So many of the great names of Port wine are of English, Scottish or Irish descent, notable families like the Symingtons with their famous brands including Graham’s and Dow’s, or the Fladgate Partnership with Taylor’s and Fonseca, to name but two. These tend to dominate the Port wine scene in the UK, but there are plenty of houses that are Portuguese owned, and it is always nice to give these a little more focus.
I was recently introduced to the Port wines of the Carvalho family, who have farmed vineyards in the Vale de Rodo, near Régua, since the mid 19th century. Like so many others, their business was growing grapes to sell to the merchants of Vila Nova da Gaia, but each year José de Carvalho kept some wine aside in barrels – indeed a substantial stock of the 1880 vintage survives to this day. As a bottler and shipper the company is much younger, having taken years to build up a stock of the minimum required 150,000 litres: the Port authorities require that before a shipper can sell a single bottle, as well as demanding that a stock three times larger than annual sales is continuously maintained. It is a long-game, requiring considerable investment before seeing returns.
The family’s vineyards are in the Baixo Corgo, closer to Oporto than the vineyards further upstream in the Cima Corgo around Pinhão, and Douro Superior even further east, running to the Spanish border. Winemaker is Jaime Costa, who believes the higher rainfall of their little patch of the Douro valley gives extra acidity, and therefore freshness to their wines. Jaime has a wealth of experience, having made wines at Burmeister for 16 years, as well as for other houses. He was also named Fortified Winemaker of the Year in 2005 by Portugal’s most authoritatve wine magazine, Revista dos Vinhos. Now Jaime oversees a portfolio of Douro table wines and Port wines for Vasques de Carvalho.
Though I have not tasted the table wines, aged tawnies would seem to be an ace in the pack for Vasques de Carvalho, having access to so much excellent old stock. They have also done a beautiful job on the packaging, their striking, squared-off bottles are fitting for such excellent wines. The LBV tasted here is their first LBV release (and is very impressive) and the Vintage Port comes from 2016, an excellent year for Port.
(2019) Aged tawnies bear an age statement that indicates their style and approximate age, though normally they are blends of various vintages chosen to create a consistent quality and character - in this case that spans wines between seven and 14 years old. After its considerable time in barrel, this has a toffee colour with hint of ruby at the core and an inviting nose of walnut and rich Muscavado sugar, plump raisins and a typical lift of shellac. On the palate it has a lovely sweetness, soft and creamy, the spirit beautifully subsumed beneath the lightly leafy but coffee-ish notes, Agen prune and raisins, and a very nicely balanced finish. What a charming 10-Year-Old. 136g/l of residual sugar.
(2019) Wines in this blend are between 12 and 25 years old, the extra decade or so in barrel not altering the colour too much, but adding to the firm, burnished, walnutty, cinnamon-stick aromatics. There's deep Seville orange fruitiness too, but the aromas are polished and dark. On the palate the 138g/l residual sugar makes its sweet presence felt, but there is so much incisive citrussy fruit still, and those inter-weaving complex layers of nuttiness and old polished wood as well as acidity. A darker, more intense style than the 10-year-old.
(2019) LBV, or Late-Bottled Vintage, wines come from a single harvest just like Vintge Ports. They do not necessarily come from years that have been 'declared' for the release of vintage wines, and unlike Vintage Ports, which are bottled after a short period in oak casks, these spend many years maturing in cask, so that they are considered ready to drink on release. After four years ageing in a combination of oak and stainless steel, this has a delightful brightness and elegance on the nose, the spirit disappearing into a pool of pitch-black fruit sweetness and chocolate. Silky on the palate too, the abundant sweetness of fruit is offset by a tangy, cherry-skin acidity, the spirit warming the finish and the coffee and toast adding to that. A lovely wine, drinking well.
(2019) Vintage Ports are made only in the best years, and Vasques de Carvalho's 2016 is a selection of their best from that harvest, matured for 12 months in 6,000-litre wooden barrels. It is bottled unfiltered and should be decanted for serving. A very deep, opaque colour, the aromas are dense, meaty and darkly vinous, blueberry and damson fruit with just a tiny floral inflection coming through in this very young wine. It strikes the palate with glorious sweetness, a ripe, creamy richness of black fruit, super-sweet and mouth-filling, the quality of spirit evident in the quiet way it supports. There's great balance here, chocolate richness and fruit, but elegant in terms of its acid, tannin and long finish. A wine that can be broached now for its sweet and charming fruit and youthful vigour, but which will also age for decades.