MORE PORTUGUESE TABLE WINES
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
- 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
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.
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: 2006 Quinta do Crasto
Douro Red $17.99
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
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"
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.
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
QUINTA DE CHOCAPALHA
- We spent
some time driving around the Estremadura region and found a few really nice
One of the estates which has a lot of "buzz" is this Quinta de
Chocapalha near the town of Alenquer, a suburb of Lisbon. It's about
30 miles from Lisbon and will take you nearly an hour to drive there and
another 30-40 minutes to actually find the place. I think the locals
enjoy the "sport" of watching foreigners drive around in circles
and they count how many times you pass by.
The Chocapalha (Choca is the warm wind of the region and palha
refers to 'tranquil waters'--there are four springs on the property) estate
is owned by the Tavares da Silva family. Alice and Paulo.
They have a rather famous daughter, Sandra. She works for Cristiano
Van Zeller (everybody in Portugal's wine scene is Cristiano's cousin) in the
Douro, as well as making some famous wine with her husband (Wine &
Soul). Alice (she's of Swiss heritage) and Paulo have this gorgeous
little winery amidst some rolling hills in the Estremadura. And they
get some winemaking expertise from their rock-star-winemaker-daughter
They bought the property in the 1980s and sold grapes to a local co-op
winery, only embarking on their own winemaking adventure in 2000. Dad
planted all sorts of locally popular vines, but Sandra didn't like his
selection of grapes and so they ended up re-grafting them to more
Sandra's father, Paulo.
Cellar master/winemaker Diego Sepulveda...he worked at Napa's Viader
winery in 2006.
The famous Sandra.
- We have one of the Chocapalha wines presently. It's a 2005 red and
made of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Castelão and perhaps some
Alicante. Though aged in small oak barrels, it's matured in seasoned
wood, so the oak is well in the background. Meanwhile, the dark
fruit notes of the Touriga take center stage. The tannins are
balanced, so this is quite drinkable now, especially when it's on the
Currently in stock: 2005 QUINTA DE CHOCAPALHA
"TINTO" SALE PRICED Sold Out
PORTUGUESE TABLE WINES
By the way...we also have Sagres Beer from Portugal, as well as some brandies and