José Maria da Fonseca, Douro (Portugal) Domini 2010 and Domini Plus 2008 (Palm Bay International, $20 and $32): For all of the play that we wine critics give to geeky wines these days -- wines from unusual grape varieties, oddball styles of wines, secret finds -- Portuguese wines deserve more than a tiny piece of the action. Like Greece and Italy, Portugal boasts many fascinating native grape varieties. The wines offer a vast range of styles. And they offer outstanding value.
In looking for Portuguese wines to recommend, I turned to José Maria da Fonseca, one of Portugal’s most historic wineries, founded in 1834 and still family-owned. Admirably, the company has managed to embrace change while maintaining its historic roots.
Those roots are on the Setubal Peninsula, close to Lisbon, where the company makes a range of wines, mainly reds based on the native Castelão grape variety and named Periquita. (I remember some decades ago how the Soares Franco brothers, the winery owners, had to vehemently defend their exclusive right to the Periquita name when other wineries used it as a synonym for the Castelao grape name. Today, that battle is over.) You can find the refreshing, easy-going 2011 Periquita Original for less than $10, and the richer, more concentrated and somewhat oakier 2009 Periquita Reserva for about $15. Both wines share a medium-bodied, supple style and both outperform their price tags.
Despite the wealth of history and heritage that the José Maria da Fonseca winery enjoys in southern Portugal, winemaker Domingos Soares Franco fifteen years ago established a joint venture with famed vintner Cristiano Van Zeller in the Duoro Valley of northern Portugal. The wines, called Domini and Domini Plus, are blends of three of the Douro Valley’s classic red varieties, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca (both of which also feature in Periquita Reserva), and Tinta Roriz.
Domini 2010 comes from an old vineyard site in the Douro Superior district, the warm, dry interior of the river valley, and the grapes are partially fermented in the region’s traditional low, open vessels called lagares. It is a smooth, supple red with dark fruit and mineral flavors, rich but harmonious, with what seems like effortless balance. Its grape blend is 45 percent Touriga Nacional, 30 percent Tinta Roriz and 25 percent Touriga Franca.
The Domini Plus that’s currently available, the 2008, seems more youthful than the 2010 Domini despite being older. It hails from vineyards in both the Duoro Superior and the Cima Corgo district to its west, and contains more Touriga Franca (65 percent) and less of the other two varieties. Domni Plus ages longer in oak -- all new French-oak barrels -- and sports concentration of flavor, freshness of fruit, and precision and clarity of expression that differentiate it from the more traditionally-styled Domini. Both are full-bodied reds but the term “powerful” applies to Domini Plus and “grace,” to Domini. Likewise, they could be described as somewhat international in the case of Domini Plus, and traditional, in the case of Domini.
While I am normally one to prefer the more traditional option, I find Domini Plus to be an exciting wine to drink, packed with flavor and solid in structure, with compelling aromas and flavors of blackberries, spice, anise, and a subtle floral note. Without food, it seems to beg for a few more years of age but at the dinner table it is ready to enjoy -- with cheddar and aged Gouda cheeses, of course, but even with pasta in a spicy-tomato sauce.
If you are not familiar with Portuguese wines, the four reds from José Maria da Fonseca that I mention here are very good, affordable options to get you going.
Domini 2010, 90 Points
Domini Plus 2008, 91 Points