Portugal’s Top 10

(by peter)

Courtesy of a flying visit to Porto, I’ve just been lucky enough to taste 45 noteworthy Portuguese wines as part of the Top 10 Vinhos Portugueses competition.

This annual event is organised by the team behind the Portuguese Wine magazine. They bring together the 45 wines on current release they have rated highest over the last year and put them into a blind tasting, judged by a motley collection of wine bods like me, with the aim of selecting the top ten.

Of course, you could argue that the initial selection already puts a certain spin on the procedure. But Wine is a respected publication, and judging from 45 is certainly far more manageable than from the veritable ocean of wines in the Essência do Vinho fair taking place outside in the same building (and about which I’ll write a bit more in due course).

It’s one snapshot of Portuguese wine – and a welcome one as far as I’m concerned, another chance to gain an insight into this fascinating, fast-evolving wine scene.

All wines were tasted blind, across eight flights – whites then reds then port. I actually tasted the wines the day after the official tasting had happened so had the stunningly ornate, gilded Arabian Room in the Palácio da Bolsa all to myself, which was quite a surreal experience. (And may also mean that the bottles I tasted showed differently from those tasted by the majority of the panel.)

My tasting notes are below, organised not by tasting order (which turned out to be regionally segregated) but instead by descending order of preference, which I think makes for easier reading.

There were 45 wines in total in the tasting: eight whites, 31 reds and six ports. It was interesting to see the overwhelming representation from the Douro: 23 wines in all (of which 20 were reds), while only one red from the Dão and one from Bairrada featured – disappointingly, in my book, as I’d loved to have tasted more from these regions. All whites were from the cooler 2010 vintage; all reds were from the warmer 2009 vintage. There were no tawnies in the port flight – only vintages, which struck me as odd.

I had some clear preferences (Julia Kemper, Dão Sul, Quinta da Rosa, Cortes de Cima, Quanta Terra, Roquette & Cazes etc). But the consensus verdict, released on Friday night, was as below (you can also find it via this link.) I’m not quite sure if the top white, red and port all tied for first place, or if one representative had to be elected from each category, but I believe it’s the former.

The Top Ten Portuguese Wines 2012 (the consensus verdict)


1 – Soalheiro Alvarinho Primeiras Vinhas 2010, Vinho Verde (Vinussoalherio)


1 – CV – Curriculum Vitae Douro 2009 (Lemos & Van Zeller)

2 – Quinta da Rosa, La Rosa Reserva Douro 2009

3 – Tiago Cabaço Blog’09, Vinho Regional Alentejano

4 – Xisto Douro 2009

5 – Quinta da Manoella Vinhas Velhas Douro 2009

6 – J 2009, Vinho Regional Alentejano (José Maria da Fonseca Vinhos)

7 – Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro 2009

8 – Solar dos Lobos Grande Escolha 2009, Vinho Regional Alentejano


1 – Warre’s Vintage port 2009 (Symington)

There’s a fair bit of overlap here with my results – La Rosa, Xisto, Warre’s 2009 and Vinussoalheiro were all wines I rated highly – as well as the odd disparity (the Quinta da Manoella was my least favourite red of all). But that’s often how these things work out with lots of different tasters approaching the same wines, and with me tasting on a different day.

Overall, there were quite a lot of what I’d term mediocre wines. This may have been the warm 2009 vintage making for slightly hotter, less elegant styles of red. The least successful wines generally were those that didn’t sing – they had either been flattened by winemaking (extraction/oak) or dull fruit, a result of poor quality viticulture. Neither are excusable.

The best wines, by contrast, were a dazzling blend of vibrancy, scent and power, but always with that grippy, elegantly bittersweet zeal that typifies the best Portuguese wines and makes them such good matches for food.

I was slightly surprised at how well the Alentejo/Alentejano reds showed, with some real elegance and definition, not just the ripe supple fruit for which this area is famous. But, perhaps partly a result of weight of numbers, the Douro put in a very impressive performance too.

In general, I’d say that one of the biggest challenges for Portuguese red producers is excess alcohol and just generally overdoing things. But the good news is that the wines so often have such vivid natural character that the winemakers really don’t need to force the issue. Too often were wines overdone when in reality they needed to be slightly underdone (witness my oft-repeated tasting note: ‘shame!’).

Winemakers, above all professions, should be profoundly aware of the famous dictum: ‘less is more’. There is a fine line between undercooked (sour/harsh) and just right. It’s a far harder high-wire act to execute than treading the line between big and super big. But its results are so much more rewarding.

