With Christmas less than a week away, this post brings together two topics I associate with this time of year: charity, and the delicious, complex, fortified wine called Port.
For a relatively tiny country—smaller in area than the state of Kentucky–Portugal is a prodigious producer of wine. It has long been the source of some of the wine world’s great fortified wines—Port from the Douro and vintage Madeira from the island of Madeira off the coast of North Africa. Since the country’s entry into the European Union in 1986, Portugal has also increasingly become a source for great dry whites and reds, as well as some very good sparkling wines.
This is an event I look forward to every year, even if I’ve ragged a bit on the opacity of the selection criteria in the past. There’s always an eclectic group of producers ranging from the very well known and perpetually excellent to the less well known and only occasionally excellent, or at least aspiring to excellence. There’s enough of each to keep it interesting. There’s also always great food on hand. This year’s venue, the Metreon, had its pluses and minuses. The view from the Metreon balcony is one of the best in San Francisco, so the outdoor, balcony part of the event, especially given the beautiful weather conditions, proved to be a scenic and inspiring place to taste wine. The indoor part, on the other hand, especially after dark, tended to be gloomy, cavernous and more than a little depressing.
We celebrated Sandy’s fifth decade at the Fifth Floor with a special menu that Executive Chef David Bazirgan came up with to pair with our wines. The food was creative and outstanding. Our wines were very good overall, and nothing was corked or faulty. As 1961 was not only a good year for people, but also an excellent year in Bordeaux, Barolo and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, it was a treat to have a bottle of that vintage from each of those appellations, all of which were in remarkably good shape. In short, it was a memorable night, and a great celebration.
To date, my top 15 wines, wines that I’ve rated 99 points or higher, are dominated by some of the world’s priciest first growth Bordeaux, rare vintage Madeira, and powerful, great Rhônes. There’s six Bordeaux, four vintage Madeiras, and three from the Rhône. There’s also one Napa Cab on the list–the ’93 Screaming Eagle–and a single Port, the exquisite 1994 Quinta do Noval Nacional.
In general, as was the case last year with a different set of producers, I found a great number of terrific values in dry wines from Portugal, with retail prices as low as $5 to $10 for some fairly well made and adequate drinkers. I also found a significantly higher number of wines meriting 90 or more points than I did last year. This year, of the 53 producers whose wines I tried, 22 of them produced at least one wine that I rated 90 points or higher.
So what’s my takeaway from this tasting? Well, it’s just one more data point: a sample of a wine meant for aging, nearly 14 years from the vintage, where the Stelvin closed bottle resulted in a tastier, plusher sample, with more fruit and some development of the tannins and oak than the identical wine sealed under cork. I must admit I’m surprised, as it’s not what I expected.