Friday, August 10, 2012

2009 JP Azeitão Tinto

Producer: Bacalhôa

Name: JP Azeitão Tinto
Varietals: Aragonez 20%; Castelão 70%; Syrah 10%
Region: Península de Setúbal, V.R., Portugal
Vintage: 2009
Tasted: August 9, 2012
ABV: 14%

The 2009 JP Azeitão Tinto by Bacalhôa is a great red all-around, but perhaps the most fun that I am having in reviewing it is thinking of ways to describe its color. It is a rich red, strong; one cannot glimpse through it too easily. It is matte, yet deep; though it does not shimmer or gleam, it is quite powerful and entrancing. It is a red for the wealthy, connoting neither old money nor new money, simply a lot of money. A Cadillac CTS coupe could do no better with any other hue in the universe than with this red. It is a red that makes red velvet seem insufficiently red and insufficiently velvety.


The 2009 JP Azeitão Tinto is an example of the uniqueness of Portuguese wines. Syrah is grown almost everywhere and Aragonez is just another name for Tempranillo, but seventy percent of this wine is Castelhão, which, like most Portuguese varietals, was originally brought to that land millennia ago by the various Mediterranean empires looking for ever more soil to grow grapes and make the good stuff. Many varieties predate the Romans and even the Greeks, having arrived on Iberia's western coast with Phoenicians carrying Middle Eastern grapes. No wonder, then, that this wine does not taste like yet another blend of the same old Syrah-and-whatever.

Most countries' respective wine laws make for great case studies of how sound criteria can produce arbitrary results, and Portugal's are no exception, to judge by the 2009 JP Azeitão Tinto. Portuguese wines fall into four tiers of appellation. The lowest is table wine; vinho regional ("regional wine," of which Península de Setúbal is one) is one notch above that. Embedded within the Península de Setúbal region are two sub-regions with the highest level of appellation, but alas, the grapes used to make this wine grew outside those boundaries. Evidently, the Portuguese appellation system tells us nothing about how good the wines actually are.

This tinto opens with a nose mostly of redcurrant. It is a mild aroma, and yet roomy enough to fit a medley of other notes here and there - peaches, McIntosh apples, tree bark - that together give the impression of walking through a grove of deciduous trees shortly before autumn. The palate is much stronger than the nose; here one begins to experience the 14% ABV. The prominent note is pomegranate. Is that a hint of cherry? Yes. And that other note, is that spearmint? No, that is just the wine giving the taster a swift kick in the tongue. Surprisingly, there are not too many tannins. Medium bodied, the JP Azeitão comes off at first like a dry wine, but that is just a bit of dissembling on the part of the spice. It is actually sweet, a feature that is reinforced as the wine goes down the throat nice and smoothly. The finishing notes are plum, cherry, and strawberry.

After twenty minutes of breathing, the wine pulls a fast one on the taster by flipping one hundred eighty degrees. The palate is much mellowed, but the nose picks up a real bite, giving off aromas of plum, redcurrant, and hibiscus. The body is still medium but, with simple flavors of cherry and red berries, the wine is smooth on the tongue. There is some vestigial spice left, but not very much at all. The finish, still going down easy, is blackberry.

So, Portugal's appellation system rates this delicious, complex, versatile, playful wine, full of personality, energy, and spunk, engaging to the max, as hardly above a quaffer. Tsk-tsk to Portugal's appellation system.

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