“I know this flavor. But what is it?”
How do you explain horseradish? Easy, ask the waiter to fetch one from the kitchen. The loin of cod we’re having, served with a creamy sauce and fresh horseradish, pairs excellently with the 2010 Guru from Sandra Tavares da Silva and her husband Jorge Serôdio Borges. Together they make wine under the label Wine & Soul. The root arrives and Sandra now recognizes it. The 2010 by the way, is probably the best bottled Guru so far. Cool mineral driven fruit with a gentle touch of barrique, almost resembling a fine Burgundy in its youth.
Sandra is in Stockholm, meeting her importer Margareta, restaurateurs and of course end consumers and the wine press. Having met her better half, Jorge Serôdio Borges just a few months earlier when visiting the winery in Vale de Mendiz, in the heart of Cima Corgo, it feels great to get the chance to talk with Sandra as well – and ask those questions forgotten about when meeting her husband. From the beginning Wine & Soul was just a garagiste winery with the red wine Pintas as their only brand. Today, the business is more of a boutique winery, with the white Guru, the three reds: Pintas Character, Manoella, Quinta da Manoella, and of course a Pintas Vintage Port and Tawny added to the portfolio.
What amazes with Douro besides a breathtaking view and generous hospitality, is the fact how cool the table wines can feel. Yes, it’s warm in the region but it’s nothing new to them. The producers are used to handling heat. One way of doing it, is for example the field blends. Grape varieties react differently to heat, something which has become a fact today when planting more single varietal sites in the Douro. Furthermore the old vines of the field blends helps a lot to reduce the water stress, having a root system not being to depending on water at the surface. But most of all it is important to have in mind the fact that several premium vineyards in the Douro are at more than 500 meters above the sea level.
The white Guru comes from 50 years old vines; Viosinho, Rabigato, Codega and Gouveio. Not the most well-known and hence a reason for not putting focus on the grape varieties when marketing it. At production and when working the vineyard it is a different thing though; Sandra and Jorge knows that. They know Viosinho is essential for the acidity structure. They know Rabigato is a low yielder but adds quality and perfume. They know Gouveio brings body and alcohol. They know Codega becomes bitter if exposed to skin contact. But most of all; they know that the old vines at high altitude will help them deliver a cool wine without excessive alcohol.
The 2011 Guru is poured by Jorge at the winery. It’s a beauty, shaped a bit like the 2010 but perhaps a bit cooler in its appearance, adding more stone fruits. Dry, gently oaked and with classy structure. Still, if allowed to use only one word to describe the wine, minerality comes to mind. The 2010 is a personal favorite amongst the Guru vintages and the Burgundy resemblance mentioned in the beginning I imagine is a comparison few would believe before tasting the wine. The 2009 shows more evolved notes and integrated oak. Also this a fine wet rocks driven wine showing phenolic ripeness and yet a serious acidity structure. These wines are beauties in their youth thanks to gentle oak handling, but also ages well. Around 5,000 bottles are produced of Guru.
“Unfortunately the four wheel driven is at repair so I can’t take you down to the Manoella vineyard,” Jorge says. “But I will stop so we can see it.”
It’s probably one of the first questions I’m asking Jorge, I can’t remember. Quinta da Manoella. The old family estate of his. With the 2009 vintage Jorge has taken over and Wine & Soul has produced two wines, one from the lower part of the site, with vines averaging 100 years and one from younger vines planted in the mid-80s. Yes, you read 100 years old vines and it’s correct! The Vinhas Velhas from the site has resulted in 3,500 bottles and I would die to taste this wine. Still, I’m a polite Scandinavian and I won’t ask Jorge if it’s possible to taste it. I don’t have to; Jorge is a man of generosity and pops one at the very same moment as he says:
“I have more orders on this one than I can deliver.”
Jorge is not wasting the stuff. It’s drop dead gorgeous and one of the best table wines I’ve ever tasted from the Douro Valley. It needs time but has an elegance, almost ethereal feel, which needs skills to produce. Everyone can deliver a blockbuster, only a skilled winemaker can deliver elegance. Yes, I rank this above Pintas simply because my preferences are with Burgundy and the elegant Bordeaux wines such as those from Saint Julien. Quinta da Manoella 2009 is a masterpiece!
So, what’s so special about the wine? Before leaving Jorge offers us to bring along the bottles he’s popped. As he says: ” I’m home alone with the kids and can’t drink all that!” Tough to say no to such generosity so a trilogy are brought with us. I follow the 2009 Vinhas Velhas for three days and the way it evolves, it’s just amazing. If you’re lucky to have this one, save it a couple of years; you will be rewarded. Elegant, ethereal nose with red ripe cherries, toasted new oak, wet rocks, plum skin and a gentle spicy oriental feel. Add a dash of roses. On the palate it is pure class with gorgeous fruit, impeccably handled oak, compact tannin structure, and an never ending finish. Is the 2010 at the same level? Also a fine vintage which has the prerequisites to perform at top level. Yes, and no. There’s no doubt the 2010 has it but for me, the previous vintage was spot on. Perhaps though, the 2010 has a structure indicating a longer life ahead, being more structured and less rewarding from the start. It’s an honor being able to follow it in the future and for sure it is one of the best wines from the estate ever produced.
