A Tour Around Portugal's Wines
I’ve just got back from Portugal for a trip investigating the cork industry, one which forms part a central part of Portugal’s history and economy. Corks, however, would be fairly meaningless without wine, so we got to taste an array of Portuguese wine (no screw caps naturally) to explore what exactly is coming out of the small but very varied country.
Portugal lies on the Atlantic, and all along the coast it’s wet. This means grapes have to resist humidity and rot, and the cooler conditions result in lighter and more acidic white wines, although the reds can be quite concentrated and tannic. Once inland, the climate quickly gets hotter and continental, and regions like Douro, Dão, and Alentejo are arid and difficult, producing fuller-bodied wines. These, traditionally, are some of Portugal’s more isolated and poorer regions, but with greater investment and improved infrastructure some of the country’s best wines are being made here.
An important aspect to note about Portuguese wine is the sheer number of grape varieties - around 250 of them. Although some international varieties are planted, these are usually for blending, and local grapes dominate. This gives Portugal a unique character which is hard to pin down, as each variety is so individual and different.
Filipa Pato 3B Rosé Espumante NV
Filipa Pato is the daughter of maverick producer Luis Pato, who has done a lot to revive the Bairrada region. He has relaunched the reputation of local grape Baga, a highly tannic, small-berried grape that can take a lot of taming. Filipa Pato is continuing her father's legacy, but works independently and has rightly gained a good reputation. Made from 70% Baga and 30% Bical, this is a tasty sparkling rosé, refreshing and fruity, with a very dry mouthfeel. At under $20 in the US, incredibly good value. ✪✪✪✪
Anselmo Mendes Parcela Unica Alvarinho 2012
Vinho Verde is a wet, coastal region known for its light-bodied, refreshing white blends. Monção and Melgaço, the two highest quality subregions, allow for varietal labelling, and the grape is usually Alvarinho. These wines have more body and alcohol and a greater level of complexity. This Alvarinho from 2012 was stunning, proof that the grape can age, taking on nutty, Riesling-like aromas while maintaining a fresh, acidic structure. ✪✪✪✪✪
Buçaco Branco Reservado 2001
Until very recently, this wine was only available at the Bussaco Palace Hotel, a giant folly built by Carlos I around the turn of the century. Thankfully, the rest of us are now allowed to drink it, although you pretty much have to visit Portugal to do so. It’s made from the grapes María Gomes, Bical, and Encruzado, grown in both Bairrada and Dão. At 17 years old, with the perfect balance between fresh acidity, ripe fruit aromas, and maturity, this was a truly astonishing wine, rich, creamy, nutty, oxidative, with decades of ageing potential. A wine worth travelling to Portugal for, the only comparison I can make is with the white wines of Rioja’s Lopez de Heredia. ✪✪✪✪✪✪✪
José Gomes da Silva & Filhos Collares 1965
I walked into a wine bar in Porto and one of the first wines I saw was from the historic but dwindling region of Colares, on sale for €54 or €110 to drink in. Quite pricy for a wine from a region most people have never heard of. Except it was from 1965, albeit from a recent rebottling. Collares is near Lisbon, with phylloxera-resistant sandy soils unfortunately being overrun by urbanisation and golf courses. The grape is Ramisco, which is only grown here and has never been grafted to American rootstock. The wine was intense, with smoky, peppery aromas, incredibly fresh for a wine of this age. Perhaps a little too concentrated, but a wine that has plenty of life in it. Alder Yarrow has more on this overrun region. ✪✪✪✪✪
Alboroque Vinho Branco Aperitivo
In the same wine bar in Porto, I was telling the owner that the only wine in the world greater than madeira is sherry. He came back with this bottle, which was an eye-opener as I had no idea anyone in Portugal was making sherry-style wines. It’s made from Arinto and Fernão Pires (the same grape as María Gomes), and aged under a layer of flor. This is like an amontillado with much, much higher acidity. As the wine's name suggests, it works as a great, refreshing aperitif, but I can see this with white fish, chicken, pork, or as a digestif with hard cheese. ✪✪✪✪✪
Grandjó Douro Late Harvest 2012
Douro isn’t just about port, but it was nevertheless a surprise to find a sweet wine made from Sémillon. And then I read, upon further inspection, that Sémillon is the same grape as Boal, one of the four noble varieties of Madeira. This is quite a revelation, which I want to do a lot more research into. This wine is made by Real Companhia Velha, which as the name suggests is a very old Douro producer. Morning fog leads to botrytis, resulting in a sweet wine with dried apricot, tangerine peel, and honey aromas, luscious and rich, all balanced by high acidity. Who knew that maritime Bordeaux and continental Douro had anything in common? ✪✪✪✪
Barbeito Ribero Real Verdelho 20-year-old Madeira
The best madeira comes with age designation - an average age of 5, 10, and 15 years old. I’ve read about 20-year-old madeira before, but never actually seen one until this bottle (besides vintage wines). Rich, nutty, baked, almost dry, with high acidity: drink this for the rest of your life. ✪✪✪✪✪✪