Friday, December 27, 2013

Alves de Sousa

An Afternoon in the Northern Baixo Corgo 

Douro Valley


The view from the Abandonado vineyard high above Santa Marta de Panaguião in the northern section of Baixo Corgo

On our last full day in the Douro Valley we started the afternoon with lunch in Regua at Michelin rated Castas & Pratos, an old train station converted to a wine bar and restaurant. I was finally able to order a bottle of the Niepoort Redoma from 2009 and it was all that I was expecting it to be, but the food was the real star of the meal. We split an appetizer of Iberico ham with truffles that would crush any prosciutto and a decadent fois gras and egg. My entrée was a fantastic goat braised in port wine with mushrooms and Lisa had a fantastic duck breast and pear dish. We got back in the car with some sparkling water, my lifeline I drink while on any wine tasting excursion, and headed north from Regua through ever more winding Douro Valley roads to our next stop Quinta da Gaivosa in Santa Marta de Panaguiãos.

Lisa in front of the original structure at Quinta de Gaivosa
Quinta da Gaivosa is the home of the Alves de Sousa family wine and port operation. There are other vineyards in the Alves de Sousa holdings, however they are spread out in other parts of the Douro Valley. We met Tiago, son of Domingos Alves de Sousa, upon our arrival and he asked if we wanted to see the vineyards to which we of course responded with an excited absolutely. One of the keys to understanding a wine besides tasting it in different vintages is to also see the land the grapes are cultivated from, its terroir. We hopped in the SUV and made our way up the steep graded and heavily pocked road to the middle of the hillside vineyards, passing eucalyptus trees that will come into play later in the tasting of one of the wines near that thatch of trees. From this focal point we could see all of the vineyard plots at Gaivosa ranging in age from 15 years to 100 years old. 

Looking North to the summit of the Alves de Sousa property from Abandonado
These beautiful bunches are destined for a bottle of 2013 Abandonado
A beautiful old vine in the Abandonado vineyard of Alves de Sousa (early September 2013)

We continued our trek to the top of the hillside and made our way to a ridge just below the summit. We stopped at the famed Abandonado vineyard and her 80 year old vines that barely grow in this harsh environment. Because of the constant winds, stark sun and poor soil (solid granite) the vines are in a constant state of stress as there is little to no ability to retain any rain water. If the vine roots cannot continue their search deeper in the granite to find any moisture, the plant will suffer and not grow, even possibly die. The vineyard was purchased from a neighbor with the hopes of replanting the dead vines, but they would not survive, so they left the vineyard as is and tended to it just enough to make sure the old vines already there were able to produce fruit. And produce fruit they did. The first vintage was so spectacular they decided to bottle is separately. The view from the top of the Abandonado vineyard is spectacular and one of the best sights in all of the Douro Valley.

German style vertical planting of vines at the peak of the Alves de Sousa property

We moved on to the summit where some of the youngest vines are planted in a style called German because of the vertical north to south direction of the vine rows, instead of the normal horizontal rows that dominate the terraced vineyards of the Douro. This style of course was pioneered by German viticulturalists.  We peeled off from there to head back to the Quinta a few hundred feet below and came upon one of the best cross-sections of a typical Douro soil composition I had seen so far. You could see the different layers of granite, soil and occasionally vine roots jutting out randomly along the wall.

"the best cross-sections of a typical Douro soil composition I had seen" - yup, that is solid rock

Vinha de Lordelo Tinto amphitheater shaped vineyard, 100+ year old vines
We continued lower to a vineyard that is shaped like an amphitheater that protects the 100+ year old vines from the harsher parts of the Gaivosa terroir. Nestled just below the middle of the mountainside and centered in the middle of the vineyard matrix, the vineyard has a nice south/southwest exposure that allows the vines to catch a good portion of the sun without the strong winds.  You can taste his in the wine as it is a very generous, warmer style with solid tannic structure.  After this thorough vineyard schooling we were ready to go to tasting class and see how the vineyard affects the character of the wines.  At Alves de Sousa we had one of the longest tasting sessions and one of the best vineyard tours, if you can score an appointment it is definitely worth a stop.  My latest search on showed that Abadonado is available in limited amounts, the Port and the regular Quinta bottlings are also available.  But my biggest regret is not bringing back some Vinha de Lordelo Tinto as that is not available.

Below are the tasting notes of the extensive tasting we had of these good to exceptional wines.

The sweet spot of the Alves de Sousa dry table wine portfolio

Reserva Branco 2005
This white initially goes trough a 48 hours cold soak on the grape skins. The skins are then pressed and the wine is pumped over in tank for a few hours. After initial fermentation the wine then goes for 1 year in 100% new French oak.  The color is a golden honey as it is meant to be similar to an “orange” wine. Mature aromas mix with juicy golden fruits, and some wood that is well integrated at this point being 8 years old. Nicely balanced with good acidity this clocks in at only 12.5% abv and is made in minuscule amounts (1,500 bottles). The wine is purposefully held back 6-7 years for release from the vintage year so the wine can integrate properly and be drank at the proper time the winemaker intended.