TASTING ‘Top 10 Vinhos Portugueses’


Encontrol 1 Bairrada Branco 2010 (Dão Sul) – Fresh green apple rind + pithy lemon zest. Pleasantly aromatic. Spicy, quite grippy on the palate with some very elegant creamy texture. This is really quite complex and deftly assembled. Lots of elements at play here, all harmonious. Impressive! Needs a year or two to settle. 7.5-(8)/10

Julia Kemper Dão Branco 2010 (Cese) – Wow! Challenging and gutsy. Notes of cheese rind & glazed cream. Nuttily reductive. A bit rustic in feel – but not too bad for it. Creamy texture, powerful lemony core. Grippy, spicy. Young! Mouth-filling. Characterful, very Portuguese in its nutty earthy cheesiness. Edgy. 7.5/10

Guru Douro Branco 2010 (Wine & Soul) – Nutty, lactic, toasty. Lots of oak here! Not unattractive tho. Smooth textured, nice lemony pithy flavour but without a real grippy steely acid core. Very nicely made oaked (Douro?) white. Not too alcoholic or sweet: oak’s marked it but not smothered it. Seems young. 7/10

Soalheiro Alvarinho Primeiras Vinhas 2010, Vinho Verde (Vinussoalherio) – Nutty, gently reductive nose. Subtle. Gentle candied citrus + blanched tangerine rind. Palate is elegantly textured; nice pithy core with spicy hints. Good white: savoury, elegantly put together. Nice concentration. Pretty persistent. 7/10

Redoma Reserva Douro Branco 2010 (Niepoort) – Gently nutty, herbal, appley nose. Fluid, graceful, elegantly textured. Nice gently pithy palate. Oak is deftly done. Succulent, quietly characterful, pretty persistent. Grows on you. Maybe a touch spicy on the finish. 7-6.5/10

Soalheiro Alvarinho 2010, Vinho Verde (Vinussoalherio) – Decent lemon hue. Subtle stony citrus aromas. Good tangerine acidity. Bit short and worked on the finish though – would prefer more linearity and freshness. But it’s pretty decent, characterful white. Nice texture and grip. 6-6.5/10

Duas Quintas Reserva Douro Branco 2010 (Adriano Ramos Pinto) – Pithy lemon and green apple nose. Fluid, soft-textured. Nice fresh clean rounded white – very good everyday white wine for the modern white consumer. Almost Italianate but less tangy. Just a very decent gluggable non-aromatic white that’s not OTT. 6/10

Quinta dos Carvalhais Encruzado Dão Branco 2010 (Sogrape) – Soft, herbal, glazed cream and baked apple nose. Soft in impression… plump and very enjoyable but lacks conviction and serious intent. Very much an Andrex wine, if impressively made in that context. A crowd-pleaser without being too characterful. Quite persistent. 6/10


Quinta da Rosa, La Rosa Reserva Douro 2009 – Lovely nose of violets, dark berry fruit, bacon fat and hints of black pepper. Complex, exciting. Grippy but juicy, some nice fresh acid and tannin. Needs time but so lovely and juicy and lifted. This is brilliant modern Portuguese red: outstanding. Not OTT. Tannin needs to resolve. Maybe a tiny bit hot on finish. But super impressive. (8)-8.5/10

Cortes de Cima Reserva 2009, Vinho Regional Alentejano – Black pepper, dried flowers, plum and redcurrant fruit. Inviting. Juicy, tangy. Good grip, acid and very coherent. Really long. Very young, actually, this needs time to open up. Vigorous and lucid. Pretty tannic and earthy but not at all drying. Needs food; will age; has complexity and nuance. Very good! 8/10

Quanta Terra Grande Reserva Douro 2009 – Earthy, dried fruit aromas with tobacco notes. Pleasant dried flowers too. Nice, elegant nose. Palate is juicy and pretty complex. Overall a very cultured red with lots to it. Seems aged a bit already but with long life ahead too. Good structuring acidity, verges on austere but really actually is very concentrated and layered. Needs food. Serious stuff. Grows on you. Maybe tiny bit hot and creamy on finish but has the fruit and structure to carry it. Very serious, very impressive. 8/10

Xisto Douro 2009 (Roquette & Cazes) – Lovely floral dark berry fruit nose. Really lifted and inviting. Fluid, graceful, gently bittersweet, refreshing. A tiny bit creamy and hot/bitter on the finish but put it with rich meaty dishes. Classic stuff. 8/10

Tiago Cabaço Blog’09, Vinho Regional Alentejano – Dried and fresh cherries – some age here? Earthy. Touch jammy. But also some dried flower notes. Nice and fluid; compact, refreshing, touch of spice. I like it! Pretty high acid, a bit edgy, but really refreshing and foodie and coherent. Not very shouty, a bit like old school Burgundy with a bit more oomph and goat to it. Really invigorating on the finish. Maybe a touch rasping?! But generally very good! 7.5-8/10

