The folks from Wines of Portugal just wrapped a brief tour through Vancouver, leaving me quite enthusiastic about the myriad of grape varieties unique to that country.
It is a historic wine-producing nation; they’ve been at it since 2000 BC. Although we’ve had millennia to get to know their wines, with more than 250 grape varieties being produced, it can still be a challenge to get to know them well.
Of course, the country is well-known for port wine, those deep and rich fortified wines commonly served at the end of a meal, but it’s their “regular” table wines I lean toward. With a wealth of indigenous varieties to play around with, the country’s wines are charismatic and unique and often offer excellent value, whether you’re grabbing a bottle for a casual Tuesday dinner or something to lay down for a few years.
While many of their grape varieties may be unfamiliar, Portuguese wines are generally quite approachable and enjoyable; we should be paying more attention to them.
Encruzado is a variety that’s been floatin’ my boat of late. It’s a white grape that’s common in the Dão region, known to make full-bodied wines with citrus and stone fruit. Its style can vary, often dependent upon whether it’s been treated with oak or left to shine on its own. Think of it as an exotic take on Chardonnay.
Cabriz Dão Reserva Branco 2016 ($20.99 until April 27, B.C. Liquor Stores) is a spirited example, with fresh lime and grapefruit in the aromatics, then peaches and nectarines on the palate, and with oak aging providing a light, creamy texture. Grilled salmon or any creamy seafood pasta would ride along well.
Arinto, also known as Pedernã, is a late-ripening white grape that harbours minerality and acidity well, often with fresh elements of lemon, apples, and pears. Quinta da Murta Lisboa Bucelas Brut Nature 2013 ($28.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) illustrates how well the variety lends itself to traditional-method sparkling wines. The fruit here was biodynamically farmed, and there was no dosage added after the wine went through its second fermentation, so it’s quite dry. Salty sea air wafts out of the glass, leading to vibrant lemon, lime, and yellow grapefruit, with a good bite of Granny Smith apple on the finish. A couple years on the lees gives it a good undercurrent of toasty sourdough. This could very well be a dark horse for your new favourite bubble of the moment.
Touriga Nacional is one of the more common Portuguese red varieties, used for both port and table wine. It makes inky reds, lush with dark berry fruit, often with a little black tea in their core. Quinta das Carvalhas Touriga Nacional 2014 ($29.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) from the Douro region provides a generous spotlight. It exhibits those previous notes but adds a savoury edge with Kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes. Although a good hunk of roast beef would be ideal, a rich mushroom risotto wouldn’t be too shabby either.
Blending is common in Portuguese wines; we often see Touriga Nacional bolstered by other varieties. Baga is one of those, a mighty expressive grape bringing plenty of powerful red fruit and tannins to the mix. Luis Pato Beira Atlantico Baga Touriga Nacional 2014 ($20.99, B.C. Liquor Stores) has Baga in the lead, composing 60 percent of the blend, the rest Touriga Nacional. I get a good dose of fruity dark chocolate here, with stewed cherries, raspberries, and blackberries in abundance. Enjoyable stain-your-teeth kinda fare.
The blends are often more about the sum than their parts. Sure, when talking about Segredos de São Miguel Alentejano ($14.99, B.C. Liquor Stores), we can totally drill down into its components. Alicante Bouschet (peppery, dark berry fruit), Aragonez (fruity tobacco and plums), Touriga Nacional, and Trincadeira (blueberry jam and balsamic reduction) are all there for a reason, but at 15 bucks, let’s not get too fussy about particulars. This is a berry jamboree with pretty much the whole rack of baking spices thrown in for extra pizzazz. Although it’s fruit-forward, there’s a solid mineral component, and the acidity is on point, bringing a good mouthwatering, more-ish nature to your glass.
What resonates with me most about these wines is the incredible value on offer. I can’t help but think that any wines of similar quality to these would be a good five or 10 bucks more if they hailed from better-known wine regions around the world, from Napa to Rioja. There’s a whole world beyond port and Vinho Verde and so much to learn about Portugal’s diverse landscape of wine. With what I’ve been tasting of late, consider me in for more delicious education.