2010 Vale da Raposa Sousao

Sousa is a red fleshed grape and this wine has an extra dark color without tasting or feeling like it is over-extracted. The red flesh permits darker color with less skin soak and this is helpful for tannin extraction of the grape skin as this wine does tend to be a fairly tannic wine. Countering the tannins is also a solid core of acidity, which reminded me of some wines from Italy, such as the Etna wines from the volcanic Italian island of Sicily. Darker sure, but similar fresh acidity and firm tannins. Rustic and fleshy indeed, the nose and palate showed tobacco, tar, violets, and flowers. The tannins are rugged, but ripe; the acidity is amazing as it lends ample freshness. Another wine of small production at 2,000 bottles.

2008 Quinta da Gaivosa

From 80 year old vines and 20 different grape varietals the namesake wine of the Quinta reveals black cherry, pain grille, and a touch of roasted herbs with a beautifully elegant and wide beam of bright and fresh fruit. Great complexity and depth, solid freshness and length, fine to medium tannins, this is a beautiful and elegant wine that will age 15-30 years. It spends 15 months in oak barrels, 50% new/50% old French.

Vinha de Lordelo Tinto
From 100 year old vines and 30 different grape varietals this vineyard sits in a natural amphitheater. Limited in production, these vines average 1 bunch of grapes per vine. The nose and palate show black plum, juicy black cherry, and chocolate. Fleshy and dense on the palate, this wine carries the most concentration of the 4 major De Sousa table red wines. Very polished and sexy, the tannins are ripe and provide a nice backbone of structure.

2010 Abandonado

From 100 year old vines and an unknown amount of mixed grape varietals, this is also a small production wine of only 3,000 bottles. Meaty with eucalyptus, tar, and floral notes, the Abandonado has a crazy complex nose and palate. Great freshness, ripe red, blue and black fruits mesh well with medium+ tannins. This spends 18 months in mostly new French oak barrels and s small amount of Portuguese oak.

10 Year White Port (Tawny like)

Made from multiple vintages similar to how a Tawny Port is made, this was one of the better white Ports we had the entire trip, but overall I am still not convinced of the viability of White Port as a stand a lone beverage.

20 Year Tawny Port

Fantastic, the best 20 year Tawny I had encountered the entire trip, but it was not yet ready for sale as it was not yet approved by the powers that approve new Port wines and regulate the Port wine industry as a whole. Candied orange peel, caramel, crème brulee with a sharp cut of acid this is great stuff. Like many of the newer producers, they bottle this in the hand grenade like bottles that are short and stout.

A bientot,


Monday, December 02, 2013


Grenache Purity 
Gigondas: The Grand Tasting
New York City, November 18, 2013

The Dentelles de Montmirail peaks that tower over the Gigondas region.

few weeks ago I had the pleasure to attend a tasting of Gigondas wines hosted by their appellation group Syndicate de Gigondas that represents the producers and growers of this tiny Southern Rhone region where the Grenache grape is king. Multiple vintages were poured, but the majority were 2011, 2010 and a sprinkling of 2009 and 2012. For the longest time I always thought of Gigondas as "more affordable Chateauneuf du Pape look-a likes" that under-achieved. While that may have been true in some aspects in the past, what I tasted this day was to me "quintessential Grenache from Gigondas". Part of this is my palate appreciation getting better and from what I think are the wines being made in a fresher, more pure style, especially for the Grenache.

Made famous by Kermit Lynch and Robert Parker, Gigondas is a neighboring region to Chateauneuf du Pape. The styles of the wines are similar in many ways, but if one were to generalize the Grenache from Gigondas might be a touch more opulent and elegant then from CdP. The blends from CdP and Gigondas in general are similar with Grenache usually 60-80% of the blend, Mourvedre and Syrah being the second largest portions in the 10-20% range, while Cinsault and the other legal varieties make up 5% or less on average.  The best part are many of these wines are under $30, many on the $20-25 range.

Gigondas is famous not only for its wines, but for the ancient limestone mountain range “Dentelles de Montmirail” that overlooks the entire region like a giant row of jagged teeth (see above lead photo). Sand and limestone soils dominate the region where vines are planted and are the most important sites to plant Grenache vines.

Many of the winemakers or proprietors were there pouring their wines and it was interesting to speak to them about the different styles of production, mostly the aging process after the initial fermentations. Most age the wine in large wood vats called foudre for 12 to 18 months. A good number of others use French oak barrels for the same aging period, with the majority using used barrels that impart little to no oak flavor. Some producers utilize both foudre and used oak barrels. The few that use new French oak barrels do so in small portions in combination with either used barrels or foudre, though some are backing away from new French oak entirely.

