If you’ve read these vinous musings regularly, you know I’m always on the lookout for good, balanced and interesting red wines that don’t break the bank … and that I most often find these elusive delights on the shelves marked “Southern France” and “Italy.”
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Let me sit down to dinner with a modest Chianti, say, or a fresh young Côtes du Rhône, and I’m likely to be happy with a wine that complements what’s on my plate without either warring with its flavors or overwhelming them.
Every now and then, though – and today is one of those times – I remember that the steep vineyards of Portugal’s Duoro Valley provide another rich source of the kind of reds that I like.
“But wait,” you say, “Isn’t Duoro where they make all that delicious Port?”
Of course it is! The steep, beautiful vineyard terraces of the Duoro (“Doh-ro”) River valley grow the sturdy, robust red grapes – Touriga Nacional (Port’s premier grape), Tinta Roriz (the fruit that the Spanish call Tempranillo), and more – that go into the blend of Port, that beloved rich, sweet and powerful red dessert wine that’s fortified with brandy to make it strong and lasting, capable of keeping for decades in fine vintages.
But the Duoro Valley in Portugal turns out some dry, unfortified reds, too, just as it does upstream in Spain, where it’s called the Duero, best known for the Tempranillo-based reds in the Ribera del Duero region. Portugal’s Duoro reds may not enjoy a fraction of the notoriety of Port, they’re often fine table wines, the kind of balanced, interesting reds that I seek out, at prices that make a convincing argument for buying them more often. If you can find them.
Curiously, although the Port tradition goes back to the 17th century, and wine making in the Douro goes back more than 2,200 years to the first Roman occupation, dry Douro table wines have been produced commercially only since after World War II, when a few pioneers – Ferreira’s iconic Barca Velha and Quinta do Cotto’s very rare Grand Escolha among them – began devoting vineyard space and winery time to making these dry wines in addition to their Ports.
It is only in the past 25 to 30 years, though, that the Douro’s wine makers started making dry reds in earnest. Recognizing the commercial benefits of making wine from younger vines whose grapes lacked the old-vine intensity required for fine Port but still perfectly competent for table reds, the Port house Ramos Pinto rolled out its dry Duas Quintas in 1990. I’ve been drinking it now and then ever since.
Today’s other featured Douro red, the 2014 “Vale do Bomfim” from the Symington family’s Dow Port house, is a good one too, not quite as ready to drink as the Duas Quintas at this point, but worth buying and setting aside for a year or two, or serving now after decanting and breathing time.
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Today’s Tasting Report
Ramos Pinto 2014 “Duas Quintas” Douro ($15.99)
This wine’s name, Duas Quintas (“Two Vineyards”), refers to the sources of its grapes, the Quinta de Ervamoira vineyard on the Douro Valley’s hot, dry lower slopes, and the cooler, breezy Quinta dos Bons Ares vineyard high up the mountainside. A blend of the Port varieties Tinta Barroca (40%), Touriga Franca (30%), Touriga Nacional (20%), and Tinta Roriz (10%), this is a clear but dark reddish-purple wine, showing ruby glints against the light. Its pleasant aroma of fresh but not overbearing fruit is focused on blackberries and black plums with a faint background whiff of spice. Clean, fresh and rather full-bodied black-fruit flavors carry over on the palate, shaped by brisk acidity, with tannic astringency present but palatable. The label claims 13.5% alcohol, standard strength for a red table wine. U.S. importer: Maisons Marques & Domaines, Oakland, Calif. (Sept. 27, 2017)
FOOD MATCH: The winery suggests pairings with meat, pasta or Asian fusion cuisine. We were pleased with its affinity for a pasta cousin, bulgur wheat pilaf with tomatoes, basil and garlic.
WHEN TO DRINK: The winery calls it ready to drink but suggests that it will continue to improve in the bottle. I wouldn’t worry about cellaring it for five or even 10 years, assuming good cellar conditions. On the wine rack at room temperature, drink it up over the next year or two.
Wine-Searcher.com’s $15 average retail is consistent with my local price, a fine value. If you’re lured by a bargain, though, you can find some vendors offering it for less than $10 on Wine-Searcher.
The back-label QR code points to this detailed fact sheet from Ramos Pinto.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
Check prices and find vendors for Ramos Pinto “Duas Quintas” Douro on Wine-Searcher.com.
Click this link to find lots more Douro reds and vendors under $10 on Wine-Searcher.com.
Dow 2014 “Vale do Bomfim” Douro ($14.99)
Made from traditional Port grapes, Tinta Barroca (30%), Touriga Nacional (25%), Touriga Franca (25%), Tinta Roriz (15%), and Tinto Cão (5%), this wine from the Symington family’s historic Dow Port house is dark garnet in color almost all the way to the edge. It seems closed at first, showing simple black fruit, but opens up a bit with time in the glass to reveal notes of something like cranberries and a whiff of licorice. Black fruit and licorice show on the palate in a ripe flavor built on a sturdy structure of tart acidity and firm, astringent tannins. Although 14.5% alcohol is claimed, I don’t detect the bite of heat that sometimes comes with higher-alcohol wines. U.S. importer: Premium Port Wines Inc., San Francisco. (Sept. 28, 2017)
FOOD MATCH: Red meat would serve it fine; we enjoyed it with fennel-scented Italian sausages sauteed with green peppers and onions, and later with rich, buttery cheese.
WHEN TO DRINK: It’s okay now, best with a little breathing time in the glass; but the sharp acidity and strong tannins suggest that it would benefit from a few years in a temperature-contolled cellar.
Wine-Searcher.com’s $12 average retail beats my local price by $3. I’ll take it anywhere below the upper teens, but again, with scattered vendors offering it for less than $10, it’s worth checking Wine-Searcher and shopping around.
There’s plenty of info about Dow’s Ports online, but it’s harder to track down fact sheets on the Douro Reds. Here’s an overview from Vins Philippe Dandurand, a Canadian distributor.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
Check prices and locate vendors for Dow’s “Vale Do Bomfim” Duoro on Wine-Searcher.com.
Want to find more Douro reds under $10? Check this link on Wine-Searcher.com.
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