96 POINTS FOJO 2013
The 2013 Fojo (Quinta Do Fojo), the flagship wine, is an old vines (planted at the end of the 19th Century) field blend aged for 12 months in new French oak. Although a field blend, I’m told that Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barroca predominate. I wasn’t impressed with this when I saw in early summer in Porto as it seemed mute and ungiving, but it has come along beautifully with some time in bottle. Full bodied and gripping, this nonetheless has fine balance. The power, though, means that this is made to age. It wouldn’t be Fojo if it wasn’t, but this modern 2013 Fojo (Quinta Do Fojo) is a bit more approachable than some of the old powerhouses and just a little rounder, perhaps a small concession to modern times. Sometimes surprisingly sexy, it is a wine with a lot of upside that simply coats the palate. Tasted again the next day, this was far better. It put on weight, showed even better balance and pulled in some oak. On the third day, it was better still. It seems quite brilliant. In a tricky vintage, this is a very impressive achievement. If it’s not my favorite 2013 yet–it may well be–it is certainly going on the short list of contenders for Best of Vintage. Although it is surprisingly approachable, in theory, you will need to cellar to get the most it has to offer. It may yet be entitled to an uptick if it comes together as well as I suspect it will. It should age for a couple of decades, maybe a lot more. We’ll see when we get there. No rush. Note: This will not be released until mid-2016. As yet, no price is set.
95 POINTS VINHA DO FOJO 2001
The 2001 Vinha Do Fojo (Quinta Do Fojo) is an old vines field blend aged for 12 months in French oak (60% new, the rest used). Of the Vinha do Fojos here this issue, this is arguably the best and the best balanced, although the 1996 is drinking much better now. That said, this is still a powerhouse in an old school style. One of the problems in evaluating these (especially when young) is that the tannins can be hard and overwhelm the wine. I took a cautious approach and was too stingy initially. This time it also had a couple of days open, which helped. In most ways, it is still too young, not nearly as interesting as the 1996 (although it one day will be and will likely be better). It shows fine acidity and lush texture, the best concentration and the freshest fruit in the vertical to go with the big tannins typical of the brand. Even now, it adds wonderful complexity. It is intriguing and intellectual. If you’re looking for hedonistic, though, this probably isn’t it. Focused, penetrating and powerful, it needs a food pairing to sing. It should have a long life ahead and it is still improving. It may well do better than I think. To my pleasant surprise, the standard retail price I was given was a mere $60. Back up the truck. This is fine enough that it makes a mockery out of the supposed classification difference between Fojo and Vinha do Fojo. There were 21,000 bottles produced.
97 Points FOJO 2000
The 2000 Fojo (Quinta do Fojo) is simply a great Portuguese red. I thought so when I first saw it many moons ago. I think so today, too. This (happily, for me) is not a modern wine. It is not sweet, polished and soft. It’s certainly not straightforward and it sure isn’t shy about tannins. That said, it puts everything together beautifully. Showing fine concentration and depth, the wine has some tertiary hints around the edges, but still seems fresh and youthful in most ways. While certainly fascinating and very complex, it is not merely intellectually interesting, though. The fine fruit and the intensity make it clear that this is not a gentle antique, but a vibrant, prime-time wine. Tight on the finish, it becomes ever more interesting with each sip, the fruit lifted, the finish crisp and the wine developed, but still developing. Looking at my notes, I
seem to have written “brilliant” several times after every couple of sentences. Sums it up. Should have stopped there and saved space. My drinking-windows are deliberately conservative. This one now needs expanding. It may still be on the conservative side. Drink now-2030.
…There is no importer as yet for either the new releases to come or the old inventory, but hopefully there will be one soon as a search was under way. As to the older bottles, note that these weren’t exactly cheap some 10 years back ($80, SRP for the 2000 Fojo) and limited-inventory library wines (about 600 bottles of the Fojo 2000 will be sold and a bit less than 7,000 bottles of the Vinha do Fojo 2001) no doubt won’t be cheap now. In any event, buy ‘em if you can. As it was the Quinta for some of the first high-scoring Portuguese wines I formally reviewed, it will be a pleasure to welcome new Fojo releases, no matter the producer name, not to mention these oldies. I would add that their performance in tastings I held in Portugal recently fully justified everything I first loved about them – and then some. Remember that for Fojo the practice would be either to release the Estate wine (Fojo) or the second wine Vinha do Fojo – but not both in the same vintage.
