Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Wine & Soul: Field Blends, Old Vines & Douro Terroir

My love of Portuguese wines, from Vinho Verde to Port, is well known, and there's much diversity to be found in their wines, from hundreds of indigenous grapes to varied terroirs. I often rave about the great values that can be found in the Portuguese wines, but I've also emphasized that they produce some amazing, albeit more expensive wines, as well. At a recent wine dinner, I experienced for the first time the wines of Wine & Soul and was thoroughly impressed with their quality, complexity and taste. These are wines that earn my highest recommendations and I need to buy some for my own wine cellar.

The Wine & Soul wine dinner, of which I was a media guest, was part of the 31st Annual Boston Wine Festival, said to be the longest running food and wine festival in the country. Chef Daniel Bruce (pictured above), the Executive Chef at the Boston Harbor Hotel, created this festival, which runs from January to March, and each year hosts a series of winemaker hosted dinners, seminars and receptions. These wine dinners often present some of the world's top wines, paired with Chef Bruce's amazing cuisine. I've previously enjoyed a number of dinners prepared by Chef Bruce, and have always been very pleased and satisfied with what he created.

Wine & Soul, which was founded in 2001, is owned by a husband-and-wife team, Jorge Serodio Borges and Sandra Tavares DaSilva. They both possess extensive prior experience in the wine industry. Jorge Serôdio Borges was an oenologist at Niepoort, and also owns the winery Quinta do Passadouro with the Bohrmann family. Sandra has the honor of being the first female winemaker in the Douro, having worked at Quinta do Vale D. Maria in the Douro and at her family’s estate of Quinta da Chocapalha in Estremadura.

Sandra and Jorge eventually decided that they wanted to own their own vineyard, and in 2001, purchased an old Port lodge in the Douro, more specifically in the Cima Corgo's Pinhão Valley. The property had a two-hectare plot of 70+ year old vines, the Pintas vineyard, with over 30 indigenous grapes. Wine & Soul was born. In 2009, they also inherited Quinta da Manoella, an estate planted mainly with very old vineyards, some over a hundred years old. Overall, they now own about 45 acres of vineyards, producing only about 30,000 bottles annually.

Sandra, pictured above, was the special guest at the Wine & Soul dinner, which was attended by about fifty people. She began the dinner with a short talk, mainly about their history and vineyards, and spoke a few more times during the dinner, discussing the various wines. Her family owns the Quinta da Chocapalha in Estremadura, and this is probably what might have initially set Sandra on the winemaking path. She spent a year studying in Italy, as she feels it has much in common with Portugal, and then she began working in the Douro. About 20 years ago, she began working at Quinta do Vale D. Maria and she also met Jorge at that time.

I found Sandra to be personable and charming, humble and knowledgeable, a passionate advocate for her wines. Some of her wines have garnered accolades from the major wine periodicals, such as the 2016 Wine & Soul Manoella being included in the Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines of 2019, but Sandra never mentioned these accolades. It seemed as if she wanted all of the guests to judge the wines on their own, and also because she seems to be a very humble person. To me, that is so much more appealing than having a winemaker drone on and on about their wine scores. It was a real pleasure to chat with her about her wines.

Wine & Soul is very concerned about producing wines that reflect the terroir of their vineyards, which includes wanting to best understand their vineyards. Sandra stated that wine should give you "the feeling that you are there," which is an interesting way of describing the concept of terroir. In addition, they are concerned with old vines and indigenous grapes, and one of their biggest challenges is locating plots of old vines available for purchase. In addition, they are currently seeking organic certification, and use indigenous yeasts, with minimal intervention.

Many of their wines are made from field blends, often consisting of 30+ grapes. Such a fascinating palette from which to create their wines. Portugal has over 300 indigenous grapes, a number of them originally brought by monks who carried cuttings with them when they travelled to Portugal. By using field blends, you're not dependent on any one grape, so are less susceptible to problems with a bad vintage. A field blend provides balance, yet still possesses its own identity. In addition, contrary to what some might think, there isn't much difference in the ripeness levels of the grapes, as plants generally want to pollinate at the same time and thus usually flower together.

