Category Archives: Portuguese wine

Cheap and Bland?

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I went out for a reunion meal with some friends and former colleagues at Bristol’s River Station restaurant recently and, inevitably, the wine list was pushed in my direction.  Choosing wine for a dozen people is never easy, particularly when, as here, I didn’t know much about the tastes of many of them.  I also had to bear in mind that we were there to catch up with each other and to chat, not to taste and appreciate the wine.  As a result, my focus was on wines that no-one could really dislike at prices that few could object to.  I could have been forgiven for choosing something cheap and bland, but I wanted to do better than that.

The guests were ordering a wide range of different dishes so a white and a red were clearly needed.  I love the Spanish variety Albariño and there was a nice example on the list, similarly a Mâcon-Villages caught my eye.  But I eventually chose Peter Schweiger’s Grüner Veltliner from Austria (around £30 on the wine list) as the white peter-schweiger-gruner-veltliner– fairly rich and full-bodied with plenty of fruit but unoaked; a wine with plenty of character but fresh and harmonious that should pair well with most dishes.

For the red, I was looking at the South American section of the list – a Chilean Merlot or Carmenere or an Argentinian Malbec, perhaps – when our server pointed to Prunus Tinto, a Portuguese wine from the Daô region (also about £30), which was a personal favourite of his and, apparently very popular.  Prunus_Dao_TintoI hadn’t initially considered this – although I’m a big fan of Portuguese wines, they can be tough and tannic, which wasn’t the type of wine I wanted for the group.  But, he assured me that this was very drinkable and I went along with his recommendation.  I’m pleased I did as this proved a real winner: very soft and with lovely black fruits and a slight smoky edge.

My reward for 2 successful choices?  I’ll get the job of choosing again next time!

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A Week in Bristol – Part 2

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Now that my crowded week of 4 tastings is behind me, it’s time to reflect on the final 2 events that I couldn’t fit into my Blog last time.

The first continued with the theme of Spain and Portugal with the added interest that my client asked me to choose wines from the ‘Hidden Corners’ of these 2 fascinating countries.  In fact, for many UK wine drinkers, most of Portugal and much of Spain (except, perhaps, Rioja and Cava) are ‘hidden’, so I had plenty of scope to make my selections.

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An early favourite was the Casal de Ventozela Alvarinho from northern Portugal (£9.99 – all the wines for this tasting were from Majestic).  Alvarinho is the same grape as Spain’s Albariño and this delightful, fresh white showed lovely peach and citrus flavours and a long fragrant finish.

But, it was a pair of Spanish reds that attracted the most praise – both for their quality and for their amazing bargain prices.  Pizarras de Otero (£7.49) was intensely fruity with aromas and flavours of ripe strawberries, plums and blackberries.  Made with the Mencia grape variety, local to the Bierzo district in north-west Spain, this reminded one taster of a young Pinot Noir.

The striking label on Matsu’s ‘El Picaro’ (£8.99) from Toro in the west of Spain (left-hand bottle, above) lists the grape variety as ‘Tinta de Toro’, but this is simply a local name for Spain’s best red grape, Tempranillo.  Bigger and richer than the Bierzo and with a little smokey spice and chocolate added to the black fruits, this would have been far more expensive if it had come from one of the better-known Tempranillo areas.

The last tasting of the week was another of my Saturday classes at Bristol’s Stoke Lodge Adult Education Centre.  This time, my theme was ‘Anything but Chardonnay, Anything but Cabernet’.  Despite the title, we did taste 2 examples of each of these grapes to explore their diverse flavours.  But it was one of the Cabernet alternatives that was unanimously voted as best wine of the day. 

20181117_152855_resized (2)Ironically, in view of the focus of my week, it came from Spain: Baron de Ley Rioja Reserva 2014 (Waitrose, £9) was beautifully mellow and spicy from 20 months ageing in oak but still young enough to allow the soft red fruits to show through.  A real delight at a very reasonable price, and a deserved winner.

As for me, after my busy week, it’s time to relax with a nice glass of wine

A Week in Bristol

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I’ve blogged before about how this is my busiest time of the year but 4 tastings in 1 week is exceptional, even for my November schedule.  Interestingly, 3 of the 4 events focussed on Spain or Portugal – 2 countries whose wines have improved so much over the past 20 years or so.