Oh yes, don’t forget the Manoella, from the younger vines. It’s a steal and one of the top-three buys from the region. What a find. 2010 is the wine to drink right now.
Jorge takes us to the site that started it all for him and Sandra, Pintas. The feeling, visiting a site which you have been drinking and admiring, that’s just a treat. The vines are old, around 80 years, and probably counts up to 30 different varieties. Again, consider what you want out of a wine; is it grape typicity? Then go for young vines, they will please your preference. But if you want complexity, then old vines is your choice. With age, grape distinction becomes a bit less obvious and this is a reason for keeping the extremely old vines you find around in the Douro Valley – even if there are 30 different within a site. Schist soil and a root system going 25 meters down will do it for you – a vine that has lasted this long has shown itself worthy and adaptable.
Pintas is organically cultivated. It’s a beautiful site, with a view to die for. It’s hard work, harvesting a site like this, believe me I’ve tried, but I guess it is somehow worth it, if you’re into sceneries. Steep, old vines, the Pintas Olive trees in the background, what more can you ask for? The 2009 Pintas is by far my favorite vintage, next to the gorgeous and classically styled 2005. Elegance, despite a warm year which resulted in numerous Vintage Ports. Still, those who handled the heat produced table wines which will compete with the very best ever produced in the region. The Pintas is one of those. Or as Mark Squires at The Wine Advocate puts it; the Mouton-Rothschild of Douro. A spot on description.
2009 has despite a warm year, elegance and class. Not as concentrated and dense as I’d expected, more delicate than previous vintages. Still, there’s a difference from Manoella although the distance between the sites is only a few chilometers. Terroir, anyone? Huge mouthfill and compact tannins, this darling will age well for years to come. The 2007 has more concentration, more of everything actually. It is not better, just different. I wouldn’t like to be without any of them due to the difference in style, but 2007 has more resemblance and character reminding me of port wine. Then there’s the 2005 which I will never consider elegant but has a charm I just love. It’s dark fruit, the minerals, the herbaceous scents on the nose. The plums, the compact but so delicious tannins on the palate, the mineral driven acidity structure; a wine for the trained palate without being prejudiced.
Somehow it is a little bit sad that the DOC Douro, the table wines of the region that is, hasn’t recieved the same attention as the established fortified wines. It is a quite recent product, being awarded DOC status first in 1979 and where the production gets a real kick first with the EC entrance in the mid 1980s. Still, when’s the last time you picked up a 25 euro+ bottle of table wine from Douro? Despite having a terroir, respected winemakers and have shown they can produce quality, it is still a product not reaching even nearby the status of Port. Of course, Jorge and Sandra produces Port under the Wine & Soul label, tawny and vintage. The 10 years old tawny still has that youthful color and vibrant fruit which is so gorgeous – and divine with chocolate oriented desserts.For sure it is challenging the established top names of 10 YO tawny and in my book also performing at an even higher level.
The same goes for the Vintage Port. I’m not your man when it comes to this – you should check out FTLOP and the tremendous work of Roy Hersh – but I do know that 2009 is one of the greatest vintages I’ve tasted as a young port. The 2009 Pintas is handling both elegance and concentration. Still tons of fruit, tannin structure, sloe, plum skins and alcohol not fully integrated. Yet the balance is one big wow. This has the structure for a very long life and I guess my second daughter, born 2009, will enjoy this in 2039.
Wine and food pairing is basically what it is all about. Man of my best wine memories involves a great dish. Seldomly it involves a premium wine, which can be more difficult to pair with food, being to rich and concentrated. Wine & Soul solves that by offering the Pintas Character. It sounds like the second wine of Pintas but it’s not; it come from a different vineyard and it is sadly an established misconception that it is a mini-Pintas.
The Character comes from almost 50 years old vines. You can see the site when standing in the Pintas vineyard. Jorge and Sandra has decided to vinify it differently, to make it easier to enjoy at a younger stage, while waiting for the Pintas wines to evolve. The 2009 Character is the best up to date in my book. Impressive concentration backed up by the trademark of the house; elegance. Fine tannin structure, ripe dark fruit and gentle spicy notes. What a great buy it is! The 2007 is richer but lacking the elegance of the younger vintage. Still I suspect it will age for a longer time and be a more interesting wine in the end? The 2005 shows some similarity to the Pintas ditto and are still drinking beautifully. I guess even the wines produced at Wine & Soul, for early drinking, has the structure to keep on evolving.
Don’t miss out on any of Sandra’s and Jorge’s wines if you’re into mineral driven wines, even if they are shaped in a quite modern style. They show the true potential of DOC Douro and that it’s just a matter of time before we start talking of these wines as true world class. Some are there already. Quinta da Manoella Vinhas Velhas for example. Holy sweet jesus it’s good!
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