Tuesday, 20 April 2010

A delicious sticky from Portugal

Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion To Wine states that “colheita” is a Portuguese word meaning “crop” or “harvest” and, by extension, “vintage”. This is made from 100% Moscatel de Setúbal (more commonly known as Muscat of Alexandria). The fermentation is stopped at a certain level of sweetness, by the addition of grape spirit. At just 17.5% abv, I assume that only a relatively small amount of spirit is used – which is just how I like my fortified wines. The grape skins are then left to macerate in the wine for up to 6 months, which adds a grapey freshness, not to mention intense aromas and flavours. Up to 5 years’ ageing in barrel adds richness and makes for an ever-so-slightly oxidative style of wine, with a definite marmalade tang.

Bacalhôa Moscatel de Setúbal Colheita 2003
Aged for 3 years in small oak barrels, this wine is simply beautiful on the eye – a limpid amber/gold colour with a definite pink rose tinge. The nose offers an absolute riot of aromas, including (but by no means limited to) orange marmalade, lime zest, roses, tea, toffee apple, apricot and a sprinkling of herbs. The palate is rich and honeyed and coats the mouth with complex, multi-layered flavours of marmalade, ginger, toffee, citrus and all manner of preserved white fruits. Some less skilfully-made fortified Muscats can be a little cloying, with the acidity masked by excess grape spirit, resulting in alcoholic burn. But this one is so beautifully balanced that everything comes together in a wine that I’m finding hard to fault, with plenty of acidity to match the luscious sweetness. The result is a very rich but remarkably refreshing wine, which is devilishly drinkable. There is a distinct tangy, almost sweet and sour quality that almost puts me in mind of a 5 or even 6 Puttonyos Tokaji. In fact, if you were to age this for another 5 to 10 years (if you can resist, that is) you might even mistake it for one – it is that good. Whilst 2003 was a very difficult vintage for dry wines and indeed for many naturally sweet or late-harvest wines, it clearly posed no such problems for makers of fortified wines. And this is a glorious example of its kind – not to mention an amazing bargain. This was a sample bottle given to me by a local wine merchant friend and I may well add it to my list, at around £11.95. Watch this space….

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