If you’re not a vintage buff, or actually live in the location where you are directly affected by the climate, the year listed on a bottle of wine may mean as much to you as my brother’s vintage baseball collection means to me. Although he lost the majority of his 30+ year old collection in a horrific flood that saturated the northern suburbs of Chicago a few years back, he speaks of each and every card with a pride reserved for the truly passionate collector. His language and terminology has always been lost on me, but his dedication and understanding of every statistic on each card is commendable. I perceive wine vintages in a very similar way. Unless you’re in the “know” when someone says that 2005 was an amazing year in the Douro, many wine enthusiasts will nod there head in agreement, but in reality, the information went in one ear and out the other. It’s all baseball jargon to them.
So let’s give a primer on what exactly happened in 2006. When the rain made its debut in the winter months after a long drought, it was perceived as a good omen for the year. But Mother Nature threw a curve ball and sent strong cold winds throughout the region, which killed off some flowers and reduced the fruit. Come May, the Douro experienced some of the hottest temperatures in 40 years! Now as if this isn’t Sybil enough, Mother Nature grinned maniacally and sent hail storms in June. Consequently, many vineyards lost up to a 1/3 of their crop. And true to pattern, the following month was met with temperatures reaching over 40Â°C, followed by more heat and a trickling of rain, leaving grapes shriveled and crops reduced. By harvest, the vintage improved a bit, but not enough to help out the region as while. In short, it generally sucked.
However, there are always exceptions to any generalization. And thankfully, we’ve tasted some impressive Douro wines that speak to a level of vivacity and freshness you wouldn’t expect to find from this year. In March, we dined with the infamous Douro boys, tasting quite a few of their 2006′s. While some were better than others, it was Dirk Niepoort’s winemaker, Luis Seabra,Â who suggested to Ryan that the vintage was not uniformly bad. Pointing to the high elevations enjoyed by some in the Douro, winemakers who who were both cautious and had the fruit, could have made fresh and well structured wine.
A few weeks back, we were sent a handful of samples from a small winery in the Douro dating back to the 18th century called, Quinta Seara D’Ordens. This wasn’t a winery we were familiar with prior to our tasting, but one that has now piqued our interest ever since. In part, the etymology of the name, Quinta Seara D’Ordens, made these wines rather unforgettable. Evidently, the the Leite family obtained a chunk of land near Seara de Poiares, located just east of Porto near Vila Real. When the vineyard was passed onto the son (I’m not entirely clear if this was in the 18th or 19th century), a career military officer, he continued his father’s legacy of caring for the land, while at the same time, advancing his career to become the commanding officer at the Lamego military headquarters. When not at Lamego, potentially enjoying long walks through his almond and olive groves, his troops would head to his Quinta Seara to get their orders. Eventually, like many nicknames, Quinta Seara d’Ordens stuck, becoming a dynamic and promising winery producing both port and table wines in the Douro.
Of the three table wines we tried, both Ryan and I enjoyed the Quinta Seara D’ordens Tinto 2006 and the Quinta Seara D’ordens Talentus 2006 the most. The 2006 Tinto spoke of the Douro, showing, dark chocolate, dark red fruit and mineral aromas, with great acidity, fine firm tannins and a medium red fruit and coffee finish. Ryan felt this wine was a very approachable and fresh wine “where the fruit is like a tapestry on the wall – nice to look at, but not in you face.” Overall, an enticing rustic wine that would pair beautifully with a charbroiled steak. The 2006 Talentus was also a nice little wine.Â Inky dark red in color with rich sensuous aromas of dark chocolate, compote of red fruit with great mineral overtones. In the mouth, this is a big wine with chalky tannins, big fresh acidity, and a long raw meat and chocolate finish. As succinctly summed up by Ryan, ” I really like this fresh style from a hot year. Nothing baked or jammy. Well done! ” Finally, although not bad wine, the Quinta Seara D’ordens Reserva 2006 lacked that same spirit as both the Tinto and the Talentus. I personally enjoyed the rich black cherry nose encapsulated in medicinal herbs, leather and aromas of wet rocky earth. While Ryan felt he wine showed full and round in the mouth with a softness that made him think the wine was more mature than it actually was. Overall, its a simple and straightforward wine.
In summary, does vintage actually matter? Will you run out and try a variety of 2006 Douro wines to see if they fall into the “fresh” and “lively” category or the expected “baked” and “jammy” style? Maybe, but the chances are unlikely. Instead, what I hope you take away from this post, if anything, is that nothing is absolute. We can make generalizations until the cows come home whether or not a vintage is of quality, but that should never stop you from picking out a wine and trying it.
Like any passion, there are always self-proclaimedÂ “experts” telling you what is, and what is not, of quality. But take their opinions in stride, because life is about exploration, and like these 2006 Quinta Seara D’ordens, you just might stumble across an unexpected treasure.