Having recently returned from Portugal I thought I would share some thoughts about the wines I experienced over there.
This was not a wine trip, I did taste some wines, but most of what I had was straightforward everyday wine from the regions around Sao Martinho do Porto, which is on the coast a little north of Óbidos and Caldos da Reinha.
In many ways it was a very interesting exercise seeing how well served the Portuguese wine consumer is. All the supermarkets – and there were a great many of them within a few minutes – offered very wide ranges from right across the country. However, with a few exceptions I tried to limit myself to local fare – and I was very impressed indeed.
I have for long been a huge fan of wine from Portugal and have watched with disbelief as Portuguese wine ranges in the UK have been reduced to a mere token presence on the multiples’ shelves. Not that many years ago I could put together a range of really interesting Portuguese wines from the supermarkets, but not any more. Go to a British supermarket now and the Portuguese offerings are a shadow of their former self.
Which I find very strange as many of the wines offer stunning value for money and really could appeal to a wide range of British consumers, I assume as they are mainly small producers and cooperatives that the brands from elsewhere have more money and support available to put them on the supermarket shelves. After all, as Neil Diamond said, money talks.
The value available in Portugal by the way is exemplified by a meal I had in the town of Bombarral, not far from Torres Vedras. The place was the grandly named Restaurante Imperial – at first glance I assumed it was Chinese with that name! In fact it is a Churrasqueria whose grilled piri-piri chicken was fabulous, while the house red from the local co-op was really very drinkable and attractive, bursting with fruit, smooth and supple – I was pleased and impressed and it cost a mere €1.10 for a half litre jug! A most agreeable lunch for 3 was just €27.45.
When visiting Spain I am always keen to seek out good quality Cava producers and so I was delighted to find some really good sparkling wine in Portugal. The Confraria sparkling wines are made by the Adega Cooperativa de Cadaval and the two that I tried were excellent:
This was an intriguing wine with a gorgeous, grapey, crystalised fruit aroma. It claims to be a Vinho Espumante de Qualidade, so made by the traditional method, but lees autolysis did not dominate the flavour, instead it was fresh, fragrant and delicious. What is more it carried its 35g/L of residual sugar very well indeed and did not taste even remotely that sweet. A lovely aperitif and it might well work with an almond cake if it wasn’t too sweet, I enjoyed this a lot, it was not remotely like an Asti – try it if you get a chance.
Arinto is a splendid grape and exactly the sort of reason why Portuguese wine should be more widely appreciated – I cannot imagine anyone not enjoying a good example of the Arinto grape, which originates from Bucelas just a little to the south of Óbidos.
Lovely lemon zest fruit dominates this wine, with soft flaky pastry notes too. Arinto is a high acid and gently aromatic grape, which suits sparkling wine very well, in this instance a slightly creamy mousse gave lovely balance to the acidity. Another excellent sparkling wine, if not quite as interesting as the Moscatel.
Strangely when I bought these I was only getting the Moscatel for the experience and expected to like it least – which just goes to show.
The Confraria wines, as well as many others, are imported into the UK by Lusowest.
Whilst I am on the subject of Arinto, I also tried some excellent still dry white wines made from that grape:
2010 Prova Régia Arinto
D.O.C. Bucelas, Quinta da Romeira
If you have never tried Arinto, this is probably the best place to start, it is a lovely dry white wine that will appeal to anyone who enjoys wines like Albariño or Riesling. Not only do I like the wine, but as I had an ancestor who fought in the Peninsular War, I was thrilled to find that the beautiful Quinta da Romeira served as the Duke of Wellington’s headquarters.
The wine is fresh and lively with some richer peach-like aromas and almost tropical fruit notes on the soft palate, ageing sur-lies has added complexity and depth to this otherwise light wine that was sold in london during the nineteenth century as ‘Portuguese Hock’.
By the way the same producer makes an excellent Quinta do Romeira Espumante as well.
2010 Quinta da Alorna Branco
Vinho Regional Tejo
I visited this utterly beautiful estate some years ago and remembered liking the wines very much, so was thrilled to find that this excellent dry white was widely available at a very good price.
