For April 2016, John Ducker has picked a stylish Douro Valley red as his wine of the month. A traditional Portuguese way with Guinea Fowl is his food match.
Curioser and curioser! I recently found myself encountering, like Alice through her Looking-glass, a bottle marked ‘DRINK ME’. Again, like Alice, I approached with caution, but as there was no label saying ‘poison’ I felt emboldened to take her own cue:
“Alice ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice, (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast,) she very soon finished it off.”
I can’t comment on what she described for herself, but the DRINK ME bottle I had discovered proved to be a very approachable red wine from the Douro valley in Portugal which hasn’t caused me to feel that I was ‘folding up like a telescope’ as a result of drinking it….as otherwise happened to Alice!
Drink Me 2014, Douro DOC, shipped by the well-known Dutch house of Port producers, Niepoort, is in fact a revelation of what early harvesting along Portugal’s Douro river can provide before extensive ripening and higher alcohol levels kick in. The result here is a softly ripe, harmonious and eminently food-friendly table wine at 12.5% abv. with all the classic Douro taste yet distanced by freshness from a wine that suggests the ‘heft’ of fortified Port.
The grape blend employed here is that traditionally used for Port production encompassing Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Amarela ‘and others’ – the latter indicating perhaps a vineyard field blend incorporating grapes from odd plantings whose true identities are now lost to posterity. In any event the vines used for this blend range from 10 to 40 years maturity. Mechanical harvesting on the steeply terraced vineyards that twist along the course of the river is impractical, and I’ve little doubt the traditional manual harvesting common along the Douro valley must be back-breaking work. Both the 2013 and 2014 harvests were early in the Douro, however the yield from 2014 was down in some vineyards by up to 20% due to a physiological condition in the vines preventing successful transformation of some of the flowers into fruits. Less quantity obviously, but greater quality – the reds showing exceptional balance and freshness.
The evidence here? A deep rich purple throwing clear glycerine adhesions up the glass. The nose suggests an immediate raisiny warmth with balsamic top-notes that lead to subtle hints of ripe cooked plums (with allspice?) in the background. Quite fresh and shapely on the palate, with a balanced acidity and focus on fruit, and with just the merest touch of tannin on the finish. Medium weight, and already approachable as an excellent partner for food, the wine’s flavour is likely to soften further and broaden in the medium term without losing its edge of freshness. Quite delicious drinking as it currently stands, though.
Niepoort also being innovaters where graphics are concerned, the bottle’s arresting wrap-around label evokes two ‘indoor’ worlds: nursery shadow-play and card games….eye-catching stuff.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Portugal (Douro)
NAME OF WINE Drink Me, Douro DOC, 2014
STYLE Red table wine
PRODUCER Vinhos Niepoort SA
ALCOHOL 12.5% abv
RETAILER Lea & Sandeman Ltd.
PRICE £13.50 (bottle) £12.50 (case)
Why not match it alongside this traditional Portuguese recipe for guineafowl?
ARROZ DE PINTADA À PORTUGUESA (SERVES 4)
1 Guineafowl, jointed in pieces
90gm chouriço sausage (or Spanish chorizo)
90gm bacon lardons
200gm risotto rice
2tbsps fruity olive oil
1 tbsp wine vinegar
1 large onion, chopped
1 tbsp parsley, chopped fine
salt . pepper
Sweat the chopped onion in the olive oil over gentle heat until soft and golden, then raise the heat and add the bacon lardons and the guineafowl pieces and sauté, turning in the pan, for 5 minutes.
Add about 150ml of water acidulated with the vinegar, the parsley and the seasonings and cook further until about half done. Taste for seasoning and then add the rice and enough hot chicken stock to cook through. (As a rough guide you’ll need roughly 2.5 times the amount of liquid as the rice – and keep an eye on the pan to see that it doesn’t dry out. Add more stock or water as need be, as there should be plenty of moisture in the finished dish. ) Meanwhile cut the chouriço sausage into smallish chunks, adding it to the dish about 5 minutes before the end of its cooking. Serve up immediately onto warmed bowls.
All a bit approximate – but the taste is authentically Portuguese!