On a quiet Thursday at the end of January, I found myself in the kitchen preparing a six course dinner for a very special guest. Nearly a month earlier I had received an email from Sophia Bergqvist requesting a copy of my 2007 Vintage Port Forecast. Coincidentally, Sophia was going to be coming to the Seattle area to visit her importer/distributor (Vinum), so without a second thought, I invited them both to dinner at our home.
Sophia's family has long owned the renowned Quinta de la Rosa in the heart of Pinhão up in the Douro. Although we've never met, (nor have I been to her family's property) I knew that traversing the USA promoting her wines was fraught with living out of a suitcase, staying at countless hotels and consuming most meals in restaurants. Although a necessary part of life for a wine estate proprietor, there's nothing like a home-cooked meal to offer a moment's respite in the midst of such a tour of duty. I hoped that a casual and relaxing evening spent with my family, along with some enticing food and wine pairings, would provide a nice break in the action for Ms. Bergqvist. I was very much looking forward to meeting her.
Out of respect for visitors from Portugal; prior to her arrival, I went to school studying the history of Quinta de la Rosa and various aspects of Sophia's life. I did not want her to think I was a "stalker" due to the depth of these details (e.g. - including her grandmother's date of birth) but Sophia was amused that I had gone to this level of "preparation." On the other hand, my wife and our good friend Stewart Todd (FTLOP's VP of Technology) were practically cringing in knowing that I had gone to the trouble to learn the names of all schools that Sophia had attended. Fortunately, my wife has seen this all before, and loves me in spite of it.
Our first course was a richly flavored Lebanese vegetable soup, chosen as I had learned that Sophia had been born in Beirut and lived there until she was six years of age. This detail was not lost on Ms. Bergqvist and I teased that I had a magnum of 1988 Chateau Musar at the ready if it was something she would enjoy (although this was not part of my wine plan for the night). To my surprise, Sophia was quite happy I had not popped the cork on the mag, as she's not a fan of Musar, after all. So the actual pairing for this soup was far more apropos flavor wise; a delicious bottle of 1999 Jean-Marc Brocard "Les Clos" Chablis which was better for its decade of bottle age and subtle flavors, yet its dry Chard style melded perfectly with the soup.
Sophia's WA-based importer/distributor, Mike DeMaar runs a very successful niche operation focused on the wines of Portugal and Spain, with a smattering of small family-owned domestic wine producers to balance out his company's portfolio. Quinta de la Rosa is one of the very successful Douro wine producers he carries, as they make some stunning DOC wines as well as solid Port offerings which historically have been the foundation of this esteemed producer. Much credit goes to winemaker Jorge Moreira, (who seven years earlier sat at our dinner table too, along with Dirk Niepoort and Jorge Serodio-Borges to kick off a fine weekend Port event) and Jorge has taken Quinta de la Rosa's Douro wine program to a higher level than even achieved by his famous predecessor, David Baverstock.
The second course was a refreshing salad served with a bottle of 2005 Niepoort Redoma Branco Reserva, in my opinion, one of the all-time greatest white wines produced in the Douro. Sophia playfully engaged my daughter in dialogue, who is anything but reserved once someone pays her some attention and Mme. Bergqvist is a naturally adept and engaging conversationalist. Taylor was very pleased to be included in the discussion.
One of my culinary inspirations is incorporating fresh tuna, utilizing a variety of ethnic preparations, but especially Asian. As I hoped this dinner would convey, I enjoy creating an eclectic menu and my tuna Poke, a Hawaiian influenced dish utilizing raw sashimi-grade Ahi with a mélange of oil, sauce and spices worked nicely with a vibrant and young 2008 Domaine de la Meuliere Chablis which Mike brought along and it featured brilliant crispness and minerality that captivated the spice and was not dominated by it.
To remove any lingering heat on the palate of my guests the intermezzo course was a zesty lemon sorbet with mint sprig, which really tamed the spiciness and prepared us for the next dish. Sophia was recounting some of her fondest memories of her paternal grandmother who was the guiding light and early proprietor of Quinta de la Rosa. We listened intently while Sophia then relayed some of her adventures while living in several countries in Europe; a most fascinating life!
A short while earlier, I had set the NY Strip steaks on our outdoor Weber char-grill (marinated in Douro wine). Captivated tableside listening to Sophia's reminiscence I almost forgot about time and nearly torched the steaks, but although charred on one side, I had managed to flip 'em just in time to maintain a medium degree of doneness. Alone outdoors, I was muttering loudly to no one in particular, not happy with my culinary faux pas. Plating up our dinner, with some sautéed portabella mushrooms and steamed asparagus, my wife assisted as I tended to the two wines served with our entrée.
First was a 2001 Cadence, Klipsun Vineyard, a Bordeaux blend from WA State, my favorite local producer and in the next glass the gorgeous 2004 Quinta do Crasto Vinha da Ponte. Although good, the 2001 Cadence was showing too much ripe, overtly sweet cherry cola and was not what I had anticipated when opening this bottle. Fortunately the Crasto although a touch oaky, was a very beautiful wine made even better by the steak.
Not to be outdone by a very friendly competitor, Sophia asked me to please open the bottle of 2004 Quinta de la Rosa Reserva she had brought along for me to evaluate at a later time. She felt that it would make for a great compare/contrast opportunity alongside the 2004 Crasto which I had proclaimed as "one of the greatest Douro red wines." I was very glad that Sophia and Mike wanted to try these two wines together as it made a great impression on me. As you know, I rarely include full tasting notes here, (TNs will appear in the next newsletter) but in fairness, the '04 Quinta de la Rosa, which I tasted again just before noon the following day, scored a whopping 95 points. It is that good!
It was getting a bit late for a school night and I knew that our guests had an early morning appointment, so it was time for the final course, delectable (store bought) mini-chocolate cheesecakes. True to form when having a Port producer to our home for the very first time, I decanted a bottle of the venerable 1970 Taylor Vintage Port, (for nearly 11 hours). This bottle was as good as any T'70 I've ever had before and that is saying something. The decanter made its way around the table and it appeared the others also enjoyed its charms.
This was truly the highlight of my entire month of January, and it came just two weeks after my wife's mother's passing; so it was absolutely wonderful to see Dorene smiling again and clearly enjoying herself in sharing stories with Sophia. My wife and I are grateful that we get to meet and entertain the Port & Douro wine producers when they come to town and we take great pride in providing them with the utmost in hospitality.
Sophia Bergqvist is one of the most warm and engaging guests we've ever had in our home. I look forward to trying more of her family's wine and Port as admittedly my experience with both is lacking. Long overdue: although I have passed by Quinta de la Rosa dozens upon dozens of times, I will now ensure to visit this quinta. It will be nice to see Sophia again and I must admit, I am also very much looking forward to meeting her father Tim Bergqvist, who I have read so much about over the years. A very memorable night.