Quinta do Vale Meao Meandro Red 2011

Today’s spectacular train journey along the Linha do Douro has deposited me in the pretty town of Pinhão, Portugal. I’m in the heart of Douro wine country, surrounded by terraced vineyards that defy common sense and Quintas whose names shout loudly from brightly whitewashed walls along the river banks. I went to a local restaurant tonight, one that I can recommend highly (the Restaurant bar veladouro), and drank entirely on the recommendation of the house. Why aren’t Portuguese table wines better known? I’ve had several beautiful wines in my two days in the country so far, and I’m quite confident there will be more to come.

Just bottled in June of this year, this is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Sousão, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão. The aroma shows notes that span a range from determinedly odd to almost familiar. Hessian, tart dark berries, sea spray, sap and a subtle sprinkling of fruit cake spice. It’s already busy for such a young wine, although its notes do stand apart from one another somewhat. Still, the overall impression is one of complexity, subtlety and and balance, with juicier berry notes sneaking in over time.

In the mouth, medium bodied with a fine tannin structure and mid-palate that is waiting to relax and please. For now, acid keeps things in good check, such that the experience of this wine remains somewhat linear. There’s a lot of savoury complexity through the after palate. including a contribution from oak that tastes rather raw for now. It’s clearly a young wine, but its components are achingly good in a restrained, modest way. The best is yet to come here.

I enjoyed this bottle of wine with a traditional Portuguese meal of salted cod gratin. An unlikely, but sympathetic, pairing.

Quinta do Vale Meao
Price: €20 (wine list)
Closure: Cork
Source: Retail

Kent Rasmussen Sousão

There’s a curious class of wines that just smell grapey – not particularly like wine. At first, this wine seems like one of those; it’s a rich, fruity smell that smells just fine, if not particularly sophisticated. The nose is odd: there’s something vaguely volatile there, not bad though, and just a whiff of something unripe, almost like a New Zealand merlot with that faint hint of capsicum (green bell pepper). It’s weirdly like unripe tropical fruit of some kind – I’m thinking green papaya salad. Don’t misunderstand: it’s not “wrong” or “bad” – it’s just really different.Hugely tannic and wildly acidic, my first thought after having a sip was “bad idea.” It’s fairly hot, not particularly flavorful, and taste something like burned coffee grounds mixed with overripe papaya. The trick seems to be to not take such a big sip; with less in the mouth, it’s somewhat more palatable – but even so, I am decidedly not a fan of this wine, alas. Sure, there’s some pleasure in trying to suss out what components of Port derive from this, but otherwise? There’s probably a reason you don’t see varietal wines from this grape.Kent Rasmussen
Price: $20
Closure: Cork