Most of their grapes are also foot-trodden, in granite lagares, which is supposed to yield fine, silky tannins as it is a more gentle process on the grapes. This is rarely done in the Douro, and mainly for Port wine, although there are still granite lagares existing from the days of the ancient Romans. Thus, this practice is another way Wine & Soul helps to differentiate itself from other producers.

Interestingly, all of their barrel aging, including for their Ports, is conducted in the Douro, though most other Port producers age their wines elsewhere. The Douro was long considered too warm for barrel aging, but the advent of modern technology has changed the need to age elsewhere. Wine & Soul also owns a 19th century building with stone cellars, for the storage of their hundreds of barrels, which creates a natural coolness that works well for their varied wines.

Before we sat for dinner, we began the evening with a glass of the 2018 Wine & Soul Guru Branco (about $35). Sandra mentioned that about 20 years ago, few people in the Douro were producing white wines, as many claimed the region was too warm to produce good whites. However, in the Douro, there are higher-altitude mountainous areas which are cooler and can produce fine white grapes. Sandra and Jorge found tiny plots, with a field blend, at 600-700 meters high. Inspired by old white Ports, they chose to make this wine, what they claim to be a classic wine with aging potential, one reflective of terroir. Its first vintage was 2004.

This wine is produced from a field blend, from a 60 year old vineyard, which is approximately 25% Viosinho, 25% Rabigato, 25% Codega do Larinho and 25% Gouveio. The soil is a combination of schist (which gives the wine texture and flavors) and granite (which gives the wine its length and purity of flavors). The wine was also fermented and aged in French barriques for about seven months.  With a 12.5% ABV, this wine was fresh, crisp and delicious, with a complex blend of flavors, including peach, grapefruit, mineral notes, and a touch of oak. Medium-bodied, it possessed a pleasing finish and a nice elegance. Would love to pair this wine with seafood, from oysters to cod.

The First Course of our dinner was Slow Braised Pork Belly, in a red wine glaze with smoked King Oyster mushrooms and spinach. Chef Bruce mentioned that the pork belly had been steamed for about seven hours and that the mushrooms had been smoked for about 20 minutes. The silky pork belly, with its mildly sweet glaze, was delicious, enhanced by the smoky earthiness of the mushrooms. This dish was paired with two wines, the 2016 Wine & Soul Manoella and the 2013 Quinta da Manoella Vinhas Velhas.

The 2016 Wine & Soul Manoella (about $22) is a blend of 60% Touriga Nacional, 25% Touriga Franca, 10% Tinta Roriz, and 5% Tinta Francisca from the Quinta da Manoella vineyard, which was planted in 1973. This property has been owned by five generations of Jorge's family, and was initially purchased in the mid-19th century. It now consists of 70 hectares of land, 20 which have vineyards, the rest being forest and their plan is to keep it that way. The grapes for this wine were foot-trodden, and the wine aged for 16 months in used French barriques. At 14.2% ABV, this wine had a beautiful dark red color, with a delightful nose of pleasing aromas. On the palate, it was dry and lush, with tasty flavors of cherry, raspberry and mild spices. There was an earthy element as well, with a lengthy finish, nice acidity, and it paired nicely with the pork belly.

The 2013 Quinta da Manoella Vinhas Velhas (about $75) is a field blend of more than 30 indigenous grape varieties, from a vineyard planted in 1900. The grapes for this wine were foot-trodden, and the wine aged for 20 months in used French barriques. At 14.3% ABV, this wine had a more subtle nose than the other Manoella, but on the palate, it was much bolder, though still possessed of elegance and restraint. The black fruit flavors, like ripe plum and black cherry, were more concentrated, and there was plenty of complexity, with elements of dark spice, chocolate and black tea. A full bodied wine, with a lengthy, lingering finish that thoroughly satisfied. So much going on in this wine, and the smoky mushrooms were a nice companion to this wine.

The Second Course was Seared Arcadian Red Fish, with black rice, sweet onion puree, tomatoes, and petit basil. Chef Bruce found this fish while perusing the choices down at the Fish Pier. It is a sustainable choice, an under-utilized species with a delicious taste. This flaky white fish had a nice weight to it, and the ingredients combined for quite a tasty dish, the acidity of the tomatoes helping to cut the fat of the dish.

