On 2 April 2013 the illustrious Port Club met again for a tasting of colheitas from two accomplished producers, Pocas and Burmester.
Pocas is a family-owned producer of Port that has been quite popular in Denmark for decades, particularly due to their having been imported in large numbers by Coop. Manuel Pocas Pinta is an honorary member of our Port Club and always very helpful when the Club undertakes its journey to the Douro every four years. I would not call Pocas specialized in any Port category to the detriment of other categories, and they do everything rather well. Their Vintage Ports are frequently among the most charming and consistent – if not out-and-out powerful – of them all, and their wood-aged Ports are also very well made. I rarely come across old wood-aged Ports from Pocas, and even their colheitas tend to be comparatively young. With regard to the Vintage Ports I would even say that their qualitative level has increased appreciable since the 1997 vintage. Not the worst point is that Pocas Ports always present astounding value for money, and they certainly feature frequently on my own table at home.
Burmester was once a family-owned Port house, and among the oldest of all. However, in the not-too-distant past some members of the family behind it decided to stage a coup against the rest of the family and sold it to a financial group. While Burmester had been both a quinta-owner and a negociant, apparently the financial group’s major interest has been quinta ownership in order to profit from wine tourism, and it has therefore sold out of the large stock of ancient Ports in the Burmester cellars. Coupled with the financial crisis this emphasis on the part of the new owners ended with nothing short of a fire sale, and the Danish importer, Philipson Wine, swooped in and secured a stock of some 270,000 bottles of Port of all categories, with wines going back to the 1930’ies. Prices for Burmester’s wines in the Danish market are now astoundingly low and have completely, and possibly irreversibly, redefined what Danes think they should be paying for old quality Port. I am not sure this is beneficial for the overall branding of Port in the long run, nor for other Port shippers, whose valid wines are now seen to be expensive in comparison. However, if nothing else, the low prices have enabled a much larger section of Danish wine drinkers to access some truly outstanding Ports, so perhaps once prices normalize the thirst will remain. In contrast to Pocas, I would call Burmester a specialized Port house, with its emphasis being squarely on wood-aged Ports. While Burmester’s wood-aged Ports – colheitas in particular – have long enjoyed a stellar reputation, their Vintage Ports are rather humdrum by comparison, and certainly not in the league of Pocas. A good thing, then, that we would be tasting the colheitas.
As usual, we tasted semi-blind, knowing the wines to be tasted, but not the order. And as usual we started with an opening wine outside the order. The following are my tasting notes in the order tasted (numbering is as per Club tradition, which normally sees us tasting six wines numbered 1-6, but starting with an aperitif numbered 7). Scoring is as per the Club’s 20-point system, and I was stingy as usual.
Discreet, slightly caramelly and alcoholic nose with redcurrants and exotic wood notes. Somewhat light in the mouth, lightly alcoholic, touches of volatility and wood tannins, slightly too slim and acidic to be in perfect balance. Acceptable length with dry exotic wood, caramel, light berry fruit, hints of dry spices and light volatility. An OK if somewhat simple wine. The wine: Vista Alegre Colheita 1995. The scores for the aperitif are never calculated, but my own score was 14.
Slightly dusty/dry nose with light volatility, hint of exotic wood, redcurrants and strawberries and a touch of flowers. Medium weight with good intensity and a welcome dry wood element. Good length with dry exotic wood notes, burnt caramel, prune, nice little hint of flowers, slight volatility. A nice – if not great – colheita. The wine: Pocas Colheita 1994. My score: 15. Average score: 15.
Rather deep, dark, classy nose with prunes, soft exotic wood spice, hints of aromatic bark and tobacco. Medium weight with good intensity, density and consistency, sweetness balanced nicely by a dry component from wood. Long, perfumed and intense, with prunes, exotic wood, tobacco and dried orange peel. Handsome. Easily the wine of the evening for me. The wine: Burmester Colheita 1966. My score: 17. Average score: 16.7.
The nose is nicely balanced between light berry fruitiness and exotic wood spice, with hints of burnt caramel and sweet meat, a touch of alcohol. Somewhat light and dry in the mouth, with noticeable wood and a slightly malty/grainy sweetness. OK length with dusty exotic wood, malty caramel, dry prune and some tobacco juice. This was somewhat let down by the mouth. The wine: Pocas Colheita 1991. My score: 14. Average score: 15.6.
Slightly thin, dry nose with hints of tobacco, orange peel and furniture polish. Thin, too, in the mouth, volatily balances the sweetness somewhat and gives the impression of freshness, somewhat dry and lacking in the intensity department. OK length, but thin, with dry wood, tobacco and hint of musty orange peel. Certainly not a good wine for me, severelylacking in the charm department, but many liked it for its obviously volatile character. The wine: Burmester Colheita 1967. My score: 13. Average score: 16.2.
Dry and slightly chemical nose, with wet camel’s wool, very dry dates and hint of dry pipe tobacco; not charming. Medium weight, broad sweetness, some woody dryness, nicely balanced by volatility. Fine length with burnt caramel, prune sauce, tobacco and a lingering hint of wet camel’s wool. Had it not been for the unwelcome notes of camel, this would probably have been a great wine for me, but again the majority felt differently, and so this became the Club’s wine of the evening. The wine: Burmester Colheita 1963. My score: 14. Average score: 17.1.
Relatively light nose with red berries, light wood spice and hint of sweet meat. Medium weight, nicely round fruit, balanced and good wood dryness, light acidity and fine sweetness. Good length with slightly burnt caramel, fine exotic wood, dry fig and hint of flowers. Not hugely complex, but well balanced and very drinkable. The wine: Pocas Colheita 1990. My score: 15. Average score: 15.4.
The subsequent discussion centred on preferences for various types of wood-aged Ports. Pocas clearly seeks to make fairly fresh, fruity Colheitas, while Burmester’s style is clearly more centred on volatility and wood-derived complexity. While Burmester’s wines clearly are very valid, I, for one, think that they tend to become slightly too volatile for their fairly light bodies, and so result in slightly unbalanced, uncharming wines. There are examples of Port houses, notably the Colheita master par excellence Krohn, which manage even greater levels of complexity with volatility and wood notes, but do so on the background of much fuller and better wines.