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Tasting the Wines of Jose Maria da Fonseca

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Jose Maria da Fonseca is one of those rarities we don’t see enough of in the U.S.: A Portuguese wine producer that makes red table wines (in addition to some sweet stuff). Established in 1834, J.M. da Fonseca now has vineyard holdings all across the country, and recently its head winemaker, Domingos Soares Franco, came to San Francisco to show off the winery’s wares — and share a lunch at one of the few Portuguese restaurants in the city, Uma Casa.

Thoughts on the six wines — including one especially prized sample he shared — follow.

2017 Jose Maria da Fonseca Periquita Reserva – Castelão (56%), Touriga Nacional (22%), Touriga Francesa (22%). This wine is surprisingly sweet, heavy with cherry and strawberry notes and backed by a light chocolate character. Fairly blunt and candylike, particularly on its sugary finish. B- / $15

2017 Jose Maria da Fonseca José de Sousa – Grand Noir (58%), Trincadeira (22%), Aragonês (20%). Spicy and peppery, this is the hot climate red I expected to see from J.M. da Fonseca today. Layers of earth and green herbs are prominent, with a slightly raisiny edge developing in time. Quite exciting and very drinkable, particularly at this price. A- / $20

2015 Jose Maria da Fonseca Domini Plus – Touriga Francesa (96%), Touriga Nacional (4%). Bold licorice notes and wet earth are complemented by significant barrel-driven notes. The wine is extremely dry and classic in the “big red” style favored by those with a steak in front of them. Franco calls this one his personal baby. A- / $45

Jose Maria da Fonseca Alambre Moscatel de Setúbal 20 Years Old – 100% Moscatel de Setubal. Did you know, moscatel is pronounced mushcatel, at least in Portugal? This fortified white wine (all the color comes from the barrel) has a significant tawny Port nose, but with a significant astringency that allows notes of lemongrass, ginger, and some fresh leather to peek through. Unlike in Port, “20 years old” means the youngest wine in the blend must be at least 20 years old. B+ / $70

Jose Maria da Fonseca Alambre Moscatel de Setúbal 40 Years Old – Again 100% Moscatel. Quite austere, woody, and leathery, with notes of smoldering sage brush and a ton of fruit coming on strong behind it. The bracing sweetness of plump golden raisins is hard not to love. A / $150

1918 Jose Maria da Fonseca Moscatel – Soares smuggled this wine — which is still in the barrel, never bottled — via test tubes stashed in his luggage. At 101 years old, it’s the oldest wine I’ve ever encountered in my career as a drinks writer. As dark as black coffee, the wine indeed offers coffee bean on the nose, along with rich hazelnut notes and a lengthy, enduring dark/dried fruit character. While sweet, it’s also ripe and acidic, even finding room for some crisp green apple notes in the mix. One of the more delightful — if ever so brief — experiences in my wine-drinking career. A+ / $priceless

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Christopher Null

Christopher Null is the founder and editor in chief of Drinkhacker. A veteran writer and journalist, he also operates Null Media, a bespoke content company.

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