This was paired with the 2015 Wine & Soul Pintas Character (about $42) which is made from a field blend of 30+ varieties from the Vale de Mendiz vineyard, which was planted in 1970. The grapes for this wine were foot-trodden, and the wine aged for 18 months in French barriques, 50% new and 50% second-use. At 14.1% ABV, this wine is intended to be softer and more accessible than the flagship Pintas wine. It is a rich and bold wine, yet still elegant and silky, with a tasty blend of black fruit flavors and dark spices. The fruit flavors are most dominant, yet this wine still retains complexity as well as a lengthy, pleasing finish.

The Third Course was a fantastic Char Grilled Colorado Lamb T Bone, with fresh thyme, crosnes, and aged pecorino cream. The lamb was extremely tender, juicy and flavorful, just an excellent cut of meat. And that lamb was a killer pairing with our next wine, the 2017 Wine & Soul Pintas!

The Pintas was the first wine made by Wine & Soul, and the term "pintas" refers to "spots" or "splashes" of wine. The vineyard is over 100 years old, and contains a field blend of over 35 indigenous varieties. In addition, the vineyard has a southern-west exposure, with over 40% elevation slopes, and it located at a high altitude. Their desire was to make a full bodied wine that best showed the terroir of the Douro. As they state, "Our goal is to create wines that express all the character of the traditional vineyards and varieties from the Douro Valley. A balanced wine between the concentration, complexity and elegance.

The grapes for the 2017 Wine & Soul Pintas (about $90) were foot-trodden, and the wine aged for 22 months in French barriques, 70% new and 30% in second-use. With a 13.7% ABV, this wine first evidenced a seductive aroma, subtle and complex, drawing you into its beauty. On the palate, there was an intriguing and absolutely delicious melange of complex flavors, such as ripe plum, blackberry, blueberry, mild spice notes, a few floral hints, and a touch of earthiness. Full-bodied and bold, yet elegant, with well-integrated tannins and a delightfully lengthy finish. Well-balanced and compelling, this was a superb wine, certainly evidence that Portugal can make world-class wines. It was an amazing pairing with the lamb. This is also a wine that should age well for many years to come, something definitely you should add to your wine cellar. It earns my highest recommendation.

For Dessert, there was a Hazelnut Torte, with Port-glazed figs, pear sorbet, and salted caramel. A wonderful blend of sweet and fruity flavors.

With this dish, we enjoyed a glass of the 2017 Wine & Soul 10 Year Old Tawny Port ($55), which enthralled me. The grapes were foot-trodden and this Port was aged closer to 15 years, spending time aging in 50+ year old, 630 liter, chestnut barrels. Sandra mentioned that chestnut was used as it tends to be more neutral, with very tight grains. Only 3,000 bottles of this wine were produced, and less than 100 have been allocated to Massachusetts. Sandra stated that this Port was intended to bring new people to drinking Port.

At 19.5% ABV, its nose was compelling, with a subtle sense of sweetness amidst dried fruit and nut notes. On the palate, the Port was more dry, with only a hint of sweetness, and possessed a complex and beguiling flavor profile, with elements of dried fruit, cherry, salted nuts, honey, caramel, earthiness, and more. It drank more like a 20 year-old Port, being well balanced and well integrated, and I could have sat there all evening just sipping this Port. I can easily understand how this Port could convince more people to drink it, especially as it was more dry than sweet. This Port also earns my highest recommendation. In time, Wine & Soul will produce a 20 Year-Old Port. Plus, they make vintage Port and their recent 2017 Vintage Port has been garnering many accolades.

Such a compelling food and wine experience, this was but one example of the type of events held at the Boston Wine Festival. Of the other guests I spoke too, they were unanimous in their love for this dinner. Sandra was such an excellent host, and her wines spoke volumes about the quality of their terroir. I found even more reasons to love Portuguese wine. The Wine & Soul wines are currently imported by Boston Wine Co., so I highly recommend you ask for them at your local wine shop.

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