By Robert K. Stephen (CSW)
(DOURO VALLEY, PORTUGAL) – Completely frayed by jet lag, a 10:30 a.m. tasting at Poças in Gaia and a heavy lunch with Manuel Cabral, the President of the Instituto do Vinhos do Douro e do Porto (“IVDP”) including white Port to start, Douro D.O.C with beef and then yet another Port with dessert and nary a spit bucket in sight we head from Porto into the Douro Valley with IVDP guide Louisa and driver Antonio.
The motorway for 60 or so kms. then two lane country roads for close to two hours and then a treacherous 20 minute drive on a dirt road winding up the hills to Quinta do Bom Retiro. I mean treacherous. Only room for one vehicle and a mistake of 24 inches and you are headed down to immediate death. And I am on the side looking down to immediate death. Assuming you plunged down it would be hours before anyone could attempt a rescue. We are told you really need a 4 wheel Jeep to make this trip but Antonio guides us in a Mercedes van to the Quinta where we arrive safe but a bit jolted around.
Quinta do Bom Retiro is a lovely estate owned by giant Port producer Ramos Pinto itself owned by giant champagne house Louis Roederer of France. This seems the fate of the majority of Port producers in that they are simply part of a multinational brand.
With no time to spare we are whisked into a tasting with J.L. Baptista the cellar master at Ramos Pinto. There are 10 wines to try before dinner. We huddle around a table with spit buckets and plough through the wines. The Douro table wines are innovative particularly the white wines made from Rabigato, Vozinho, Arinto and Folga grapes with great minerality, apple, pear, quince and smoke that can match simple fish to lobster and monkfish risotto. There are some 80 hectares under cultivation at the Quinta.
The Ports are more memorable. The 2011 Vintage Ports are spectacular and the dark red purple 2011 Ramos Pinto Vintage Port shines through with aromas of charcoal, boysenberry and intense blackberry. Powerful clean and pure. On the palate a bit young and unruly with strong notes of coffee, blackberry and chocolate. I score it a 90.
Also at 90 is a 2008 unfiltered Ramos Pinto Late Bottle Vintage Port with exotic aromas of chocolate, rhubarb and crushed pomegranate with a touch of the sweetest red grapefruit on the palate. It’s more approachable than the immature 2011 Vintage Port and is silky and slinky on the palate.
The Ramos Pinto 30 year old Tawny Port also receives a 90 from this exhausted journalist with its brown colour and aromas of almonds and orange peel with orange and marmalade on the palate. Tawny Ports often have a nervous high strung aroma about then which can be referred to as “vinagrinho” meaning “little vinegar”.
I do not recall what we ate for dinner other than I ate it and struggled mightily to avoid collapsing. I think I made it to 8 p.m. before trundling off to my room and crashing out with a smile on my face knowing that I am very quickly understanding Port. My media buddy ekes it out for another 25 minutes.
Before leaving in the morning after a hearty Portuguese breakfast we admire the beautiful grounds and view of the Douro Valley and my media buddy has the treacherous precipice to admire on the way out. I am happy to escape that nasty dirt road and hit the pavement to be off to another adventure.