Esporão Private Selection Alentejo 2009 – Catholic aromas: some incense and candle wax. Inviting, in a perfumed and slightly monastic sort of way. But then the palate is juicy and refreshing and savoury…lovely! Grippy, a bit woody it’s true, but really lovely coherence, freshness and lift. Blend of traditional character with real elegance. Very nice; just wish they’d used a bit less wood/extraction. 7.5/10

Duorum Reserva Old Vines Douro 2009 – Elegant floral, earthy, dark fruit aromas. Juicy, grippy but not at all overdone. Graceful. Quite broad and not super structured in acidity but it’s very harmonious and elegantly put together. I like the modesty of this wine, grown in warm area, but made with a gentle hand. Very good actually. (7)-7.5/10

Batuta Douro 2009 (Niepoort) – Medium, even paleish hue. Wild red berry fruit nose, hints of damp earth. Intriguing… Grippy, fluid, juicy. Nicely condensed and direct. A little bit limited in scope but it’s a lovely style, refreshing and pretty typical. Some old school elements but that’s nice to retain. This needs to resolve– give it time. 7-7.5/10

Chryseia P+S Douro 2009 (Symington) – Inviting nose without being too forceful. Floral + pithy cherry hints. Graceful, fluid, polished. Some lovely floral lift here. It’s just a tiny bit lacking in focus on the finish – shame – a bit hot and hollow. But overall it’s a glamorous, elegantly crafted modern Portuguese red that’s very impressive. I’d just like a bit more freshness and coherence on the finish. 7/10

J 2009, Vinho Regional Alentejano (José Maria da Fonseca Vinhos) – Hints of earth, cloves, dried flowers. Succulent palate with OK underlying acidity. A bit stodgy on the palate, lacks driving acid, and a bit extracted. But not bad. Just a bit gloupy rather than driven. And a bit creamy too. Decent but not great. 6.5/10

Quinta do Vallado Touriga Nacional Douro 2009 – Dried flowers, dried cherries. Juicy, fluid. Grippy and bittersweet. Needs food! But I like the drive and grip of this style. Has juice and vim. A little bit grainy and bitter but I think this works in an edgy style. A bit austere but worthwhile. 6.5/10

Quinta do Vallado Reserva Douro 2009 – Nice dried red fruit, cherry kernel and dried floral notes. Quite upright on the palate – juicy acid, firmish though not super forceful tannins. Touch of floral lift. It’s a bit hot and prickly; but also some nice fruit softness in there. Just comes up a little bit drying and hot on the finish. 6.5-6/10

Quinta dos Avidagos Grande Reserva Douro 2009 – Brooding. Dark spice, dark choc on the nose, not super scented. Some pithy red and dark berry fruit emerges. It’s OK, a bit forced and extracted, lacks drive and freshness. Some florality. Seems a self-consciously impressive red, masculine and sinewy, and lacks drinkability and life for it. 6.5-6/10

Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro 2009 -Floral, slightly stewy nose. Dense, grippy: I like what they’re trying to do here. But doesn’t harmonise particularly well. Nice floral lifted berry fruit. Good juicy fresh acid. But a bit raw and hot. Needs toning down a notch or two. 6.5-6/10

Chocapalha Reserva 2009, Vinho Regional Lisboa 2009 – Restrained nutty, earthy red fruit. On the palate it’s quite spicy and full-bodied. Has a touch of fire to it. Broad and pretty satisfying. But could be juicier and more refreshing. I like the cherry fruit lift tho. Nice, not great. 6/10

CV – Curriculum Vitae Douro 2009 (Lemos & Van Zeller) – Very creamy nose, with polished dark cherries. It’s a bit obvious and oaky, very modern in style. But not without appeal. Then on the palate it’s too extracted, with some slightly gritty wood tannins here. Shame! Overdone on the oak front. Ease off the gas! 6/10

Pintas Douro 2009 (Wine & Soul) – Tea leaf, aged red fruit. Balsa wood hints. Dense, quite compact. Tannic with tangy acidity. Pretty decent, needs to resolve still, not sure how fresh the fruit will be when that happens. But it’s good in a fresh, tangy, grippy style. 6/10

Poeira Douro 2009 (Jorge Nobre Moreira) – Expressive. But reductive – sulfury. Plummy and floral notes emerge. A bit grainy though in general the tannins are managed pretty well. Just a bit watery on the finish. Some really nice elements here but just not showing very well. 6/10

Solar dos Lobos Grande Escolha 2009, Vinho Regional Alentejano – Slightly soupy, muddled nose. Some violets and dark cherry emerge. Tannins are a little grainy and the fruit is a little lacking on the finish. Good elements here but they don’t really coalesce meaningfully. Gently bittersweet. Needs less extraction. 6/10