This unoaked, slightly fleshy dry white is a blend of Arinto and Fernão Pires – another excellent white grape from central portugal, known as Maria Gomes in some regions. This wine was fresh and clean with a real feeling of purity about it.
I was also delighted to find wines from Quinta do Sanguinhal were readily available in the area too. I had visited that winery before as well and remember having been impressed. I enjoyed their:
This estate is one of the three that belong to Sanguinhal and this is another excellent, crisp dry white wine that is unoaked – made from a blend of Vital, Fernão Pires and Arinto grapes. The palate has some lovely peach and apricot fruit, a touch of creamy ripeness and clean fresh acidity on the finish.
I also drank a bottle or two of the same Sanguinhal’s excellent
This rich, dry red is made from 40% Castelão, 30% Touriga Nacional and 30% Aragonez/Temparanillo, it is aged for two years in oak casks and is pretty old fashioned in style with dry figgy dried fruit, coffee, vanilla, leather and spice notes – reminiscent of a dry red Rioja. It went quite splendidly with the excellent local charcuterie for a simple lunch.
I don’t often drink house wine in restaurants, but I had driven to Peniche to see the beautiful, bustling fishing port and to eat some sardines – which came highly recommended. On finding a lovely looking restaurant for lunch, it had a delightful view of the harbour and seemed better than many of the others which had a slightly sorry feel, I had the dilemma of whether to drink or not. I solved this brilliantly by ordering the house white in the expectation that I would not want to drink very much of it.
It was a sort of fake Vinho Verde made by the local cooperative – Adega Cooperativa da Lourinhã – and was fresh, lively, dry and slightly petillant with a lovely depth of flavour and a mere 10.5% alcohol. It was delicious and a perfect accompaniment to sardines and a tomato salad and needless to say I drank it all.
Another lovely hedonistic wine that I enjoyed while watching a DVD was a real Vinho Verde:
Wow, this wine was an unexpected pleasure too, it gave off a wonderfully aromatic and tempting aroma of rose petals and strawberry while the palate was dominated by a sweet and sour red cherry and strawberry character that I really enjoyed. The very high acidity was balanced by a little sweetness making for a very light, but very tasty wine indeed.
A couple of very drinkable reds:
I am afraid that quite a lot of beer was consumed while in portugal, so this pretty much covers the wines, but I did manage to become reacquainted with two superbly drinkable red wines from the Alentejo region of Portugal:
2010 Alabastro Tinto
Vinho Regional Alentejano, Quinta da Terrugem, Borba, Alentejo
I have loved this wine for many years, it is succulent, juicy, bursting with fruit and is soft, smooth and stylish – if easy to drink. I have no idea why this wine is not more widely known. It is unoaked, which makes the gorgeous ‘sugar-plum’ characters of the Trincadeira grape the dominant characteristic – the blend also includes Cabernet Sauvignon and Aragonez/Tempranillo. The tannins are almost hidden by the lovely rich fruit, which makes this a delicious wine to drink with many different things.
I was sitting in a very traditional little café in Sao Martinho do Porto, enjoying a bitoque/bitok – basically a steak and chips with an egg on top – when I spied a bottle of wine that I used to show at tastings whenever I could. As far as I am aware it is no longer available in the UK, but I ordered it and it slipped down a treat:
Another juicy, soft and sinfully drinkable red wine with rich blue-black fruit and not much tannin, Chaminé is the basic wine from the great Cortes de Cima estate and is an unoaked blend of 43% Aragonez Tempranillo, 42% Syrah, 6% Touriga Nacional, 4% Trincadeira, 2% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Alicante Bouchet and 1% Petit Verdot.
In my opinion red wines like this and the Alabastro have all the easy drinking qualities of many of the big californian brands without being dull in any way – do try them if you have a chance.
It can be frustrating finding Portuguese wines in the UK, but if you live near London you can experience the delights of Stockwell. Go there on a warm day and stroll around South Lambeth Road, Lansdowne Way and Wandsworth Road, it really is like going abroad. You can enjoy a lovely Portuguese lunch at any of the dozens of little cafés, buy some excellent fish, sample the lovely coffee and perhaps a pastel de nata or two before you buy some of that elusive Portuguese wine from one of the many food and wine shops, Delicias De Portugal at 280 Wandsworth Road is one of my favourites.