Delicious and High-Quality Portuguese Bastardo

Today’s Story: Conceito Wines

Conceito Wines is a family-owned and operated wine estate with roots tracing back to the 1940s, though they did not start bottling their own wines until the 2005 vintage. Throughout their first several decades the Ferreira family sold their fruit to other producers, however when Rita Ferreira Marques joined after studying Oenology and working in Bordeaux, California, South Africa, and New Zealand the mantra changed. Conceito’s estate vineyards are located in Vale da Teja of the Douro Valley in Portugal, and they encompass 86 hectares (213 acres) across five separate sites. The climate of these vineyards is rather cool, augmented by high elevations between about 1,500 feet and 2,000 feet above sea level. All viticulture is organic without the use of pesticides or herbicides, while winemaking is of the minimal intervention approach. Each Conceito wine is meant to showcase the unique terroir of their sites in Portugal, and the portfolio consists of a flagship Conceito range as well as two Contraste bottlings (a red and a white) meant for more “relaxed” consumption.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Bastardo

100% Bastardo (Trousseau); 13% ABV

The 2018 Bastardo is pale ruby in color and fairly transparent. I let this evolve in the glass, with aromas of medium intensity and a nose that showcases notes of cherry, black raspberry, licorice, violets, smoked game, gravel, and mild spice. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of raspberry, red cherry, cranberry, red licorice, graphite, dried green herbs, and black pepper. This dry red is light-bodied with medium (+) acidity, low tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $35. From quality, balance, and complexity standpoints I think this is very fairly-priced though there are better “values” out there. A lot of the Trousseau I’ve had seems to range from $25 to $45 and this fits right in the middle, but I do think several closer to $25 drink just as well as this one. Nonetheless this is a great and fun wine that can open you to more high-quality wines Portugal has to offer.

A Great Entry-Level Sweet Madeira

Today’s Story: The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Madeira

The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Madeira is a project launched in 1998 by Ricardo Freitas (owner of Madeira producer Vinhos Barbeito) and Mannie Berk (owner of The Rare Wine Company). The project was launched out of a mutual appreciation and love of Madeira, a wine that was America’s most highly sought-after during the 18th and 19th centuries before falling into obscurity. With a core portfolio of wines names after American cities where Madeira was most-prized, the Historic Series Madeira bottlings are meant to capture the unique style of each place. These include the Baltimore Rainwater Special Reserve, Charleston Sercial Special Reserve, Savannah Verdelho Special Reserve, Boston Bual Special Reserve, and New York Malmsey Special Reserve which showcase the tendency for drier Madeira in the southern states and sweeter Madeira in the northern states. In addition to this core portfolio, the Historic Series Madeira also includes limited releases named for Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, and the city of New Orleans. All wines are blended with Madeira ranging from 10 to 60 years old, and they are meant to be affordable bottlings to re-introduce this great wine to wider groups of consumers.

I previously reviewed the NV Charleston Sercial Special Reserve Madeira from The Rare Wine Co.

Today’s Wine: NV New York Malmsey Special Reserve Madeira

100% Malvasia; 19.5% ABV

The NV New York Malmsey Special Reserve is medium tawny in color though it has brownish hues since I’ve had this open for a few days. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of fruitcake, spiced plum, prune, fig, clove, coffee grounds, toffee, and walnut. Flavors are also of pronounced intensity, and the palate displays notes of dates, fig, fruitcake, sweet tobacco, caramel, mocha, browned butter, and oaky spice. This sweet Madeira is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, low tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $50. I think this is very solid value for Madeira, as the balance, length, intensity, and complexity here are quite profound. Though there are certainly better Madeiras out there, this Malmsey and the others from The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series are great beginner bottlings.

Affordable but High Quality Madeira

Today’s Story: The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Madeira

The Rare Wine Co. Historic Series Madeira is a project launched in 1998 by Ricardo Freitas (owner of Madeira producer Vinhos Barbeito) and Mannie Berk (owner of The Rare Wine Company). The project was launched out of a mutual appreciation and love of Madeira, a wine that was America’s most highly sought-after during the 18th and 19th centuries before falling into obscurity. With a core portfolio of wines names after American cities where Madeira was most-prized, the Historic Series Madeira bottlings are meant to capture the unique style of each place. These include the Baltimore Rainwater Special Reserve, Charleston Sercial Special Reserve, Savannah Verdelho Special Reserve, Boston Bual Special Reserve, and New York Malmsey Special Reserve which showcase the tendency for drier Madeira in the southern states and sweeter Madeira in the northern states. In addition to this core portfolio, the Historic Series Madeira also includes limited releases named for Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, and the city of New Orleans. All wines are blended with Madeira ranging from 10 to 60 years old, and they are meant to be affordable bottlings to re-introduce this great wine to wider groups of consumers.

