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Undiscovered Portugal

I am often asked which parts of Europe currently provide the best value for money – and usually offer two options.

One is Eastern Europe (specifically Romania and Hungary) and the other is Portugal.

While the first of those is only just coming back on the radar after the collapse of the old Soviet Union, Portuguese wines have been accessible almost forever.

And yet ….. I looked at two major supermarket wine websites and found almost 60 red wines from Australia but only two from Portugal.

But today’s post goes beyond urging greater exposure for Portuguese wine.

Those examples we do see mainly come from well-established wine areas and – apart from Vinho Verde perhaps – are usually red.

Enjoyable as those are, there is a whole range of unfamiliar wines from Portugal out there just waiting to be discovered.

I have selected a few of them to highlight here and, flying in the face of convention, am concentrating on whites.

Predictably, like “Early Adopter” choices generally, such wines can be more expensive but they are well worth it.

First, though, a value option

Across the bridge over the Tagus river from Lisbon is the Peninsula de Setúbal with its patchwork of soil types and even micro-climates.

Among the wines produced there is this terrific value red; a touriga nacional led blend that is just arriving in Aldi stores.

Aromatic and medium bodied, 2018 Mola Portuguese Touro Red (£5.49 at Aldi and 13.5% abv) centres on chocolate and cinnamon influenced blackberry, cherry and raspberry fruit, firm tannin and good lingering acidity to provide well balanced wine at a kind price.

Switching to those whites

Until recently, the Dao region (about midway between Lisbon and Porto and further inland) was mainly noted for traditional (aka unexciting, perhaps) and substantial reds.

Here, though, I am spotlighting a white from that region (by one of their acclaimed producers) and made from two unfamiliar grape varieties – encruzado and gouveio.

The first is an especially impressive grape with oceans of potential and currently the subject of experimentation with oak to see what does best.

Its partner, gouveio, in one of its forms seems to be related to godello.

By combining the two, 2018 Quinta dos Carvalhais Colheita Branco (£11.95 at The Wine Society and 13%) bring us white wine with apple and ripe pear fruit, sharp acidity, tarragon influenced depth and a very long finish.

Here really is a little known area!

Sandwiched between the Douro and Alentejo and hard up against the Spanish border is a region called Beira Interior which seldom gets on wine buyers' calling lists but has interesting wines.

Although red wines do prosper thereabouts, my selection today is an interestingly different white.

One grape variety it uses is the little known siria which is valued for its aromatic and textured wines.

The other grape is even less well-known – the almost exclusively local fonte cal which can bring floral honeyed elements to the party.

Put them together and you get the light and fresh 2018 Beyra Reserva Quartz (enquire at Reserve Wines or D Byrne & Co about availability and price but 13%) with lime centred fruit supplemented by background touches of banana and ripe pear, a prickle of lemon acidity with suggestions of sherbet and spice too. 

A more familiar region

Although we head next for the Douro Valley, it is for a really unusual white from another largely local grape – viosinho – that in this example produces a startingly Burgundian style of wine.

In its production, the winemaker uses partial fermentation in barrels, regular lees agitation and plenty of new oak.

Predictably (with those oak influences), smoothness and vanilla components are strongly in evidence in 2017 Crasto Superior Vinho Branco (£16.95 at Great Western Wines and 13.5%) to support the wine’s rich, baked apple flavours that are intensified by orange and peach viscosity and contrasting grapefruit acidity. Really classy wine.

Staying in the Douro

Impossible to talk of Portugal’s Douro region without some mention of port but, as this post is all about the unusual, our focus is on white port – a seriously neglected genre.

White port has tended to be the poor relation of the style – frequently only produced in basic forms – yet it often includes illustrious white grapes in its list of potential ingredients.

Colheita versions, though, are from a single harvest and are normally carefully aged to enhance the wine’s underlying flavours and, in the process, often darken its colour.

See that sophistication in action with 2003 Kopke Colheita White Porto (£16.99 for a half bottle in Majestic stores but also available in full bottles at www.portugalvineyards.com – and 20% abv).

It has pecan, dates and raisin depth that mingles enticingly with tongue tingling acidity, orange and apricot fruit and a smattering of cinnamon and ginger.

Back on Friday folks with my selections for the upcoming weekend and beyond (if you are able to get them!)


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Comments

6 Comments

Chris Batchelor

Update. Aldi has sold out of the Mola on line. And the Wine Society has shut down for the duration.

Brian Elliott

Hi Chris …. Good to hear from you. I know it is annoying when items are unavailable but things are currently changing so quickly it is impossible ever to be completely up to date. As Eddie says in another comment to this post, at the moment it is all about compiling a list for the future.
Knowing the importers enthusiasm for that Mola, I am sure it will be available as soon as possible.
Meanwhile stay fit and safe ….. Brian

Edward Walker

Thank you for the great read here Brian.
We’ve had to accept that our trip to Portugal next week can’t happen. It would have been the seventh time in as many years. Along with France it has been an annual go to and the wine has always been at the forefront of our minds in making such travelling/holiday choices.

But to make up for matters I called at my local Co op and got your recommendation from last week, the Rabelo from Vila Real. It is VERY good and at £6 even better when considering value as well as quality.

Thank you for that and thank you for treating us your readership as grown-ups and not deferring to a position of ”can’t discuss such things as wine in the present circumstances” and closing down your commentary. Having such information, even if it is for the future where limited access shopping goes, as I said, it’s a great read and education for wine fans.

We took a grocery delivery last evening from Sainsbury’s that contained their excellent Piccini Governo … with a £1 or so reduction and another lovely bottle, the 2013 Nina Roja Gran Reserva from Valencia that I think you’ve also mentioned before. It’s a cracking bottle for only £5.50.

Cheers from Middlesbro’
Eddie.

Brian Elliott

Hi Eddie … Sorry to hear that your holiday plans have been scuppered – Portugal at this time of year is just great.
Glad you enjoyed the piece and do appreciate your kind words about “carrying on”. I have thought hard about closing things down but reached much the same conclusions as you did.
I will say a bit more about that on Monday.
Meanwhile, as I say to Chris, stay fit and safe ….. Best ….. Brian

Dave Cronin

Hi Brian
Great read this week, writing this just finishing off a lovely Portuguese red (Altano 2016) which was very good, think Waitrose are still stocking it, although maybe not the 2016.
I’ve tasted the Crasto which I thought was excellent and well worth the step up in price.
Please keep up the good work as I for one enjoy reading your recommendations and we all need something to look forward to while were housebound and what better way than reading about wine.
Salud & drink well

Brian Elliott

Thanks Dave. Pleased you share my view of the Crasto – I would never have guessed it was Portuguese when tasting it blind.
Keep fit and safe.


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