We’re back on the Iberian Peninsula for part two of our exploration of wines of Spain (previous column) and Portugal (today).
Portugal is the 11th largest wine producer in the world. Over the centuries it has been famous for its hefty, viscous, sweet dessert wines, called port, porto or oporto, made in the beautiful Douro River region.
Recently, however, Portugal has been reaching out pushing their red, white and rose table wines. And I have been impressed with the overall quality and reasonable pricing. Portuguese wines, especially those from the Alentejano region, offer an impressive quality-to-value ratio. Hundreds of types of wine grapes are indigenous to Portugal, so you will run into some names that are not at all familiar.
Let’s start with a startlingly good wine at a wonderful price with a simple name — Red Blend Portugal. It’s from the producer Casa Santos Lima and is from the 2017 vintage. I am startled primarily by its price — here’s that quality-to-value ratio; it’s about $7. I found it at Costco, and don’t know if it’s in general distribution.
The blend comprises shiraz, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and the Portuguese grape touriga nacional, which also is used heavily in the production of portos. Wine Enthusiast handed this red a 90-point score — impressive. It is mildly tannic, a good food wine and just plain tasty.
I recently sampled a lovely Portuguese white called simply Mariana Vinho Branco (a white wine). It’s named for a cloistered nun of the same name who, er, misbehaved. She wrote to her lover, “I do as much to preserve my life as to lose it.”
The wine is a well-balanced tribute to someone who apparently needed just that. From the 2017 vintage, it is a blend of antao vaz, arinto and alvarinho grapes. That last is known in Spain as albarino.
Wine of the month
Cline Family Vineyards Ancient Vines Mourvedre 2017
The wine: Full-bodied, dry, red table wine
The grapes: 100% Mourvedre
The source: Contra Costa County, California
The verdict: I like wineries with the word “family” on their label. It harkens back to a slower, easier time in California when families ran most of the wineries. The Cline family has been working the vineyard soil since the late 19th century. And this robust red shows off the heritage quite well. Mourvedre sources back to France’s Rhone Valley. Nurtured in this country in a warm-weather, Mediterranean climate, mourvedre really shines. Good tannins give big shoulders to this one. A blend of new and previously used American oak imparts a pleasant vanilla aroma. Flavors? Lots! Dark-red fruit, black coffee and I get a hint of dark chocolate. It’s a great companion with meaty fare, so you may want to wait until cooler times before sampling.
The price: About $24.
Like its namesake, the wine has a bit of spice. You will sense flowers with an undertone of peach. The acidity is just right, making this a fine companion for seafood, chicken, cream-based pasta dishes and veggie quiche. Price: About $15.
From the esteemed producer Herdado do Esporao comes the next offering, a simple but well-made red from cabernet sauvignon, touriga franca and aragonez grapes. The label reads Esporao Colheita 2017. I like the winery’s motto: “Character, Irreverence, Detail.” Some of the irreverence may come from the fact that this wine is fermented in concrete tanks. Seriously!
It reminded me for a brief moment of a young valpolicella, an Italian red. It’s quite smooth in the mouth, with very soft tannins. I enjoyed the simplicity of this wine; you don’t have to cogitate over it, just enjoy it. To me it is a perfect pizza or meaty snacks (tapas, anyone?) wine. Price: About $16.
Climbing the quality ladder at Esporao we find a pair of reservas from the 2017 vintage. Both labels convey the visage of a woman apparently annoyed by something or someone. Get past that, however. The wines are terrific.
The red comes from an intricate blend including alicante bouschet, one of the only grapes with blood-red juice. Decades ago some sneaky producers added much of this to alter the pale color of some of their cheap plonk. This ain’t cheap plonk. Other grapes are aragonez, trincadeira and cabernet sauvignon. This is a fascinating wine that we enjoyed over a meal with friends. We all remarked on the fullness of flavor and how long it lingered in the mouth.
It’s a big one and could use another few years in the bottle. We did not wait. It reflects the extra care it and its white sibling receive: All varieties are harvested separately, malolactic fermentation is induced in the red, and select oak barrels are used for both.
You’ll find a mild tang of lemon and grapefruit in the white, which I found quite refreshing. Boasting full flavors the white will stand up well to many foods. Prices: About $18 for the white, $25 for the red.
Portuguese wines are not crowding the shelves in supermarkets or bottle shops. You will have to poke around in some of the more serious wine stores. But judging by the gems I’ve sampled, it’s worth the hunt.
Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column publishes monthly.