This is not to make light of the recent quakes in Japan and Ecuador, but to look at what happened in Portugal. In 1755, Lisbon and the area around it were decimated by a quake that left thousands dead.
In 1756, the then owner of Quinta da Lapa mounted a stone over the door of the winery residence carved with a poem by Saint Teresa of Avila. The first four lines are, in translation, "Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing away. God never changes." Fitting words for a region that had been terrorized.
Quinta da Lapa's 2013 reserva honors the 500th anniversary of Saint Teresa's birth. The front label shows the stone inscribed with her poem (at the top). The complete poem is on the back.
Each year, only the best grapes are selected for this wine, said Sílvia Maria Canas da Costa of Quinta da Lapa, holding a bottle poured at a Portuguese wine tasting organized for the LA Wine Writers. The tasting took place at Cafe del Rey.
In Portugal, "reserva" has a special meaning. The top level of wine is DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada). However, this is restricted to wines made from native grape varietals. If made from European varietals, a superior wine would go into the reserva category.
The Quinta da Lapa reserva blends the Portuguese grape Touriga Nacional with Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. An example of a DOC wine poured at the tasting was a 20-year Setúbal Moscatel Roxo from Jose Maria da Fonseca (above).
Incidentally, the Quinta da Lapa residence has been turned into a guest house, the stone still intact over the doorway. Canas da Costa is the architect who handled the redo.
Also at the tasting were Miguel Braga of Quinta do Mourão, a Port wine producer (above); Eugénio Jardim, the Wines of Portugal US Ambassador, and André Magalhães, who has the restaurant Taberna in Lisbon.
Cafe del Rey provided food to accompany the wines, including a flat bread pizza, an octopus salad, beef cheek stew with red wine risotto, morel mushrooms and pea shoots, and a vanilla ice cream tart with roasted cherries, pistachio biscotti and lemon curd.
Now becoming more widely available, Portuguese wines offer remarkable bargains. A Merlot from Quinta da Lapa is only $13. A 2014 white reserva from Casal da Coelheira (above) is just $15. It's composed of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Arinto, a Portuguese grape. The Ponte das Canas Mouchao 2011 is about $21. This red wine blends Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Syrah.
A sparkling wine poured at the start of the tasting, Caves Transmontanas Vértice 2007, was dry with good bubbles. "People are going to think you are pouring a nice expensive French champagne," said Jardim, the wine ambassdor. It sells for about $24. The grapes are Gouveio and Rabigato.
The priciest wine of the lot, a stratospheric $1500, was a 100-year S. Leonardo Tawny Port from Quinta do Mourão, poured by Miguel Braga. Composed of wines from as far back as 1897, this Port spent 100 years in barrel.
Earlier, to accompany dessert, Braga provided 10, 20 and 40 year S. Leonardo Tawny Ports from Quinta do Mourão, each number indicating the years the wine spent in barrels. The 10 is the most versatile and could serve as an aperitif with savory dishes, he said. The 20 is a dessert wine, and the 40 is to drink by itself.
What to do with the 100 year Port? Bow down and worship it, if you are lucky enough to get a taste.