By Robert K. Stephen (CSW)
(GAIA, PORTUGAL) – On my last day in Porto no mercy is shown as driver Antonio drops us off at 10 a.m. at the Cálem Port lodge in Gaia directly across from Porto. Cálem is a brand of the Sogevinus Wine Group which owns Kopke, Burmester, Cálem, Barros and Gilberts. Check out their website.
The Cálem Lodge is ultra high end with a fantastic and ultra cool tasting lounge that has some 200,000 visitors a year. In fact it is the most visited Port lodge in Gaia. There are corporate meeting facilities and a small auditorium. Calem is well distributed in Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, United States and Canada but the U.S. market is the only foreign market with direct representation.
The Managing Director of Sogevinus, Gonzalo Pedrosa, comes out to meet with us and quips that it is an emotional experience to be in front of very old bottles of Port. He also says, “We need to respect our past. Our visiting card is our history. There is more to this business than selling litres.”
He quips that in the Douro, there are nine months of winter and three months of hell.
In terms of a corporate structure there are three adjacent rooms. Gonzalo states that the boardroom is where most business is done. Failing success on business points the meeting then moves to the dining room and failing resolution to the games room with Port served to speed resolution of corporate issues.
A wonderful Old World approach where in Toronto you’d be labelled an incorrigible alcoholic for having a glass of wine with lunch. Of course the art gallery on the premises illustrates the wealth of the Port trade.
Calem focuses on Tawny Ports. The Ports tried are extremely high quality. The Kopke 375th Anniversary Tradition 1940 Tawny is brimming with toffee, iodine, nuts, honey with rich decadent orange chunks. Its amber coloured and on the palate stunning orange, coffee and marmalade with a silky long integrated finish that floats all the way upstream along the Douro; perhaps as far as the Spanish border.
I give the monster a 95.
Close behind at 93 points is a 40 year-old Kopke white Port with an orange gold colour and on the palate silky and sweet with a seductive tinge of orange. It retails for about $120 in Canada.
Also at 93 points is the Barros 100th anniversary cask sample with less than 2,000 bottles produced. It has aromatics of high toned spice, tamed caramel and honey. On the palate orange marmalade, coffee and honey. It has a copper and gold colour.
Of course I could go on but let’s go to a special Port only lunch arranged for us in the Bolsa in Porto. The Bolsa is a beautiful commercial building somewhat like a stock exchange and trade centre. It’s open to the public and its enclosed courtyard has all the flags of trading partners across the globe artistically represented on its ceilings. In the main floor you’ll find “O Comercial” which is a swank high end restaurant focusing on “progressive Portuguese cuisine”.
We start with goat cheese in balsamic vinegar with a 10 year old Calem Dry White Port. In Portugal I will almost always start my meal with a dry white Port and this one has great aromatics of apple, pear quince and guava. On the palate it has a slight sweetness of canned pear juice and quince jam and acts as a perfect foil to the goat cheese.
Throughout our trip my media buddy and I have thought a dream match for the fantastic 2011 Vintage ports would be rare tenderloin. Well our Port fantasies are met with two slabs of rare sirloin with foie gras in the middle all encased in a pastry. The Burmester 2011 Vintage Port conquers and accentuates the dish. It has a deep purple and black colour with aromatics of black cherry, blackberry, coffee and chocolate and on the palate silky cassis and a touch of mint.
At this point we are saying let’s just pack up and leave Portugal as how can it get any better than this? Well it just about does with a Kopke 1978 Colheita Port served with an orange rolled cake with tangerine sorbet in a strawberry sauce. The Port has divine aromatics of orange rind, Cointreau and honey. It has a pink amber colour and on the palate orange rind, marmalade, mint yet just enough acidity to cut the citrus in the dessert. This Colheita picks us the orange spice and elevates the dessert to the stairs of Mount Olympus. It really can’t get much better than this.