Roy’s Note: This contribution was written by Blair Curtis who is a serious wine collector and FTLOP’s Canadian Correspondent, based in Vancouver, BC. Over the past several years he’s written articles on Port as well as the 2010 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival for FTLOP. Blair visits Seattle on a regular basis and has taken part in many FTLOP Port & Madeira events in both Canada and America over the past decade. He also has a penchant for Douro wines, as they are abundant in the BC area. A lawyer by day; Blair is a member of the Vancouver chapters of the Commanderie de Bordeaux and La Confrerie des Chavaliers du Tastevin (for fortunate, serious Burgundy enthusiasts). I’m pleased to be able to include his latest article in this month’s newsletter.

Article by BLAIR CURTIS  © May 2011

This year’s 33rd Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival was another winner – particularly for me and for Roy Hersh because the Global Focus of the 2011 event was “Fortified Wine”. Right up our alley!

The festival, which was held this year between March 28th and April 3rd, 2011, has become one of the largest-scale events of its kind in North America. Representatives from wineries all over the world attend to pour their vinous delights to an appreciative crowd. In addition to an annual Global Focus, each year there is a new Theme Region, which means that for that year the Theme Region will have proportionately more wineries invited than that region enjoys in an ordinary year. The 2011 Theme Region was Spain.

The International Festival Tasting is the main event, featuring hundreds of booths – for one ticket price, an attendee can sample as many wines from these exhibitors as time and stamina will allow! Though I did not personally attempt a count, I understand that over 1500 different wines were poured over the course of the festival. The International Festival Tasting is held on three consecutive nights (Thursday through Saturday) for the ticket-holding public. For members of the wine trade and media, the International Festival Tasting is also open on Thursday and Friday afternoon. This allows for a tasting atmosphere that is less crowded, and also permits trade and media professionals better access to and interaction with winery principals and winemakers.

In addition to this grand event, festival organizers put together many fantastic smaller dinners and tastings with narrower themes – often a wine sub-region, or even a single winery. As members of the wine media, we were privileged to attend a number of these events in 2011, all of which had Portuguese themes.

With this article, I’m providing FTLOP readers with my impressions and tasting notes of the Portuguese wines (including Ports) I tasted in the International Festival Tasting room. Additionally, I will provide some notes on Douro red wines that Roy and I tasted at an event organized by a very generous wine collector from B.C., Mr. Scott Kipping in conjunction with his attendance at the festival. Scott and Roy provided all of the wines to be poured for our small group of friends, and I was very pleased to participate.

Aveleda Booth

Casal Garcia White – crisp, quite watery, bit of a prickle on the tongue, sweetish and simple. 80 points

2009 Quinta de Aveleda White – this has some more interesting green/grassy elements, a bit Sauvignon Blanc-like, slight bitterness on the finish, pretty good but could use some more acidity. 84 points

2009 Follies Alvarinho Minho White – strong citric acid on entry followed by lovely ripe stone fruit (peach/nectarine) and good balance. A touch thin on the mid-palate. But a nice lingering finish. Good wine. 86 points

2007 Follies Touriga Nacional – big soaring nose, black fruit, concentrated plums, tannins are rough here, has acidity of high-quality dark bitter chocolate, There is a hint of under-ripe stemminess which seems out of place with the ripeness of the fruit in the wine. Bit of a mixed bag. 85 points

2008 Follies Cabernet Sauvignon – strange latex paint on the nose, reduction, harsh tannins, again a stemmy bitterness that is off putting in this wine, a bit thin and linear in the mouth. The Touriga Nacional is considerably better. Not recommended. 75 points

Quinta do Crasto Booth

2009 Crasto Douro Tinto – intense damson, blast of ripe fruit on the nose, mocha, black forest cake, a bit of beef blood, approachable wine, yum! 87 points

2008 Crasto Superior – from an area closer to the Spanish border, 12 months in oak, this is good but not great, slightly lighter (about medium) weight for this producer, good acids – almost apple acidity, this is a focused wine that does not fan out on the palate at this stage, the tannin lacks some integration. 86 points

2008 Quinta do Crasto Reserva – this is a big step up in this line, complex wine, deep on the nose and palate, rich vanilla oak on the nose (but not too much), red and black fruits dance harmoniously in the mouth, a powerful wine with cellaring potential! 92 points

