Vale da Mata Reserva 2008
I find keeping abreast of what is going on in Bordeaux and the Loire is hard enough. Trying to keep a broad overview of the entire world of wine is near-enough impossible, and it is countries like Portugal that really rub salt in the wound in this respect. Twenty years ago any keen student of wine could, once he (or she, of course, please take that as read) had managed to become acquainted with the principal styles of Port (and of course Madeira too - we mustn't forget this sub-tropical island remains under Portuguese jurisdiction today), have peremptorily ticked Portugal off his 'to do' list. Now, what's next, our student would mutter under his breath. Hmm, South Africa. Not much there except rubbery Pinotage and Steen. Shouldn't take too long.....
Of course the world of wine has changed, thank goodness. Portugal is particularly dynamic, and South Africa, as I brought it up, has long been producing wines of interest too. But Portugal seems almost to have reinvented itself, once a country where only fortified wines mattered, it is now recognised as a source of a diverse range of wines. Red still rules, as we might imagine, but in recent years the white wines have also been increasingly convincing. How do I know? Mainly thanks to the annual Portuguese Top 50 tastings, sponsored by Wines of Portugal, in which top British wine writers - in recent years Jamie Goode, Sarah Ahmed and Tom Cannavan - have the chance to show their favourite wines to press and trade.
On occasion some of these bottles come my way, and this week's is just such a wine. It hails from Lisboa, and if that sounds unfamiliar it is perhaps because you and I would have until recently referred to it as Estremadura. It is a coastal wine region sitting around and to the north of Lisbon where, for many years, the co-operative has been king. Divided into nine subregions (including one or two names that would have been familiar even to our student of wine twenty years ago, such as Colares and Carcavelos), the Vale da Mata vines are planted in the northernmost subregion, on the slopes of the Serra de Aire, a significant limestone mountain. The wine is made by Catarina Vieira of Herdade do Rocim which, curiously, and perhaps confusingly if you are just beginning to get to grips with the regions of Portugal, is located in Alentejano, to the east, on the border with Spain. Catarina's grandfather once owned vines here, a historical fact which seems to have provided the impetus required to plant the Vale da Mata vineyard, so far from the Herdade do Rocim winery.
The 2008 Vale da Mata Reserva is a blend of Aragonez, Syrah and Touriga Nacional; the vineyard is clearly small, as the fruit was picked over just two days, September 24th and 25th, and transported to the winery in 12kg crates. Here the grapes were sorted on a vibrating table before destemming and fermentation in stainless steel vats regulated to 25ºC with both pumping over and délestage. Thereafter the wine spent one year in new oak. Just 1000 bottles were produced. It is a wine that certainly benefits from a decant and of all the wines from Herdade do Rocim and Vale da Mata I have tasted in the last few weeks (and there have been a few!) this certainly has the most stimulating aromatic profile, the roasted plum fruit here complicated by notes of dark cherry but also with a savoury, lightly gamey streak which does much to add interest. It is certainly rich, with a deeply grained character to the fruit, and there is still some oak here too, and yet despite all this it remains fresh with a perfumed feel. There is no denying the substance of the palate though, as here it shows a remarkably firm, confident richness and texture. It feels solid rather than anything more voluptuous and maybe the 14.5% alcohol contributes to this effect, although there is certainly no overt heat or spirit reflecting this, unlike a few Châteauneufs I have also been tasting recently. There is a freshness to it despite the big, mouth-filling presence, and a grippy finish, with lots of intense, plum-skin character. And it is long too. Overall I liked it, although it is not a style I could adhere to for everyday drinking. 16/20
The one criticism worth writing down - and this is important - is that the wine is suffering from 'heavy-bottle' syndrome; the weight of the empty bottle is 840g, and the punt is huge. The wine within is good, and the labelling attractive, but a lighter bottle would have been a more environmentally sound choice here. (14/5/12)