Drinking Niepoort

My few days in Lyon included the unbelievable experience of drinking the first port Niepoort ever made, the Imperador made from a blend of vintages from 1842 to 1850. Beginning in 1842, Niepoort operated as a negociant style port house, as is typical for the region, buying port from families throughout the Douro and then blending, until the last two decades when Dirk Niepoort took over leadership as the fifth generation leading the family owned house.

At the end of the 1980s, Dirk began making table wine with grapes from the Duoro, sparking controversy through the region by breaking its mold, but Dirk’s still wine also inspired other winemakers to follow suit, with table wines from the Duoro now a relatively common practice. Since, Niepoort Vinhos has continued to produce some of the best still wines in Portugal, not only from the Duoro but also in small quantities from other key regions. Dirk has also shifted the house style on port away from being negociant-only to instead making the port wines from vine all the way to bottling as well. The shift in focus has brought incredible clarity to the style and an admirable elegance.

The Imperador was an unusual style for what the house would become – sweeter than what they went on to make after, and less robust, with less core palate density than wines that followed as well. Even so, it was a treasure to taste a wine not only of its age but its provenance. I have great admiration for the history of Niepoort so to enjoy a nip of their very first wine is irreplaceable.

Niepoort Garrafeira – a style Niepoort is one of the very few to make – proved to be not only the finest port I’ve ever tasted but also one of the finest wines I’ve ever had as well. Two years ago I was able to shadow Dirk through harvest in the Duoro for five days. Half way through the visit he had a special dinner to thank his winemakers and friends and I was also invited. Thanks to the longevity of the family house, his collection of aged ports is, of course, remarkable. Half way through the dinner he blinded us on two special bottles.

The first was a beautiful wine, elegant and concentrated, wonderfully aged and savory with an incredibly long finish and fully integrated sweetness – the experience was more about texture and mouthfeel, savor and well-aged spice than sweetness. It’s something Niepoort is known for – a less sweet style of port. There was a very light sense of angularity to the structure of the wine but it was pleasant, like the weave of shantung silk, with the more textural component integral to the delicate strength of the fabric. I was grateful for the wine and enjoyed it but in truth it wouldn’t have such strong place in my memory except for then tasting the wine that followed it.

The first of the two wines was a 1952 vintage port put into 5-gallon glass car boys in 1955 and aged that way until 1974 when it was bottled in a standard port bottle for market. The aging in car boy is integral to Garrafeira port, and Niepoort is one of the few to do this. Dirk told us the provenance of the wine only after we had also tasted the second.

Dirk then poured us the second wine blind. Tasting it, I couldn’t believe the experience. As soon as we sipped, we all fell silent. To this day it is the most exciting wine I’ve ever tasted – savory, palate stimulating, somehow glittering in its presentation. The wine was such a perfect experience it struck me as impossible to describe in regular terms. Later I told Dirk it felt like drinking mother of pearl – that iridescent, shimmering, metallic and pastel, sea blue inner layer of a nautilus shell. The wine was seamless, elegant, other worldly, the epitome of what we mean when we use the phrase fine wine.

Only after we tasted and discussed both wines did Dirk reveal to us what they were. The second wine had started its life as the exact same wine as the first – a vintage port from 1952 put into 5-gallon glass car boy in 1955. But while the first bottle was moved from car boy to bottle in 1974, this second remained in car boy longer, then bottled in 1987. Incredibly, the two wines had each spent exactly the same amount of time in glass, only the size of the glass had changed. The contrast between the two wines considering such a seamingly small change, and the discovery of their provenance and history was remarkable. It’s an experience I still reflect on often today – the importance of simple choices, the details, in relation to what develops later, the second wine such a testament to both experimentation and patience.

Returning all the way back to the very first Niepoort port, the Imperador, this week was inspired and charming. I’ll admit that while I admire the Imperador, it didn’t reach a place in the Pantheon for me as the 1952-87 Garrafeira did – one of the god heads of wine – but even so, it’s an experience I treasure. I learned about the history of Niepoort from tasting it, and it gave me great palate sense for how a wine like that ages – easily.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.


Alquimie: Breathing New Life Into Drinks

Alquimie Magazine

Australia’s Alquimie almost immediately became one of my favorite drinks magazines when it launched in 2013. A year later, they were already up for awards celebrating them as among the best magazines of Australia.

The journal goes in depth into the world of wine, spirits, and morning drinks with a regular accent on food (baguettes appear in the current release).

