Category Archives: Portugal

Look for the Duck!

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Pato whiteIt 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!

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A Portuguese Rosé

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Congratulations if you looked at the title and still decided to read the blog!  Particularly if, like me, you were old enough to drink wine in the 1970s.  Because, in those far off days, the words ‘Portuguese’ and ‘Rosé’ meant just one thing: the most popular wine of the era, Mateus Rosé, sold in that familiar, dumpy shaped bottle that, when empty, made a perfect base for a table lamp.  At its peak, in 1978, it accounted for over 40% of Portugal’s wine exports and sold a cool 42 million bottles in just one year.  That’s a lot of table lamps!

Mateus Rosé is still around (and this year celebrates 75 years since it was first produced) but, as readers of this blog will, no doubt, know, it isn’t the only Portuguese rosé on the market.

With summer in mind, I picked up a bottle of Ciconia Rosé from Corks of Cotham recently (£8.99). 

Portuguese roseA blend of 3 grape varieties: touriga nacional, one of the main components in port and many high quality Portuguese reds, syrah (shiraz) and aragonez, one of the Portuguese names for Spain’s best red grape, Tempranillo.  These three together made a wine about as different from my memories of Mateus as it is possible to be: slightly off-dry and really refreshing with attractive strawberry fruit and a clean juicy finish.  Great for drinking on its own or, perhaps, even better, with fish in a tomato based sauce (Cod Portuguaise) or a bouillabaisse.

I’m happy to drink rosé at any time of year, although I think it works best with lighter, summery foods.  But the wine must be dry – or off-dry at most; for me, the sweeter rosés such as Mateus and some of the commercial White Zinfandels that are widely available are just too sweet for a main course yet not sweet enough for a pudding. 

But they sell, so someone loves them – just leave me with the Ciconia, the other Portuguese rosé.

Bristol’s Portuguese Heritage

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Portugal is Britain’s oldest ally and there have been trading links between the two countries for centuries. And one of our most important imports from Portugal for much of that time has been Port. It used to be shipped in barrel direct from Oporto right into the centre of Bristol and bottled in cellars such as those owned by Harveys and Averys. Sadly, these days, large boats have to dock at Avonmouth, downstream from the city and all bottling is done in Portugal but port, and, nowadays Portuguese wine, too, is still arriving.

This heritage was marked some years ago by the ‘twinning’ of Oporto and my adopted home town of Bristol and a very active Twinning Association now exists organising regular exchange visits and other activities including, recently, a tasting of Portuguese wines. Of course, I was keen to attend, particularly as the wines were presented by Rachel of Corks of Cotham (and now of North Street, Bedminster, too), a local independent wine merchant who have won a number of awards for their Portuguese specialism.

BS Oporto tasting

Two contrasting whites began the evening: a crisp, refreshing Vinho Verde from reliable producer, Raza, (£8.99) and Casa Figueira’s Antonio (£19.99), a wine with real character and richness, part-fermented in old oak casks from a little-known grape variety, Vital.

Turning to the reds, Herdade Sao Miguel’s Ciconia (£8.99) from the Alentejo was a lovely easy-drinking, juicy mouthful concealing its 15% alcohol very well, while the others were all definitely ‘food wines’. Quinta dos Roques’ Maias (£9.99) from the Daõ region was inky black with an attractive black fruits nose and intense and succulent on the palate. From neighbouring Bairrada came Casa de Saima (£11.99), a blend of old vine Baga (the native grape of the region) with some Merlot and Touriga Nacional, all aged in old oak. This showed lovely red plum flavours but, as with so many Portuguese wines, would benefit from another year or two in bottle to give its best.

This latter comment certainly also applies to Niepoort’s Vertente (£18.99) which was a fitting close to a memorable evening of wines. From one of the Douro’s best-known port producers who are equally skilled with red wines, this had deep and rich black fruits and a distinct hint of smokiness from 20 months in French oak barrels.

All wines mentioned are available from Corks and, if anyone is interested in further events organised by the Bristol-Oporto Association, please leave me a message and I’ll happily pass your details on to the Secretary.