Enjoy Portuguese wines 

Portuguese wines featured at the November Big Canoe Wine Group tasting. Photo by Wayne Crawford

Wayne On Wine
By Wayne Crawford

  Wayne Crawford
  Wayne Crawford

A year ago, in my continuing quest to introduce more wines to readers, I selected Portuguese wines as the centerpiece for the November Big Canoe Wine Group tasting and the December 2014 Smoke Signals’ article.

The established Portuguese fortified ports and Madeira wines are well known and have long been considered appropriate for celebrating important events. Madeira is the oldest wine in the world and was one of the wines used to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Along comes the Wine Spectator top 100 wines for 2014, and three of the top four are Portuguese. Six were on the final list.

Portuguese wines increasingly make great still wines, and the prices continue to be highly competitive. Wine Spectator’s wine of the year is a Portuguese Port Dow Vintage Port 2011, released at $82, but well below a first-growth Boudreaux or exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa.

Since I am a committed Port and Madeira enthusiast, I checked what was available in Atlanta; there is nothing to report. This will be a hard wine to locate, but it will last 60-plus years. More importantly, the 2011 Port vintage is an exceptional vintage to collect.

Wines three and four on the Spectator list were Prats & Symington Douro Chryseia 2011, priced reasonably at $55, and Quanta Do Vale Meao Douro 2011, $76. Three classic wines in one year is remarkable, along with the other three wines making the Spectator list, two very reasonably priced below $15.

Portugal is slightly smaller in size than Indiana and has 14 unique winegrowing regions and a wide cross section of red and white varietal grapes used both in still and fortified wine production. The regions include the islands of Madeira and the Acores.

Portuguese still wines may be a work in progress, since I could find very few available in North Georgia except in Atlanta or online with a web retail provider. Looking at the wines that made the Wine Spectator list is only helpful if they are available. However, focusing on the grape varietals can prove most useful. Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz were key grapes in the six wines receiving awards and serve as a guide to selecting still wines exported to North America.

Touriga Nacional grapes. Courtesy of Google images.

Touriga Nacional is, perhaps, Portugal’s finest red grape variety along the lines of a pinot noir or cabernet sauvignon. This thick-skinned red grape with rich, red color is grown throughout Portugal. Its bold tannins enable complexity and a structure to support a wine that can age. Notably, it has intense flavors, and a balance of floral and fruit aromas with dark berry, herbs and liquorice flavors on the palate.

Touriga Franca, another northern red grape variety, is one of the five officially recommended grapes for port. It makes elegant still wines with blackberry and floral notes with tannins that complement aging.

The third grape, Tinta Roriz or Argones, is the Spanish grape tempranillo, producing rich, lively red wines with berry and fruit flavors.

Portugal has several special white grapes. Alvarinho is a northern grape and considered one of the finest grown. Full-bodied, it has delicate aromas of peach, lemon and tropical fruit and floral notes of orange blossom. This grape can be enjoyed young but has the structure to age 10 years.

A second white grape is arinto, grown throughout Portugal, producing crisp white wines with high acidity complemented by apple and citrus fruit flavors of lime and lemon. This grape also is used in making sparkling wine.

Encruzado, another northern region white grape, provides balance between sugar and acidity. This grape, in the hands of a gifted winemaker, has extraordinary aging potential.
Wine and food pairings always complement the local environment. Portugal and its islands are either surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean or border both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Portugal uniquely is neighbored by North Africa and, for hundreds of years, was influenced strongly by Moorish culinary traditions inclusive of herbs, spices and special egg yolk-based desserts, almond cake and figs.

Accordingly, both white and red wines complement fish, seafood dishes, soups, stews, poultry and meats –with pork being the most popular. The alvarinho pairs were light pork dishes, while the Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz go well with a bean and sausage stew called feijoada.

Encruzado Grapes
Portugal's Encruzado grapes

‘Wines drinking well now’
Quinta do Crasto 2006 Vinha Maria Teresa Red (Douro), $151. A parcel of 90-year-old vines gives this wine 30 different grape varieties. This was a special wine that reinforces the value of holding a wine to age. Rich red color with aromas of dried fruit and blackberry, it is exceptionally well crafted, balanced, complex and structured. It is one of the best wines blind-tasted in our wine group in several years. The smooth finish is long and lingering. Highly Recommended in a new vintage.

Herdade Da Farizoa 2008 "Grand Escolha,” $39. A red blend—70 percent Touriga Nacional, 30 percent Alicante Bouschet—it is red in color with aromas of dark berry, dried fruit, raisins and figs. On the palate rich, its structure is complex and well balanced with a lingering finish.

Quinta De La Rosa 2003 Vintage Port, Pinhão, Portugal, 60. Balanced, with violets, berries and cherry aromas and flavors, this wine follows through to a medium-bodied palate, with light sweetness and a fresh finish. It is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz.

Other wines to consider include: Quinta Do Portal Colheita 2011, $15; Joao Portugal Ramos Alentejo Reserve 2012, $13; Assobio 2011 do Esporão, $12; Vinhas Altas tinto 2012, Caves Velhas, $10; Muros Antigos Escolha Branco 2012 Anselmo Mendes, $13; and Parcelas Tinto 2010 Quinta de Porrais, $13.

‘Drink what you like’

In the next article, I will showcase the classic Rhone blended grapes: grenache, syrah and mourvedre GSM from around the world.

Wayne Crawford is a certified specialist of Wine CSW and a member of the Society of Wine Educators and the American Wine Society.


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