name.


It seems Johnny Graham and his wife, Caroline Churchill thought of using both names on bottles of Port wines.  

Of the course, the Symingtons pointed out that they bought the Graham name, so these days you'll find the "Churchill's" brand to be prominent, as Johnny G. has to work in the shadows, if you will.

Graham's family sold their name and winery in 1970, but Johnny went on to attend the University of John Smithies at the Cockburn "campus."  The Smithies family had long been associated with Cockburn's.  (The Symington family recently purchased Cockburn's, further extending their domination of the Port business.)

Johnny worked for Cockburn's for some years, getting his feet 'wet' and this had a major impact on his winemaking philosophy.  He's a big fan of foot treading the grapes, by the way, at least for their Port wines.  Following some years at Cockburn's, Graham then was a consultant for Taylor Fladgate before hooking up with vineyard owner Jorges Borges de Sousa in 1981 and making his own wine under his own banner.

Now Graham is producing table wine, a fashionable endeavor these days in Portugal's "Napa Valley."  Table wine in "Port Country" is all the rage with every serious winemaker these days and many of them are not shy about pricing their wines.  The Douro has all kinds of interesting grape varieties and we found Churchill's blended red to be of particular interest.

We purchased a bottle of their Estates Douro from 2008 and a much more costly bottle of Touriga Nacional.  

The Estates wine is a blend of 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca and 30% Tinta Roriz.  A modest percentage is oak-aged and the rest kept in stainless steel.  After a year of aging, the various lots are blended and bottled.  The resulting wine is dark in color and will stain whatever you spill it on.  We find nice red fruit notes and some berry and light spice.  The oak is in the back and the overall balance is quite attractive.  It's a really good example of Douro Valley red table wine and the price is right...

Less interesting to us, anyway, was the far more costly bottle of Touriga Nacional.  That wine was matured entirely in French oak and it struck us more as the sort of wine made to appeal to wine critics who are not drinking the wine but merely "tasting" it to give it a numerical score.   We found it to have all the requisite features:  Dark color, powerful aromas, moderately oaky, full-on attack, tannin, robust, full-bodied...but we didn't find it worthy of a re-pour.  Your mileage may vary, of course, but for relatively small money, we'll go with the $18 Estates Douro!

Currently in stock:  CHURCHILL'S "ESTATES DOURO"  $17.99

 

DONA MARIA

From the town of Estremoz in the Alentejo you'll find a remarkable property which, in the middle of the 18th century, had been a gift from King Joao The Fifth to a girlfriend, Dona Maria.  

The property was called, for many years, the Quinta do Carmo and the present owner of the Dona Maria estate, Julio Tassara de Bastos (that's his "JB" in the logo above), had sold half of the Quinta do Carmo property to the Rothschilds of Chateau Lafite back in the 1990s and they built another winery at a different location.  Now the Quinta do Carmo name is owned by someone else as a wine brand and JB uses the name Dona Maria for his wine.


To get your bearings as to the location of this lovely estate, from Lisbon you're heading south of the city towards Palmela and the Setubal area, continuing on the A-6 in the general direction of Evora, but driving north to Estremoz.  Depending upon traffic, you'd be there in less than two hours.

In 2002 JB bought a neighboring vineyard and in 2003 they made their first Dona Maria wines.  

We tasted a rather upscale bottling, a Reserva which is truly worthy of the 'reserve' designation.  It's from the 2004 vintage and the wine is an interesting blend:  50% Alicante Bouschet (a grape producing inky, intensely-colored wine), Tempranillo, Syrah and Cabernet.  The wine is matured in French oak, but with as much time in the bottle as this has had, the wood is now nicely integrated with the wine.  
It's a medium-full to full bodied red wine and one to pair with grilled or roasted red meats especially.  

Currently in stock:  2004 DONA MARIA Alentejo Red  $44.99

 

 
 
 
QUINTA DO CRASTO

The Crasto estate is a beautiful property on the north side of the Douro on a hill situated between Régua and Pinhão.  The property currently consists of 230 hectares (not all planted to vineyards), with some very old vines in some of the vineyards.  
 