TN by Rui Reguinga Dão 2009 – Elegant floral, bitter cherry nose, red fruits. Juicy palate with some elegantly juicy tannin. Lovely stuff, probably quite cheap? But very well made. Could be a touch softer and less gritty on finish. 6/10

Quinta do Crasto Reserva Vinhas Velhas Douro 2009 – Lovely floral nose. Beautifully scented and evocative. Juicy and richly fruity initially – but then spicy and angular on the finish. What a shame! Was building up to be such a lovely wine. Just needed freshness and linearity. Turns out a bit gloupy and forced. What a shame. 6-5.5/10

Quinta do Vesúvio Douro 2009 – Caramel, dried flowers, dried fruit, glazed cream. A bit watery and hollow on the palate. Some tannic grip. Shame. Some nice elements but a bit too traditional and lacking core focus. 6-5.5/10

CH by Chocapalha Vinho Regional Lisboa 2009 – Incense aromas; lovely floral clove notes but also a touch of reduction lurking underneath too. Spicy, bit angular on the palate. Shame! Comes up a bit awkward overall as a result. Not easy to drink. 5.5/10

Quinta de S. José Grande Reserva Douro 2009 – Briney, shrimp-like nose. Red fruits. It’s decent, fine, grippy and relatively structured. But fails to excite really. Some candle wax/floral complexity. But no real vim and vigour and drive. 5.5/10

Quinta dos Abibes Sublime Bairrada 2009 – A bit woody on the nose; creamy balsa red fruit, plum. Grippy acid and firmish tannin, moderate in scope. But a bit dried out and too woody for the fruit. Old school, not super impressive. 5/10

Marquês de Borba Reserva Alentejo 2009 (J Portugal Ramos Vinhos) – Not very expressive – gentle floral dark cherry nose. A bit grainy and inconsequential. Cheap? 5/10

Scala Coeli Alentejo 2009 (Fundação Eugénio de Almeida) – Elegant floral candle wax nose. Slightly jammy red and dark berry fruit. Juicy, touch of spice, really nice until the finish, which is a bit hot and hollow. Shame! Was doing very well. Touch creamy too. Could do with bit less work/oak, more freshness. 4.5/10

Omlet Douro 2009 (Niepoort) – Slightly jammy red fruit. Bit watery. And texturally a bit angular. Not very impressive, a bit dried out. 4/10

Passadouro Reserva Douro 2009 – Balsa wood and red fruit aromas. Tannic. Lacking fresh fruit. Hot. Not very impressive. 4/10

Quinta Casa Amarela Grande Reserva Douro 2009 – Caramel. Slightly dusty/musty. Out of condition. 2nd bottle still a bit malty and undistinguished. Lacks coherence and charm. 4/10

Quinta da Manoella Vinhas Velhas Douro 2009 – Floral, cherry and something else, like pear drops. Pretty harsh and angular, lacks beauty and grace. Over extracted. Confected too. Odd combo. 3/10


Dow Quinta Senhora da Ribeira Vintage port 2009 (Symington) – Deep youthful hue, purple rim. Nice floral and black pepper aromas. Lovely vintage port scent. Spicy, grippy, savoury. Lovely purity and zest and balance. Not at all hot or disjointed. Really impressive stuff. Seems graceful, like a very good single quinta vintage style. Bit fiery on finish but very very good. 8.5/10

Niepoort Vintage port 2009 – Deep hue, tight rim. Creamy peppery dark fruit. Cogent, lovely textural softness but with good grip, lift and fire on the finish. Very impressive indeed. Needs time but very approachable. Bit fiery. 8-8.5/10

Warre’s Vintage port 2009 (Symington) – Leafy, peppery, dense dark fruit. Classic. Juicy, vibrant, fresh, peppery, really cogent and harmonious. Delicious! Very well made. 8-(8.5)/10

Taylor’s Vintage port 2009 (Fladgate) – Deep, with tight rim. Nose not amazing but good fiery grippy juicy dark fruit palate. Needs time! Lots of impressive elements here that need time to come together. Aristocratic in feel. 7.5-8/10

Quinta do Vesúvio Vintage port 2009 (Symington) – Slightly stewed plummy fruit. But nice density and real coherent grip on the palate. Not as lucid and harmonious as some here but very nicely done. 7.5/10

Fonseca Vintage port 2009 (Fladgate) – Very dense dark hue, tight rim. Bit baked on nose. Not super vibrant. Sweet, forceful, a bit tannic. Not my favourite style – too baked and lacking grip and freshness. Slightly gritty and inelegant. 6.5/10