Wednesday Wines – Episode 97 – 2011 Barca-Velha & Friends

Episode 97 – 2011 Barca-Velha, Casa Ferreirinha, Douro, Portugal

& Friends

16th February 2022

I am constantly correcting people who think that my 35 years in the wine trade has been spent at lunch.  OK, in the old days, this might have been true, but these days there is just too much on to fritter away time in an epic restaurant with a table groaning with glasses.

However, I was guilty as charged when I was invited to taste a collection of elite wines from the Casa Ferreirinha portfolio.  The star wine was the 2011 Barca-Velha, the most recent release of Portugal’s greatest red wine.  I started with a flight of four B-Vs, then took a break with a rosé and a white and then dived back in with the inaugural vintage of a fascinating red followed by four vintages of the other superhero red Quinta da Leda.  It is worth noting that the backdrop to this epic event was Richard Corrigan’s sensational cooking at his eponymous restaurant in Mayfair.  While food never influences my wine tasting notes (I have been consulting on restaurant wine lists for nigh on 33 years and do not fall for that old trick), the setting, service, and the victuals were nothing short of incredible.

This tasting will live long in my memory, and, as you will read below, the wines are so brilliant that every single self-respecting wine collector in the world should have them in their cellar.  They were missing from my collection, and I have already rectified this omission.  I will be watching every move this historic winery makes from this day forwards.

Before I start, the following notes are, as is usually the case in tastings like these, verbatim.  They are not fleshed out, embellished or padded in any way.  If you want to know more of the history and detail on these wines, please look them up.  I have thrown in extra facts hither and thither when they were mentioned.  I was lucky to taste with winemaker Luís Sottomayor, head of winemaking at Casa Ferreirinha and Sogrape Porto Wine and Sogrape Chairman Fernando da Cunha Guedes.  This meant that I had extraordinary access to ask any questions that I liked in the knowledge that they would answer them  My thanks goes to Liberty Wines for organising this stellar tasting.

 

Barca-Velha, Douro

1982 Barca-Velha, Douro (RRP n/a)

Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional

Alcohol 12.5%; TA 5.4g/L; pH 3.56; RS <2g/L

Matured in new Portuguese oak 225L barrels for 18 months.

There have been 20 Colheitas since the first release in 1952.  The next few vintages that will either make Barca-Velha status or be released as a runner-up wine, Reserva Especial, will be 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019.  This 1982 was sensational, and I am certain that it would hold its own if it was put on a table next to the 1982 Bordeaux First Growths.  The balance, control, restraint, colour and aromatic lift are all exceptional.  If I was served this wine blind, I would think Cabernet Sauvignon was the dominant grape, not Tinta Roriz!  I particularly admire the finish, which doesn’t show any tannin per se but has a terrific pinch of acidity that holds everything in place.  It will still keep rolling, too, perhaps for a further ten years. 18.5/20 (Drink now to 2030)

1991 Barca-Velha, Douro (RRP n/a)

Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional

Alcohol 12.5%; TA 5.1g/L; pH 3.55; RS <2g/L

Matured in new Portuguese oak 225L barrels for 18 months.

With more obvious black fruit than the 1982, which was more red fruit tinged, this is a harmonious and pure wine with some remarkably exotic hints, and there is that wonderful acidity on the finish which pricks the palate as opposed to drying it out.  There are also some wilder notes which hover above a more composed palate, and there is much to find here as it opens in the glass.  There is surprising energy here, and it will certainly unravel more over the next decade or more.  This is another astonishingly delicious and complete wine.  18.5/20 (Drink now to 2035)

1999 Barca-Velha, Douro (RRP n/a)

Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão

Alcohol 13.5%; TA 2.5g/L; pH 3.45; RS 2.5g/L

Matured in new French oak 225L barrels for 18 months.