The name Crasto probably stems from the Roman word "Crastum," meaning "fort" or "fortress."  The estate is owned by the Roquette family, a major wine clan in the realm of high quality Portuguese wines.  Another branch of Roquette's owns the famous Herdade de Esporão property in the Alentejo region. 
 

A view of the Douro to the south-east from Crasto

Tomas and Miguel run the enterprise.  It was their grandfather who bought the place in the early 20th century and it was, apparently, a vacation home for many years.  When the brothers got involved in their own wine estate, they turned to their cousins in the Alentejo who had their winemaker, Australian David Baverstock, head up to the Douro to offer consulting and winemaking advice.

The winery has grown dramatically over the past decade and today it's one of the leading lights in the Douro.

Manuel Lobo de Vasconcellos is the winemaker.  
 
The entire winery was in a state of change when we visited in the Spring of 2009.  One whole cellar will be devoted entirely to the production of white wine.  Another cellar will be devoted to Port, though only seven percent of their production is in Port wine.

 

They use a lot of French oak for their table wines, some of which are stellar.

We find the wines of Crasto to be generally quite impressive.  Their basic red wine is of good quality and retains its sense of place nicely.

Some tasters may find the Old Vines bottling of red and the Touriga bottling to be "too internationally-styled," but we find these to be exceptional wines on any level.  

The youthful and exuberant 2011 Douro red is a delight.  The wine is vinified to highlight the red and black fruits in this wine.  It's a blend of Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional...most of the wine sees only stainless steel and a mere 5% is put into wood.  It's a medium-full red wine in terms of body and lightly tannic.  Pairing it with food softens the wine.  We like it served at cool cellar temp...It's balanced enough to pair with roasted chicken and deep enough to accompany a steak.  

Ports are quite good, as Manuel explained they make Port as a "fortified, sweet red wine.  We don't make it from over-ripe grapes."  It's also less sweet than many of the more famous brands of Port.

Currently in stock:  2011 Quinta do Crasto Douro Red $18.99
2005 Touriga "Old Vines" $89.99
1997 Vintage Port $53.99








José Maria da Fonseca
This is a huge company, producing more than a million cases of wine annually.   Their portfolio includes more than two dozen wines, not to mention brandy and sparkling wines.  The firm is now run the by sixth generation of the family, they manage to combine tradition with modern winemaking. 

They are not affiliated, by the way, with the Port producer in the Douro Valley which also bears the Fonseca name. 
One of the two brothers runs the business, while the other (a U.C. Davis graduate) is in charge of the winemaking. 

It was founded in 1834 by Jose Maria, a fellow who brought the Castelão grape to the Terras do Sado (they're in the town of Azeitão, about a 30 minute drive south of Lisbon) from the Ribatejo region (north of Lisbon).  

Castelão is the table wine backbone of the house.  The winery has, in fact, been a victim of its own success.  They've long sold a simple, good quality red table wine made from Castelão using the name "Periquita."  Other winemakers started calling their Castelão wines "Periquita."  After much legal wrangling, it's been decided that Periquita is really a brand name and it's exclusive to Jose Maria da Fonseca, so others have had to change the name of their wines back to Castelão.  


The current Periquita wine is a nice, simple, straightforward, reliable red.  It's not a fancy, oaky red wine.  It's not made with American wine critics in mind.  They seem to make this for people who are willing to pay ten bucks for a decent, well-made bottle of wine. 
 
The Periquita wine spends a few months in mahogany vats and a small percentage of the blend goes into oak. Those big casks are the ones made of mahogany.  
They typically now blend in a small amount (maybe 10% each) of Aragonez and Trincadeira into their Periquita wine.

They make a Periquita "Reserva" wine.  This was, at one point, simply the normal bottling of Periquita with additional bottle aging.  It also used to be called "Classico."  Today, though, the wine is actually more of a special selection.  It's typically a blend of half Periquita with some Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional.  The Touriga vineyards are mature, having been planted in the 1970s.  