The week started with Ed Adams MW at the Bristol Tasting Circle.  Ed, along with his business partner, South African Bruce Jack, is a winemaker in north-east Spain and showed 2 of his own wines – an attractive creamy white and a rich, intense red, both sold under the La Bascula label.  Then, in conjunction with Great Western Wines of Bath, we also tasted a range of other wines, all from the Basque or Catalan regions of Spain that Ed knows so well. 

BTC Spain 2It was hard to pick just one favourite but, both my wife and I loved the crisp, grapefruit flavoured white Adur Txakolina from the Basque country (£17.95) while, among the reds, Franck Massard’s El Brindis from the Montsant region (£12.50) was great value even though to get the best from this deep, weighty Cariñena/Garnacha blend would require real patience – perhaps 3 or 4 years.

The following evening, the Bristol-Oporto Twinning Association invited Alan Wright from Clifton Cellars to run a tasting for us.  Alan doesn’t believe in ‘run of the mill’ wines but one of his well-chosen selections was unique, even by his standards.  Oporto 1Quinta do Romeu’s ‘Westerlies’ (£14.75) was specially made and bottled for a journey under sail from Portugal to Bristol by the century-old trading ketch, the Bessie-Ellen.  Sadly, the old ship had to stop at Fowey for repairs but her cargo continued by road for us to enjoy.  Made from one of Portugal’s lesser-known grape varieties, Sousão, this red showed lovely black fruits and although quite deeply flavoured, had an attractive lightness about it.  Oporto 2Despite the temptation of the glorious, sweet Adega de Palma Moscatel de Setubal (£12.50) and others that we tasted, this had to be the wine of the night, if only for the wonderful story it told.

That only takes me as far as Tuesday and my tasting count is already well into double figures for the week (spitting out, of course!).  Perhaps I’d better defer blogging about the week’s other 2 tastings, both of which I was hosting, until next time.

A Little Bit of Magic

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Conde Vimioso 1When I first saw the name on the bottle, Conde Vimioso, I thought it sounded like a magic spell that might be invoked in one of J.K.Rowling’s famous Harry Potter books.  But, no!  It’s a delightful, really juicy, everyday quaffing Portuguese red, full of flavours of sweet ripe blackberries, with some soft tannins and a longer finish than you could possibly expect from a £7.25 wine (available from The Wine Society).   

So, how can the producers make a wine of this quality at the price?  Perhaps part of the answer is that it’s only a Vinho Regional – the same level as Vin de Pays in France – and, as such, would be considered less prestigious than DOC, the local equivalent of Appellation Contrôlée. 

It comes from the Tejo region, which stretches inland from the capital, Lisbon, along the River Tagus (Tejo in Portuguese) and is an unusual blend of 4 varieties – 2 local: Touriga Nacional and Aragonez (also found in Spain as Tempranillo) – plus some Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  The wine even gets 6 months barrel ageing and here, in an important area for oak trees, it really does mean ageing in barrels, not oak flavouring using oak chips as more commonly found in wines at this price.

So, regardless of the Harry Potter-like name, this wine’s unfashionable origin means that we can taste a delicious wine for a barely believable price.  Now, that really is a little bit of magic.

Good Wines, Sensible Prices

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Traditionally, wines have been sold under the name of the producer or a brand name created by them.  There have always been a few exceptions, mainly retailers such as Berry Brothers and the Wine Society putting their own name on wines they have bought in, but this trend has increased greatly in recent years.  Virtually every supermarket has its range of own label wines – some have 2: a basic selection sold on price and a premium range which often includes some interesting bottles which are excellent value.  ‘Tesco Finest’ and ‘Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference’ are examples of this latter category but others do the same – they just spring to mind because they’re my 2 nearest supermarkets.

These premium ranges often involve the supermarkets’ own wine buyers (these days generally Masters of Wine or other well-qualified individuals) working with producers to craft something that reflects the local style but would also appeal to the tastes of customers – and, because the supermarkets can buy in bulk, prices are usually very attractive.

But, it’s not just the supermarkets who do this.  I’ve already mentioned the Wine Society, whose ‘Exhibition’ range is particularly good, but, now, Majestic Wine Warehouse is joining the party with their bottlings under the ‘Agenda’ label.  The examples I’ve tasted so far are well up to standard and excellent value.  It’s difficult to pick just one but their Portuguese red from the Daó region (a real bargain at £7.99 if you buy as part of the ‘mix 6’ offer) is certainly worth trying. 