92 POINTS VINHA DO FOJO 1999
The 1999 Vinha Do Fojo is an old vines field blend aged for ten months in French oak (half new, half used). As we move to the younger wines in this issue’s mini-vertical (relatively speaking), it is surprising how tight and powerful they can seem with just another year or so of youth compared to their older siblings. Showing some complexity, some hints of tobacco and charcoal, this then adds a layer of acidity. When I first saw this, I thought it was very rustic and that is still very much the case. It’s not particularly fleshy, but there are plenty of tannins. This Tinto does have a mid-palate that can soak up some power, but it is not likely to ever keep up. The astringency and acidity combine to pucker the mouth a bit. I was originally very conservative in drinking windows because I wasn’t sure the fruit would keep up with the power. I think that is still a concern for the longer term, but not for the immediate future. This clearly merits a significant extension of the drinking window, but let’s still be a bit conservative. It still isn’t quite clear what we will get down the road. The fruit probably flattened out here more than in any of the others in the vertical. It still has many virtues, of course–I don’t want to sound too negative–but also some questions to answer in the cellar.
93 POINTS VINHA DO FOJO 1998
The 1998 Vinha Do Fojo (Quinta Do Fojo) is an old vines field blend, aged for 12 months in French oak (half new, half used). This is only two years younger than the 1996, also reviewed, but it seems notably fresher (if nowhere near as interesting). One downside there is that it is also far less complex. The biggest quibble, though, is that the oak is more aggressive as well and it is still front-and-center after all these years, making it the outlier of this generally classic and complex group. All that said, this is wonderfully full in the mouth, delicious on the finish, and rather intense as well. It should have a long life ahead, too. Maybe it will pull in a bit more of that oak along the way.
95 Points Fojo 1996
The 1996 Fojo (Quinta Do Fojo) is revisited this issue, a result I sought after the Vinha do Fojo showed so well. It is an old vines field blend aged for seven months in new French oak–a bit heavier oak treatment than the Vinha do Fojo, also reviewed, but not much in the grand scheme of things. (This was the only year where Borges made each bottling. It is basically the same wine with different oak treatment.) The original bottle I once saw (in retrospect) was likely damaged somewhere along the line, but this wasn’t. Much rounder and smoother than the 1996 Vinha do Fojo, this also, however, lacks some of its purity and transparency. The new oak is still, after all these years, notable on opening, making this seem a lot more like the 1998 Vinha do Fojo than the 1996 that it actually is. As it sits in the glass, it begins to acquire more of the complexity of the Vinha do Fojo, though, and it steadily pulls in the oak. After an hour, there isn’t much oak flavor left. With a much richer feel than the Vinha do Fojo, this is easier to approach, a bit less rustic and quite brilliant as well. It also has fine acidity. As it aired out, it became harder to decide which I liked better. It is really a personal preference–a little more roundness and richness versus a little more complexity and earthiness. Shades of gray. Pick ’em. This, of course, is the library wine. It is the Vinha do Fojo that will actually be available in the re-release boxes, so unless you have this one in the cellar, you’ll want to focus on acquiring some of the Vinha do Fojo. Finally, as these wines age, it becomes about the bottle as much as the wine as variations can crop up with a long time in the cellar. This bottle was pretty fine. There were just 7,700 bottles produced.
95 POINTS VINHA DO FOJO 1996
The 1996 Vinha Do Fojo (Quinta Do Fojo), the debut vintage and the only vintage where Fojo made both a Fojo and a Vinha do Fojo, is an old vines field blend aged for eight months in French oak. Feeling full in the mouth, it has a crisp demeanor, purity and power still on the finish. Most importantly, it is wonderfully mature now, demonstrating fine complexity and transparency. There are some typical “aging wine” nuances of forest floor and a bit of weeds, but its attractive mid-palate is hardly thin, the texture is caressing and it is a vibrant wine. If you like your wines on the older side, this is quite beautiful just now, reminding me of a fine, old Bordeaux–with, if anything, more power. The astringency does moderate with aeration, though, making this the best in this issue’s vertical for drinking right now. How much longer? It is already fully tertiary, but its structure won’t let it drop off the table and it does have fine mid-palate concentration still. The answer to that question, though, really depends on just how mature you like them. It should be fine for the next decade or more, more or less. If it can do a lot better–it just might–let’s see where we are when we get there. As always, as wines age, it is more about the bottle than the wine. This bottle was pretty fine. There were 14,000 bottles produced.