JM da Fonseca also makes a wine called Domini which has no Periquita.  This was, initially, made in collaboration with their (and everybody's, it seems) cousin, Cristiano Van Zeller of Douro acclaim and fame.  Domini today is made of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz.  
 
The other major claim to fame by this winery is the famous Moscatels called Setúbal.  We've long been fans and are stupefied to see how importers (they've had a number of different outfits bringing their wines to the U.S. market over the past couple of decades) seem to be allergic to a wine which doesn't sell at the snap of ones fingers.  
 
 
 
They have a remarkable cellar full of Setúbal wines.  The photo above shows barrels of very old Moscatels.  These are remarkably fine and one of the best dessert wines on the planet.  But a lack of marketing acumen has led to a lack of sales.

 
Currently In Stock:  Jose Maria da Fonseca "Periquita" $9.99
We have some Setúbal in stock...and can order the Domini wine for you.
If you're in need of a deluxe bottled water, JM da Fonseca now offers a Vinho Verde for about ten bucks...we were disappointed in this, frankly.

.



FAMEGA
It's got to be difficult for producers such as the Caves de Cerca who make this Famega wine.  Here they are, in an era when every wine has to "make a statement."   Many wines, even the whites, are 15% alcohol and loaded with oak.

Yet they continue to produce this light, simple, modestly-priced, dry and faintly fizzy little wine in an age when people seem to be looking to be whacked over the head with potent wines.

No oak, of course.  Low alcohol.  Slightly fizzy.  This is a delicious wine with steamed clams, especially.  But it makes for a nice little picnic white, too.


Currently in stock:  FÂMEGA VINHO VERDE  $7.99





CAVES SAO JOAO

The Caves Sao Joao is a producer whose wines have been in and out of the Bay Area market since the 1970s, maybe even before.

I recall having some of their wine in the shop way back when...and they've never really be consistently available.  It's a family-operated company, with wineries in a few areas of Portugal, having started, we understand, in the Douro.  Today, though, the wines arriving here hail from the Dao and Bairrada regions.  

We tasted a few things recently and liked a 2009 vintage Dao of their Porta dos Cavaleiros label.  It's a medium-full bodied red wine made of 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Alfrocheiro and 30% Aragones.  



We like the mildly cedary bouquet of this well-priced red.  It's got a nicely woodsy element and some brown spice tones.  With a touch of tannin, this is a terrific bottle to pair with lamb or beef.


Currently in stock:  PORTA DOS CAVALEIROS 2009 DAO  $8.99






CABRIZ
Here's a well-made, simple little dry white from the Dao-Sul company...it's from the Beira Alta sub-region of Dao, an area once the most prestigious site for table wine in Portugal.

Dao Sul is a fairly new company and they've grown quickly on the strength of well-made modern wines and reasonable prices.

Their Quinta de Cabriz features about 34 hectares of estate vineyards and perhaps another hundred from which they purchase grapes.

We have the 2012 Cabriz white wine, a fresh, dry white made 50% of the Encruzado grape with 30% Bical and 10% each of Malvasia Fina and Cerceal Branco.  It's fairly low in alcohol and light on the palate...for a simple white to pair with light seafood or shellfish, this works nicely.


Currently in stock:  2012 CABRIZ Dao WHITE WINE  $6.99
 




CASA ERMELINDA FREITAS

Now being operated by the fourth generation of the family, the Ermelinda Freitas winery is located in Fernando Pó (that's the name of the town, named after a 15th century navigator who discovered the islands in the Gulf of Guinea, west of Cameroon and Gabon).

This town is south and east of Lisbon in the Palmela region.  The company cultivates all sorts of varieties amongst their 240 hectares of vineyard.  Castelão accounts for 75% of the plantings, but they also grow Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Syrah, Aragonês, Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Franca, Merlot and Petit Verdot amongst the reds and white varieties such as Fernão Pires, Chardonnay, Arinto, Verdelho, Sauvignon Blanc and Moscatel de Setúbal.

