Portugal

Red Green Wine

29 August 2012

I’m not usually a fan of Vinho Verde, which translates as “green wine,” so-called because it’s typically consumed very young. Portugal’s famous low-alcohol, semi-sparkling wine usually tastes too tart for me. It’s been years since I’ve bought a bottle of the stuff. But my dry spell finally came to an end when I came across a bottle of 2011 Vera Vinho Verde at Binny’s. It’s not white (or green) at all — it’s rosé.

A semi-sparkling Portuguese rosé might bring back memories of Mateus, but this wine from the northerly Minho region looks nothing like that mass-market precursor to White Zinfandel. Though called “rosé,” the Vera’s cherry-red color could barely qualify as pink. A red Vinho Verde? And with 11.5% alcohol, no less? I was most intrigued, and I snapped it up.

There’s a reason I had never seen a red Vinho Verde on the shelves before. According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, “Foreign palates struggle with these deep-coloured, rasping reds, and although it is still prized locally, little red Vinho Verde leaves the north of Portugal.” I suspect foreign marketers also struggle with varieties such as Vinhão and Rabo de Anho, which make up 60% and 40% of the Vera, respectively.

Vinhão, at least, is in the Companion. Also known as Sousão, this variety is “widely planted in northern Portugal, where the wine is notably high in acidity as well as colour…” The label on the bottle translates Vinhão as “big wine.”

But the Vera label declares that Rabo de Anho “does not translate at all,” and it may be right. I can find precious little about this variety, the first variety I’ve encountered which doesn’t have an entry in the Companion. According to Wikipedia, it shouldn’t be confused with the white-skinned Rabo de Ovelha, a variety the Companion also notes as white. But the website vinhoverde.pt regards Rabo de Anho and Rabo de Ovelha as synonyms. So I don’t know what the heck is going on.

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A Hotbed Of Innovation

25 August 2012

I needed something to pair with the game of Bionic Woman we were sitting down to play. For such an obscure board game, only an especially oddball wine would do; I uncorked a 2009 Espirito Lagoalva, a blend of 50% Touriga Nacional and 50% Castelão from Portugal’s Tejo region. It proved to be delightful, fortifying us as we saved joggers from angry mountain lions and brought runaway hot air balloons under control.

Jaime, had she been a wine connoisseur as well as a superhero, would have been very surprised to find us drinking a dry Portuguese wine. Until relatively recently, Portugal was known only for Port and Madeira, both of which are sweet, fortified wines. But nowadays, “Portuguese winemakers have…woken up to the tremendous potential of the terroirs and native grape varieties that their country offers, making it a hotbed of innovation,” according to The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia.

The Douro Valley (where most grapes for Port are grown) and the Dão region just to the south produce many of Portugal’s best vintages, and I’ve rarely been disappointed by a dry red wine from either of these regions. They tend to be fantastic values for the money, probably because the grape varieties are unfamiliar to non-Portuguese. They are actually not all that hard to find anymore. Keep an eye out for them.

But this wine comes from Tejo, a region just northeast of Lisbon that I had a devil of a time finding anything about. The problem, I discovered thanks to Wikipedia, is that Tejo was called Ribatejo (translated as River Tagus) until 2009, when the name was changed to hopefully appeal more to the international market. I haven’t seen much of an international rush to Tejo wines, but I suppose Mendoza used to be just as unknown.

Unfortunately for Tejo, the most of the grape varieties grown there don’t come as trippingly off the tongue as Malbec. I mean, what the heck are Touriga Nacional and Castelão?

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The Tasting Room – Part 2

7 March 2012

The Slovenian Furmint may have left me a little flat at The Tasting Room (see the previous post), but a Portuguese red blend certainly got my attention. The fun 2009 Quinta de la Rosa “douROSA” from the Douro Valley enticed me with its aroma of dark fruits, and sealed the deal with flavors of bright, ripe red fruits and a spicy finish. ($5.50 for a three-ounce pour, $11 for six.)

Quinta de la Rosa occupies what looks to be a spectacular piece of the Douro River’s bank in northern Portugal. This family-owned vineyard and winery seems to be known more for its port than its unfortified wines, but certainly the douROSA can hold its own. A blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesca, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz (varieties also used in port), the douROSA is aged in stainless steel, which perhaps accounts for the delightful brightness of its flavors.

I’ve long thought Portuguese wines represent some of the best values out there, and this wine certainly did nothing to change my mind.

We moved a little further east with a 2009 Finca Tobella “Negre” from Spain’s Priorat region. According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, “One of Spain’s most inspiring red wines”comes from this “isolated DO zone in Cataluña inland from Tarragona.” And who am I to argue? This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane and Grenache (Garnacha) smelled of blackberries and oak, and tasted simply delicious. Powerful but restrained, this Priorat presented an elegant balance of tannins and acid. ($6.75 for a three-ounce pour, $13.50 for six.)

The sparkling 2010 Villa M Brachetto from Piedmont, Italy, disappointed, with pleasant but simple and too-sweet flavors of tart strawberries. ($5.00 for a three-ounce pour, $10 for six.)

I had eyed Stratton Lummis’s “The Riddler,” a red Napa blend of undisclosed varieties, but avoided it as not unusual enough. Let that be a lesson to me: I tasted my dining companion’s glass, and it was delicious. A big and tasty wine, with rich flavors of cherries, tobacco and cocoa. $6.25 for a three-ounce pour, $12.50 for six.

This probably isn’t news to you, dear reader, but sometimes I have to remind myself that unusual does not necessarily mean better.

O Licor De Portugal

21 January 2012

I’m amazed I can even remember the first time I tried Licor Beirão, which is like a Portuguese Jägermeister except it’s lighter and not thoroughly revolting. About 12 years ago, my parents and I were in a bar in Lisbon one afternoon, taking a break from the sightseeing, when I got a bee in my bonnet and decided to try all the unfamiliar Portuguese liquors listed in my invaluable Berlitz European Menu Reader. Even back then, I was already hooked on drinking the unusual and the obscure.

So I finished my glass of Tawny Port and ordered up a shot of Ginja (also spelled Ginjinha), a very sweet but tasty cherry liqueur. Next was the Licor Beirão, and then I ordered a Bagaceira. The bartender’s eyes widened, and he repeated my order back to me to make sure he heard correctly. Apparently foreigners don’t order it very frequently. Or if they do, it’s not immediately after downing the ill-advised mix of booze listed above. (Actually, a Google Image search of “Bagaceira” illuminates what the bartender was likely imagining.)

Bagaceira turned out to be like Portuguese Grappa, a very powerful clear liquor with distinct raisiny notes. And I, perhaps as the bartender foresaw, turned out to be quite drunk. I don’t exactly remember what happened next, but one way or another I ended up with a bottle of each liquor and a pair of shiny black Capri cargo pants.

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