Best of all, the focus remains on quality writing and gorgeous photography. Editor Josh Elias asks his contributors to only write on what they truly love, what fascinates them. It’s easy to deliver quality work under those conditions.

Alquimie ships internationally (which is how I get it), and has free shipping in Australia right now. So, if you haven’t checked it out yet, I recommend it.

Here’s the link: https://alquimie.com.au

Alquimie Edition 5 + an article on Dirk Niepoort

Dirk Niepoort Article Preview

preview + cover images courtesy of Alquimie

In September 2014, Dirk Niepoort let me follow him through four days of harvest in the Douro. We took side trips north to Vinho Verde and checked in on his consulting projects as well. The experience was transformative for me. I fell in love with Portugal.

In Alquimie Edition 5, I’ve written and illustrated a small glimpse of the experience looking at the progression of Niepoort’s work as a winemaker, and specifically at his most recent vintages. The article is also illustrated by my interpretations of four of his wines. I’m thrilled to appear in a magazine I admire so much.

Also in Edition 5 are in depth looks at the Rhone Valley, Mexico’s mescal, and aperitifs. The issue starts shipping this coming week.

Interested in purchasing a single issue, or subscribing to Alquimie?

Here’s the link: https://alquimie.com.au/shop/

Check it out!



Olives in Napa

The Matthiassons harvesting olives in Napathe Matthiasson crew harvesting olives for milling, Napa, Oct 2014

Olives are ripe in Napa Valley. Their harvest has begun. Yesterday, the Matthiassons harvested olives and brought them to the mill to press into oil. They use the oil for personal consumption, and also make it available to their wine club members as an option to add to club shipments.

I’ve always wondered how olives were harvested — surely they weren’t hand-picked one at a time from every tree. For the small-scale farmer, hand rakes are brushed repeatedly through the tree pulling the fruit off its branches onto a waiting tarp below. Then the tarp is gathered and its contents dumped into a bin.

After loading the bin, Steve took a quick break to offer each of us a bit of burrata on baguette topped with their previous years oil, and a touch of smoked sea salt as a toast to their days work, and the olives heading off to the mill. Yum.

Olive Oil Quality Designations: Extra-Virgin versus Virgin (vs Refined, or Pomace oil)

The term Virgin in olive oil refers to the means of production. When oil is extracted through only mechanical means the oil classifies as Virgin oil. An olive mill essentially presses the fruit causing it to release its oil without heat, and so is considered mechanical production. What is important here is that no chemical, or heat has been applied to oils classified as Virgin. In that sense, Virgin oil production preserves the purity and freshness of the fruit.

There are two types of Virgin olive oil — the basic Virgin classification, and a higher quality of the style. When an oil has been made mechanically, and is of the highest quality it is considered Extra-Virgin.

It is also possible to produce Refined olive oil through chemical means, or Olive Pomace Oil through heat extraction. These are both considered food grade, but are of far lower quality than Virgin style oils. Additionally, there is lamp grade olive oil, which is made through methods considered unsafe for consumption.

In Portugal last month I was lucky enough to learn more about olive oil blending, and how oils are assessed for quality. Harvest there will begin late this month, likely extending into January. Because olive harvest occurs over two calendar years, what would be called vintages in wine is instead referred to as the campaign in olive oil. For example, the upcoming olive harvest in Portugal would count as the 2014-5 campaign.

Olives in Portugal

Ana CarrilhoMaster Blender, Ana Carrilho, Alentejo, Portugal, Sept 2014

Portugal is unique in its oil production in that its regulatory system has chosen to keep the focus on small production, high quality oils, rather than allowing bulk oil production, or multi-country blending as occurs in much of the rest of the Mediterranean. For Portugal, the origin remains important. One of the impressive elements of all of this is how affordable Portuguese olive oil remains internationally. The quality-to-cost ratio for Portuguese oils is some of the best on the market.

Upon arrival in Alentejo last month, we were invited to meet the Master olive oil Blender, Ana Carrilho, who leads the team for Esporão. Carrilho studied, and taught olive growing and quality in Portugal, Spain, and Italy before then returning to Portugal to help develop the industry in her home country.

Many of the regions in Portugal that support viticulture also grow quality olives. As a result, many estates host both plant species, and when large enough also produce both. Esporão was able to reach a sizeable enough production level of olive oil to begin releasing their own oils in 1997.