DaoIt is just so drinkable – soft and rounded with flavours of cooked plums and herbs. A hint of oak gives a savoury edge and there are the gentlest of tannins. For me, this makes perfect every day drinking, especially to accompany some mildly spicy sausages.

And that’s exactly what these premium own label ranges are designed to do: nothing fancy, just good drinking at sensible prices.

 

 

 

A Forgotten Relic

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In my last Bristol Wine Blog, I said that I had just enjoyed a wine from the most westerly Designated wine region in mainland Europe and left you with the problem of working out where that might be.  Congratulations to my fellow blogger ‘intastebudswetrust’ for sending me the correct answer, which, as I’m sure many of you also know (or will have looked up!) is Colares, a short drive west of Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, which lies at 9˚ 30′ W.  Sorry no prizes apart from a sense of superiority!

Colares DOC (Portugal’s equivalent of France’s AC) is a tiny (and shrinking) region – less than 20 hectares (50 acres) in total – on a narrow strip of sand dunes overlooking the Atlantic coast.  The sandy soil means that the vine pest, phylloxera, has never invaded the place and so, unlike nearly every other vineyard in the world, the vines are planted directly into the ground rather than being grafted onto a resistant American vine rootstock.  The vast majority of Colares is planted with a local grape variety, Ramisco, that, as far as I can trace, is grown nowhere else in the world. 

On first tasting, the Arenæ Ramisco Colares (Wine Society, £20 for a 500ml bottle) is a little old-fashioned in style. 

ColaresThe colour, a rather pale garnet, reminded me of an aged Barolo, and the nose is an unusual combination of earthy, leathery smells with hints of spices and even of old roses.  It’s lighter bodied than the nose might suggest with bitter cherry and raspberry on the palate, alongside the same floral character noted earlier, and the wine is still quite tannic, even though the bottle I had was from the 2007 vintage, so already more than 10 years old. 

It’s definitely not your run-of-the-mill red wine and certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste but, as a one-off relic of an almost forgotten style, it’s worth a try (although as production is understandably tiny, you may struggle to find it – apart from the Wine Society in the UK, http://www.wine-searcher.com gives a couple of stockists in the USA).

Bristol’s Own Wine

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Port O BristolBristol now has its very own wine, but don’t worry if you’ve never seen it on the shelves.  At present, there’s just one small problem: the label is missing some key information, so it isn’t legal to sell it in the UK yet.  But I have tasted it! 

That was at a wine tasting evening arranged by the Bristol-Porto Twinning Association – a group that fosters links and arranges exchange visits between Bristol and friends in the Portuguese city with whom we have had trading links for many centuries. 

The event was hosted by Alan, the owner of Clifton Cellars, one of Bristol’s best independent wine merchants.  He brought along a selection of wines which truly showed how far Portugal has advanced since the days when it was only known for Mateus Rosé.

The tasting included 2 very different whites: Quinta de Gomariz’s vibrant, citrussy Alvarinho (aka Alboriño) from the Vinho Verde region (£13.99) and Lagar de Darei, a richer and subtly oaked bottle from the Daô made from the local Encruzado variety (£11.98)

Of the reds, Patraô Diogo’s Aragonez- (Tempranillo) based red (£12.85) is a fascinating and rare representative of the tiny Colares region on the coast west of Lisbon.  Its sandy soils have resisted the phylloxera bug and so vines there can be planted on their own rootstocks.  The Vinha da Mouro (£13.50) from the Alentejo showed a lovely southern warmth and richness and brought the evening to a happy close.

But, what about the bottle pictured above?  The ‘Port O’Bristol’ is from a traditionally planted vineyard at the far eastern end of the Douro Valley.  Produced by Ramos Pinto’s winemaker, this was brought over in barrel from Portugal in a sailing boat and bottled in Bristol.  There’s a tiny production and this is the first vintage of a wine that is certainly a ‘work in progress’ at present but one that is worth keeping a close eye on.

If you are interested in joining the Bristol-Porto Twinning Association, please leave me your details below and I will happily pass them on to the Membership Secretary.