Last month, LA Wine Writers’ group was treated to a tasting of exceptional Portuguese wines by Ayesha Trump, founder of D’Ouro Vino Selections.
During travels to Portugal, Ms. Trump fell in love with the country and its wines. Explaining how she started her company, she told us, “I brought back as much wine as I could carry, when I came home to Los Angeles-maybe four bottles? I looked for more at my local stores, and was shocked to find there were almost no Portuguese wines.”
Undaunted, she did what any self-respecting oenophile with a background in international business would; she began importing them herself. The result is a portfolio of hand picked, boutique producers, whose alluring wines show great character and craftsmanship.
Her enthusiasm is catching on. Since opening in 2014, D’Ouro Vino’s LA placements have grown to include: Lincoln Fine Wines, Wally’s Wines and Spirits, The Wine House and Venice Beach Wines, among others.
Our gathering was at Cafe del Rey, where General Manager, Brian Cousins, Wine & Beverage Director, Chris Shannon, and Executive Chef, David Vilchez, gave us a gracious welcome. With pastry chef, Ana Cervantes, they created a lovely four-course lunch, thoughtfully tailored to the wines.
We were joined by Silvia da Costa, owner-winemaker of Quinta Da Lapa, and her partner, Chef Andrés Magallhães. Miguel Braga owner-winemaker of Quinta Do Mourão, and Eugénio Jardim, the Wines of Portugal US Ambassador, rounded out the group. They couldn’t have been more generous with their knowledge, nor more gregarious company.
In our short time together, we barely scratched the surface of Portugal’s rich wine culture, but our visitors shared some interesting highlights:
- Portugal has a 2,000-year winemaking history, but is little known in the States, except for its Madeira and Port.
- In 2014, Wine Spectator’s Matt Kramer focused attention on this unsung part of the Old World, calling it, “…the most exciting wine place on the planet today.”
- The country has more than two hundred discreet microclimates, and two hundred and fifty native grape varieties.
- Wine producers are known more for indigenous blends than single varietal wines.
- Experimentation with international grapes began in the 1950’s.
- It wasn’t until 1984, when Portugal joined the European Union, that producers were allowed to export anything other than fortified wines, giving us a chance to enjoy their impressive reds and whites.
- Port houses could not do their own bottling until 1986. Before then, this was done by special warehouses, or “caves”, found mostly in the city of Vila Nova de Gaia.
- There is a growing female presence among enology school students.
- Portugal has fourteen distinct wine regions, and three levels of classification: vinho, vinho regional and DOC or DOP. Government regulations become more strict going up the ladder, where vineyard designation, permitted grapes, harvest limits, alcohol levels and aging requirements are concerned.
It was a bit unorthodox to start our meal with a dessert wine, but a sweet way to pass the time awaiting our hosts, whose flight was delayed. We began with José Maria da Fonseca Sétubal 20 Year Moscatel Roxo, a fortified wine, from the Sétubal peninsula, just south of Lisbon. The moscatel roxo grape is nearly extinct, grown only in a tiny vineyard in Azeitão.
This rare gem is a blend of four vintages, ranging from twenty-three to eighty years old. A deep caramel color, it has notes of apricot, spice, brown sugar, almond and orange peel, with sprightly acid. We sipped it with an appetizer of crispy flatbread, topped with mozzarella, ham, capers, chopped egg and red onion.
Two delightful whites were served with the second course, a grilled octopus salad in a white wine-saffron vinaigrette.
2007 Caves Transmontanas Vértice Expumante Bruto, is an affordable, refreshing sparkler from Duoro, made in the Champagne method. The 85% gouveio and 15% ragigato grapes used in the blend are grown on granite soils. Aged on the lees, it is dry and crisp, with a small, lively bead. Citrusy, with toasty brioche, enjoyable salinity and a creamy texture.
Next up was 2014 Casal Da Coelheira Branco Reserva, a blend of 70% chardonnay and 30% arinto, from the Charneca area of the Tejo region. Being dry, with minimal oak and high acid, make it a food-friendly drink. Lemon, apple, tarragon, peach and pear flavors predominate.
The third course was beef cheek stew with red wine-beet risotto, morels and pea shoots, accompanied by four luscious reds. While all were well made, two stood out among the others.
2012 Quinta Da Fonte Do Ouro Touriga Nacional from the Dao region, is a stunner: rich, powerful and concentrated, without being heavy. Highly aromatic, it boasts blackberry, black current, licorice and violets. Perfectly balanced, with a restrained use of Allier French oak and firm, well-integrated tannins.
Silvia da Costa’s Quinta Da Lapa is situated in the highlands north of the Tejo river. She has found its clay-limestone soil conducive to both native and international grapes. Her most compelling wine of the day was the fresh, vibrant 2013 Merlot Reserva, aged in stainless steel. It has a wisp of tobacco on the nose, with juicy, red fruit, plum and a sliver of chocolate-cherry. Elegant, with a silky texture and moderate tannins.
Some wines are delicious and skillfully made; others go a step beyond and move the soul. Such are Miguel Braga’s glorious Quinta Do Mourãu 10, 20 and 40 year Tawny Ports, bottled under the S. Leonardo label. They were paired with Chef Cervantes’ dessert: a pastry shell, filled with sorbet, roasted cherries, candied walnuts, topped by a pistachio biscotto and a schmear of lemon curd on the side.
The ten year was more complex than most Ports of its age, with layers of ripe, red fruit, dried apricot, orange and baking spices. It showed a great acid-sugar balance, with a full, smooth finish. These qualities carried through in the twenty and forty year. Luxurious and satisfying, they showed even more intricacy, deep caramel notes, vanilla, lemon and a faint smokiness.