Portuguese DOPs for Olive Oil

Olive oil in Portugal originally included much smaller production than today. Historically the oil from the region was produced and exported as lamp oil. However, after the phylloxera decimation of the 19th century, the country replanted many of the former vineyard sites to olive trees in order to supplement lost income. A shift to olive oil as a quality food product began as a result.

Today, the country has 6 controlled regions for olive oil production, also known as DOPs. Oil within the DOPs must originate within its area, and also be tested for quality designation between Virgin and Extra-Virgin.

As Carrilho explained, unlike wine, olive oil is not meant to be aged. How long it keeps freshness in bottle depends partially on olive variety, with heartier varieties lasting up to two years, and more delicate ones being ideally consumed within six months of bottling.

In tasting oils, like wine, aroma, palate, and finish are all considered. It is actually possible to do varietal identification tasting for oils like doing blind tasting in wine (how fricking cool is that?). As Carrilho explained, in tasting for quality, and varietal or blend expression what is being looked for is fresh fruit character.

Because most consumers in the United States are actually used to consuming old olive oil, many of the characteristics we are used to expecting are actually the notes of expired oil. Still fresh oil offers the kinds of floral and fruit notes that lift from the glass with a sense of lightness and life, rather than carrying the heavier and darker notes of mustiness, wet paper, or biscuit of oil that’s gone bad.

Esporão Olive Oils

Portuguese Extra Virgin Olive Oil Tasting w Ana CarrilhoCarrilho guided us through a tasting of four Esporão olive oils, each of which is available in the United States, as well as one specialty oil only available in from the best campaigns within Portugal.

Azeite Virgem Extra, Galega, Ageite-Portugal $16 500mL
(the green band on the far right of the photo above)

The Portuguese olive variety Galega produces one of the more stable, as well as fruitiest of olive oils. It keeps well up to two years after bottling. In Portugal, consumers tend to like sweet (that is fruit focused) olive oils, and are less used to bitter or pepper flavors of some varieties. As such, Galega serves as a great base for Portuguese olive oils offering a clear fruit focus, and a lot of longevity in the bottle.

The Esporão Galega olive oil offers subtle while pure fruit notes with green apple lift, almond accents, and a lightly spicy, pepper finish. This bottling is made entirely of Galega. Good for all around use, and can hold up to stronger flavors without being over powering itself.

Azeite Virgem Extra, Organic, Ageite-Portugal $18 500mL
(2nd bottle from right)

The Organic olive oil from Esporão offers a blend of the varieties Cobrançosa and Arbequina. (Arbequina is one of my favorites, and as a side note goes great with chocolate.) Varieties are milled separately and blended after. Cobrançosa forms the majority of this campaign, with accents of the floral Arbequina for delicacy and lift.

The Esporão Organic offers a softer, slightly sweeter presentation than the Galega giving notes of fresh banana, mixed nut accents, a creamy palate, and long light pepper finish. This oil good for use on vegetables or fish after cooking for an accent of creamy fresh flavor.

Azeite de Moura DOP, Ageite-Portugal $16 750mL
(2nd bottle from left with the black band)

The Moura blend is an official DOP designate olive oil made to offer taste consistency from year to year. While the other oils vary in presentation to some degree by campaign, the Moura blend strives to offer a product recognizable by consumers with each bottling. As such the blend proportions shift from campaign to campaign. However, the varieties include Galega, Cordovil, and Verdeal. This is also the most widely available of the Esporão oils within the United States.

The Esporão Moura gives stronger aromatics with distinct herbal elements, green fruits, and green almond. The palate follows with a smooth presentation followed by a slightly sharp, bitter-spicy finish. As this oil has more intensity it works well on simple foods for additional flavor, and can hold up to spice as well.

Azeite Virgem Extra, Seleçção, Ageite-Portugal $18 500mL
(bottle on the far left with the gray band)

The Seleçção olive oil is made from a blend of the best, most mature varieties of each campaign. As such it is a special bottling that changes from year to year, and is the first of the blends made for bottling.  We tasted from the last campaign, that of 2013-4. For that bottling the varietal make-up included Cobrançosa, Picual, Galega, and Frontoio.