They moved from Portuguese oak to French around 1997, and Touriga Franca started to move into a dominant position in the blend.  After three vintages, I was starting to figure this wine out.  In creating a kind of 3D template in my brain, it occurred to me that unlike the other super-famous, multi-site wine of the world (Penfolds Grange), this wine differs greatly given that it uses a variety of different vineyards.  Still, it also has the privilege of drawing on fruit from rather high altitude spots too.  Some of the vineyards are as high as 500-700m!  Perhaps this is the source of the enchanting thread of acidity that I am so keen on in this wine?  The 1999 is, suddenly, a denser and, dare I say it, more modern wine.  Still Bordeaux-like (for want of a better expression) on the nose, there is more obvious Douro flair here, and the fruit wildness is more amplified.  This is a more obviously Portuguese wine than the first two, which is certainly a good thing.  The palate is swaggering, bold, noble and dark, and yet the finish is grippingly fresh and uplifting.  This is a perfectly assembled wine – each chapter of flavour follow the previous one seamlessly.  Goodness knows how long it will live for but a minimum of 20 years for certain.  The oak is so well managed, too, bringing with it spice, tobacco and chypre as opposed to woodiness or varnish.  This is a mightily impressive wine, and even though it is already 20+ years old, there is so much more to come.  19+/20 (Drink now to 2040)

2011 Barca-Velha, Douro (£545.00, www.hedonism.co.uk)

45% Touriga Franca, 35% Touriga Nacional, 10% Tinta Roriz, 10% Tinto Cão

Alcohol 14.5%; TA 5.4g/L; pH 3.6; RS 0.8g/L

Matured in 60% new Portuguese oak 225L barrels for 18 months.

There is another level of depth and confidence here, and according to Luís, this was an exceptional vintage.  I am so used to listening to winemakers extoll the virtues of each and every vintage, but this wine is only released in specific years when it makes the grade.  Otherwise, it is ‘declassified’ to Reserva Especial.  It must have been a straightforward decision in 2011 because this wine is certainly close to perfection.  Of course, 2011 was a great year for vintage Port, too, but it does not follow that Barca-Velha is made in particularly strong Port vintages.  There is a huge volume of flavour, and it runs uninterrupted for minutes on the palate, but this is not a massive wine.  In fact, it is a medium weight but stunningly intense.  There is more breadth of flavour than in any of the previous wines, and it is kaleidoscopic in its range of flavours, both fruit, spice, herb, earth and oak.  The most incredible aspect of this wine is that it is 10 years old and yet it feels like a baby.  It is hard to guess how long-lived this wine will be, but I have no doubt that it will outlive me given that the 1982 is still fit and energetic and this wine is a genuine thoroughbred by comparison.  Consider me suitably flabbergasted.  19.5++/20 (Drink 2030 – 2060)

Vinha Grande

2020 Vinha Grande, Douro Rosé (RRP £14.99)

100% Touriga Nacional

Alcohol 12%; TA 6.1g/L; pH 3.2; RS 0.8g/L

I am shocked by just how delicious this rosé is, too.  Given it followed the 2011 B-V, it sang on both the nose and palate and if you adore proper rosé as I do, then add this to your shopping list immediately and then test-drive it against all of the big boys from Provence.  You will have fun.  Herbal, gastronomic, complex and rewarding, this is a ‘grande’ creation with a ridiculously tempting price tag.  18/20 (Drink now – 2023)

2020 Vinha Grande, Douro Branco (RRP £14.99)

40% Viosinho, 30% Arinto, 20% Rabigato, 10% Gouveio

Alcohol 13%; TA 6.1g/L; pH 3.21; RS 0.5g/L

So, after the rosé, I was prepared for a lull in the action, but this complex blend, co-fermented from high altitude vineyards, is a gem.  Super-layered, gently oaked, soothing, layered and elegant, this is another foodie creation that draws one’s palate away from the French ‘classics’ to a new and intriguing destination.  18/20 (Drink now – 2024)

NEW WINE

2018 Castas Escondidas, Douro (RRP £44.99)

18% Old Field Blend, 18% Tinta Amarela, 15% Touriga Fêmea, 14% Tinta Francisca, 12% Tinto Cão, 10% Touriga Nacional, 9% Touriga Franca, 2% Bastardo, 2% Marufo Tinto

Alcohol 13.5%; TA 5.8g/L; pH 3.6; RS 1.5g/L

Matured in French oak 225L barrels for 18 months.

