Posts Filed Under elegant wines
Last month, I was one of the International judges in the 2013 Wines of Portugal Challenge, an annual event that was recently opened up to include wine-type-folks from outside of Portugal in the judging pool.
The results of that competition have just been published, and as their guest (okay, okay, and to make up a bit for hammering them about our butt-numbing trip to the Dão), I thought I’d share the results of the competition with you. Only, it will be 1WD style, so prepare for the opinionated and somewhat freakish.
I’m happy to report that the competition was both fun and well-run, apart from having to reuse stemware (and the tendency of some of my amiable panel-mates to fall into native Portuguese when discussing the results of each wine, which meant that in some cases I only understood that they were arguing – or agreeing – about a wine’s relative merits). I’m not so happy to report that the Portuguese still seem hell-bent on pushing Touriga Nacional as their flagship red wine grape, despite the fairly well-accepted notions that a) the TN wines, while potentially excellent and long-lived, are acquired tastes and are largely inferior to their blended counterparts, and b) Dão and Douro are a lot easier to pronounce for most English-speakers. Just sayin’.
Since many of you have no visibility into how these competitions work, I should share that no two wine competitions are run identically (at least not in my growing experience with them), and in this case our panel consisted of a couple of international judges (duh), and mostly folks from the Portuguese wine industry (Port, Madeira, etc.), headed up by a Portuguese winemaker as our panel chief (charged with keeping us all in line).
We tasted all of the wines blind, and then inputted our opinions electronically into a PC via drop-down boxes for various categories of evaluation (one of which, confusingly, was typicity, even though we tasted blind and weren’t told what we were evaluating). The drop-down choices translated in the system as numeric scores, which then translated into a medal (gold, silver, bronze, or no award).
I hated this system…
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The first thing I need to tell you is that I’m deeply grateful to ViniPortugal for having invited me to Lisbon to judge in the 2013 Wines of Portugal Challenge (the first time they’ve opened it up to international judging), and for the hospitality that they showed to me while I was there.
I have to tell you this first because I’m about to spend the next few hundred words sounding as if I’m undermining every word of that previous sentence, even though it happens to be the truth, truth that’s balder than Bruce Willis.
What’s also the Die-Hard-With-A-Vengeance-bald truth is that, despite the fact that I’m about to recommend a Dão producer (Quinta dos Roques / Quinta das Maias) to you, I cannot tell you diddly-squat about them. I know, we are off to a swimming start here, aren’t we? Hang on, it will get better, I promise.
Here’s the thing: the Wines of Portugal public relations folks face a daunting task in trying to herd a large amount of fiercely independent winemaking and food-crafting cats. If they ever get the PR situation to match their culinary and wine prowess, I suspect they would conquer the planet storm trooper style. Until then, though, you won’t need to stock up on any ammo, based on my recent experiences (but I still love you, Portugal!).
Exhibit A: I, along with about ten fellow newly-minted international judging alumni, spent more time on a bus traveling from Lisbon to Dão and back in one day in May than I spent (by about an hour) in a plane flying from Philly to Lisbon, all in the name of tasting the wares of a few of the best-regarded producers in Dão. The number of wines we tasted that day? About 12. The number of bottles of water or beer (or anything else) aboard the bus on that 7+ hour jaunt? Zero.
Exhibit B: We were served a fixed menu of bacalhau (traditional Portuguese salted cod, of which there are rumored to be one thousand different preparations) five times in four days, often successively for dinner and lunch on the same days (including the day of our Dão expedition). When we burst out laughing at the final dinner when we each received a serving of cod the size of my mastiff’s head, I was asked “what’s wrong, don’t you like it?” My reply: “I didn’t say that; it’s amazing food, but I don’t like anything five times in one week no matter how amazing it is… with the possible exception of sex…”
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One could go their entire blogging life and never be fortunate enough to use the phrase “toilet frog.” And yet… here I am, able to use the term from personal experience.
I need a moment to revel in this, people. Please, indulge me a moment, for I have met them, in person.
T-o-i-l-e-t f-r-o-g-s…. As in, frogs that live in a toilet. Yes, seriously, and for realz, as the youngins say these days.
The toilet frogs moment comes courtesy of Alto de la Ballena (literally, “height of the whale [hills]”), a relatively small producer (about 55k bottles) with a relatively small vineyard area (about 20 hectares) in a relatively small country (Uruguay) who are making relatively excellent wines that are not yet available in the U.S. (though they are working on it; it’s a situation I sincerely hope changes after this, and not just because they showed me their toilet frogs).
The story begins in the Sierra de la Ballena, a stretch of hills that begin at a whale-watching peninsula near the seaside resort town of Punta de Este, a spot where the seafaring mammals stop during their August/September migration to Patagonia. Taking their name from the whales, the Sierra de la Ballena undulate to the north, about fifteen kilometers inland to the town of Maldonado, which is where Alvaro Lorenzo and his wife Paula Pivel decided to plant their vineyards in 2000/2001.
Lorenzo and Pivel were all alone on the steep, rocky, gravel, granite, limestone, and schist hills in Maldonado.
“At the time, no one was here,” Lorenzo told me when I visited the property as a guest of Wines of Uruguay; “we took the risk.”…
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