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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
The other major claim to fame by this winery is the famous Moscatels
Back in the 1970s and early 1980s, every wine emporium in the Bay Area had
some bottles of these.
But as the popularity and novelty of drinking one of the world's great
dessert wines waned, demand for this tapered off. The various
companies importing the JM da Fonseca wines left this off their price lists.
We asked some importers to get this for us and we've long had two different
bottlings of 20 Year Setúbal in the shop.
And now the main importer for their wines is bringing in the Alambre 2010
vintage...lots of ripe pear and caramel notes to this beautiful sweet
wine. You can add a cup of this to the water when poaching
pears and then serve the rest of the bottle, lightly chilled, with the
pears. It's aged in neutral wood for a few years and this gives a
faint note of oxidation to the wine.
They have a remarkable cellar full of Setúbal wines. The photo
above shows barrels of very old Moscatels.
Currently In Stock: Jose Maria da Fonseca "Periquita"
2010 ALAMBRE Moscatel de Setúbal $19.99
20 Year Moscatel de Setúbal "Roxo" $69.99 500ml
20 Year Moscatel de Setúbal $47.99 500ml
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.
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 2010 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 2010 DAO $8.99
At dinner in France in March of 2016 we enjoyed an impressive bottle
of their 1984 vintage white wine.
I'd never have imagined such a wine could age so magnificently.
Wow, that was good!
Muito Obrigado to the lovely Portuguese folks who provided this bottle!
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
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...
Quinta do Regueiro is a smallish estate and one with but a fairly recent
They started in the late 1980s and had all of half a hectare of
vineyards. It's the work of an enterprising fellow, Paulo Cerdeira
The estate and cellar are in the northernmost reaches of Portugal.
Melgaço is the town.
From that half hectare beginning, Paulo now has 6 hectares and his wines
are somewhat well known in the connoisseur world for those people who are
serious Portuguese wine aficionados.
That leaves a lot of the wine market in the dark.
We have the 2015 blend of Alvarinho and Trajadura in the shop.
It's lower in alcohol than typical California white wine, for
example...this makes enjoying the entire bottle easy to do!
No oak. Nice, crisp acidity...Aromas reminiscent of melon, peach,
ripe apple, pear and maybe a mildly stony tone.
Though it's light in body, this still manages to have good flavor and all
through the palate.
We like this as an aperitif, but it also pairs handsomely with prawns, sea
scallops and other seafood.
Currently in stock: REGUEIRO Minho
ALVARINHO/TRAJADURA Blend $12.99
WINE & SOUL
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
They make a tiny bit of white wine called Guru, two red table wines and a
We tasted their Pintas "Character" from the 2013
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 oak barrels, 50%
of them being brand new. The 2013 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: 2013 PINTAS
"Character" $42.99 (Sale Priced)
QUINTA DA CHOCAPALHA
Chocapalha estate is a smallish family estate northeast of Lisbon.
You'll need maybe 40 minutes to get there from the Portuguese capital.
It's owned by Alice and Paulo Tavares de Silva, whose daughter is a rock
star winemaker in the Douro Valley.
The property presently encompasses about 45 hectares of vineyards and
Sandra Tavares oversees the winemaking.
The place is reasonably modern and they use traditional lagares for
fermenting their red wines, but employ mechanical treaders instead of
having friends and neighbors dancing barefoot or wearing rubber boots in
these fermenters to breakdown the grapes and keep the skins in contact
with the juice.
Paulo in the cellar
We have their 2013 Castelão in the shop.
This was fermented for about 10 days on the skins to dryness before being
transferred into small French oak barrels as those you see in the photo above.
It spent about a year in wood and the wine has the body of a Pinot Noir or a
robust Gamay, for example. It displays bright red fruit fragrances and
flavors. Oak is not a major component of this. We find it to be dry
and fairly smooth and it tastes even better with food. The wine is not
intended for extended cellaring, so you'll want to put it on the dinner table in
the next year, two or three.
Enologist Diego Sepúlveda back in 2009.
Currently in stock: 2013
CHOCAPALHA CASTELÃO SALE $13.99