2006 Roquette e Cazes – rich ripe (almost surmature) fruit, intense nose, candied plums, bit of brown sugar, pudding, cafe latte, really nice wine. 90 points

Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Booth

2009 Van Zeller Rufo – first impression is a blast of black pepper, this wine is surprisingly Rhone-like, shows like a good ripe vintage Cotes-du-Rhone. 87 points

2008 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Douro Tinto – more on the red fruit side showing cherries and strawberries, the acids are lovely and well-judged providing a tart lift, also shows good tannic backbone, a fine wine. 90 points

2008 Casa de Casal de Loivos – another lovely fine wine, bit of talc minerality on the nose, cool red fruit with a hint of menthol, nice complexity with some earthy dampness. Well done. 91 points

Sogrape Booth

2008 Callabriga Alentejo Red – very pleasing sweet rich nose, cafe mocha, lovely black fruits that are not at all overdone, freshening acids are present and the wine is poised with good balance. I like this. 90 points

2005 Callabriga Reserva Dão – this is funkier with an underbrush nose, but a really good wine, some character here, refined red fruit, not the least bit hot, excellent mouthfeel. 91 points

2008 Quinta da Leda, Douro – very smooth, reminds me of Barca Velha, a more refined and elegant style of wine, but still plenty of fruit, longest finish of anything in this lineup. Impressive. 92 points

2007 Sandeman Vintage Port – very tannic, a baby beast, great structure, balanced still, clearly very primary yet, black fruit, palate-coating and glass-staining, fantastic potential here! 95 points

Ferreira’s Duque de Bragança 20 year old Tawny Port – this is one of the very best of the 20 year tawnies, rancio nose, off-the-chart levels of nuttiness and creamy caramel, fresh espresso scents, a true treat. 93+ points

Taylor Fladgate Booth

N/V Crofts Pink Port – consistent with what I sampled last year, like a rock-a-berry cooler but with more booze, fun wine but not a fine wine by any stretch. The Taylor reps suggest trying this wine 50/50 with soda water as an aperitif. 83 points

2005 Taylor LBV Port – medium intensity, lifted floral nose, a good wine with a long and solid finish. 86 points

2008 Taylor Vargellas Vintage Port – intense, deep and black, still features a nicely lifted nose, blackberry liqueur, long finish. 91 points

Taylor 10 year Tawny Port – toasted nuts (pecans!), caramel, a bit reserved/tame on the nose, refined. 88 points

Taylor 20 year old Tawny Port – a wilder nose than the 10 year, more volatility (a good thing in this case), a lot of Taylor baking spice...especially cinnamon, nut bread loaf, wonderful! 92 points

Graham’s Booth

Graham’s 10 year old Tawny Port – nose is a little reserved, strong and forward on the palate but a little too much heat, nice caramel flavours and some red fruits showing, fresh acidity. Overall still good. 87 points

2005 Graham’s LBV Port – obvious spirit, cracked black pepper, intense sweet fruits but finishes a bit hot. Would be better if not for the overdone spirit. 87 points

N/V Graham’s 6 Grapes, Ruby Reserve Port – black current, nice forward fruit, well integrated, surprisingly showing better than both the 10 year Tawny and the 2005 LBV from this producer. This is a heck of a value. 89 points

1999 Graham’s Malvedos Vintage Port – nose is all sweet dark fruit and blueberries, a very nice nose that follows onto the palate, despite a little bit too much spirit showing this is a very good wine. 90 points

Dow’s Booth

Dow’s 10 year old Tawny Port – very nutty, toasted candied pecans, toffee, really well-integrated. Nice. 88 points

Dow’s 20 year old Tawny Port – this was served a bit too cool which might have contributed to the impression of structure/acid, this is in very good form, acid shows nicely, the nose is more complex and lively than the 10 year, full panoply of tawny flavours, delicious. 90 points

2005 Dow’s LBV Port – intense nose, palate shows significant tannin and room for development, lovely lifted floral nose, this is a strong wine that should continue to reward for many years to come. 90+ points

1999 Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim Vintage Port – Crushed ants and black fruits on the nose, fabulous balance, has the Dow’s “dryness”, nice character, long on the palate. Surprisingly good for the vintage! 91 points

Fonseca Booth

Fonseca 10 year old Tawny Port – lovely but a touch muted, not giving 100% on this day, good toffee, marzipan/almond, good. 88 points

Fonseca Bin 27 – primary, grapey, a bit of spirit, definitely not as good as the Grahams 6 Grapes. Not bad though. 87 points

