PORTUGAL UPS THE ANTE
In the Douro Valley in Portugal, winemakers have been shifting gears. For many centuries, the steep, terraced hillsides above the namesake river have been planted to a hodgepodge of mostly red grapes that went into sweet Port; now, the world is inclined more to lighter dry table wines. Those old vines yield superb fruit, and can make splendid dry wines as well. Reform, rejuvenation, or renovation? How do you tell the story?
For five of the region’s best small independent winemakers, the answer was to form a loose sort of bromance: The Douro Boys, whose slogan is “flying the flag for the Douro, enabling dry wines.” “We have fun, but we’re serious,” said my old friend Cristiano van Zeller, when we chatted at Decanter’s recent Fine Wine Encounter devoted to Iberian wines. They are Francisco Ferreira, of Quinta do Vallado; Dirk van der Niepoort, of Niepoort; Francisco Olazabal, of Quinta do Vale Meão; Tomas Roquette, of Quinta do Crasto; and Christiano, who owns Quinta Vale Dona Maria.
At the tasting, the flag flew well. Niepoort’s white from 2014, known as Tiara (principal grape in a complex blend is Codega do Larinho—see what I mean?) was pale gold and full-bodied, rounded but braced with quietly firm acidity. Quinta Vale Dona Maria’s two from 2013, Douoro Red and Vinha da Francisca were both vibrant, the former a little lighter (a blend of 25 grapes), the latter a touch more tannic, and a blend of only four grapes, predominantly Touriga Nacional. Quinta do Crasto’s Vinha da Ponte 2012 was bold and loaded with fruit but with muscular structure that will guarantee a long age, surely at least 20 years at best. Quinta do Vale Meão’s 2013 went for almost classical Bordeaux-style elegance for its multi-grape blend, another 20-year winner, surely.
There was talk of terroir, of course, interestingly complicated when you have not only many different grapes but also many sorts of soil and exposures to sunshine along those terraces, even in small vineyards. In the end, though, it’s about flavour and enjoyment, and there they’re home free. For more information, see www.douroboys.com, or on Facebook.
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The Unione Consorzi Vine Veneti sponsored a tasting of a cross-section of wines from six of the several DOC regions in the area recently. For a long time, the Veneto was mostly well-known for Soave and Valpolicella, and not always with much regard. Sadly, that disregard is still the default mode for about three-quarters of Soave (which is a lot of wine), and also the case for much of their insipid cash-cow, Pinot Grigio. The good news was something of a surprise—Bardolino, usually thought of as Valpolicella’s kid brother, seems to be coming into its own somewhat. The world certainly needs more light, vibrant red wines, and here were some beauties, led by Cavalchina, whose 2008 was superb, light and soft but with a great deal of finesse, fine on its own, even better with lunch (braised belly pork, but I’d bet any of the best would also be great with trout or salmon); lighter but still charming were Monte del Fra, Gerardo Cesari, and Cantina Zeni from the same vintage.
The other pleasant surprise was Bianco di Custoza, the white made from a blend similar to Soave (but with a different clone of Trebbiano, the evil weed that drags down too many Italian whites). It’s also now sometimes known as simply Custoza. I haven’t bothered with it for years—way too lackluster—but the newest versions were a small revelation. Cavalchina again led the way, with a lightly flowery aroma and buoyant flavor, joined by Tamburino Sardo, Gorgo, and Monte del Fra; all demonstrate the enjoyable possibilities.
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Highlights from a recent tasting of wines from Friuli: Livio Felluga’s Terre Alta stood out for its considerable aroma and complexity, as it always does; Lis Neris Pinot Grigio showed how it ought to be done, a solid wine with a persistent flavor; Villa Russiz Ribolla Gialla was as lush as it should be, with a wonderful honeysuckle aroma; Schiopetto’s Pinot Bianco was a little understated but very fresh, and kept evolving into subtle complexities as the tasting went on—not as forward as Jermann (outstanding), but another good example of how good Friulian Pinot Blanc can be (in the same way that Robert Princic and others have re-defined Sauvignon Blanc for those of us who don’t care for cat pee/gooseberry).