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Maynard's Port wines under Ole Udsen's taste!

Ole Udsen Wine Blog

I am a lucky member of the venerable Portvinsklubben af 1981 ("Port Club of 1981″), a Copenhagen-based club of Danish and Swedish Port enthusiasts. The Club meets for tastings about 6 times a year, normally tasting 6-8 Ports chosen by a member from a theme and normally, though not exclusively, from the Club’s well-stocked cellar.
Tastings are normally semi-blind, i.e. the participants know which wines are served, but not in which order. Wines are normally judged using a 20-point system, and discussions about certain member’s generosity or stinginess in awarding points frequently occur. It is probably safe to say that I am normally among the stingy ones, with Ports earning 14-15 points being considered really good, and from 17 upwards really excellent to outstanding.


One such evening was last Monday, 27 August 2012, where we had the pleasure of welcoming Alvaro Van Zeller, a true star of the Douro, famous for his association with the likes of Port houses Barão de Vilar, Andresen and Feuerheerd.
Alvaro, who is the scion of a family with 14 generations of history in Port production, studied at São Paolo and Bordeaux universities, and started his winemaking apprenticeship at Quinta do Noval. He has since moved on to work with the above-mentioned houses, and is now also partner and winemaker at the new Port house of Maynard’s , whose wines it was he had come to present.
Maynard’s is a very new venture, having started in 2010. It was born from the realization that in order to break through on the UK and US markets, an Anglo-Saxon name was preferable. Alvaro counts among his forefathers a certain Maynard, and that name has come to grace the stylish bottles of the new venture.

Much has been written about the differences between the "Portuguese” and "English” Port styles, with the former normally being seen to be sweeter and less structured, and the latter as slightly drier and more tannic. While this historic distinction no longer represents any sort of ultimate truth, Maynard’s is deliberately being produced in a firm and relatively dry style, in keeping with its Anglo-Saxon aspirations. Alvaro stresses that while Maynard’s is produced in the same facilities as Barão de Vilar, great care is taken in choosing wines for each house in keeping with the house style. Due to Alvaro’s access to growers and wine producers in the Douro, Maynard’s has already been able to put a fairly wide range of wines onto the market.
Maynard’s buys grapes from growers for table wines and pink Port, while proper Port is being bought from wine producers, who make wines under Alvaro’s supervision. Particularly in small years, selection of wines for Maynard’s is heavy and quantities are small. Alvaro may also add up to the allowed 15% of wine from a preceding and/or subsequent vintage in order to increase quality.
Alvaro is a treasure trove of information and knowledge about Port. The following are just a few interesting points made during our tasting:
A discussion has been ongoing as to the quality and style of the alcohol used to fortify. According to Alvaro, brandy contains aldehydes which fix colour much better than pure ethanol does.
However, in terms of taste preferences, the jury is still out as to whether brandy or pure ethanol is preferable. A major scientific study has now been undertaken to address this issue.
There has often been talk as to the relative scarcity of Vintage Port years during the 1970′ies and 1980′ies. Alvaro told us that this did not just have a climatic background, but that a major contributing factor was the progress in agronomic sciences. When newly-hatched viticulturists in those decades ventured into the Douro vineyards, they would measure PH and find that it was far too low, leading to vines suffering. Vineyards would therefore be covered with chalk in order to increase PH. Unfortunately, while this relieved stress on the vines, it was found that it was exactly this stress that made the vines produce superior fruit. Equally unfortunately, it would take until the 1990′ies before the chalk had been sufficiently washed out of the vineyards and the vines could recommence producing beautiful fruit.
Alvaro had brought the following wines to the tasting (this time with my usual general disregard for colour, but with my scores on a 20-point scale):

Maynard's 2007 Vintage Port - 16 Points
"Powerful, intense and masculine nose with fat blackberries, sweet black olives, liquorice, sweet spices, violet, hint of exotic wood and walnut, pepper."

Maynard's 2004 Vintage Port - 17 Points
"Intense and concentrated nose with cherry essence, blackberries, minerals, leather, liquorice, black olives, walnut."

Maynard's 2002 Vintage Port - 15 Points
"Medium weight, medium intensity, elegant nose with elderberries, light cherries, hint of rubber, liquorice, hint of alcohol."

Maynard's 2001 Colheita Port - 16 Points
"A sweet and fine nose with prune sauce, raisin, hints of exotic wood, wood tar and sweet tobacco."

Maynard's 20 years Old Tawny Port - 17 Points
"Soft and round, but quite deep and intense nose, with exotic wood, caramel, slight volatile acidity, sweet nuts and a green herbal hint."

Maynard's 1982 Colheita Port - 17 Points
"A rather intellectual wine, but handsome and intense."

Maynard's 1977 Colheita Port - 17 Points
"Deep, broad and round nose with wood tar, exotic woood, dried fig, perfume, minerals, flowers, slight volatile acidity and walnut."

Maynard's 1970 Colheita Port - 15 Points
"Complex and intense nose, dominated by volatile acidity, then some exotic wood, furniture polish, dry nut; borderline heavy on the volatile acidity."

Maynard's 1963 Colheita Port - 17 Points
"Hefty and very complex nose with marked volatile acidity, exotic wood, liquorice sauce, orange zest, lavender and light nougat."

Maynard's 1962 Colheita Port - 17 Points
"Lovely wine, very light expression, and very complex and young. Alvaro thought this likely had quite a lot of white grapes in the original blend."

I was left with the impression of a very highly qualitative venture, which despite its youth has access to some very superior wines, albeit sometimes in very small quantities. The house style is clearly fairly elegant, medium weight and intense, on the dryish "English” side, although certain wines can vary as a function of age and provenance. There is no doubt that a new star of the Douro has been born, and I wish Alvaro all the best with this exciting new venture.

© 2011 Barão de Vilar.