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The wines of João Portugal Ramos, Alentejo, Portugal

João Ramos is one of Portugal's superstar winemakers. He's also an eloquent ambassador for the wines of Portugal, and I caught up with him at a recent trade fair to taste through the range of wines he makes. These come from one of the regions spearheading the emergence of Portuguese wines in the world market, the Alentejo. It's a warm-climate region, and many of the new wines from here have a distinct 'new world' twist to them. In addition to his own wines, Ramos also consults for a number of other wineries. Highly fluent in English, he's an eloquent chap and was kind enough to spend more time than he needed to talking me through each of the wines. His focus is primarily on Portugal's indigenous grape varieties; and his goal is simply to improve quality year on year ('I'm not a philosopher, I'm a wine maker'). These are truly modern-styled wines, with striking, up-front fruit flavours. Although this isn't necessarily my favoured style, I was hugely impressed by their quality. I've not seen many of these on the UK market, but I know that Waitrose stock the Vila Santa (£7.99) and the Trincadeira (£7.49).

Marquês de Borba 2000
The least expensive wine in this line-up. With ripe, juicy fruit, this is soft and rich-textured on the palate with a herby edge. There's nice balancing acidity; a good medium-bodied food wine. Very good

Aragonês 1999
A deep purple colour, the nose shows rich, sweet, chocolatey fruit. It's soft, lush and rich-textured on the palate, with juicy acidity providing balance. A very attractive modern wine. Very good+

Trincadeira 2000
A youthful purple colour, this wine displays the trademark Ramos character: rich, lush berry fruit with juicy acidity providing balance. As well as the fruit, it has a nice chocolatey/herby character. Very good+

Tinta Gaida 2000
Kicks off with a lovely forward nose of chocolatey, herby fruit. Lovely and ripe on the palate with a spicy, almost sawdust-like edge to the fruit. Very good

Syrah 2000 (cask sample)
This is just the second crop from Ramos' four-year-old Syrah vines, and the yield was a modest 40 hl/ha. A deep purple colour, the nose shows rich, deep berry fruit. The palate is remarkable, with an intense spicy, herby and savoury style. A very forward wine and quite delicious. Very good/excellent

Vila Santa 2000 (cask sample)
Around 15 000 cases made, this wine is given the new oak treatment. It's a blend of Trincadeira and Aragonês, with a little Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose exhibits the trademark rich, ripe fruit (mainly raspberry and blackcurrant here).The palate is rich and youthful, with ripe fruit, spicy oak, firm tannins and high acid. Very good/excellent

Vila Santa 1999
Ramos is worried that this is a little corked. It's a bit shy on the nose with some blackcurrant fruit. The palate is lush and ripe, with firm tannins. Judgement reserved

Marques de Borba Reserva 1999
Ramos' flagship wine, this has the same blend of grapes as the Vila Santa, but with lower yields and more time spent in oak. From 2000, part of the blend will be foot trodden. This wine has a rich, expensive-smelling, spicy nose with the new oak apparent and plenty of ripe fruit. It's rich, lush and concentrated on the palate with firm tannins and a spicy finish. A big wine in a modern style. Very good/excellent

Finally, the first release of a wine that João Ramos is making in the Ribatejo, from 26 ha of vines rented under a long-term contract…

João Ramos Ribatejo Reserva 2000
In an elegant, sloping-shouldered bottle, this characterful wine is a blend of native grape varieties and is a concentrated purple/black colour. It has a lovely rich herby nose with notes of sweet caramel and spice. The palate shows lush, ripe fruit and sweet spices with a lovely savoury, herbal quality. A dense wine with some firm tannins lurking in the background. Very good/excellent

For tasting notes of other Portuguese wines click here
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Wines tasted May 2001