The Esporão Seleçção carries the greatest intensity, and also purity of precision of these four bottlings tasted. There is a greater sense of freshness, and persistence to this oil from aromatics through long finish. Look for grassy freshness, green almond, and a lightly buttery mid-palate, with a beautifully focused finish carrying bitter spice. Use as accent on dishes with otherwise simple flavors to allow the flavors of the oil to show, or enjoy simply with bread.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com


The Pottery and Winemaking of Alentejo

Alentejo Wine Pottery200 year old Talhas, or wine pottery of Alentejo, at Esporao, Sept, 2014
(the vessels shown here are both well over 7ft tall)

Romans brought the tradition of making wine in clay vessels to what is now known as Portugal. Though winegrowing was established through the Iberian Peninsula prior to the influx of the Roman empire, their influence shifted styles of winemaking in the region.

In the Southcentral portion of Portugal, the area of Alentejo has served as a historical center of pottery in the Iberian Peninsula. Through the region, master potters produced large talhas de barro, or Portuguese clay fermentation vessels for wine. What is unique about the talhas, when compared to the widely discussed tradition of amphora in general, is the range of use the talhas provide. Wine made in talhas traditionally was fermented, stored, and served all within the same vessel.

Talhas were made of clay from Alentejo, then wax lined. The vessel was then filled with clean whole clusters for ambient yeast fermentation. During fermentation, vessels were left uncovered, with occasional punch downs to break up the berries, while minimizing extraction. Once fermentation was complete, the grape cap would rise to the wide part near the top of the vessel, and the wine sink underneath to the length of the vessel body. The talhas was then topped off with olive oil to prevent oxidation or contamination of the wine. (Because of the difference in weight, olive oil remains on top, not mixing with the wine itself.) Once drinking of the wine was desired, it would simply be drained a carafe at a time from the hole near the bottom (the dark spot on the talhas to the right in the photo above). The wine, then, was essentially racked off a cup at a time, rather than all at once, minimizing storage or preservation challenges. In this way, the talhas held the same wine continuously from fermentation through storage to drinking.

Few potters make these traditional vessels today, as winemaking through the area has shifted to more modern methods in wood. Today, winemaking in talhas has become a sort of tavern phenomenon. Bar owners with a talhas in the back are able to get just enough fruit to make their own wine to serve for customers. A few wineries, however, are beginning to experiment with making wine in talhas again, seeking to recapture old methods.

Talhas at Esporao

Winemaker Luis PatraoLuis Patrao, Esporao red winemaker, Sept, 2014

At Esporao, red winemaker Luis Patrão has begun working on fermentation trials winemaking in telhas. He intends to convert a portion of winery space entirely to traditional Alentejo winemaking, removing all stainless tanks from the area in order to instead use only lagares, and talhas de barro. If the trials are successful the results will likely be bottled as a private reserve.

In working towards the project he researched traditional use of talhas through historical letters of the region, and oral histories shared by area elders. Talhas over 200-yrs old were purchased from regional wineries no longer using them.


To read more about the history of Portuguese winemaking: http://www.vinhosdoalentejo.pt/detalhe_conteudo.php?id=16&lang=en

Thank you to Luis Patrão, Pedro Vieira, and Brendan Drewniany.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com


Growing the Vinho Verde: The Wines of OLO

In the Basto zone of Vinho Verde, Jorge Quinta of OLO at Quinta de Val-Bôa grows white wines that bring together lifted texture–all lightness and length–with rich flavor. It’s a young project that has already garnered international attention, carrying distribution in the UK, and being regarded as one of the best wines of Portugal for 2014.

Basto Region of Vinho Verde  view from the front of Quinta dd Val-Bôa in the Basto zone of Vinho Verde

The project brings together long-standing friends Jorge Quinta and Dirk Niepoort. Prior to his venture into winegrowing, Quinta owned one of the top restaurants of Oporto, through which he and Niepoort’s father, Eduard, developed their most popular dish, pepper steak served with young vintage port. Sitting to lunch at Quinta’s table with the two men–Jorge and Dirk–feels like I’ve been invited into a great intimacy. I don’t glimpse all the details of its history, but I can feel the comfort between them.

Jorge Quinta pouring his brutoJorge Quinta pouring his OLO 2012 bruto, sparkling white Vinho Verde

Outside we begin the meal with Quinta’s 2012 bruto–a fully dry sparkling white Vinho Verde that carries a textural richness and purity refreshing alongside the salty meats and fish we’re eating. We’ve been served charcuterie, and what Quinta calls fried sardines though they look and taste just like smelts, small fish I grew up eating in Alaska.

