Lunch With A Legend

Following the 2017 Port Wine Day festivities, and after enjoying lunch while overlooking the Douro River in Porto, José Maria Cálem and Robert Stephen retired to Cálem's private residence for further tasting of Quinto Sagrado wines.<br>Photo by Robert Stephen.

Following the 2017 Port Wine Day festivities, and after enjoying lunch while overlooking the Douro River in Old Porto, José Maria Cálem and Robert Stephen retired to Cálem’s private residence for further tasting of Quinto Sagrado wines.
Photo by Robert Stephen.

(PORTO, PORTUGAL) – So. I have just finished attending Port Wine Day 2016 in Porto and it’s been a gruelling one, going some 48 hours without sleep. I have Sunday off before returning to Canada. Should I take it easy and hit the beach or should I take up an invitation from Quinta Sagrado’s marketing manager to try some wines with José Maria Cálem?

Easy answer.

If you don’t know Port wine and red table wines of the Douro Valley, the Cálem family has been in the Port business for five generations. Why would you refuse lunch with Gordie Howe?

José and I sat down in Old Porto in a restaurant overlooking the Douro River. He arrived with a bottles of Sagrado rosé and a bottle of Sagrado white. Their basic wines.

José is no bull shitter. He admits the rosé is a bit thin, but praises the crisp acidity of the white. Indeed it matches the bowls of clams, octopus salad, cod cakes, garlic bread, pork, and shrimp rissoles we are downing.

It is a real surrealistic experience to be listening to José conversing about his life in Port and all the players in it, while watching the river flow and viewing Gaia and all the Port lodges on the other side. It’s a warm September day and the clams and wine suit both the white and rosé.

We head across the road to his 1852 home overlooking the river and sit down in his living room to get into tasting some very heavy artillery.

The white and rosé we had for lunch were very basic and enjoyable on a warm sunny day at a noisy café, but now we have some silence and some more serious wines are produced with the help of Duarte, his son.

This tasting is occurring in an historic landmark with ceilings that must be at least 20 feet high. We are sitting at a table in the living room overlooking the river and Gaia on the other side. It’s all a bit overwhelming until the wines are opened and the focus shifts to what is in the glass. Let me say, I am very glad I did not take the day off.

All the wines are from the Douro.

The first wine is a VT 2008 VV Quinta Sagrado clocking in at 14.5%. The grapes used in the wine are grown so close together so that no mini tractor can travel between the vines to pick up the grapes. This is real, handpicked and carried wine.

And, strangely, it is foot trodden, which is becoming increasingly rare for Port. As for table wine, I have never heard of this practice before. It’s a field blend, which means it’s from a variety of grapes, so it’s impossible to give a percentage of the grapes in the final product.

The vines are 60 to 70 years old and it’s been 18 months ageing in French oak barrels.

The wine is blackish purple in colour and has rich aromas of black cherry, cassis, mint, prunes, and cocoa powder.

On the palate, black tar, blackberry, and pepper with subtle, but firm, tannins. José notes it really needs at least 10 minutes in the glass to soften and those 10 minutes transform a brute into simply a decadent and rich red.

In the end, it’s a medium bodied wine with a long finish and it’s certainly good for another 10 years. This wine deserves a 95. The average retail price is 30 Euros in Portugal. I consider that a bargain price.

This is one of those case worthy wines.

The 2008 Quinta Sagrado Reserva is also foot trodden and aged 18 months in French oak barrels. There is no need to let this wine open up as it hits the palate with a seductive smoothness.

It is a 33% field blend of old vine grapes, 26% Touriga Nacional, 22% Touriga Franca, 14% Tinta Amarela, and 5% Tinta Roriz. It has 13.5% alcohol.

In colour, more of a light purple with aroma of black fruit, menthol, bramble, raisins, and smoke. It possesses a rather immediate elegance with smooth and restrained black fruit. It reminds me of a top-end Bordeaux because it’s so immediately approachable.

This is good for the next 8 years, but being so drinkable upon contact I’d buy this again in the case for a shorter period than the VT 2008 VV. The average price in Portugal is approximately 14 Euros.

I give this a 93 rating.

The Quinta Sagrado VT 2008 is a blend of 50% Touriga Nacional, 40% old vine field blend, 5% Touriga Franca, and 5% Tinto Cão. The colour is somewhat purplish brown with loads of blackberry and cassis. Lots of black cherry, chocolate with a tad of sour black cherry.

Alcohol comes in at 14% and average price in Portugal is 19 Euros. I’ll give this a 90 rating.

Ruby Ports are at the rather low end of Port ratings, but the Quinta Sagrado Fine Ruby Port over delivers with a rating of 87.

Santa Rosa plum in colour with aroma of blackberry, cassis, plum, charcoal, and coffee.

As for taste, black fruit and prune with good tannins and acids. Clocks in at 19.5%.

Average retail price in Portugal is 8 Euros. This Port over delivers.

At this point it is a great shame these wines are not available in Canada, but with some luck they may soon be. These are awesome wines.

I could suggest you go through the private ordering process offered by the LCBO, but I’d rather spare you the agony. I hope that Quinta Sagrado gets its wines flowing in Ontario through an agent.

A deep and dark Portuguese secret from the Douro.

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."Email Robert Stephen
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