This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Dec. 19, 2005.|
New wines from Port country
Yes, Portugal still produces some of the world's greatest dessert wines in the form of warming, fortified Port, and we'll get to that later this week.
But as I reported in last Monday's edition, shortly after my arrival in this sunny, welcoming land on the far western edge of Europe, the real wine news here isn't about old, historic Port but the exciting new wine developments taking place in Port's traditional home in the Douro River Valley and beyond.
The "ferment" going on in Portugal, if you'll pardon the expression, reminds me of nothing I've seen in the world of wine since the early 1980s, when in parallel fashion, a growing group of young wine makers challenged the Chianti tradition with creative new wine-making efforts that would yield the wines that came to be known as "Super Tuscans."
Super Tuscans, though, didn't so much abandon the Chianti tradition as modernize it, creating similar but more modern wines by adding French wine-grape varieties, tweaking vinification, and replacing old barrels with fancy French-oak barriques.
In Northern Portugal, a brash crowd of producers - "The Douro Boys" from Port country and the more widely spread Independent Winegrowers' Association - are shifting their sights entirely. No longer wedded to traditional sweet Port, they're making world-class dry table wines from the Port wine grape varieties, indigenous Portuguese red grapes that heretofore have rarely been bottled as varietal wines: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinto Roriz (the Spanish Tempranillo) and more.
Like the Super Tuscan producers, they're growing quality grapes under low-yield conditions, making the wines in high-tech equipment like conical stainless steel fermenters, holding them in pricey small French barrels, and in some cases, diverting the best grapes once reserved for Port to use in the dry Douro reds instead.
Their efforts are gaining attention from outside Portugal, with such French luminaries as Bruno Prats of Chateau Cos d'Estournel and Jean-Michel Cazes of Chateau Lynch-Bages coming in to team with Portuguese producers to make new wines.
And the good news for wine consumers outside Portugal is that these outstanding wines are starting to move into the world market. For reference, here's a list of top producers. To review my tasting reports on many of the wines, follow the link to my "Portugal Wine Diary" reports under "Talk About Wine Online" in the archived edition.
Quinta do Vale Dona Maria, Douro
Independent Winegrowers' Association
Casa de Cello, Entre-Douro e Minho/Dão