The joke there has always been that you know you’re family if you’re invited to share smelts. The little fish are eaten whole like a breadstick from head to tail with the guts and bones intact. Cooking them smells up the house so much you have to be comfortable alongside the person you share them with.

Niepoort explains he wants Quinta to hold the 2012 bruto, and not release a sparkling wine until the 2013 is ready. The 2012 is delicious but Niepoort believes it will be insightful to see how the wine develops over time.

1906 beer casks at Quinta da Val BoaAs we snack through the foods outside, Quinta describes a sort of experimental traditionalism. He wants to make wines of his region, but avoid knowing in advance exactly how they’ll be made. It’s a balance of making crucial decisions in advance, while avoiding a formula. “One of the most important things,” Quinta tells us, “is the point of the harvest. Without that there is no point, you have to adjust to it.” Each vintage, he explains, puts differing demands on the grower-winemaker. You decide what to do in response to those demands, rather than deciding in advance the wine you’ll produce.

As Quinta describes his goals, he excitedly points out his newest acquisition for the winery — two large casks he will use to make rosé. As he explains, five of the casks arrived in Portugal from Denmark in 1910 full of beer. He has no idea how old the casks were at the time. His father-in-law acquired them next to make red Vinho Verde. In the last year, Quinta received two of the five. They’ve been without wine in them now for six years, so he’s been soaking them to prepare the wood for next year’s rosé. After finishing the bruto, we move inside for a sit down lunch.

Val Boa whiteVal Bôa 2013 Vinho Verde

We begin with soup made half of wild mushrooms, and half wild asparagus, both harvested from Quinta’s 3.5 hectare vineyard. Quinta’s VAL-BÔA Vinho Verde pairs beautifully. It is a wine Niepoort describes as all about harmony — the kiss of sweetness balances the high acid so well the two appear together as simply light refreshment on the palate. It would be perfect too alongside spicy Thai food in the place of Riesling.

The VAL-BÔA opens a point Niepoort has come to believe strongly in winemaking. “It is more important to get the acidity right than to get the alcohol right.” He explains. That said, the VAL-BÔA comes in at 11%, the OLO wines at 12.5%. Niepoort’s point is on deciding when to harvest. He makes picking decisions now almost ignoring sugar levels in favor of the preferred acidity. The alcohol will take care of itself. It’s an idea he believes supports the ultimate aging of the wine, and, more importantly, it’s pleasure now. “The point of it is the lightness” of the wine, he says.

OLO Mondim de BastoOLO 2012 Mondim de Basto

We move to the main course. Quinta has chosen to serve us a traditional Portuguese dish, bacalao, of dried cod, and potatoes. That morning though he was also able to take a fresh white fish from a river that runs through the vineyard. They’ve baked it covered in herbs, alongside lightly minted rice. We enjoy both with the core wines of the OLO portfolio — Alvarinho, and Mondim de Basto, a Vinho Regional Minho white blend. The Basto brings together traditional Portuguese varieties–Trajadura, Pedernã, Alvarinho, Avesso e Azal–in a branco (white) blend.

The Mondim de Basto has recently received the country’s top attention. The news is to be released the day after our visit, and Quinta is very pleased. Jaoa Paulo Martins named it one of the top white wines of Portugal for 2014 in his book Vinhos de Portugal, considered the top wine review text for the country.

It’s a beautiful wine that offers incredible lightness amidst intensity of flavor and a creamy midpalate followed by tons of length. When it was first bottled, Niepoort explains, it was one of the best white wines he’d ever tasted from Portugal. Then it refermented in the bottle.

Jorge Quinta showing off his button hole napkin invention“It refermented in the bottle.” Quinta tells us. “I slept on it for three nights.” He points at his eyes. He’s actually saying he barely slept. “I have to either [dump it] or go forward. I decide I go forward, so I had to reopen 17,000 bottles.” To correct the problem they had to open every bottle to filter the wine, then rebottle everything. “Unbelievable amount of work.” Quinta says. The wine is beautiful, but Niepoort clearly misses the magic of what it had been before. For Quinta it’s still a wine to be proud of. Martins’s regard simply affirms it.

OLO AlvarinhoWe pour the OLO 2013 Alvarinho. I smell the wine and am immediately dumbfounded. It’s unlike anything I’ve smelled before, not a typical Alvarinho. It’s as if Quinta anticipates my thoughts. “There is no other Alvarinho like this,” he says. “You can like it or not but there isn’t.”