Today’s Wine: NV Charleston Sercial Special Reserve Madeira

100% Sercial; 19.5% ABV

The NV Charleston Sercial Special Reserve is pale tawny in color. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, and the rather complex nose displays notes of dried red apple, orange peel, dried apricot, toffee, caramel, honey, hazelnut, walnut, and saline. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, with the palate showcasing notes of fig, charred lemon, orange peel, dried apricot, honey, caramel, nutmeg, and toasted almond. This off-dry Madeira is light- to medium-bodied with mouthwatering medium (+) acidity, low tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $50. I think this is a solid value for Madeira, and I’ve found that to generally be the case with the Rare Wine Co. Madeira bottlings I’ve tried. This is a very good representation of Sercial Madeira, and it offers very solid complexity, balance, and length.

Powerful Dry Red From the Douro Valley

Today’s Story: Prats & Symington

Prats & Symington is a joint venture established by the Symington family of Portugal and the Prats family of Bordeaux in 1999. Located in Portugal’s Douro Valley, Prats & Symington was created to showcase the possibility of creating world-class non-fortified wines from the region by employing long maceration and winemaking techniques common in Bordeaux. The estate consists of two owned vineyards, Quinta de Roriz which is a historic 42 hectare (104 acre) vineyard dating to 1565 and Quinta da Perdiz which is 23 hectares (57 acres). Both vineyards are planted largely to Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, however they also include smaller plots of Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca, and Tinta Francisca which can all occasionally be included in the blends. All fruit is hand-harvested and carefully sorted before fermentation begins in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. Chryseia then ages in 400-liter new French oak barrels for 8 to 12 months, which is relatively short to avoid adding significant oak influence to the wine.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Chryseia

60% Touriga Nacional, 40% Touriga Franca; 14% ABV

The 2016 Chryseia is deep purple in color and nearly black at its core. I decanted this for about an hour and drank it over the following hour or so. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, and the nose showcases notes of blackcurrant, blueberry, blackberry, violets, black licorice, thyme, mint, slate, and a hint of vanilla. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity, and the palate displays plum, blackberry, cassis, sweet tobacco, anise, dried herbs, pepper, and mocha. This dry red is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tannins, high alcohol, and a long finish. Quite enjoyable now with the air, though this should develop nicely over the next five years or so.

Price: $70. While no doubt a high-quality, delicious, and fun wine produced in a region known for Port, I struggle to tag this as a great value wine given the price-point. This is somewhat big and jammy for my personal tastes as well, but I did enjoy it.

Beautifully Aged Madeira

Today’s Story: Blandy’s

Blandy’s is a historic and family-owned producer of Madeira wines, established in 1811 on the island of Madeira by John Blandy. John Blandy arrived on the island in early 1808, later establishing his own wine shipping and merchant business in 1811 alongside brothers Thomas and George. As Blandy’s grew and exported wines to all corners of the world, they unsurprisingly became a beacon of quality and strong proponent of Madeira wines over the decades that followed. In 1925, Blandy’s decided to join the Madeira Wine Association which was a group formed by multiple producers to weather the economic and political woes facing the world at that time, continuing to maximize global exposure of their products. Fast forward to 1989, and Blandy’s partnered with the Symington family (a well-established producer of high quality Port wines) so together they could further augment the reputation and quality of Port and Madeira wines throughout the world. This partnership continues to this day, under the title of Madeira Wine Company. Today, Michael and Chris Blandy who are sixth and seventh generation members of the family, respectively, work for the company while Chris handles the day-to-day as CEO.

Blandy’s works with the typical grape varieties for Madeira, which include Tinta Negra, Sercial, Verdelho, Terantez, Bual, and Malvasia (Malmsey). Tinta Negra is used to produce dry and off-dry wines not subject to maceration, as well as medium sweet and sweet wines which do involve maceration on the skins. Meanwhile all the white varieties are subject to skin contact to obtain maximum dry extract from the fruit. Fermentation occurs in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks, though it is interrupted with natural grape brandy for fortification at different stages. For example, sweet wines are fortified roughly 24 hours after fermentation begins whereas drier wines may spend up to seven days fermenting before fortification.

During the aging process, the wines are heated and this practice occurred by accident when Madeira wine as we know it was first created during the 15th and 16th centuries. During this time, visiting ships to the island were loaded with barrels of wine to both “nourish” the sailors and help provide ballast as they travelled to other ports around the seas. Legend has it that one ship returned with a barrel in tact and, when the producer tasted it, the wine was improved by the warm tropical temperatures that several trips across the equator brought. From that point forward, barrels of the wine were loaded onto ships so they could naturally warm during voyages until this became too costly. Now two main methods exist, the “Canteiro” method where the wines age in American oak casks in the warm attic of the cellars, and the “Estufagem” method where the winemaker controls the heat levels during aging. The Canteiro method, which is used to produce high quality Madeira like the bottle I am reviewing today, is an interesting one. The barrels are never 100% full, allowing the wines to slowly oxidize over time to bring out the signature characteristics of Madeira. Blandy’s loses about 7% of their volumes every year due to evaporation, and this must be controlled by moving barrels from warmer floors to cooler floors of the attic at varying stages.

