The first chill of autumn drew me towards that part of the wine-shelf displaying the magnificence of Port (Douro Valley, Portugal) and Port-style (Cape) wines. Here there was a welcome sight, namely that of the Quinta do Sul label representing the heart and soul with which Alwyn Liebenberg approaches the style of wine that consumes a substantial amount of his expansive spectrum of vinous passions.
Alwyn has made Port in the Douro Valley. He has a collection of these wines that will cause a London fine wine trader to kick a hole in a Waterford decanter. An imbiber and enjoyer more than a tight-arsed taster and critic, Alwyn has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Port and Port-style wines. He can tell you from where the grape spirits originated that was used to fortify the later Taylor’s pre-war vintages. Tasting blind, Alwyn’s knowledge of and experience with terroir has him identifying the different sites from where the Port and Port-style wines originate, albeit between the Douro Superior and Cima Corgo or between Calitzdorp and Simonsberg.
The Quinta do Sul Port-style label is only made in special years and is waited for with revered anticipation by the – unfortunately dwindling – number of those appreciative of this style of wine. The most recent vintage is the 2020. Obviously, I shall hold back a number of bottles to age, but this most recent bout of Port-lust led me to open the bottle out of curiosity, also knowing it shall sate my thirst.
Alwyn’s style of Port-making is, as the previous Quinta do Sul vintages have shown, a combination of the renegade adventurous, in-build intuition and a heart-felt understanding of what makes this style of wine arguably the purest on earth. That is a broad statement, I know. But which other style of winemaking comes as close to capturing the essence and the soul of wine grapes as what Port does? Grapes are picked. As the magical, character-giving process of fermentation begins, the wine is fortified with neutral grape spirits. This blast of alcohol arrests the conversion of sugar to alcohol, allowing the perfumed sweet plushness of grape purity to remain intact, while complementing this with a statuesque structure courtesy of the added spirits.
Quinta do Sul 2020 was made from 100% Tinta Roriz grapes – also known as Tempranillo – which is one of the traditional Douro Port varieties. The vineyard grows in Prins Albert in the Karoo, so the necessary ripening requirements of sun and warmth are there, limitlessly, and this ideal geography is complemented by the region’s pristine Champagne-pure air in the isolated Karoo.
Back to Alwyn’s style of Port-making, which appears one-half Clint Eastwood and the other half Vincent van Gogh. The grapes are crushed in open-fermenters, and a portion of the neutral grape spirits added almost immediately. By introducing a measured portion of spirits from the onset, the grapes begin to ferment in the presence of the alcohol, which at this early stage is not enough to stop the process of fermentation. It just slows the whole thing down, allowing deep extraction of flavours and colour during the prolonged ferment. The segmented spirit additions and fermenting took place for 10 weeks, the wine lying on the skins for the entire time. Once the final portion of spirits went in, causing the ferment to finally halt, the wine spent another week on skins before pressed, racked and bottled. Not a barrel or smidgen of wood anywhere.
Quinta do Sul 2020 is, thus, barely one year old. But infanticide the drinking of it is not – back in Porto the Port houses state that a vintage Port has two stages of optimal pleasure: Years one to five, and then from 15 years onwards.
Port is, for me, best enjoyed in a glass of decent size. This allows for aeration, as well as introducing the drinker to the wine’s heady perfume, particularly beautiful in this young Quinta do Sul. The aroma drifts lazily from the glass, the pool of smells immersing the senses in rich black fruit, stewed by the late summer sun as they lie beneath the trees that are spent from the season’s growth. The nose of this wine comes with a spirited tug of alcohol, a warm heart-beat of noble power, almost Medieval in its dramatic presence which is black, gothic and sexy.
This Port-style wine has a truly sensual, balletic attack on the palate. The sweet loveliness of it all is crystal in its clarity, with not a hint of the cloying or syrupiness that all too many persons assume to be present in wines subjected to fortification. Warming the palate instantaneously, the display of flavours lifts the spirit of the one having the privilege to drink this. There are familiar red wine aspects, like the almost-sour brush of tannin and the agreeable swipe of dry herbs on the mid-palate. They raise the wine, giving freshness and perk. Allowing the senses to stay awake during the rest of what is going on here.
Tastes, gorgeous and delicious. The thick juicy black fruit of the aroma carries through on the palate, synching the soul of the drinker with the heart-beats of the Tinta Roriz grapes. A thimble of white pepper is sensed, joining the wine’s succulent, eloquent sweetness in brilliant harmony. Being fortified and strong, the power is not harnessed. There is an excitement in drinking a fine vintage Port or Port-style wine, such as Quinta do Sul, the liquor refusing to rest sleepily on the palate. Instead, it entices, seduces and alarms the senses, giving shudders of being enthralled and amazed by a beautifully big monster of a wine.
The sight of the winter ahead is a pleasure to behold.
- Emile Joubert
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