Sitting in the lobby of the Hotel Infante de Sagres in the heart of Oporto, we’ve finally had a moment to relax after spending the day tasting some absolutely fantastic wines at the Essencia do Vinho, a Portuguese wine tasting put on by both Vini Portugal and Blue Wine Magazine. Four years after its initial inauguration, it appears that the event has slowly gained a considerable amount of steam, attracting not only a wide range of Portuguese producers, but also international journalists and importers alike.
Strangely, however, although we are the main web portal for Spanish and Portuguese wine in English, if it wasn’t for Andre of Adegga tipping us off to the proximity of the event, we would have never come! Now is all fairness, we had heard snippets about the event while touring through Portugal last July, but we were astonished that no one had either shared their press packet or invited us to event itself. Hence, having imagined that the Portuguese post was content to remain calmly on the western bank of the peninsula, I decided to take the bull by the horns about a month ago and contact the organizer of the Essencia do Vinho event myself, requesting additional information. And to my great surprise, not one week later did I not only hear back from the organizer, but also received a formal invitation asking us to both attend Essencia do Vinho and to participate in their week long tasting. With our week long tour of Rioja ending last Saturday, and this beginning Monday, we happily accepted with the condition that we could join the group later in the week to give us at least a few days to breath and catch up on work.
So what did we miss up and until Wednesday afternoon? Approximately twenty journalists, photographers and sommeliers attended a lunch and tasting at Quinta do Vallado with the Douro Boy Wineries (Niepoort, Quinta do Crasto, Quinta do Vale D. Maria, Quinta do Vale Meao and Quinta do Vallado), a dinner with the Oenologists of Azul Portugal (Anselmo Mendes, Jaoa Silva e Sousa, Frederico Falcao and Jaime Quendera) and a tour of Adega Cooperativa de Moncao in Vinho Verde. Although we were able to join visiting both Quinta da Avelada and Quinta da Lixa Wednesday afternoon, we were a little sad that we couldn’t have seen Adega Cooperativa de Moncao.
During our very first tour of the region in 2003, Ryan and I backpacked throughout Portugal for three weeks knowing absolutely nothing about Portuguese wine or the producers. In traditional Opaz style, we got off the plan in Lisbon with only a reservation at a hostal for two nights, deciding that we would wing the rest of our tour based on whatever felt right day to day.
Strangely enough, after arriving in Moncao on the northern tip of Portugal, we literally stumbled across this winery and introduced ourselves wearing hiking clothes. Mind you, although Ryan was working in a wine shop and new enough Portuguese to get us in trouble, our power to help this winery consisted of our promise to spread their name to family and friends, but that was it. They, however, looked at us like an answer to their prayers, sitting us down with the president of the cooperative for a formal meeting! Feeling completely out of his league in both language and ability, Ryan somehow came off as so charming that the president contacted his vice president by phone and ordered him to come straight over to the winery for a meeting with “two very important Americans”. When the vice president finally did walk into the door twenty minutes later, a little irked that his family dinner had been disturbed, the president bubbling with excitement requested that he give us a full tour of the region by car the following day: wanting to make sure that we didn’t miss out on communicating the rich history and beauty of Vinho Verde. So the next morning, not only did the vice president take us to an open air market behind a walled city, explaining several traditional products and customs, but he spent over six hours giving us a private tour and history of the region itself by car. Granted, it was all in Portuguese, requiring us to do a lot of nodding without understanding a clue of what this guy was saying, but his enthusiasm and sincere interest in educating us was so sweet and endearing that we’ve never forgotten them to this day.
As mentioned earlier, one strange aspect of this event has been the lack of clear communication, because not only did we not hear about the event until last minute, but we also had no idea that we were expected to be judges in the grand tasting. Come yesterday morning, we found ourselves seated among the likes of Jose Penin, the creator of the Spanish wine guide, “Guia Penin“; Charles Metcalfe, a UK wine writer; Mari Stull, a wine correspondent for Wine Taste TV; Kathryn Mcwhirter, another UK wine writer; Ray and Eleanor Heald, both contributing editors for QRW magazine; among many others in the Palacio da Bolsa. Tasting ten whites, twenty-six reds and six ports, it was both an eye-opening experience, educating us on how to taste and what to look for, as well as an overall great time. We couldn’t have more pleased to see that two wine bloggers were recognized as professionals, rather than hobby writers. Couple this with the amount of winemakers who recognized us from our previous trips, sharing their enthusiasm that we attended, and you can imagine how warm and well-received we felt.
We’ll be sharing more information about the event in the coming days, but for now, allow me to announce the grand winners of the 2008 Essencia do Vinho Grand Tasting:
First Place: 2006 Covela Escolha by Quinta de Covela (Minho,Vinho Verde)
Reds (all 2005 Vintages):
First Place: Chocapalha by Casa Agricola das Mimosas (Estremadura)
Second Place: Herdade dos Grous Reserva by Herdade dos Grous (Alentejo)
Third Place: Incognito by Cortes de Cima (Alentejo)
Fourth Place: Quinta dos Carvalhais Unico by Sogrape (Dao)
Fifth Place: Quinta Vale d. Maria by Lemos & Van Zeller (Douro)
Sixth Place: Quinta do Vale Meao by Francisco Olazabal & Filhos (Douro)
Seventh Place: Quinta da Douriga Cha by Jorge Rosas (Douro)
Eight Place: Quinta do Couquinho Reserva by Maria Adelaide Trigo (Douro)
First Place: 2005 Taylor’s Vargellas by Taylor Fladgate
Gabriella and Ryan