At the London launch of Casa Ferreirinha’s Reserva Especial 2007, we caught up with Luis Sottomayor, the winemaker of both this renowned Douro wine and arguably Portugal’s most famous table wine, Barca Velha.

What is special about the release of Casa Ferreirinha Reserva Especial 2007?
Luis Sottomayor
: It’s the first one I’ve handled from start to finish since I became head winemaker for Sogrape in the Douro in 2007 [though he has worked as a winemaker for Casa Ferreirinha since 1989]. I decided on the 1997, 2001 and 2003 vintages of Reserva Especial and the 2000 and 2004 Barca Velha, but this is the one I’ve seen all the way from vineyard to bottle.

You’re going to say it’s one of the best vintages ever, aren’t you?
LS: Yes, but it is! In fact, it if we hadn’t just released what I consider is the best-ever vintage of Barca Velha, the 2004, then this 2007 Reserva Especial could have been a Barca Velha. [There have only been 16 vintages of Reserva Especial since 1960 and 17 vintages of Barca Velha since 1952]

What is the difference between them and how do you decide?
LS: It is a tough and personal decision. I can’t define it. The two are born as the same wine and maturation dictates what it will become. Both have to be fresh, structured and ageworthy and partner with food. The wine is tasted regularly of course, but the decision on what to label it is not made until the wine has spent at least five years in bottle [a Burgundy bottle unique to these two wines in the Casa Ferreirinha stable]. I make the final decision at my dining table.

Has there ever been a time when you think the wrong decision was made?
LS: Once, in 1998, we had to rebottle the wine as a colheita because we did not think it was good enough for either Barca Velha or Reserva Especial. And I think maybe, on tasting the 1986 Reserva Especial, it could have been a Barca Velha. It was before my time with the company, but Fernando Nicolau de Almeida [the creator of Barca Velha] said there was a little bit of greenness on the aroma so that’s why it wasn’t chosen. I think that was from Portuguese oak, which was used then, not unripeness. You taste the wine now and that green note has disappeared, so maybe…The 1994 too. I could eat that wine!

What is the blend?
LS: Essentially Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional with some Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cão. The wine is fermented in 225-litre French oak barrels, 75% of which are new. The grapes all come from vineyards at different elevations at Quinta da Leda and Quinta do Sairrão in the Douro Superior. This means we can ensure the acidity and freshness in the wine, which guarantees its longevity and ability to be enjoyed with food.

And any clues on what the next declarations of Barca Velha or Reserva Especial will be?
LS: If I told you, I’d have to kill you! All I can say is that it is not 2010 or 2012. You’ll have to wait and see.

Barca Velha is about £220 a bottle and Reserva Especial about £120 a bottle, with very limited allocation as only about 30,000 bottles are made. In the UK, contact Berkmann Wine Cellars for details.

Written by Tina Gellie