The wine is confounding but pleasing. It’s all lightness and pungency on the palate, simultaneously strange and attractive. The nose almost spiced, almost sweet, then both disappear. The palate almost hints oak, then stretches through the midpalate into a minutes-long and lifting finish. It’s a wine of contradictions–spicy but not, sweet but not, woody but not, intense but light–held through Niepoort’s idea of harmony.

Jorge QuintaLeaving the restaurant business to open the Quinta de Val-Bôa, Quinta carries what feels like realistic pride in OLO, as well as a new sense of inspiration. His wines are beautiful, and he keeps the achievement in larger perspective. “What I know about wine,” he explains, “is 15%. In that 15% I know a lot. I still have 85% to learn.”


Quinta de Val-Bôa does not currently have, but is interested in representation in the United States.

Thank you to Dirk Niepoort, Jorge Quinta, and Joao Pires.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com


Visiting Bragao Vineyard in the Cima Corgo of the Douro

In the heart of the Cima Corgo grow the highest quality vines of the Douro, in the hands of the best producer capable of giving layered mountain complexity with a lift of freshness on table wines, the same fruit somehow lively even in the richness of port wine.

Antonio and Nick walking beside the QuintaFar up the valley of the Rio Pinhao, a tributary of the Douro, stands the Bragao Quinta. Built in 1826, its stacked schist construction offers a testament to the persistence of life in the Douro, a region whose terrain proves resistant to too much modernization for its near impenetrability.

The old Lagares at BragaoThe quinta stands above mixed variety old vine vineyards ranging from 40 to near 100 years of age. Most fruit is sold to producers of the Douro. Small quantities are kept for wines of the owner. For the owner, fruit is brought into the 1826 winery only on Mondays to be foot tred in the lagares (open top stone fermenters unique to Portugal. The Bragao lagares are shown above.) now being cleaned and prepared for the 2014 harvest.

Antonio TaveraLike many vineyard owners through the region, Antonio Tavera grew up in Porto migrating to the Douro for harvest. He was born at the quinta during harvest while his father brought in grapes, and has since inherited the property.

The old oil lamp at BragaoThanks to the mountainous nature of the region, electricity has reached the Douro only in recent decades. Before electricity, Antonio explains, the only light they had came during the day from small openings in the rock walls of the building. At night, oil lamps made from converted oil cans (like the small green one shown above) faintly illuminated the space.


Port in BragaoChalk marks along the wood cask help the winemaker track the 4:1 brandy to must ratio in making the port.

Harvest workers at Bragao old vine vineyardOutside, the vineyard crew walks the length of terraces in 90F degrees to carry back grapes for port wine just harvested. The vines in this section of the vineyard range between 40 and 50 years old, planted in a field blend of mixed varieties, insurance against the variability of vintage.

Carrying grapes down the schist wall at BragaoTaking the grapes back to be picked up by truck includes descending steps made with slabs of schist extended from the rock wall by only a few inches, then returning to climb the same steps for another tub to do it again.

Harvest at BragaoIt took me at least 90 seconds to descend steps it took this woman carrying a full tub no more than 30. She walked the terrace towards me all the while smiling.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com


Photos from Visiting the Douro with Quinta Dos Murcas

After two days in Alentejo we drove to the Cima Corgo region of the Douro to spend a day with Assobio, and Quinta Dos Murcas.

Margarita Figueireda, vineyard manager, Quinta Dos MurcasVineyard manager, Margarida Figuerieda brought us to the top of the vineyard in the back of a small pickup truck to see the first vertical vineyard planted in the Douro — a practice taken from the Mosel after Quinta Dos Murcas then-winemaker visited the region. The south facing 30-degree slope receives lots of sun exposure, and therefore ripeness.

from the top of Quinta Dos MurcasThe Douro region carries lots of schist, with the Douro Superior (closer to Spain) primarily populated by dark schist. The rock is used to make posts at the ends of vineyard rows, rather than wood.

Looking into Assobio VineyardAssobio red wines are harvested from a cooler planting behind Quinta Dos Murcas where the wind picks up whistling through the canyon. The cooler pocket keeps more freshness in the wines. The label name, Assobio, is the sound of the wind whistling.

Looking West down the DouroWest up the Douro sits the Quinta Vale Figueira vineyard, named for the fig trees that grow there.

Into the ruins of Quinta Dos MurcasNew buildings cannot be constructed on raw land along the Douro. However, many of these properties include old winery ruins from the last two centuries. Land already containing a structure such as these can be rebuilt for a newer purpose.

