For all of the wines, grapes, regions, etc. that dot the great and underrated wine country of Portugal, and that should be as well known as Sancerre, or Rioja, or Barolo, there is one Portuguese wine name that is recognized by both the most distiguishing conoisseurs, and your sister-in-law that likes saccherine packets and ice with her jug juice, and that wine is Port. What far fewer folks know is that Port wines are made in a region by name of Douro (DOE-roo).
The Douro (called Duero on the Spanish side of the border) is a dry and hilly to mountainous region in northern Portugal that takes its name from the river that pushes and slips its way through this hellishly hot area in the north of the country where steep, rippling, and terraced vineyards drop quickly toward the undulating river flowing toward the Atlantic. And these sun-baked knobs of land are populated with a really wide range of native vine varieties, both red and white, that have traditionally been used almost exclusively for the production of Port.
A few great old Douro estates had a long tradition of producing fine Ports and dry wines, and Casa Ferreirinha is one of them. In fact, in the 1950s, Casa Ferreirinha (founded in 1751) created what was one of Portugal’s first world- class dry red wines, Barca Velha. But in 1987 the Portuguese wine megaconglomerate SOGRAPE approaches and negotiates the purchase of the name and the vineyards from the Ferreira family, and though they continue to make great wine from the Ferreira’s historic old vines vineyards, there was clearly a firm break with the Ferreira-owned winery in terms of vineyard management, style, etc. and ultimately, the decision to discontinue the Barca Velha cuvee`as well. That said, this wine’s pedigree, though not quite up to the style and standard of the old family-run estate, its lineage is still plain to see (and smell, and taste…)
I served this powerful and complex wine with an appetizer of toasts topped with a hash of massa de pimentao (Portuguese sweet red pepper paste) and Portuguese green olives, and melted Flor de Estrella ( a young sheep’s milk cheese) and then a homey one pot brothy stew called Rancho (which translates as “rations” – no (known) relation, by the way…) made with beef, chourico, chicken, potatoes, cabbage, chickpeas, and other seasonings, with some crusty bread for the juice.
Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Douro 2007
Very deep and dense blackish purple color. The nose is an elegant, tightly woven, and complex fabric of blackberries, plum jam, cassis, violets, mixed spices, coal smoke, and a touch of manure. The wine fills the mouth with a smooth, rich, ripe, and chewy mouthful of big and peppery but ripe tannins with flavors of black cherry syrup, dried herbs, black tea, prune juice, and juniper berries supported by subtle and well-integrated oak. The finish is long and warm and cleanly dry, with intense echoing flavors of bittersweet chocolate. Sophisticated and imposing.