We tasted a rather nice red wine from this company, a wine from the 2010 vintage which is made entirely of Castelão.  The vineyards are mature, averaging about 50 years of age.  The wine is medium-bodied and fairly smooth, with some of the wine being aged in French oak.  We like the dark fruit notes and mildly cedary, woodsy notes present in this showy little number.

Were this to come from California, we'd see a price tag on the bottle of something like $20-$30, but since it comes from a place where they make wine to drink, rather than to put in a display case to admire, this carries a modest number:  $13.99.  And worth every penny!

Despite its name, please do not mix this with orange juice or we will have to call the authorities to have you questioned and detained...
 

Currently in stock:  2010 QUINTA DA MIMOSA $13.99

VALE DA POUPA

Two buddies are producing several brands of interesting wines from Portugal and we selected the Vale da Poupa wines from the northern part of the country.

Gonçalo Sousa Lopes and Rui Cunha (those are their names, I don't make up this stuff) found an old Douro Valley winery which was built right after World War II and they've renovated it to produce some rather good bottles.
 

Old timers built gravity flow cellars and the Quinta da Faísca Winery is such a facility.  There are still three old treading 'tanks' in place, while barrel aging is done down below.
 

The treading tanks are on the right...to the left and below are normal stainless steel fermentation tanks and a couple of basket-type presses.


As you'd expect from the Douro Valley's rugged terrain, grapes are all hand-harvested and then into special picking boxes.  They pick in the early morning, while temperatures are cool.

We have a dynamite Vinho Verde from the 2012 vintage.  This is a delightfully fresh and zesty dry white.  The label indicates a mere 10.5% alcohol, quite a welcome relief from the 15% "gobs of fruit" bombs we encounter regularly.  No oak, of course.  It's got a lime-like tone to it and is beautifully crisp and bracingly dry on the palate, so pairing this with some seafood is ideal.  

There's a 2011 Douro red that's offered as a "Field Blend" (as most Douro vineyards are typically a mix of various local varieties...the notion of planting a parcel with but one type of grape is a relatively recent arrival to the Douro).  It, too, is a fresh, bright wine.  Oak?  You won't find it here.  
It's a blend of Touriga Franca, Tinto Roriz and Touriga Nacional...no cold stabilization (so it may develop a bit of sediment if you have a cold storage area) and it's bottled without being subjected to a filter.  Even so, it seems nicely polished and bright.  Medium-bodied...ready to drink (cool cellar temp is ideal) with roasted chicken, grilled pork or a pork roast, lamb, beef or what-have-you...

Currently in stock:  2012 VALE DA POUPA "VINHO VERDE" $12.99
2011 VALE DA POUPA  "DOURO RED" FIELD BLEND  $14.99

 

WINE & SOUL

A husband & wife team produce the Wine & Soul offerings from Portugal's Douro Valley.  Jorge Serõdio Borges has been affiliated with the great Dirk Niepoort of the Niepoort winery (and assorted table wines and Ports), while Sandra Tavares da Silva works for Cristiano Van Zeller at the Quinta do Vale Doña Maria, making Port and table wine.
 


The couple launched their own company called Wine & Soul with a vineyard in the Vale de Mendiz at Pinhão.  The vineyard is quite old and it's a mixed planting of perhaps as many as 30 different varieties.  

They make a tiny bit of white wine called Guru, two red table wines and a Port.

 
We tasted their Pintas "Character" from the 2010 vintage...vines are approximately 45 years of age and the wine is thought to be predominantly Touriga Nacional, Touriga France and Tinto Roriz, plus whatever scattered oddball varieties are also in the vineyard.

The wine spends about a year and a half in small French and American oak barrels.  The 2010 is beautifully intense, showing a nice black fruit aroma with mildly woodsy fragrances.  It's fairly full on the palate, being dry, robust and nicely oaked...serve this with Cabernet Cuisine...steaks, grilled or roasted red meats, etc.  It's quite showy now and should be fine for another 5 or 10 years.

Currently in stock:  2010 PINTAS "Character"  $42.99 (Sale Priced)

 

 

 

 

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By the way...we also have Sagres Beer from Portugal, as well as some brandies and liqueurs.

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