Harvest of Tinta Roriz at Quinta Dos MurcasThe day we visited, September 11, 2014, harvest began on Tinto Roriz (also known as Aragones in the South, and Tempranillo in Spain). It was the first day of harvest at Quinta Dos Murcas.

Tinta Roriz

Harvest at Quinta Dos Murcas Tank Samples of Assobio & Quinta Dos Murcas with Michael WrenWinemaker Michael Wren leads the Douro winery during harvest. We were able to taste tank and barrel samples of the 2013 Assobio, and Quinta Dos Murcas Reserva red blends.

Port samples with Michael WrenThen taste 5 and 10 year tawny ports from cask. The house makes only 10 year and vintage ports but works towards a 5-year tawny style to use for blending with older barrels into a 10 year style.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com


Portugal: A Day in Alentejo with Esporao

After a day of travel, we arrived to Lisbon early morning, then drove southeast, checking into a hotel in UNESCO World Heritage site, Evora, Portugal. The city stands within a 15th c. outer standing wall, with the center including portions of an 11th c. fortification. Ancient megolithic monuments, 3rd century B.C. archaeological sites, and hints of Moorish architecture dot the countryside. Mostly it is the sky. The region of Alentejo, in which Evora sits, is known for its clarity of light, its pure wide open skies.

A look across AlentejoAfter checking into our rooms, we immediately drove another 45 minutes south to Reguengos de Monsaraz, “the people’s town,” a settlement outside a castled hillside where the nobility used to live. Reguengos de Monsaraz proves the heat of Alentejo, bringing August and September grape harvests (early for much of the Northern hemisphere) of primarily red wine grapes. Esporao hosted our first day of travel through the region of Alentejo.

Ana Carrilhoolive oil master blender Ana Carrilho

Olive oil proves to be one of Portugal’s treasures. While olives grow well throughout the Mediterranean, most countries have few controls on its growth, production, sourcing or labeling. While Italy is recognized as home for Extra Virgin Olive oil, for example, much of the fruit in such bottlings does not come from Italy, but instead elsewhere where farming can be done at higher volume for less. The country does not place very strong legal controls on one of its iconic exports. Portugal instead has taken the slower path keeping its focus on smaller production, higher quality oils with DOP controls.

Portuguese Extra Virgin Olive Oil Tasting w Ana CarrilhoMaster blender Ana Carrilho studied olive agriculture, and blending while also teaching the subject in universities in Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Today she creates high quality blends from three DOP regions of Portugal using a range of varieties. For quality olive oils the focus rests in freshness. The best oils are consumed immediately after bottling, with ideal age being within a year to three years after depending on variety. Galega, for example, tends to last long in bottle, while Arbequina keeps less well.

Winemaker David BraverstockEsporao chief winemaker, David Baverstock, hosted lunch for us enjoying several of the wineries wines including a beautifully crisp 2012 Bruto Metodo Classico sparkling wine made from Antao Vaz, and Arinto, and 4, a red blend offering a combination of fresh red and dark fruits on a backbone of structure with satisfying acidity.

Herdade Do EsporaoWe were talked into changing clothes for a ridiculous while fun grape stomping session in Touriga Nacional fresh from the region.

Stomping Touriga NacionalI’m such a joiner.

Verdelho in the Experimental BlockOne of the coolest elements of the visit included a walk through a ten hectare experimental vineyard where each row grows a different variety. The site offers local producers, and universities alike insight into the growing potential and constraints of the region.

Alicante Bouschet in the Experimental BlockCuttings for the experimental block were optained from nurseries and vineyards throughout Europe and showcase not only indigenous, but also international varieties. Alicante Bouschet, for example, a French variety known for its exquisite color, was found to be quite expressive in the region, and is now more common in red blends throughout Alentejo.

Alicante BouschetAmong red varieties, Alicante Bouschet proves unusual in that its juice and meat squeeze red while other dark grapes retain white insides.

The gardens from the top of a 15c Historic TowerIn the midst of Reguengos de Monsaraz structures from the 12th and 15th centuries still stand. From the top of a 15th c tower originally built for Duchess Catarina de Bragança, who went on to marry King Charles II of England, there remain beautiful views of gardens and countryside,

The Historic Church, Alentejoas well as a historic 15th c. church that once stood in the center of the local village.

