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One Brilliant Bottle

organic/biodynamic/natural wines in Vinland

Category Archives: Portugal

Fonseca Terra Prima Porto

Portugal (Douro)

touriga nacional, touriga francesa, tinta roriz, tinta barroca, tinta cão, tinta amarela

‘Tis the Season that lends itself to port. While this fortified wine should never be relegated solely to Christmas, there is something about the seasonal appearance of my spouse’s brandy nut cake that brings to mind a glowing glass of port.

Port is wine to which brandy has been added to arrest the fermentation, resulting in a sweet wine high in alcohol. The use of the name (derived from the Portuguese city of Oporto) is restricted to wines produced in a specific area in the Douro Valley of northern Portugal. When I was 19, I spent several days in Oporto, rather oblivious to its significance in the world of port wine. (If I had been more with it, I might have been able to secure a bottle of Fonseca’s legendary 1963 vintage.) While my island home has had a long association with port (specifically Newman’s) it is relatively recently that I have come to appreciate the special qualities of a very good vintage port.

Fonseca makes some of the best. The winery falls under the ownership umbrella of the Fladgate Partnership, which also includes Taylor Fladgate, Croft, and Delaforce. Yet each port house continues to work in its own individual style. Fonseca has been the one to bring to the market the first certified organic port.

Fonseca dates to 1822 with its founding by Manuel Pedro Guimaraens. Six generations later, it is the turn of David Guimaraens. As a young man, Guimaraens experienced first hand winemaking in the United States and Australia, where he also undertook formal study in oenology. He returned to the family enterprise in 1990. Today, as technical director and lead winemaker of all the port houses in the Fladgate Partnership, Guimaraens has plenty to keep him busy, yet he, together with the group’s head of viticulture, António Magalhães, has taken on important new initiatives, especially in the field of sustainable vineyard management.

Organic viticulture at Fonseca dates back to 1992 when David’s father established the first organic vineyard in the Douro Valley. Besides eventually supplying the grapes for its organic port, the vineyard has had a major influence on the management of the entire portfolio of wines.

An organic port needs organic brandy and with a supply of it came the first release of Fonseca Terra Prima in 2006. It’s a non-vintage ruby port, matured for approximately 5 years in large, 550-litre oak ‘pipes’ prior to bottling. The Fonseca commitment to quality is obvious. And, who knows, in the not-too-distant future we may see the Fonseca name on the very first organic vintage port.

Fonseca Terra Prima Porto

True to its name, it’s a delightful ruby red in colour. From its surface — plummy dark fruit, nicely spiced and welcoming. In the mouth — intense but smooth, fruit-filled, but not without finesse. Lovely and warming on the finish. A ruby port of distinction.  $

This marks the last posting for 2011. One Brilliant Bottle started a full two years ago, with the intention of taking the organic/biodynamic/natural wine enthusiast through just a single year, posting each and every Friday. The commitment led to a second 52 weeks, and will continue in the year ahead, if on a reduced scale. I’ll no longer be posting every week, but will approach the blog in a more leisurely fashion, allowing myself more time for my other career responsibilities. It comes just as the reader response is at its highest. But, fear not, good readers, there are more brilliant bottles in my cellar awaiting their moment in the limelight. Happy New Year! Cheers for 2012!


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Quinta de Covela Escolha

Portugal (Minho)

avesso, chardonnay, gewurztraminer

[no website]

Embrace this wine. One might think of it as summer fare, and heaven knows in August with the sun pouring relentlessly onto the garden, stretched into this lawn chair, awash in heat, the wine would be outstanding. But an outstanding wine is outstanding any time of the year…especially when there is a driveway waiting to be shovelled.

Quinta de Covela Escolha 2006

Again, colour sets the wine in motion. Straw-yellow, with a faint remnant of green. A nose then of apple and pear, with a fresh, crisp, welcoming clarity. A wine that refreshes before it ever touches the palate. Winsome in its mere look and touch. (Winsome? Really…?) It clearly has structure and a mineral presence, asserting itself nicely once the glass is tipped. A mellowed acidity, but retaining a definite edge. Light without being thin. Aromatic without overfilling the moment.  $

Nuno Araújo is the custodian of this estate overlooking the Duoro river. It dates back to the 16th century, and the ruins of the original manor house and chapel are found there still. Quinta de Covela respects its past without clinging to it. It is helping to forge a new path for Portuguese wines, from its eye-catching labels to the character of what goes inside the bottles. While Portugal is renowned for its port and, in recent years, has been making a name for itself with a new generation of profound reds, it had never been especially known for its whites.

Nuno Araújo has made laudable steps in changing that. In the 1980s experiments began to determine what grape varieties worked best in what had been recognized for centuries as a unique terroir. Over a dozen varieties were planted. For whites the chosen grape turned out to be a local lad — avesso. For reds it was the quintessential Portuguese varietal — touriga nacional. Winemaking began in ernest. The terraced vineyards make a stunning sight, curving as they do in an amphitheatre-like setting. Work in the vineyards is labour-intensive; harvesting is by hand.

Quinta de Covela is a rarity in Portugal, a fully biodynamic operation. Nuno Araújo credits it with the ability of the vineyards to perform well, even when weather conditions are less than ideal. Where he will take his 19 hectares in the years ahead is cause for exciting speculation.

Meanwhile, as the snow falls, I think of having my next bottle of Covela in that very lawn chair, oh, six months from now.

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