October 3, 2013
The wines known collectively as ‘Port’ originate within the regulated appellation of the Douro (aka Denominação de Origem Controlada or DOC); which is in the valley of the Douro River, a continuation of the Duero River of Spain on whose banks lay the powerful red appellations of Ribera del Duero and Toro. Established in 1756, the port wine producing Douro region is the third oldest protected wine region in the world after the Tokaj-Hegyalja region in Hungary, established in 1730, and Chianti, in 1716. Within its eponymous DOC, the Douro has carved a deep valley with slopes as steep as Cote-Rotie in the Northern Rhone or the Mosel in Germany. The soil structure here is schist, metamorphic stratified rock of the Cambrian era, also found in Cote-Rotie and in Priorato in Spain. And the establishment of abundant high quality vineyards here is entirely dependent upon the fact that the layered schist formations here have been upended by geologic events resulting in patterns of vertical fracturing which allow the roots to penetrate deeply in search of water and nutrients.
Port wine is made from a range of indigenous grape varieties, five of which represent the majority of plantings: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesca and Touriga Nacional. The basis of all present day Port wines is a unique twist in winemaking. Fermentation of grapes in winemaking usually progresses until the available sugars have all been metabolized by the yeasts (converted to alcohol). Or, in an alternate case yielding sweet wines (intentionally or not) the sugar levels of the grapes pre-fermentation are elevated past the point at which the yeasts can survive in the higher degrees of alcohol ultimately evolved, leaving residual sugar in the wine. Sweet wines can also be produced by an intervention stopping the progress of an unfinished fermentation, using chemical (sulfur) or physical (filtration) means. Port wines since the early 17th Century have been a product of a different winemakers’ intervention- the addition of distilled alcohol to an incompletely fermented must to stop the yeast’s further conversion of sugar.
But Port wines are not just a product of vineyards and wineries. They are also a product of geo-political history. The aforementioned shift to wines enriched with both fortification and residual sugar was undertaken to condition the wines for shipment in barrel to England, where a market was newly opened to them. This, coinciding with the English closing their trade in French wines as a result of war between England and France. The ‘new’ Port wines captured the English market, and the English traders by and large captured the production of Port; a status that persists to this day. The continued English involvement in the port trade can be seen in the names of many port shippers: Cockburn, Croft, Dow, Gould, Graham, Osborne, Offley, Sandeman, Taylor and Warre being amongst the best known. Shippers of Dutch and German origin are also prominent, such as Niepoort and Burmester.Quinta do Infantado
But today we are going to shift our focus from the generalities of Port to the specifics of the very singular Quinta do Infantado and its Ports. Why? Well, everything is different there. Firstly, Infantado is one of the very few Port houses actually owned by Portuguese nationals and having a familial history on their lands. Based in Pinhão, Quinta do Infantado has been a leader in estate-bottled Ports since 1979. Prior to 1986, the British monopoly on Port required that all exported Ports be sent in bulk to Vila Nova de Gaia, 60 miles west of the Douro Valley, where they were bottled and shipped. This practice effectively prevented small private producers from exporting their wines, since the cost of running an operation in another town was prohibitive for these vineyard owners. In 1986 the laws were changed and Quinta do Infantado, who were already making their own wines, were amongst the first to begin exporting their wines.
Quinta do Infantado
The greatest uniqueness of Infantado Port is, however, right in every bottle they make. The estate, run by the brother and sister team of João and Catherine Roseira, is famous for producing ports that are “meio-seco” or medium-dry in style. This starts in their vineyards, which are all ‘Class A’; the equivalent of Grand Cru status in the DOC regulation (even the entry level Ruby & Tawny bottlings, which are more typically derived elsewhere from Classes D, E & F vineyards). And into the winery where the hand-picked grapes ferment long and slowly in lagares (2-foot high stone tanks) and are still foot “trodden”. Less than 2% of Port is still made by this century old, labor-intensive method. But this is their greatest uniqueness: Infantado’s wines have more natural alcohol and less sugar than other ports, meaning that less “aguardente” or grape brandy has to be added. They simply allow more extended fermentation and both delay and diminish the intervention that defines Port. The wines are therefore more vinous (still wine-like), more balanced and drier than most ports. In fact, Robert Parker has said of Infantado’s best vintage Port: “A saturated, black/purple color is followed by a huge, ripe, pure nose of jammy blackberry and cassis fruit that is vaguely reminiscent of such great 1990 Hermitages as Chapoutier’s Le Pavillon, Jaboulet’s La Chapelle, or Chave’s red label Cuvee Cathelin. Awesome concentration, massive body, an unctuous texture oozing with fruit, glycerin, and extract, and a blockbuster finish”.
Infantado harvest- low yields on steep inclines
Our Quinta do Infantado Fall Feature lineup:
Quinta do Infantado Ruby Port NV ($19.95) $17 special
Quinta do Infantado Tawny Port NV ($19.95) $17 special
Their basic Ruby and Tawny Ports are outstanding examples of elegance and richness. The wines are normally from a blend of 2-3 vintages, with the Tawny aged in casks and small “toneis” (slightly smaller than barrique Bordelaise). Their Ruby is dark, rich and plummy with excellent balance of fruit, acid and tannins without an overwhelming sugary or jammy flavor. The Tawny is lighter, but still expressive of fruit with coffee and toffee; silky and elegant, with notes of golden raisins and roasted hazelnuts. Both the Ruby and the Tawny are superb.
Quinta do Infantado 10 year Tawny Port NV ($39.95) $33 special
Their 10-year Tawny is an exceptional wine of deep amber brown color and incredible length and delineation of flavor. The finish is expressive of coffee and caramel with a round, silky texture. This wine has received its due attention by the critics and is tops in its class.
Quinta do Infantado Reserve Green Label Port NV ($27.95) $21.90 special
The Estate Reserve is a ‘vintage character” Port that is made mainly from a single undeclared vintage with amounts from other casks blended in to make a fully accessible, rich, harmonious wine that truly exemplifies the Vintage style.
Quinta do Infantado Port Colheita 2001 ($41.95) $36 special
Quinta do Infantado oldest vintage dated Porto is a Colheita from 1977. Well, believe it or not, it took them 24 years to make another Colheita. The first bottling of this 2001 Colheita tawny Porto was in 2010.
Quinta do Infantado Late Bottled Vintage Port 2007 ($29.95) $26 special
Quinta do Infantado Late Bottled Vintage Port 2008 ($29.95) $26 special
Given the opulent wine-making and the relatively short duration pre-bottling these are almost indistinguishable from the classic Vintage Ports. More open and accessible, no need to decant.
Quinta do Infantado Vintage Port 2004 ($59.95) $49 special
Quinta do Infantado Vintage Port 2007 ($59.95) $49 special
Finally, the Vintage Ports of Quinta do Infantado are singularly distinctive in their “meio-seco” (medium-dry) style. The Roseira family is very careful when declaring a vintage year and will not do so if there is the least doubt about the concentration and quality of the vintage. The wine is remarkably rich, expressive and multi-layered while retaining the force, tannins and “old- vines” character of a youthful Port.