These older wines in the Vinha do Fojo series are mostly set for re-release, so they are not just (for the most part) historical bottlings. As of this writing, I had confirmation that there would be Vinha do Fojo vertical boxes (with all four vintages here) released in the USA, in addition to the separate 1998 and 2001 (one of the greats); and the 1998 would also be available in a special box of its own with two 750-mililiter bottles and a three-liter bottle. Prices for the individual bottlings are set out in the tasting notes. The box sets are as follows: Vinha do Fojo Vertical box $380 (four bottles: 1996 + 1998 + 1999 + 2001); Vinha do Fojo 1998 box $660 (three bottles: two x 750-mililiter + one x three-liter). The first box in particular seems to be a bargain considering how pricey Fojo was in Portugal and that this is a late release of rather rare, library wines. I expected higher prices. Take note.
The Vinha do Fojo is so-called in years when the winery decides the vintage does not merit making Fojo. It’s the same wine, though. If you’re wondering, now that this winery is operating again, there are new releases coming. The 2013 Fojo preview is here, too.
The 1996 Vinha do Fojo (part of the re-releases) and the 1996 Fojo are included this issue. That is worth an extra word or two. These were landmarks along the way as Douro was developing into a great table wine region. They got plenty of attention at the time they were released. They have some historic significance in that development.
Owner Margarida Borges said to me, “1996 was the first vintage from red wine in Quinta do Fojo. I didn’t buy enough wood for the three lagares that were made….So the wine that had the new oak (Fojo) was kept separated and the other two lagares (Vinha do Fojo) went to the wood from that wine. The first wine to be released was the Vinha do Fojo and in [the] next year (1999) the Fojo 1996. I immediately realized that I was going against what I wanted….We shouldn’t be making two wines from the same vineyard in same vintage. For me working well is to take out of the vineyard the best that we can achieve because all the grapes are the same quality. So, I….decided to have Vinha do Fojo in most years and in the perfect years to have Fojo. I understand that I had created some difficulty for the Vinha do Fojo because people are used to the normal standard. They think that Vinha do Fojo is less than Fojo….When [Vinha do Fojo] happens….it corresponds to my classification of the vintage in Quinta do Fojo’s old vineyard. This decision is taken in the last tasting before bottling, all process (vinification, aging) is the same every year. Therefore, it isn’t the second wine….The only vintage that we had both, Vinha do Fojo and Fojo, was the 1996.”
The mini-vertical in this issue is a group of wines with a certain, old fashioned feel, powerful tannins and acidity. If you’re a fan of old school Bordeaux or classic Barolo, you’ll be happy. At times, it felt like I was having a tasting of older wines from Aldo Conterno. They desperately need a food match and they aren’t simple sippers. I liked them a lot! When I saw them young (to the extent that I did), they were hard to read because their tannins were hard and I took a conservative approach in evaluation. They were often closed and shut down. It’s a lot clearer now, with time and a track record. To be sure, they still have some of that astringency and it isn’t ever going away completely. However, with a decade more of age or so, you can also see other things that make them stunning: the complex medley of flavors, the concentration in the mid-palate, the vibrancy. They are well worth a look, but make sure you have your expectations in order. The oldies here are not modern-styled wines, a reality that will thrill many (like me) and horrify others. The newbie, by the way, the 2013, is a bit more approachable.
This Douro wine from 70 year-old vines, mainly Tinta Roriz and Touriga Francesa, is the first table wine from this port wine quinta on the east bank of the river Pinhão. It has a deep healthy crimson to rival that of Quinta de Roriz, and as beguiling a nose, even if the exact flavours are completely different. In this wine there is chocolate and bitter cherries on the irresistible nose. The array of ripe fruit flavours on the palate is extraordinary. Everyone will find their own (if they manage to get their hands on a bottle of this rare wine). I detected something intriguingly citrus as well as strawberries and some fine oak whose tannins do not intrude too much even at this stage, even though the wine is clearly designed for a very long and exciting life. At the very end of the palate, a certain inkiness suggests that only fools will consume this wine young however. 18.5