As I’ve bemoaned before, most people don’t realize there’s more to Portuguese wine than port and Mateus. The trade and a select few media were recently treated to the largest Portuguese wine tasting the city has seen in at least 20 years. Here’s hoping that liquor-store buyers and sommeliers around town took note of the fantastic range of flavours this humble but historic wine region has to offer and will add a few more selections to their shelves and wine lists.
Vinifera grapevines came to Portugal more than 2,000 years ago. The ancient Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Greeks lent a hand with the cultivation of grapes in the region before Portugal began a brisk business of wine exports throughout the Roman Empire. Many hundreds of years later, wine production and vineyard planting increased significantly, which ultimately led to the establishment of the world’s very first wine appellation when the Douro region was delineated in 1756. Not only did this set the area’s geographical boundaries, it imposed government rules concerning quality, production, and pricing.
Today, there are 26 main appellations in the country that make wine from more than 250 indigenous grape varieties.
Barbara Philip, one of Canada’s four Masters of Wine, explained that she’s excited about Portuguese wines because they’re not what one would expect. “What blows me away is the diversity within such a small country,” she said at the event. “You have the Atlantic-influenced wines from Bairrada, which are white, sparkling, or light reds, then the famous Touriga Nacional–influenced wines from the Dão and the Douro, along with the exciting, rich, fruit-forward wines of Tejo and Alentejo in the south.”
Nuno Vale, the charismatic marketing representative for Wines of Portugal, agreed: “The wines of Portugal have reached such a high level of quality in the last few years, it’s hard not to fall in love with them. It’s not just about the quality, but the fact that they are so authentic to the areas from where they came—you can taste the ocean, the mountain, the landscape in the great terroirs of Portugal.”
For the money, it’s hard to beat these Old World beauties. They’re definitely some of the best-value food wines around, and West Coast cuisine is perfectly suited to handling the diversity of Portuguese wine. Here are some recent favourites, currently featured at your local B.C. liquor store.
Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas 2012 ($25.99)
This smartly packaged white wine is new to the Left Coast. It’s a blend of three grapes you’ve never heard of: Bical, Cerceal, and Sercialinho. But that shouldn’t matter because what you get in the glass are flavours of honeydew, pear, and green apple—three fruits you have heard of! With a soft, minerally texture, this wine is the perfect foil for boiled, freshly caught spot prawns with a squeeze of lemon.
Quinta do Ameal Vinho Verde 2011 ($17.49)
The thing I love about white wines from the Vinho Verde (“green” or “young wine”) region of northwestern Portugal is their zippy freshness and lower-than-expected alcohol. Most top out at around 10 or 11 percent, which makes insisting on a second bottle that much easier. There’s a pleasant texture to this one, which is made entirely from the Loureiro grape, alongside notes of lemon Pez, lime, and white blossoms.
Borges Quinta de Sao Simao da Aguieira ($17.99)
This wine from the Dão region is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Trincadeira, three grapes mostly known for their use in port wines. In a table wine, you’ll experience notes of rich red fruits, sweet earth, and a touch of vanilla. A bowl of ripe olives and some cave-aged Gouda would be nice accompaniments.
Quinta do Crasto Douro 2011 ($19.99)
Family-owned Quinta do Crasto is producing delicious wines in the famous Douro region. The 2011 vintage of its flagship red—a blend of Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca, and Touriga Nacional (more port grapes)—opens with aromas of pepper, mulberries, earth, licorice, and dark plum. The full tannins are balanced with fresh acidity and flavours of wild raspberries and blackberries.
Vale do Bomfim Douro 2009 ($19.99)
Another wine that shows the blending skills of Portuguese winemakers, this fruit-forward but serious red from Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, and Tinta Cão delivers notes of black cherries, sweet spice, and cocoa. Just enough time in the bottle has allowed this powerhouse to soften nicely. Start up the barbecue and get grilling.