Wine Review: 2008 CARM Douro Reserva

8 07 2011

Know what the problem with most wine labels is? Not enough turquoise.

Most people are probably acquainted with Port, the fortified sweet wine from northern Portugal that has never met a blue cheese platter or a dark chocolate dessert it didn’t like.  Port is made by partly fortifying a blend of indigenous grapes from Portugal’s Douro region, but interrupting the fermentation before all of the grapes’ sugar is converted into alcohol by adding concentrated grape spirits to the mix.  These spirits vault the booze level over 20%, which kills off the yeast driving the fermentation and leaves some residual sugar in the finished product:  a half-fermented, spiked, naturally sweet wine.  What would happen if this fortification process wasn’t interrupted and the yeast wasn’t killed off before it turned all the grape sugar into alcohol?  Dry Douro table wines like this would happen.  Not all of grapes in this region are pre-destined for Port production anymore; an increasing proportion of them are cultivated in the steep terraced vineyards along the banks of the Douro River strictly for non-dessert wines.  These wines are fascinating to try, because although it is only production and aging methods that separate them from their sweeter, more famous counterparts (which are made from the same grapes grown in the same areas), they show a completely different side of Portugal in the glass.

CARM stands for Casa Agricola Roboredo Madeira (and not, as my day job keeps suggesting to me, Contractor’s Allocation of Risk Manual), and the CARM Douro Reserva is made from a blend of the most famous Port grapes:  Touriga Nacional (probably Portugal’s best and most well-known indigenous varietal), Tinta Roriz (also known as Tempranillo), Tinta Francisca and Touriga Franca.  Unlike in most countries, in Portugal the term “Reserva” actually means something — it signifies a minimum period of aging before release, in this case 18 months in French and American oak barrels.  I first tried this wine in my WSET Intermediate class and was so pleasantly surprised by the Portuguese dry wine experience that I went and tracked down a bottle from Richmond Hill Wines in southwest Calgary.

Cork Rating: 3.5/10 (If the cork would have been turquoise too I would have doubled this score.)

My second exposure to the CARM wasn’t quite as thrilling as my first (keep in mind, I was probably about 22 wines deep the first time), but it was still quite satisfying.  The wine was a deep, thick purple colour, obliterating any attempts to see through it while tilting the glass.  My first, immediate thought when sniffing it was “blue”:  oceans of sweet blueberry, violets and something like grape or wildberry Bubblicious gum.  Even though the pure ripe fruit was front and centre, what kept me coming back for more smell testing was an intriguing array of secondary notes ranging from baby powder to dill to cotton candy…in other words, cool nose.  On the palate, I expected and got a huge hit of sweet fruit, matched with a texture that was smooth and a touch creamy but still lively.  It wasn’t one of those challenging wines that’s academically interesting while being a chore to drink:  its full body, mild acid levels and quiet, smooth tannins made it go down awfully easy.  As on the nose, dark blue and black fruit carried the palate, the dominant blueberry matched by a surprising grape-y flavour (strangely, wine almost never tastes like grapes…go figure), with cedar, burnt sugar, smoke and a tinge of citrus leading into a plush but not overly long finish.

I would recommend this wine for people who have had Port but not the other side of the Portuguese wine industry, and for people who are hooked on California Cabernet, Aussie Shiraz and Argentinian Malbec but can’t seem to get into the wines from the Old World; with its approachable style and fruit-heavy flavour profile, this CARM is like the gateway drug into European wine for North American-trained palates.  This bottle is on the pricier side (I think it was $38), but many other wines from the Douro offer the same forward fruit package for half that price and are definitely worth a try.

89 points

$35 to $40 CDN

[Wine Jargon Notes:
Old World = Old World wines are those that come from Europe; New World wines are those from non-European locations like the US, Australia, South America.]
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2 responses

14 07 2011
Tom

I thought this wine looked familiar… I just noticed that the 2007 CARM Douro Reserva was Wine Spectator’s 2010 #9 Wine of the Year (94 pts)… The release price of that wine was apparently $27 US, so it makes sense that the 08 was significantly marked up…

14 07 2011
petervetsch

I found that out about the 07 after I bought the 08 (though I have the 2010 WS Top 100 magazine sitting 6 feet away from me right now, so I should have known about CARM’s lofty status going in). The 08 didn’t do as well on Spectator — 88 points, a so-so review, and a very surprising “Drink Now” recommendation…the 07 drinking window was 2012-2017. So the price jump probably shot the wine past its real value.

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