Jose Mourinho, we're told, left a £300 bottle of wine for Sir Alex Ferguson after the Champions League match last month at which his Inter Milan side managed to scrape a 0-0 draw with Man United. I would imagine this wasn't a poisoned chalice aimed at knocking off the wine-loving Sir Alex, but its very antithesis, namely a bottle of Barca Velha. As Vega Sicilia is to Spain and Grange to Australia, so Barca Velha is Portugal's "icon" wine.
If it was the current release, he could have got the elegantly proportioned and still youthful 2000 vintage for a "mere" £100 a bottle from Castas, castas.co.uk, so maybe it was an older, rarer vintage, or perhaps even a magnum. Either way, Barca Velha is remarkable because it's a red table wine made from Portugal's native touriga franca, touriga nacional, tinta roriz and tinta cao grown in the Douro Valley, a region best known for port. Casa Ferreirinha's Fernando Nicolau de Almeida created Barca Velha in 1952, using the port grapes to make the region's first high-quality table wine and in five decades it has only been made in 15 vintages, the most recent being the 2000.
Seeing the writing of a declining port market on the wall, the Portuguese have woken up to the fact that great table wines can be made from their native grapes in the steep, terraced vineyards overlooking the Douro River. Among the greatest at a recent tasting at the Portuguese Embassy in London were the 2005 Quinta da Romaneira, £30.50, Tanners, Shrewsbury (01743 234500), a beautifully crafted blend in which dark berry fruit flavours and spice mingle seamlessly, and the majestic 2005 Quinta do Vale Meao, £40.99-£44.99, Fareham Wine Cellar (01329 822733), Five Reasons Wine (01892 521222), another classic blend of the Douro's port varieties, framed by fresh, silky textures.
Eyebrows may be raised at such elevated prices, but these would be great wines in anyone's book. The roll call continues with the superb 2005 Poeira, around £28.30, Mill Hill Wines (020-8959 6754), Berry Bros & Rudd (0870 900 4300), a seriously elegant blend whose bright red fruit quality is reminiscent of the seductive liquid essence of mulberry and dark cherry; the superb 2005 Pintas, £21.49, Corney & Barrow (020-7265 2500), an old vine "field blend" of 30 native grape varieties that exudes the autumn bonfire smokiness of oak, framing concentrated black cherry fruitiness and muscular power. Not forgetting the 2005 Quinta Do Vallado Touriga Nacional, £17.99, Waitrose selected branches and online, a finely wrought, modern blend of textured damson and dark berry fruitiness.
It needs another occasion to do justice to Portugal's growing panoply of fine reds, from the Douro in the north, through Dao and Bairrada in the centre of the country down to the searingly hot Alentejo in the far south. It's worth pointing out at least that Dao is one previously overshadowed region that's starting to shine for its reds. From Alvaro Castro's Quinta da Pellada, the seductive red-fruited elegant pinot noir-like 2005 PAPE, £18, castas.co.uk, minimum order case of six plus £7.99 delivery, is running out fast. There's great value to be had here too, like the 2005 Pena da Pato, £6.99, buy 2 = £5.99, Majestic, a vibrant blackberry fruit blend with succulence and bite. Or venture a little further south, and try the vanilla-infused loganberry and damson-like 2006 Tinta da Anfora, Alentejo, £6.49, buy 2 = £5.19, Majestic, £5.99, Sainsbury's. One for Sir Alex to return the special one's favour with?Reuse content