Fonseca Terra Prima “Organic” Port – more intense and primary than the Bin 27 – a step up, quite good for this style, black fruit, white pepper, the sweeter Fonseca style shows here. 89 points

2001 Fonseca Quinta do Panascal Vintage Port – deep and rich, mocha, nice persistence, this has grip and length, excellent flavour spectrum. Really good wine! 91 points

Blandy’s Booth

1977 Blandy’s Bual Vintage Madeira – burnt popcorn, crème brûlée, sticky toffee pudding, fresh roasted coffee beans, light fruitcake, this was a tremendous treat! 94+ points

Private Tasting with Mr. Scott Kipping and Friends

Mr. Kipping and some of his friends had rented a beautiful luxury condominium in Vancouver for the weekend of the wine festival. As always, Scott and his lovely wife Bernadette were eager to host a wine tasting to showcase some Portuguese wines from his collection: and Scott knows very well that Roy Hersh and I are happy to contribute to and participate in such an event. What a wonderful setting for a tasting! On a sunny day with 40th floor sweeping views over Vancouver’s water and mountains...there are not too many cities on the planet with more natural beauty.

Scott and Roy determined the wines to be poured and each of them contributed these fine bottles from their cellars. Many thanks to our hosts, who also put out an impressive spread of food to keep us in fine form throughout this excellent tasting event.

The theme of this event was to focus on two prominent Douro producers, both of whom show up every year for the wine festival. Unfortunately both Miguel Roquette of Quinta do Crasto and Cristiano van Zeller, well known for his esteemed Quinta do Vale D. Maria wines and Porto, had a previous engagement or they would have joined us as well. Here are the wines we consumed:

2000 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Douro Tinto – sweeter nose than the 2001, a blast of fruit on the nose, showing a bit of development now, some lovely leafy complexity, a bit tight on the palate, nice structure, some elements of Burgundy here – I like this! 91 points

2001 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Douro Tinto – funkier wine, on the nose this comes across a bit swampy, somewhat oxidative, smooth on the palate and round mouthfeel, lovely integration of the elements, with time in the glass this opens up quite a bit, but the nose is not all one would hope for. 88 points

2004 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Douro Tinto – a vibrant and youthful black fruit nose, this really is a deep nose, touch of minerality apparent just from the scent, also great in the mouth, some crunchy red fruit, I like this best of the trio for its potential. 93 points

2004 Quinta do Crasto Reserva – nice nose that is very similar in profile to the nose on the 2004 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Douro Tinto, this wine was popped and poured so it showed somewhat tight at first, but with some time in the glass the wine shows some nice mature notes that soften the palate. 92 points

2001 Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional – soaring brown sugar nose, perfectly round sweet berry fruit, all elements have merged in this wine leaving it seamless and beautiful. I could enjoy this wine all day. A great one! 95 points

2004 Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional – also a great and deep wine, the nose is a bit less effusive than the 2001 of this bottling, this one does have more minerality, though it already has richness it is not yet as complete as the 2001...perhaps it won’t be? 93 points

2001 Quinta do Crasto Maria Teresa – penetrating nose, more refined and “European” than other bottlings from this producer...more akin to a modern Barolo, this is from a fantastic terroir with very old vines (circa 1906 plantings), the wine shows elegance and completeness, a truly great Douro wine! 95+ points

2004 Quinta do Crasto Vinha da Ponte – this is a truly great wine, deep pure and smooth with a spherical mouthfeel, enticing wine you can’t put down, great combination and merger of aroma and taste, ripe but not surmature with perfect freshening acidity. From very old vines averaging 90 years of age at the time of this harvest. Dazzling! 96+ points

Closing Thoughts

Once again, the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival did not disappoint in 2011. It is so comprehensive that three full evenings and two afternoons of tasting can scarcely allow a taster a full survey of all the wines on show. Of course, Roy Hersh and I focused on and reported on the Portuguese wines and Ports (as FTLOP readers are eager to read), but for those of you who love the other great wines of the world as well, a trip to this festival is well worth planning! And the city of Vancouver is not a bad destination either...

(By the way, the 2012 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival will be held between February 27-March 4, 2012. The Theme Region will be Chile, and the Global Focus will be on Cabernet Sauvignon. I hope to see you there, for the love of great wine and for a worthy charity supporting the arts.)