It wasn’t the striking stylised cut out of a duck in flight on the label that first attracted me to Luis Pato’s ‘Vinhas Velhas’ (old vines) dry white (Wines at West End, £14); I’ve been a fan of this top class Portuguese producer for many years. And, in case you’re wondering why there’s a duck on the label – ‘pato’ means ‘duck’ in Portuguese and all of Luis’ labels feature one; a nice marketing touch or a bit corny, depending on your view.
Portuguese wines have improved vastly, both in quality and in the choice available, in recent years. No longer are they defined by a certain rosé in a funny shaped bottle but by some excellent, intense reds and food-friendly whites.
The country always had the potential for making high quality wines, especially reds – the grapes used for port (particularly Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz aka Spain’s Tempranillo) are equally suited to being turned into unfortified wines. But, when British merchants visited there and started searching for some interesting wines in the 17th century, they preferred the strength and sweetness of port. Table wines continued to be made for the locals, but, for the export market, it was virtually all port.
And so it remained until late last century when some of their reds started to appear in the UK – although many of the early arrivals needed long keeping to tame their furious tannins. Gradually, though, the style softened and the wines became much more approachable; one of the pioneers of the change was Luis Pato in Bairrada and I’d strongly recommend any of his reds. But he, and now his daughter Filipa on a separate estate, also produce some delicious whites, mainly from the native Bical variety.
The Vinhas Velhas is beautifully floral on the nose and quite aromatic and fresh in the mouth. There’s a nice richness there, too, which makes it really food-friendly – try it with some fish in a tomato sauce. But not with duck – that wouldn’t do at all!