My general assessments of the wines per vintage are as follows and are similar to what I have read about, but there are always exceptions so this is not a blanket description for every producer:

2009: Ripe, voluptuous and fleshy wines. The tannins are very ripe and embedded in a wall of fruit, though not much acidity prevails from a wine that usually does not retain a lot to begin with. However the top examples are well balanced and should have long aging potentials. Most of the Gigondas I have had for 2009 are not from this tasting, but from my own personal tastings as well as speaking with these producers at this event.

2010: My personal favorite as far as these vintages go. Ripe fruit, ripe tannin, excellent acidity, these are balanced and super fresh wines that are full bodied, but elegant on the palate as these are not weighty or too sweet. The acidity levels are nearly perfect and elevate this vintage over its brethren.

2011: From my tastings these were the most varied wines in style and quality. Some of the 2011s were excellent wines, while others where middle of the road or better. The difference here is the concentration overall is down a notch from 2010. The wines are balanced, but more delicate, a rung lower than 2010 for me, but it is a noticeable rung. Some of the bottles were tight, but many were ready to go and seem ready to drink now. 2011 are fresher than 2009, but have a similar fruit forward charm with less concentration and intensity.

2012: Though little to no 2012 are available yet to try, it is supposedly close in quality to 2010 with freshness being the marquee characteristic most people are talking about and writing about.

Here are my tasting notes on the wines I tasted that stood out in no particular order.

Domaine du Terme Etiquette Noire 2009
One of the few 2009 wines at the event.
70% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% MourvedreStrawberry, ripe fig and spice notes; full bodied, warm, with a silky finish, some stem inclusion used. Definitely shows the voluptuous side of 2009.

Domaine Saint Gayan Cuvee Tradition 2009
80% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre
Shows the 2009 ripeness, but with good balance and plenty of charm from the ripe fruit. Bold and ripe, blackberry and tar, gamey meat, and classic cracked pepper notes. Lush and full bodied, with firm but ripe tannins buried in a wall of glycerin.

Domaine Santa Duc (3 wines)

Les Garancieres Gigondas Red 2010
80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% MourvedreImpeccably balanced and fresh. Blackberry and cherry, garrigue, peppercorns and spice. Tannins are pronounced but ripe, the wine is young and seamlessly textured. My favorite of the 3 Santa Duc wines this day. Garancieres vines average 30 years in age.

Aux Lieux-Dits Gigondas Red 201175% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre, Cinsault 5%Cracked pepper and roasted meats, leather, a touch of cream and garrigue counter red and black fruits. This is the most noticeably tannic of the 3 wines. The vines average 30 years in age.

Prestige Hautes Garrigues Gigondas 2011
78% Old Vine Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, 2% SyrahIntense, deep and ripe. This wine is layered in walls of fruit, glycerin and tannins with some good freshness on the finish. The fruit source is from old Grenache vines that are 60+ years old. Black fruits, garrigue, minerality, a mild smokiness and spice highlight the aromas and flavors.

Chateau Saint Cosme Gigondas 2011 – Traditional blend
60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 18% Mourvedre, 2% Cinsault
Earthy aromas with some funk. Ripe red and blue fruits, with some meaty and smoky notes on the palate. A good structure from the medium to full grain tannins, this was on the tight side but showed nice potential.

Romane Machotte Gigondas 2011

80% Grenache, 20% SyrahThis was a very tightly wound wine, chewy with a very firm and powerful tannic structure. The fruit and spice still pushed through showing cherry, currants, licorice, smoke meat and cracked pepper.

Domaine du Pesquier Gigondas 201075% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 5% MourvedreAged in foudre and concrete vats, this came across incredibly fresh and elegant, though the fruit was quite persistent and long, this wine had great breadth. This was one of the freshest tasting of the entire event, very lively with great acidity and medium grain tannins. Roast meats, stony minerality, raspberry, black plum fan out nicely on the palate. Very small production. 

Lavau Gigondas 2011
50% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 10% MourvedreA fruity and viscous style, this was ripe, though countered well with good acidity. The tannins were fine and velvety; almost too much so but maybe the lush textured fruit make this appear less tannic than it actually is. Blackberry, blueberry, crème d’cassis, chocolate, some spice and some bacon fat highlight the aromas and flavors. The 2011 was aged 12 months in 2-4 year old neutral oak barrels with the fermentations in stainless tanks.

Domaine du Grapillon d’Or (4 wines)

Domaine du Grapillon d'Or Gigondas 1806 201080% Grenache, 20% SyrahGood density, but elegant, a nicely fine and ripe structure with excellent freshness, garrigue, black cherry, pepper and spice. A long finish that is clean and fresh with purity of fruit and minerality. Tannins are very well integrated. 100% tank fermented, this wine ages in old oak barrels for 12 months.