There is an extraordinary depth of fruit and exuberance in this wine and the ‘hidden varieties’ This wine has an extraordinary depth of fruit and vitality, and the ‘hidden varieties’ certainly pack a punch and bring uniqueness to the overall experience.  Flamboyant, already drinking, silky and sexy, this is a Super-Tuscan-shaped wine with little dry tannin or astringency, making it rather unnerving and rather enticing.  There is a definite Douro signature here, and I can imagine this wine appealing to adventurous palates looking to open new flavour doors in their quest to get closer to understanding the grandeur and majesty of Barca-Velha and the greater portfolio.  18/20 (Drink now – 2030)

Quinta da Leda

2007 Quinta da Leda, Douro (RRP n/a)

50% Touriga Nacional, 40% Touriga Franca, 10% Tinta Roriz

Alcohol 14%; TA 5.61g/L; pH 3.58; RS 1.5g/L

Matured in 50% new French oak 225L barrels for 12 months.

This is a rather lazy vinous analogy, but if you could bear with me and for a brief moment or two place Barca-Velha in the same Venn diagram as Penfolds Grange.  Now think of Quinta da Leda as Casa Ferreirinha’s Penfolds St Henri.  What I am trying to say is that Barca-Velha is rich, indulgent, fully upholstered and incredibly dramatic.  It is age-worthy, commanding and it demands respect from the drinker  Quinta de Leda is much more open and welcoming, and it is also one-tenth of the price.  It uses less new oak and, unlike St Henri, it comes from a single vineyard.  It has a character all of its own that flows through the four wines that I have in front of me.  While this 2007 is lighter, a little more herbal and more old-fashioned than the trio that follows, this is another late released wine, but it is always drinking on release.   I was told that no Barca-Velha was declared in 2007, and instead, one of the finest Reserva Especials was bottled instead.  2007 Quinta da Leda shows how excellent this vintage was because this is a gentlemanly creation at the peak of its powers.  18/20 (Drink now – 2030)

2016 Quinta da Leda, Douro (RRP £45.99)

50% Touriga Franca, 25% Touriga Nacional, 15% Tinto Cão, 10% Tinta Roriz

Alcohol 13.5%; TA 5.3g/L; pH 3.6; RS 0.8g/L

Matured in 50% new French oak 225L barrels for 18 months.

Because this trio of wines runs in a neat sequence, I made one consecutive note to cover all three vintages – a direct comparative tasting note, if you will.  2016 is my preferred wine – it is the grandest, and it has the most potential.  It is one of the finest value, elite reds I have tasted in a very long time.  The 2017 is more refined, the most forward, most restaurant friendly and most open.  It is lighter, more herbal, and it will get you in the mood while the others have a chance to mellow.  I will hold back on any more notes on this wine because it is my MoneyWeek wine of the week this Friday!  Finally, the 2018, which is a beauty.  More flamboyant, more plush and sensual, and it is not dissimilar to the 2016 in fruit expression, but it is not quite as powerful or as impactful.  Either way, you need all three in your collection because if you like each of these wines for their respective character traits, I can imagine you will follow this label for the rest of your days.  18.5+/20 (Drink 2023 – 2040)

 2017 Quinta da Leda, Douro (£59.10, www.hedonism.co.uk; £49.00, www.vintagewineandport.co.uk).

45% Touriga Franca, 30% Touriga Nacional, 15% Tinto Cão, 10% Tinta Roriz

Alcohol 13.5%; TA 5.3g/L; pH 3.7; RS 0.8g/L

Matured in 50% new French oak 225L barrels for 18 months.

17.5+/20 (Drink now – 2030)

2018 Quinta da Leda, Douro (RRP £48.99)

41% Touriga Franca, 34% Touriga Nacional, 13% Tinto Cão, 12% Tinta Roriz

Alcohol 14%; TA 5.8g/L; pH 3.6; RS 1.5g/L

Matured in 50% new French oak 225L barrels for 18 months.

18+/20 (Drink 2025 – 2035)

My Scores

I have attached my scores out of 20 for every wine.  In addition to this, I have included my score conversion chart for those of you who are into medals, stars or 100-point scores.  If a score has no ‘+’, this indicates a wine that is in balance and can be drunk relatively young thanks to its precocity and charm.  One ‘+’ indicates a wine that will benefit from medium-term ageing (in accordance with the style of the wine), while two ‘++’ indicates a wine that should manage to make the long haul, softening and evolving as it goes.

FIN