To learn more, I highly suggest visiting the Blandy’s website here. They have incredible detail regarding the history of both their own company and that of Madeira as a whole, as well as pictures, cultural elements, and a detailed description of the varieties used in their wines.

Today’s Wine: 1968 Verdelho Madeira

100% Verdelho; 20.5% ABV

The 1968 Verdelho Madeira is medium brown in color. Given a bit of time to blossom in the glass, the wine draws you in with aromas of pronounced intensity and offers up a nose of fig, orange zest, raisin, apple pie, salted caramel, toffee, tar, wood varnish, vanilla, and oaky spice. Flavors on the palate are also of pronounced intensity, displaying notes of fig, baked apple, orange peel, caramel, chocolate, almond, and oak-driven baking spice. This medium dry Madeira is full-bodied with high acidity, high alcohol, and a long finish. 100 cases produced, and bottled in 2009. Showed best on days 2 and 3.

Price: $300 (I paid $250). Though I purchased this with a friend for a very good price, I still think the going market rate is more than reasonable. This is a captivating wine that showcases its age beautifully while remaining well-balanced and fairly complex. The only reason this lasted more than one night is because it was not our first or only bottle of the evenings…

50 Year Old Port Still Kicking

Today’s Story: Warre’s

Warre’s is a large, historical Port company established in 1670 as the first and oldest British Port company in Portugal. Though no members of the Warre family were involved at that time, two Englishmen named William Burgoyne and John Jackson established Burgoyne & Jackson as a trading company involved in wine, olive oil, fruit, cod, and wool trading. As the company grew over time and added new partners, it was known as Clark & Thornton by 1723. In 1729, however, William Warre (1706-1773) arrived in Portugal from India and joined the business which became Messrs. Clark, Thornton & Warre. By the time the Warre family shifted into control and the company was known as Warre & Sons near the end of the 18th century, Warre’s was one of the largest exporters of Port accounting for about 10% of the total with 21 companies in the trade.

Under the Warre family, Warre’s grew and became ever more prestigious, particularly under another William Warre (1784-1853). This William completed an illustrious military career fighting alongside the Anglo-Portuguese army with the Duke of Wellington (whom he supplied with Port wine) in nearly every major battle of the Peninsular War (1807-1814). A half century later, Andrew James Symington joined Warre & Co. in 1905 and took sole ownership in 1908. Andrew James comes from a long, long lineage of the Port making Symington family, which spans 13 generations and 350 years of history, so he was a natural individual to pick up the reigns of this great company. More than a century later, the Symington family still owns and operates Warre’s and six members of the family are actively involved in day-to-day operations today.

Not only is Warre’s the last Port producer of British origin owned by a single family, they are also one of the few great estates who own 100% of their vineyards (named Quinta da Cavadinha, Quinta do Retiro Antigo, and Quinta da Telhada). This point of pride and tradition carries into the cellars as well, where they continue to make some of their Port by the traditional treading method in shallow stone treading tanks (though not all is made this way). Instead, Warre’s introduced the first automatic treading machine in a stainless steel tank with pistons that mimic human treading to produce a large number of their wines. Fermentation lasts a very short period of time (roughly 2 days) because Port is fortified and a natural grape spirit is added to interrupt the process when about half of the natural sugar is converted to alcohol. This is why Warre’s Port is sweet, rich, and high in alcohol while commanding great longevity in the cellar.

Today’s Wine: 1970 Tercentenary Vintage Porto

Port Blend (Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barocca, Touriga Francesa, and Tinta Amarela); 20.5% ABV

The 1970 Tercentenary Vintage Porto is translucent pale ruby in color with garnet variation (I’d never guess this is 50 years old). The nose on this is absolutely captivating and only got better after several hours, showcasing aromas of ripe red cherry, pomegranate, strawberry rhubarb, fig, cola, spice cake, tar, clove, and sweet rum spice. The palate is fantastic as well, characterized by notes of cherry, black raspberry, dates, cranberry, rose, anise, rum cake, toffee, caramel, chocolate, and baking spice. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, light tannins, and a long finish. A really fun and exciting wine that is beautifully balanced.

Price: $250 (but I’m seeing it up to $900 online). This was a gift to my father, so in our eyes it was the best value we could ever find! Jokes aside, I think if you can find a properly stored bottling with great provenance this could be really fun to try, though I’d hope closer to the $250 price. I can’t see this selling for $900.