Preview Portugal

From our tasting on… September 8th, 2016


Portugal is 370 miles long and 125 miles wide, smaller than the state of Kentucky.  It is, however, home to 230 different grape varieties, many rare and ancient, thought to have been introduced by the Phoenicians.  The climate has scorchingly hot summers in much of the country; the terrain is often formidable, especially in the northeast, so rugged and steep that terraces must be dynamited out of the mountains.  It is known particularly for Port, a fortified wine, and for the production of cork.  As in most of Europe, its vineyards were decimated by phylloxera in the 19th century, and some regions did not really recover.  Portugal developed isolated from the rest of Europe; the only international variety to have made an inroad is Syrah. Portuguese winemaking is steeped in tradition, with foot treading of grapes, unusual trellising, and the use of clay amphorae still practiced in some places.  Until the mid-1980s, co-ops controlled most or all of wine production in many of Portugal’s then 55 wine regions.  When the country joined the EU in 1986, things modernized rapidly. Both in the vineyard and the cellar, individual estates began making good wines.  Broadly speaking, there are five major regions for table wines.  From north to south, they are the Minho with its Vinho Verde; the Douro, famous for Port but now also known for red table wine; Dão, sheltered on three sides by mountains, where some50 grapes are used to make primarily red wines; Barraida, home to the red grape Baga and the source of most of the country’s sparkling wine; and Alentejo, the largest region, boasting cork oaks and plummy wines.

We’ll taste two whites.  CARM Vinha do Bispado Branco 2015 comes from a single estate (Quinta) in the Douro.  An aromatic three-grape blend, its pretty orchard fruit and brisk acidity invite use as an aperitif or pairing with seafood or salad.  Not all Vinho Verde is a sparkling, as Dócil Loureiro 2015 shows.  Made from organic grapes and fermented in tank with wild yeast, this offers floral and exotic citrus notes balanced by fresh acidity.  Try with sushi, Asian food, or brunch.

Reds are Portugal’s strength, as the next wines show.  Casa Ferreirinha Esteva Douro 2014 is a softer, medium-bodied wine with red fruit, cedar, and heather supported by polished tannins.  Pair this blend of Port varieties with red lentil salad, perhaps with a bit of ham.  João Portugal Ramos Reserva 2013 includes Alentejo’s signature Trincadeira along with Tempranillo.  Its ruby color suggests the aromas and flavors of its red fruits; dried herbs and spice complete the story.  A sausage-and- peppers dish is a good partner.  Casa Santos Lima Confidencial Reserva Tinto 2012 blends international and local varieties from the Lisbon region.  Some of its richness comes from the use of wood, which, along with age, smoothes out the fruit and chocolate.  Medium body and a long finish invite pairing with braised meats or spicy eggplant.

Check out the new “Scout” wine club for students!


- M.P. Rouse

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