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Masterclass: Fine Wines of Portugal with Raymond Reynolds

Thursday 25th July 2019

Presented by Max Driscoll 

The Oxford Wine Company Shop, 6 Turl Street, Oxford, OX1 3DQ

What an introduction to summer we have had on the tasting calendar this year with visits from Rathfinny, Nyetimber, Albert Bichot and Altrocedro. Could you wish for more? An evening with Max Driscoll from the highly esteemed importers Raymond Reynolds showcasing a handful of intricate and unique wines from across Portugal? Your wish is granted! Talk about the cherry on the cake! So, on the hottest day of the year so far, we surrendered the sunshine and took residence in the cooling comfort of the Turl Street Tasting cellar.

Portugal has gained much attention in the industry recently, perhaps because of their many indigenous grape varieties and their rich heritage, which until the last decade or so was still a mystery to many. It is said that a large role in the isolation of Portuguese wines from the rest of Europe was due to the dictatorship of Dr Marcello Caetano which according to an article published by the BBC on 25th April 1974 held "a regime which for 50 years has oppressed the people of Portugal". A little history because what is wine without history!? But let's not talk politics too much... to the wines!

Max who began life as a scientist and holds a PHD in Enzymology (how much are you dying to sit down with him for a nerdy chat!? Just me then!) moved into the world of wine seven years ago and has been working with Raymond Reynolds for the last five. Raymond Reynolds LTD was set up in 1990 when Raymond moved to the UK after working for Taylors Port as assistant winemaker. Raymond Reynolds are regarded as one of the most integral and authentic importers of Portuguese wines into the UK.

Hidden away beneath the busy pavements of Oxford on this sweltering evening, our intimate group of Portuguese wine enthusiast raised the first glass keenly to their lips. An easy and clean white wine from Luis Pato to begin. Fruity and smooth, fresh and delicately floral - simply lovely. Max emphasised that there is so much variation within Portugal due to the length of the country, the vast grape varieties and soils types. The region of Bairrada is a good place to start being one of Portugal's longest established wine regions and Luis Pato being their most famous winemaker. The wine is named after the grape variety Maria Gomes but also includes a small percentage of Sercialinho.

Moving north, the second wine in the running was Quinta de Soalheiro Alvarinho 2018 vintage. This incredibly popular wine comes from the very north of the Vinho Verde region which boarders on Spain and you guessed it, the grape Alvarinho is Portugal's Albarino. The wine has that classic gentle spritz on the palate that most people associate with the wines of Vinho Verde with lime, grapefruit, nectarine and papaya fruit flavours. There is an energising vibrancy due to the high acidity and mineral characteristics. Quinta de Soalheiro are true pioneers and continuously receive excellent national and international acclaim. Their first Alvarhino vines were planted in 1974 and their vintages have been improving ever since thanks to their dedication to quality wines and intuitive winemaking. The vineyards receive plenty of rain due to the mountain range they lie beneath but also spend just enough time basking in sunshine - Soalheiro translates to 'a sunny place'.

Max now guided us right to the south of the country with a wine from the Algave region called Euphoria. From the start Max was an excellent guide filling our virtual tour with tales of true experience, lesser known facts and endless nuggets of professional knowledge; the story behind Euphoria a perfect display. This wine is produced by Quinta do Convento do Paraiso and is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Nacional and Aragonez with a nose of plums, toasted almonds, dried oregano and a rich smooth palate of black cherry, marzipan and spice. A comforting wine and excellent value for money!

For the fourth wine of the evening we are back where we started in the region of Bairrada at the iconic Casa de Saima. I will try not to be too biased here but just to warn you, I love this wine! Graca Miranda is the winemaker at Casa de Saima with the assistance of her husband and together they are capturing the heritage and culture of Portuguese winemaking with their very traditional approach. The wines are pressed using the old-fashioned method of grape treading and receive no fining or filtration. 'Take your time' is the essence in this winery and this certainly shows in the complexity and expression of their wines. On this evening we were charmed by the 2014 vintage of Tonel-10. Predominantly Baga (a grape variety often said to have similar characteristics to Nebbiolo) from ancient low yielding vines this wine was aged for one year in a large old oak barrel - tonel (large barrel) 10 to be exact with only 3000 bottles produced. On the nose liquorice, leather, cooked figs, saffron, spice, straw and molasses and on the palate a burst of sour cherry with a peppery, earthy spices finish. A wine to savour and drink on a beautiful evening with a loved one!

Max took us across the Atlantic Ocean to the mysterious island of Madeira to taste the delicious Boal Reserva from Barbeito. Madeira; an excellent subject for getting your teeth into but I think that is for another article, so I will keep this short and sweet. Madeira is coming back into fashion (yes!) and Ricardo Diogo, the winemaker at Barbeito is a real driving force behind this revolutionization with a reputation for respecting tradition and a dynamic attitude. Served to us slightly chilled this little bottle of utter deliciousness produced aromas of tarte tatin, caramelised walnuts, a nutty palate of toasted spices and a savoury finish. No caramel is added to Ricardo's wines (a common technique used in Madeira production) and he only uses the Canteiro method.

Of course, a Portuguese wine tasting must include a Port! Max opened for us, also slightly chilled, the Niepoort Colheita Tawny 2004, explaining the significance of 'Colheita' - single vintage tawny ports that are aged for a minimum of seven years and that must display the vintage and bottling date. True indulgence! This 2004 is said to one of Niepoort's finest recent vintages and it certainly impressed our Turl Street tasters. A complex nose of cooked apricots, fruity coffee, caramelised walnuts and a smooth toffee, spicy, caramelised apple palate. Drink this after an argument and you will forget what the quarrel was about whilst simultaneously rediscovering an appreciating for the simple pleasures in life! You could describe it as an atheist's answer to 'Divine Intervention'.

Niepoort was founded in 1842 by a Dutch family who came to the trade after starting in the shipping industry. Now run by Dirk Niepoort they are in their 5th generation soon to be 6th generation of winemakers. Recently Niepoort's reputation for exceptional ports and table wines has spread amongst the wider market and at The Oxford Wine Company we are lucky to have a wonderful selection on offer.

As you can imagine the room erupted with a grand applause for Max. A few more measures were poured and some casual conversation simmered as the evening drifted on into night.