I had been looking out for a Portuguese Port for some time. Isn’t all port Portuguese ? – well yes and no. I was keen to find a port made by a Portuguese family rather than the British ports we have long graced the shelves of our wine shops and supermarkets.
I struck gold when the tide of visitors at February’s (extremely busy) Essencia do Vinho carried us past the Vasques de Carvalho table. Forging my way back to them I had my glass poured by Jaime Costa and was very taken with the elegance and freshness of the ports. We arranged a visit to their premises in Regua for April.
Who they are and how they got started
The adega (winery) is up the hill from the Douro river in Regua, near the charming old fire station. The layout has been carefully arranged to make the best of the space and the visitor experience.
As you enter from the street there are barrels of different sizes neatly stacked to your right and to your left glass cabinets displaying the full range of Vasques de Carvalho ports and a raised snug seating area for visitors to sit and enjoy the ports while gazing across at the barrels. It’s a lovely space to enjoy these beautiful ports !
Jaime Costa described how Vasques de Carvalho came to be. The family have had vineyards in the Vale de Rodo near Regua in the Baixo Corgo since mid 19th century selling the wine to merchants in Vila Nova da Gaia. Every year the great grandfather José de Carvalho kept some wine aside in barrels up to 1880, and one these barrels still survives today tucked into a quiet corner of the adega.
Lei do Terço
The company was only launched relatively recently] (2015), as it took time to build up the stock from 45,000 litres to the required 150,000 litres in accordance with the IVDP rules (Instituto dos Vinhos do Porto which controls the production of all Port and Douro Wines ). This means that a port producer has to have a minimum of 150,000 litres of stock before they can sell any. Also, in accordance with the Law of Thirds (Lei do Terço) they need to maintain three times the quantity of stock that they intend to sell. These are onerous conditions and require a huge amount of capital.
The vineyards in Regua are not often considered the best but Jaime explained that the higher rainfall in this end of the Douro valley was vital for giving the acidity important for ageing and retaining that all-important freshness in ports. Vasques de Carvalho also have a partnership with a small producer that has vineyards further up the Douro at Casal do Loivos in the Cima Corgo around Pinhão which they blend with those from Régua.
The wine maker
Jaime Costa is the wine maker for Vasques de Carvalho since 2013. Jaime has a wealth of experience gained from 16 years at Burmeister, Revista dos Vinhos voted him fortified wine maker of the year in 2005.
The range of Vasques de Carvalho ports can be summed up as elegant, balanced and fresh despite their great age. Vasques do Carvalho have the full range of ports including white ports, Rubies, Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) and Vintages and Tawnies however for brevity I will focus on LBV and Vintage and Aged Tawnies.
Late bottled vintage means that the wine has spent more years in the barrel before being bottled. This one has spent two years in the barrel and two years in stainless steel and is very fruity, very dark in colour with fine grippy smooth tannins coupled with a lively acidity. Jaime advised that this can be drunk now or stored for up to 15 years in cellar.
2013 Vintage Port
Bottled two years after the harvest, this has more fruit and a slight medicinal quality. Jaime noted that it is starting to close a little which is normal with vintage ports. They then open up again in a different form after about 10 years in bottle although the recent trend in America is to drink vintage ports earlier. Despite what people tell you vintage ports can be enjoyed up to one week after opening. Can be cellared for 20 to 30 years.
Now to the Tawnies – presented in elegantly designed bottles and with the average age highlighted on the bottle, 10, 20, 30 and 40 years old. Aged in the Douro rather than down in Vila Nova da Gaia on the coast.
Tawny 10 year old
This has a warm orange colour with shades of deep red. Aromas of dried plums and figs and flavours of orange marmalade and a fresh finish.
Tawny 20 year old
These are aged in small oak barrels from various vintages which the family have carefully safeguarded in their cellars over the generations. With a long and slow oxidation this tawny really showcases the blender’s skill. Complex aromas of toast and vanilla, dried fruit, nuts and spice. A generous velvet finish with excellent acidity.
Tawny 30 year old
The decision to age wines for decades in small barrels for decades takes courage and confidence and its certainly paid off with this tawny. The gradual exposure to air allowing the development of complex aromas and the integration of the old oak with concentrated fruit flavours giving a long smooth intense well-balanced finish.
The tawny has dark coppery notes, baked, nutty, dried fruits, clove and spice notes. A dash of the 1880 vintage rounds this out to a very elegant and distinguished port !
Tawny 40 year old
The average age of this grand Tawny is actually closer to 50 years (25 to 135 years old) especially with 15% of the 1880 vintage. Testament to the years of care and attention from the various generations of the Vasques de Carvalho family. Deep amber in colour, tinged with green on the rim this has an incredible bouquet filled with honey, caramel, dates, nuts and flavours of ripe orange marmalade and candied peel hinting at the still fresh acidity and a very long finish.
This is a complex wine, intense and unforgettable, as only the great Port wines can be !
Jaime invited me to taste a sample from 1880 barrel tucked away in the corner of the adega. This was a real treat. There is still half a barrel left (2,500 litres). This had a deep brown colour with thick flavours of treacle, molasses and dates – Very special !
Unsurprisingly these ports have won a clutch of awards from International Wine Challenge, Concours Mundial de Bruxelles, Decanter..
Tawny 20 years – International Wine Challenge 2016 – Silver, Bronze from Decanter 2015, Gold in the Vinhos de Portugal 2015. The 2013 Vintage won Gold in the International Wine Challenge 2016
Vintage 2015 was recently awarded Silver medal-90 points- in Decanter Wine Awards.
Vasques de Carvalho welcome visits. There is no minimum number and you will soon have the option of three venues;
At the moment you can visit and sample wines and ports at the Adega in Peso da Régua on 43 Avenida Dr. Antão de Carvalho. Later this year there will be another adega in Pinhão further up the Douro river and also a wine-store among the historic port lodges in Vila Nova da Gaia across the bridge from Porto.
Just contact Jaime on +351 254 324 263 or email email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
You can taste a selection of these ports at Glasgow Festival of Wine 2 June 2018 – see you there !!