A Preponderance of Port…a NEWTS tasting

The January 2012 NEWTS meeting was the first time since New Year that I’d really dedicated any time to wine; after my Christmas cold and return to work the days had quickly passed and I’d even manager to forget The Wine Society Newcastle tasting a week earlier.

In advance all we knew was that the tasting was to be hosted by members Alan Holmes and Paul Raven who own PortoVino Wines – so a Portuguese theme was a certainty – but it wasn’t until I arrived in the room and saw the row of labels lined up on the table that it became clear that this was going to be a dedicated Port tasting and, with one notable exception, all from the same producer, C. da Silva. Paul then introduced Jim Reader who would be talking about the wines as we tasted. Jim is something of a local lad, being originally from Middlesbrough, who began a long career in the Drinks Business as a brewer in Burton on Trent. The brewery was bought by Allied Lyons who (as Allied Domeq) also owned Cockburns and Jim became a winemaker in Portugal until, by 2000, he was the General Manager. Although he retired for a couple of years he decided he wasn’t ready for the quiet life and joined C. da Silva as Export Director.

The company itself was founded in 1862 as Corrêa Ribeiro & Filhos, but the modern company derives its name from Clemente da Silva who returned home after making his fortune in Brazil and invested it in his wife’s family business. The company formally changed its name to C. da Silva in 1957 and remained family owned until Clemente’s death in 1980. It is now part of La Martiniquaise group, France’s 2nd biggest drinks corporation, and is famous for its old white ports.
The DALVA name was created from Da (Si)lva with a view to being a recognisable international brand.

First to taste on the night was the DALVA white Port (£15.99) which had a lovely amber colour and an oxidative style on the nose with a little menthol & herbs. It was sweet up front with a nutty mid-palate with a warming heat on the just-burnt finish. While not a particularly complex wine this was enjoyed by the room, with a little more chilling it would be “a perfect aperitif”.

Then onto the DALVA Rosé (£15.99), a newer style for most people which was deep salmon pink in the glass. The nose was more herbal than fruity, with a suggestion of sourness, but this wasn’t carried though into the taste which was very sweet with a berry-fruit mid-palate. There was a bitter herb undertone and a touch of astringency which made this an interesting drink, if a little “alcopop”.

While I’d class both the basic white and rosé as “frivolous” and aimed at the younger drinker, the next one, the DALVA Dry White 10 years old (£28.99), brought a touch more seriousness into the room.
Although a similar colour to the standard white this had a Sherry-like nose; a strong oxidative style, sharp and a little salty. In the mouth there was a dry attack with little overt sweetness, a rich texture moving into a waxy and long finish. A very enjoyable glass for the grownups!

We moved onto red with the dark DALVA 2005 LBV (£18.99) and its understated, tarry nose. It had smooth flavours, well rounded with subtle tannins, fresh, fruity and surprisingly light for the 20% alcohol.

An old favourite was next, the DALVA Tawny Reserve (£17.99), a wine I’ve enjoyed on several occasions in the past. There was a ruby edge to the rim and the nose was subtle herbs and tar. In the mouth it was soft and sweet at first, the fruit flavours flattening out in the mid-palate before a strong, long, hazelnut finish – with a piece of dark chocolate this gives decadent fruit & nut flavours.

A vintage tawny was up next, the DALVA 1985 Colheita (£38.00) with a delicate caramel colour and a strong, dry, spicy nose. In the mouth there was a spicy attack with a clean, almost medicinal, taste and a nutty/salty aspect. Although an interesting wine I preferred the equally good Tawny Reserve at half the price!

The last 3 bottles moved the quality to another level, with an accompanying hike in price as well.

First the DALVA 30 year old Tawny (£63.00) with a deep caramel colour, strong nutty/salty nose and a slight smoke aspect.  This was a very interesting, complex wine with sharp, contrasting flavours bouncing off each other, good acidity and more noticeable alcohol on the finish. A self-confessed Tawny sceptic in the room said that this was the first Tawny he’d happily drink again!

The last DALVA bottle of the night was the 2000 Vintage (£62.00), a mere baby in Vintage terms – although Jim said more and more people, especially Americans, are drinking Vintage Port much earlier than in the past. The wine had a stewed blackcurrant/bramble nose with a little herb and rhubarb. It began spicy and moved into a strong, fruity mid-palate, then a long finish with quite smooth tannins. For what is a young wine, bottled in 2002, this was remarkably drinkable with good balance.

The final wine of the night was the only non-DALVA offering; Dows 1963 Vintage Port (£147.00). 1963 is a benchmark year for Port and I’ve read about many memorable tastings, but finally I had a chance to try one myself.  In the glass the wine still had plenty of colour with a violet and menthol nose, an elegant, velvet texture and extremely subtle, almost fragile flavours with no alcohol heat at all. It was a pleasure to drink this nectar – I doubt I’ll have many more chances to try a wine almost half a century old. While the DALVA 30 year old Tawny and 2000 Vintage were clear 4 star wines the Dows was the first I’ve ever tried where I’ll happily add a +.

It’s worth noting that two of bottles on the night were corked, one each of the 10 year old white and LBV (although I was lucky enough to get the good bottle on both occasions!).
While I’d hesitate to recommend a Port-only tasting for most people – with all the wines coming in at 19 or 20% alcohol (and my will power not strong enough to spit such enjoyable drink) then I was feeling the effects of the tasting as I left – it was worth the minor hang-over the next morning for the quality of what was on show.

A selection of the DALVA Ports are available from PortoVino online, or from one of their stockists in the area; Dillies, Bin21 or Carruthers & Kent – although the Vintage, 30 year old Tawny and 10 Year old dry white aren’t on their lists.

As for the Dows, you’ll probably need to go to an auction to get hold of one of those – let me know if you do and I’ll help you drink it!


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