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A Fresh, Exemplary Douro Red
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Jul 26, 2011
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Quinta dos Murças, Douro DOC (Portugal) “Assobio” 2009
(Aidil Wines & Liquors, $13):  I remember vividly my first visit to Portugal’s Douro Valley more than ten years ago, undertaken not to explore the region’s famous Port wines but rather the emerging category of red Douro DOC table wines.  Most of the wines I tasted at that time were powerhouses forged of ripe, dark fruit, strong mineral notes, considerable tannin, and improbable grace.  But the Douro DOC region can also produce lighter reds, and this 2009 Assobio gives testimony to how good the lighter wines can be.

Assobio comes from the heart of the Douro Valley, the hottest, most rugged part of a hot, dry, mountainous region. It is a blend from three classic grape varieties that are also used in the production of Port wine: Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca each at 40 percent of the blend and Touriga Nacional at 20 percent.  The winery estate is Quinta dos Murças, an historic property that dates back to the early 18th century, but Assobio itself is a new wine.  In 2008, the respected Esporão company -- known particularly for its wines from the Alentejo region in southern Portugal --purchased Quinta dos Murças.  Esporão’s celebrated winemaker, David Baverstock, began overseeing the Quinta dos Murças wine production.  This 2009 is the first vintage of Assobio.

Baverstock’s intention in making Assobio was to highlight the fruit characteristics of the typical Douro red grape varieties in a modern, fruit-driven wine.  The Murças estate also produces a Douro Reserva, a richer and fuller-bodied red from old (60-year-plus) vines, made using the region’s traditional foot-trodding in granite lagares during fermentation.  Assobio, in contrast, comes from younger vines (15 to 20 years old) and it undergoes a cool fermentation, which accentuates the fruit.

Assobio 2009 is a medium-bodied red with fairly pronounced aromas and flavors, soft texture, and a kick of fine-grained tannin. What I find eye-opening about it, for a Douro red, is the freshness and vibrancy of its aromas and flavors.  The wine smells of red fruits, delicate flowers, and spice; in your mouth it is likely to conjure thoughts of red and black cherry, red berries, toast and Indian spices.  These aromatics give the wine personality and liveliness that is unusual for the region, in my experience.

But Assobio is not just a pretty, flavorful red.  It fills your mouth with soft, rich, fleshy texture.  Firm tannin underlies this texture and lends definition.  Part of my fascination with this wine is the way that the tannin plays up the spicy, vibrant aromas and flavors so that the rich texture becomes wrapped in vibrancy from the fore palate to the rear.

The tannin in this wine derives partly from oak but logically also from the tannin of the grapes, because the oak regime is limited: only 20% of the blend aged in barrels (new and used American and French oak), and only for six months.

I am enjoying this wine right now, in deep summer, because of its freshness and moderate weight.  (For the record, its alcohol is 13.5 percent.)  A bit of chilling enhances its lively personality.  This wine is very flexible on the table: great with grilled meats, pizza, fresh vegetables, oily fish, and even grilled shrimp.  I like it right now, when it is engagingly youthful, but I suspect it can age nicely for 5 years.  Did I mention great value?  Really great value.

91 Points