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95-point Portuguese Douro (value) reds - July 2019

July 2019's Decanter (www.decanter.com) features a full panel tasting review of 'value reds' of Portugal's Douro region/valley (and by that, Decanter mean anything less than £20, which is very much the lion's share of Douro reds).

Three wines clear the 95-point, Outstanding threshold. We offer just the one, but feel it's a bit special, hence the focus on it.

We increasingly see some some quite excellent reds come out of the home of Port, the Douro valley. And so too do Decanter, hence the review, and hence the top scorers. It's a welcome review, as Douro reds - even for us in the trade - can be (and are) a minefield.  The panel here provides some welcome guidance.

Typically, of Douro reds:

- They're all very reasonably priced - it's hard to find much over £20 (which is where Decanter place the upper bar on this review).

- They're all blends of (pretty much) the classic six Port grapes - the famous Touriga Naçional (body, concentrated flavour), Touriga Franca (colour, structure, aroma), Tinta Roriz (= Tempranillo, used for finesse and fruit), Tinta Barroca (body, structure), Tinta Cão (adds tannin) and Tinta Amarela (colour).

- There are plenty of rustic and (frankly) badly-made wines on offer. Even the good ones have a somewhat rural/agricultural charm, and are certainly not for lovers of light reds. To evidence this, in this review, which allowed for the 'value factor', only 17 of almost 80 wines on test came out as Highly Recommended/90 points+ or better (and one assumes only the better wines get put forward for test, especially since any sensible vintage could be submitted).

However, those that did well here are very good wines indeed. There were three Outstandings, one of which is less than a tenner. We have decided, would you believe(?), not to list it. Juicy and fruity as it is, we took the view that it's perhaps a bit-lacking-in-Touriga-Naçional and made-only-in-steel-and-simple for our discerning customers. With grapes this tannic, honestly, we take the view that some oak somewhere is required. If we've got that wrong, you'll not struggle to find that wine elsewhere. 

What we do list is the excellent Maçanita Tinto 2017. Its winemaker is much heralded as one of the finest breakthrough winemakers in Iberia; with his sister, they are producing some very fine artisan wines with far greater finesse than those of their neighbours. There's plenty more information on him/them here and here, the latter link relating to their Douro wines.

It may be (very very deep) violet in colour, and violetty in your nostrils, but the the Tinto 2017 is most certainly no shrinking violet; with 55% Touriga Naçional, it could never be. A fascinating 25% comes in from a natural vineyard 'field blend' of mixed varieties; Sousão makes up the balance to add (very fine) acidity and yet more colour (which has to be seen to be believed). There's 12 months of French oak maturation here - half of it in new oak - which adds a dimension not often seen in reds of this ilk.

Decanter said: "spicy and rich", "memorably spicy and concentrated", "finishes long", "dense yet complete and finely rendered, offering refined tannins and a smooth creaminess. Stylish and harmonious".

It's a bit more pricey than your average value Douro red at £14.95, we know, but that reflects the love it's been shown. Indeed, we've squeezed our margin and the producer as much as possible to make the price as in step with most Douro reds as we possibly can. Certainly, you get a lot of wine (in every sense) for your £15, and it would be £20+ but for it being us and our importing it directly. We do strongly recommend giving it a few hours in a decanter before drinking: we found it opens hugely for a decent breathe. It's only available from Exel.

Additionally, we really must offer you the Maçanita white/Branco (2018). Maçanita insisted we try it. We were, being a bit Scottish, rather sceptical. Until, that is, we tasted it. We are sceptical no longer. A fantastic blend again, this, which brings together flavour, acidity/tang and a surprising amount of body. In short, it breaks the mould: wines with this much body shoudn't be this refreshing. Or, if you prefer, wines this zingy shouldn't be this full. It's a fascinating wine, and we definitely recommend you add it to any of the above.

The Maçanita wines will be with customers by the 25th June (maybe a day or two after in the event of French transport strikes...).

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Macanita Branco 2018 (1x 75cl)

We also strongly recommend the Macanita red/Tinto.

Antonio Maçanita is one of the most dynamic, brilliant young winemakers in Portugal, crafting wines everywhere from the Azores archipelago to Alentejo. In the Douro, this brother and sister team - with sister Joana - has managed to pool their considerable winemaking talent to showcase the breadth of terroir in the oldest classified European appellation. Sourcing from sites spread across the 3 subzones of the Douro, the Maçanitas use classic Douro grape varieties with modern winemaking techniques to produce wines of balance, elegance and true Douro character. Somehow managing to combine Antonio’s wink-and-nod irreverence and Joana’s steadfast pursuit ofpreserving Portuguese winemaking traditions, this brother and sister team has captured the spirit of the Douro as only they are able.

Vines mainly (80%) tended in schist soil at 750m (2300ft) elevation in Baixo Corgo, Douro, with some 20% of the grapes taken from the more altitudinous Douro Superior. The average temperature of the former is the lowest in the Douro, and ripeness is often a challenge here, but it also lends an intrinsic freshness to the wine.

Hand harvested. Whole bunch press, cold fermentation using wild yeasts in stainless steel. Racked to stainless steel for 6 months aging before bottling.

70% Viosinho, 20% Codega do Larinho, 10% Gouveio (aka Godello).

See also the above in more diagrammatic form from Macanita (blue link below).

Macanita Branco 2018 - fiche technique

Maçanita’s Douro Branco exemplifies the confluence of richness and elegant minerality that is the hallmark of Douro whites. Bright yellow-gold. On the nose, fresh floral aromas comingle with ripe yellow and green orchard fruit and a touch of slate. On the palate, bright and juicy, with mouthfilling concentration and refreshing acidity. A core of green and gold apple, pear and white pepper are wrapped with pleasant floral and mineral flavors on the long finish.

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