Domaine du Grapillon d'Or Gigondas 1806 2011
80% Grenache, 20% SyrahVery similar to the 2010, but a notch lower in persistence and concentration, tannins are a tad chewier.

Domaine du Grapillon d'Or Excellence Gigondas 201060% Grenache, 40% SyrahFrom 60 year old vines, the Excellence is decadent but fresh, elegant yet powerful. Ripe blackberry, cherry, cracked pepper and roasted meat rise from the glass and fan out on the palate. 100% tank fermented this wine ages in old oak barrels for 18 months.

Domaine du Grapillon d'Or Excellence Gigondas 201160% Grenache, 40% SyrahThe 2011 is similar, with additional notes of licorice and tobacco. The tannins are more pronounced and the acidity is a little lower, so texturally this is a very different wine, but otherwise it shows good parity.

Domaine du Grand Bourjassot - Cuvee Cecile Gigondas 201050% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 10% MourvedreOne of the most complex wines of the event, this is a classically textured wine showing garrigue, spice, red fruits, fresh flowers, peppercorn and Asian spices. Savory and meaty, with more Asian spice on the palate with deep red fruits. Great freshness and length on the finish, I really liked this wine a lot. 3-4 year old neutral barrels age organically farmed fruit that is fermented with stem inclusion in glass lined tanks and then aged in barrel.

Domaine de Font-Sane (2 wines)

Gigondas Tradition 201172% Grenache, 23% Syrah, 3% Mourvedre, 2% CinsaultBlack and red fruits, and spice, this is a medium to full bodied wine with loads of charm. There are medium grain tannins and ample freshness. Aged in used neutral oak casks for 6-8 months.

Gigondas Terrasses des Dentelles 201172% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 3% MourvedreNicely complex, this wine is complicated with cinnamon, licorice, sweet un-smoked cigar tobacco, cedar, red currants and cherry notes that abound in the nose and the palate of this wine. Full bodied and powerful, this wine shows sound structure and good freshness. Full bodied, the tannins are firm but very ripe. Aged 1 year in cask.

Domaine des Florets (3 wines)

Gigondas Supreme 201180% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 5% MourvedreRaised 100% in 5-6 year old barrels, this cuvee is from 60 year old vines. This is a big wine, with loads of texture and glycerin, blackberry compote, roasted black plum and subtle spice fan out in layers on the palate.

Domaine du Clos des Tourelles Gigondas 2010Grenache, Syrah blend (%s not stated)This is a very, well made wine, showing the money behind it from the Perrin (Beaucastel) family. This is stylish and dense, but texturally persistent and pure. Red fruits like raspberry and cherry dominate the nose and palate, superb minerality, subtle spice and just a touch of cedar layer in with the fruit. This is aged 15 months in cask with no de-stemming during the initial fermentation. The vineyard is close to being certified organic and bio-dynamic. One of the best from Gigondas, it also is one of the most expensive and only available in limited quantities of 2,500 6 packs.

Domaine Cecile Chassagne Gigondas 201180% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% MourvedreGarrigue, pepper, red fruits, stony minerality, good length with sweet cigar tobacco, and savory smoked meat. Very well made, this wine is powerful with a full-bodied tannic texture and ample acidity. This finished nicely, clean and long.

Domaine du Cayron Gigondas 201070% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 14% Syrah, 10% MourvedreOne of my favorite Gigondas since my first encounter with the 2007 vintage, the 2010 is on the money and just as good if not better as it is much fresher with the same intensity and concentration. Traditionally, the wine spends 6 to 12 months ageing in large oak foudre. The vines range in age from 30 to 50 years old. This is for me one of the best buys not only in the Rhone but in the entire world of wine. Pen ink, juicy currants, pepper, licorice and garrigue, with flecks of lavender. Impeccably balanced, medium bodied with medium to full bodied tannin and a super fresh long finish. 

Domaine de Bosquets (2 wines)

Domaine de Bosquets le Lieu Dit Gigondas 2011
100% GrenacheFrom 50 to 130 year old vines, these have to be some of the oldest, if not the oldest Grenache vines in Gigondas. A powerful and fresh wine, black cherry, blackberry, a touch of smoked meats, fresh flowers and some notes of stony minerality pervade the nose and the palate. This is purity and finesse defined. A well made 2011 with a clean on long finish. Fermented in steel, aged in 600L neutral 203 year old oak casks.

Domaine des Bosquets Gigondas 201170% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 14% Syrah, 10% MourvedreAged for 12 months in cement vats, this is a regional blend of all the estate vine holdings. Cherry and pepper; creamy and round with firm but ripe tannins.

I hope you enjoyed this small break from Portugal, we will return next with Alves de Sousa from the Douro Valley of Portugal.

A bientot,

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