WHEN IN PORTUGAL . . .
If you haven’t read part one you may like to log onto www.costa-news.com and click Cork Talk? Our summer holiday in Portugal this year taught me that it isn’t a bad idea to do as the Portuguese do!
I wrote about Port, the eponymous fortified wine that is now world-famous – but I dealt only with red Port and I didn’t touch on the regular wines of this other Iberian country. Nor did I mention a perhaps little known, delicious secret! All will be revealed in this article plus a comment on nature, the environment and indeed the planet!
All this for such a little cost – what a top newspaper this is!
White Port, whilst not being classed as a secret, is certainly not widely known nor imbibed outside of this, the most westerly European country. No wonder considering Ernest Cockburn’s comment in the early 20th Century (yes that Cockburn!) – ‘The first duty of Port is to be red!’ It’s a shame as White Port can be a super aperitif.
Most White Port is quite sweet. It can be made from 30 different white grape varieties, Moscatel being on commonly used. Fermentation is arrested at roughly the same point as with Red Port, but grape spirit is usually used instead of brandy. It has to have aged for 2 years but ageing is almost always in stainless steel or epoxy lined cement tanks.
However those which are aged in oak take on a different darker colour and lovely different taste nuances. Often such white ports are on the drier side. I had one a few years ago, Churchills I recall, and it was excellent.
I wish we’d had more time in Portugal as I rediscovered there a fortified wine that I haven’t tasted for over 15 years and had mostly forgotten about! It’s something of a secret in that it is largely left undiscovered in the UK and in Spain, but in Portugal it rocks!
Madeira is a small island administered by Portugal about 1,000km from Portugal and 750km from Africa. It’s also the name of a super wine whose history is fascinating and whose taste goes from the lovely to the sublime! I was put on the spot and asked to identify it, tasted blind in the wine merchants, Loja do Vinho. Set against a white port, which I did identify correctly, the Madeira was drier, with a faintly brownish colour. It struck a very pleasant chord, but no I couldn’t place it.
In fact Madeira, which the Portuguese certainly do do not only when in Portugal but wherever they are in the world (Brazil is a big market) is a fascinating wine and subject and will therefore have a column to itself soon.
So that moves us on to the regular wines of Portugal. Always in the shadow of their more illustrious bedfellow, Port, the wines of Portugal have in fact been in existence for far longer. Indeed it was from the wines of 16th Century Portugal that Port was first made. Records aren’t clear as to when Portugal first made wine but it is known that there existed a healthy wine trade between Portugal and England as long ago as the 12th Century!
Clearly that’s long enough for the Portuguese to have developed some super wines and often using wholly indigenous varieties. I was recently chatting with Mariano, chief winemaker at Grupo Bodegas Castaño, who is somewhat in awe of the number of varieties that are Portuguese alone and not in fact grown anywhere else.
Those of us who fear that the world’s wine will eventually be homogenous with only a few different varieties and with little to distinguish between the same varieties grown in different countries would
do well to move to Portugal. Here there has been little influence by the outside wine world, the ubiquitous Cabernet for example has made few inroads into Portuguese wine production. Why should it and it’s like, when Portugal is so rich in its own very individual vines that produce such aromatic and rich, deeply coloured wines?
There are even vines growing in Portugal that have yet to be identified! But those which are doing very well with huge potential too are for example, for white wine: Alvarinho (yes, Albariño in Spain), Louriero, Fernao Pires and Arinto; and for reds: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Baga, Castelao Frances and Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo).
It’s a question of suck it and see! We tried quite a few in our 10 days there, reds and whites – it’s tough you know, researching wines for Cork Talk! We even tried an Espumante, a sparkling wine in the style of cava – Fita Azul Reserve Brut was refreshing but had little on the nose or palate, however.
Plan Alto, Douro DO, Vinho Branco (white) Reserva 2009 was quite elegant on the palate if a little lacking in character; but Casal Da Coelheira 2009 from DO Ribatejo using Fernao Pires and Chardonnay was a super wine, though the packaging, I think, need further consideration. Vinho Verde Alvarinho 2009 has a super, inviting fruit laden nose, though on the palate it is a little thin. I think this would be my general criticism of the whites we tried – compared to similarly priced whites from Spain the Portuguese wines were a little thin, albeit pleasant, aromatic and refreshing.
We tried several reds. I liked the youth and vitality of Marques De Borba 2009 from DO Alentejo; the added depth of Vinha Das Leres, DO Alentejano with it’s cool label; and the equal favourites – Vila real Douro DO Reserva 2007 whose indigenous grapes, several mentioned above, give the wine its deep colour and rich flavour. This wine shared first place with a wine that we brought home with us.
Meia Pipa 2007 is readily available and doesn’t cost a lot of money but it is a super, deeply flavoured and coloured wine with some treacle and liquorice on the nose, subtle 12 months oaking and a medium long finish.