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Extended tasting note 9
Lavradores de Feitoria Meruge 2003 Douro 

Douro wines are beginning to establish themselves as Iberiaís best. This is a controversial statement: letís face it, Portuguese wines still play second fiddle to those of Spain. The Spanish regions of Rioja, Ribero del Duero and Priorat all boast icon wines that sell for enormous sums. Am I therefore mad to suggest that the Douro has more potential than all these three classic regions, and that it is beginning to realize it? You might think so, but let me put my case.

Look at the terroirs of the Douro. Fantastic schistous soils, with any variety of slopes, altitudes, aspects and orientations possible because of the Douro river and its snaking tributaries, with towering banks on either side, flattening out somewhat towards the Spanish border.

Then look at the grape varieties. Spain has Tempranillo, Garnacha and Carignena in its premium regions, with bit part roles for the likes of Graciano and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Douro has Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Franca, Sous„o, Tinta C„o, Tinta Barocca, Tinta Amarela and many others.

But then consider the scale: the Douro is huge. Amazing untapped potential, compounded by the fact that currently a lot of the good grapes go into Port. As the table wine revolution here gathers steam, the quality of the new wines emerging is fantastic.

So we come to tonightís wine. Meruge 2003 from Lavradores de Feitoria. This producer is an association of 15 quintas, and this is one of their top wines. The shape of the bottleóBurgundyógives something away. This is a wine thatís made in a more Burgundian style, meaning that the emphasis is on elegance rather than structure. As you might expect, Dirk Niepoort is behind this wine.

Itís quite dark coloured. Deep red/purple/black in colour. The nose is very inviting. Itís ripe, deep and smooth, showing a subtly chocolatey edge to the red berry fruit. Thereís some freshness and spiciness, too. The overall impression is one of elegance coupled with concentration. The palate is smooth and elegant with a good concentration of sweet red fruits. Thereís a lovely structure here: some spicy tannin, a hint of greenness under the sweet fruit, and good acid. The overall impression is one of a serious, classy, complete wine. Itís certainly not Burgundyóthe fruit is too ripe for thisóbut thereís a delicious elegance here that is more Burgundy than it is Bordeaux. Thereís a suggestion of modern-ness, with the slightly roasted, chocolatey notes hiding beneath the ripe fruit, but itís not a distraction from the main theme of the wine. Besides, in a young wine like this where the stems have been included (half the wine was made with stems), itís easy to confuse the stem imprint with oakiness.

Overall, I think this is an interesting, complex, elegant wine that may well develop very positively over the next few years. Itís serious, to the point that even on this early showing Iíd score it at 93/100, and a fantastic ambassador for the new fine wines of the Douro, particularly because with its somewhat Burgundian profile it offers a glimpse of another side of what the Douro is capable of.

The label design is fantastic. I have no idea what this wine would retail for in the UK, but my suspicion is that it would be around £20. Raymond Reynolds represent the Feitoria wines in the UK. Drinking window? Itís lovely now, but best in 5Ė15 years time, I guess.

Other ETNs:
; Roc des Anges; Gaillard; Veratina; Arturo; Wynns; Drystone; Foundry and Columella; Meruge; Foillard Morgon; Clonakilla

tasted 10/05

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