Copyright 2014 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com

Pebble Beach Food & Wine

One of the great annual food and wine extravaganzas on the West Coast United States occurs each Spring in Pebble Beach. The town becomes host to the best chefs, wines, and sommeliers from all over the world, as well as the folks that want to be there to drink in their offerings.

Here are photos surveying some of the activities I was lucky enough to attend over three of the four days (it begins Thursday but I arrived Friday).

Friday:The Grand Tour: European Continental Cuisine Lunch, featuring Wines of Portugal

Pebble Beach

Garden lunch reception begins at Pebble Beach

Salmon Cavier Popsicles

appetizers are served on the lawn, Chef Roland Passot’s Salmon Lollipop, w Quinta da Raza, Raza 2011 Vinho Verde

Cassolette des Fruits des Mer Printaniere

Inside for a seated lunch: Chef Johan Bjorklund’s Cassolette, w Companhia das Quintas, Quinta da Romeira 2011

Duck Charcuterie & Traditional Garnishes

Duck Charcuterie & Traditional Garnishes by Chef Michael Ginor, w Esparao Reserva 2008

Patisserie Chef Francois Payard

Patisserie Chef Francois Payard


World Class Sommeliers serving at lunch


World Class Sommeliers serving at lunch

Wines of Portugal

Portuguese wines from lunch

Ruinart Private Dinner

The Ruinart Table

Nicolas, Michelle, and Frederic

Nicolas Ricroque, Chef Michelle Bernstein, and Chef de Caves Frédéric Panaiotis discuss final dinner preparations


welcome with Ruinart Blanc de Blancs

Ruinart Dinner Setting

Ragout of spring vegetables

Ragout of spring vegetables, seared foie gras, truffle vegetable nage, served w Dom Ruinart Rosé 1998

the brilliantly improvised skatewing and uni course

beautifully improvised dish of Skatewing w fresh Sea Urchin, Sourdough Bread, paealla, open clams, and fresh peas, served w Dom Ruinart 2002, and 1998

Dom Ruinart Rose 1990 and 1996

Dom Ruinart Rosé 1990 and 1996

Chef Morimoto Master Cooking Demonstration w Ruinart Champagne

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Frederic Panaiotis preparing for the demonstration

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis prepare before the demonstration

The preparations

the view before hand in the demonstration mirror

Chef and Chef de Caves

Chef Morimoto and Chef de Caves Panaiotis

The demonstration tent

Panaiotis discussing food pairings as Morimoto preps

the event begins. Frédéric Panaiotis introduces Ruinart Champagne

The crowd

Offering sushi

Chef Morimoto gives sushi for Chef de Caves Panaiotis some final touches

Fans with Morimoto

the audience excited for pictures after the demonstration

Fans for Morimoto

Ridge Monte Bello Panel at Spanish Bay

View from Spanish Bay

the view at Spanish Bay

Flowers seaside

Ridge Monte Bello Vertical

Nine vintage vertical of Monte Bello–1984, 1995, 2006-2012

The Ridge Panel

The Ridge Discussion Panel preparing

Ridge Monte Bello Barrel Samples

2011 and 2012 are still in barrel

Ridge Monte Bello Vertical

Battle of the Coasts: WEST Dinner

Starting dinner with Dom

beginning with Dom Perignon 2003

Opening Course

Uni by Chef Dominique Crenn, served w Grieve Family Winery 2011 Sauvignon Blanc

Black Cioppino

Black Cioppino by Chef Thomas McNaughton, served w Clendenen Family Chardonnay “Le Bon Climat” 2008

Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake by Pastry Chef Lincoln Carson, served w Taylor Fladgate Vintage Porto 2003

The Grand Tasting

Food at the Grand Tasting

Grand Tasting

Pouring Wind Gap

Pax Mahle pouring Wind Gap Wines

Chris Williams

Chris Williams, Brooks Wines

Brooks Riesling

Brooks, Willamette Valley Riesling and Pinot Noir

Chef preparing food

Chef projector

The Lindt Chef Projector (This image talked about the chocolate while the real her was standing 5-ft away talking about the chocolate. It was a trip.)

Pouring Palmina

Steve Clifton pouring Palmina Wines

Thank you to Sarah Logan, and Vanessa Kanegai.

Thank you to Nicolas Ricroque, and Frederic Panaiotis.

Thank you to Mark Stone.

Thank you to Bettye Saxon.

Copyright 2013 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.