Caves Sao Joao Frei Joao Branco 1988
This is a wine that wants air after being sealed for 30 years – decant prior to serving for a couple hours. Ranges deep gold to orange in the glass. On the nose: pine, beeswax, mushrooms, dried orchard fruit, acacia, dried flowers. On the palate, surprisingly fresh and bright. Finesse and richness play complementary roles. The mature fruit continues on the palate with umami-laden flavors of mushroom, sappy candied orange zest, pear and mineral. 30 second-plus finish.
Pair this with delicate seafood dishes, simply prepared chicken and pork, or softer ripe cheese.
Blend: 40% Maria Gomes, 40% Bical, 15% Cerceal, 5% Rabo de Ovelha
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
The 1988 Branco Frei João is a blend of 40% each of Maria Gomes and Bical, with most of the rest being Cerceal. The wine is unoaked and comes in at just 11.9% alcohol. Another lovely oldie from this winery's inventory (but re-released), this has a smooth, honeyed character, finishing dry and nuanced. While it is certainly mature and complex, it is equally clear that it is still quite fresh for an older wine. This is alive and nowhere near decayed. The winery suggests this can age another 10 years—it might well do better.
Established in 1920, Caves São João became a dominant force in Portuguese winemaking in the mid-20th century with their wines Porta dos Cavaleiros from the Dão and Bairrada’s Frei João. Given the shifting trends in consumer preferences, Bairrada and Dão fell to obscurity in the 1990s when critical influence drove the demand for bigger, extracted, warmer climate wines. But history tends to repeat itself and after 20 years of hibernation savvy consumers and food-conscious sommeliers are again looking for finesse and freshness and heading back to Bairrada and Dão. In 2013, the Costa family owners of the estate, decided to open their cellars and offer the old vintages in stock, ranging from 1959 to 2000. Wines that when young had a vegetal character, pronounced tannins and high acidity aged gracefully when kept in perfect condition at the winery for 20-40 years and are now pristine examples of mature wines with profound finesse and irreplaceable complexity. Caves S. João, with 1 million bottles in stock, as to be one of the few wineries in the world offering library with vintages going back to the late 1950’s.
What makes Caves São João unique? Since this winery was established in 1920, it became a dominant force in Portuguese winemaking in the mid-20th century. This winery has such a large range in vintages from 1959 to 2000 and these wines are kept in perfect condition.
Best known for intense, impressive and age-worthy fortified wines, Portugal relies almost exclusively on its many indigenous grape varieties. Bordering Spain to its north and east, and the Atlantic Ocean on its west and south coasts, this is a land where tradition reigns supreme, due to its relative geographical and, for much of the 20th century, political isolation. A long and narrow but small country, Portugal claims considerable diversity in climate and wine styles, with milder weather in the north and significantly more rainfall near the coast.
While Port (named after its city of Oporto on the Atlantic Coast at the end of the Douro Valley), made Portugal famous, Portugal is also an excellent source of dry red and white wines of various styles.
The Duoro Valley produces full-bodied and concentrated dry red wines made from the same set of grape varieties used for Port, which include Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Spain’s Tempranillo), Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão, among a long list of others in minor proportions.
Other dry wines include the tart, slightly effervescent Vinho Verde white wine, made in the north, and the bright, elegant reds and whites of the Dão as well as the bold, and fruit-driven reds and whites of the southern, Alentejo.
The nation’s other important fortified wine, Madeira, is produced on the eponymous island off the North African coast.
With hundreds of white grape varieties to choose from, winemakers have the freedom to create a virtually endless assortment of blended wines. In many European regions, strict laws are in place determining the set of varieties that may be used, but in the New World, experimentation is permitted and encouraged. Blending can be utilized to enhance balance or create complexity, lending different layers of flavors and aromas. For example, a variety that creates a soft and full-bodied wine would do well combined with one that is more fragrant and naturally high in acidity. Sometimes small amounts of a particular variety are added to boost color or aromatics. Blending can take place before or after fermentation, with the latter, more popular option giving more control to the winemaker over the final qualities of the wine.