Even though we group these two countries together (kind of like we did with the California and Canada 2019 vintage report), the regions we’re looking at are 1,000 km away from each other. They grow wildly different grape varieties and have different ocean and mountain influences. Suffice to say, we can’t generalize.
Priorat—steady as she goes
Priorat lies in the Pyrenees mountains just inland from Barcelona in the far northeast of Spain. Though wine grew here centuries ago, the area was revived in the 1980s when René Barbier Jr. found forgotten 100+-year-old vineyards. Despite their neglect, they yet yielded tiny quantities of outstandingly concentrated fruit. In a very short time, they earned Spain’s highest quality designation (which only one other region, Rioja, holds), and started fetching some of the country’s highest prices.
The two main towns, Gratallops and Scala Dei, grow old Grenache, Carignane, and more recently, Cabernet Sauvignon on unique llicorella soils. While some of the traditional practices meant a more oxidative wine style, modern knowledge turned them into blockbuster superstars. For a reference point, the style falls somewhere between Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Amarone.
At Mas Martinet, the short version is that 2019’s quality is excellent. Moderate summer temperatures allowed long and steady ripening after an early spring heat spike. That heat burnt the Carignane and reduced yields by 30%. One helpful mark in this dry inland region was the rainfall the previous autumn. A wet October and November not only meant enough moisture reserves for the dry winter and spring, but it also turned out to be one of the best local mushroom hunts in recent memory.
They began to harvest at the end of August and found lower pH (meaning, good acidity) and superbly healthy grapes. Those same moderate temperatures helped a very long harvest, yielding a perfect balance between quantity and quality.
Portugal—up and down temperatures up and down the coast
Niepoort is a traditional port house that also makes dry table wines in the three northern top-quality regions of Douro, Dão, and Bairrada.
Douro—cooler than normal
Somehow, the Douro was like Priorat, beginning with a hot spring that then cooled off for the summer. The mild days and cool nights “allowed the fruit to ripen slowly and harmoniously.”
For their table wines, Niepoort considers 2019:
to be an exceptional vintage… with a perfect balance between the natural acidity and sugar levels of the musts. This will result in white wines of great purity and superbly balanced red wines with excellent ageing potential.
[It] will surely go down as a year with outstanding acid-driven musts and very cool weather, reminding one of the elegant year of 2008 – very much in line with the Niepoort style, but unusual for such a hot region as the Douro Valley.
The Dão lies just below the Douro Valley and grows similar grapes, including port’s big five. These are Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barocca, and Tinta Cão.
Despite a cool spring and delayed budbreak, an extremely hot and dry summer meant no disease pressure and early ripening. Happily, this meant no interventions with sprays in the vineyards, and the early harvest meant no risk of rain.
At Quinta da Lomba, the wines ended with slightly higher alcohol than in recent years but still stayed fresh and elegant overall. Barrel ageing is also helping to balance the wines to perfection.
Bairadda—twinning with the Dão
Continuing south, this region is best known for the red grape Baga. Its earthy and spicy wines show uplifting acidity, firm tannins, and medium to full body. At Quinta de Baixo, the 2019 growing season played out identically to the Dão. It had a dry and hot summer with very low disease and almost no need to treat the vines. The grapes ripened early yet maintained acidity and showed more colour intensity than usual.
So there it is. Look for structure, complexity, and longevity from Priorat and the Douro, and generous, fleshy, deep wines from Bairrada and the Dão.