Category Archives: Portuguese wine

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.

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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!

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.

A Dream Comes True

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I guess that many Bristol Wine Blog readers have lists of ‘dream’ wines – bottles that they’d love to taste at least once in their lives.  Sadly, by their very nature, ‘dream’ bottles are often either fantastically expensive or incredibly rare – frequently both.  So dreams remain dreams.

But, just once in a while, an opportunity comes along and a dream becomes reality.  And that’s what happened for me recently thanks to a tasting organised jointly by the Bristol Tasting Circle and the West of England Wine and Spirit Association.  Our speaker was Christian Seely, Managing Director of AXA Millésimes, who brought along a selection of wines and ports from their multiple award-winning estate, Quinta do Noval, including one of my dream wines, Nacional Vintage Port.

noval-ports

What’s so special about Nacional?  It’s produced from a single, wonderfully sited vineyard of just 2 hectares (4½ acres) where all the vines still remain on their own rootstocks (so, not grafted onto American rootstocks, as most vines are, to guard against the deadly phylloxera bug).  Output of Nacional Port is tiny – just 3100 bottles of the 2003 vintage – the one we tasted – were produced and demand always exceeds supply many times over.

Did it live up to my dreams?  You bet it did!  Although still young (good ports can easily last 50 years), it showed marvellous concentration of fruit – damsons, plums, cloves and just so much more.  Truly, a once in a lifetime treat!

And though my attention was, understandably, on the Nacional, it wasn’t the only superb bottle on show: we also tasted the regular 2003 Vintage Port (from other Noval vineyards) and a tawny from the same year; either would have been the star of most tastings, as would Noval’s Douro red wine: unfortified and made from the same grape varieties as the ports, this would be a perfect match with robust food.  But the Nacional was just in a different league.

And just a mention for Bristol readers: the Douro will be one of the subjects of ‘Wine Rivers of Europe’, a 5 week course (Wednesday evenings) at Stoke Lodge starting in November during which we will be talking about (and tasting, of course) a selection of wines reflecting the title.  For more details: http://www.bristolcourses.com

A Shy and Reticent Wine?

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The English are often described as ‘reserved’ people: shy, reticent, not very forthcoming.  But the word ‘reserve’ can have other meanings: I can reserve a table at a restaurant or set a reserve – a minimum sale price – at an auction, for example. But what does it mean to wine lovers?

Look along the shelves of your local supermarket or wine merchant and you’ll notice that Reserve (or a local variant such as Reserva or Riserva) is one of the words most commonly found on the labels.  So, does it mean that the wine is shy, reticent and not very forthcoming?  Unfortunately not!  But, what it does mean (if anything) varies a lot, depending on where the wine comes from.

Things are clearest in Spain.  Spanish wine tasting (2)There, Reserva denotes a red wine that has been aged for at least 3 years before being released for sale, at least one year of which must have been in oak barrels.  For whites and rosés, the figure is 2 years (6 months in barrel).  The requirements for Gran Reservas are longer: for reds, 5 years (2 in oak barrel), for whites and rosés, 4 years (6 months in barrel).

Across the border in Portugal, the rules for their Reserva are much less specific, simply requiring the wine to be from a ‘good’ vintage (how do you define that?) with an alcohol level at least ½% above the regional minimum (which varies from place to place).

Italy’s equivalent is Riserva.

41 SelvapianaThis also varies from place to place – as do most things in Italy; it, too, denotes a certain minimum ageing, usually at least a year, although, for Barolo, it is as long as 5 years!  Often, higher alcoholic strength and other requirements are also included in the local rules.

And that’s as far as the regulated use of these terms goes.  Anywhere else and the word has no official meaning.  It might be used to suggest that the wine is of a higher quality, as in the French ‘Réserve du Patron’ or terms like Estate Reserve or Reserve Selection, or has seen some oak ageing, but, outside Spain, Portugal and Italy, none of this is guaranteed.

To my mind, we ought to reserve (sorry!) the use of the word to those places where it does have a legal meaning, but I’m not going to make a fuss about it because I’m English and too reserved!

Wine: Not Red or White but Green!

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Vinho Verde Anselmo MendesWine comes in 3 colours: red, white and rosé. Well, actually, no! It comes in 4! In Portugal, there is also green wine! Vinho Verde, the wine from Portugal’s northernmost region, the Minho, translates as green wine. And, to make things more complicated, although virtually all the green wine that is exported is white, in the region, you can buy red green wine as well!

Enough of this! Let’s talk Vinho Verde and we’ll concentrate on the white version. The Minho region is very different from the rest of Portugal; it hasn’t really got a typical wine growing climate at all. It’s fairly cool and relatively wet – in fact, its annual rainfall is 2 – 3 times higher than in many wine regions. So it isn’t surprising that, historically, it produced rather thin, acidic and under-ripe wines. These were nearly all consumed locally and within a year of production – the “green” in the name actually refers to this habit of drinking the wines while they were still very young, rather than their colour.

But things are changing. How? By better vineyard management and by concentrating on higher quality grapes such as Alvarinho (the same as Spain’s excellent and ultra-fashionable Alboriño) and Loureiro. And it was a wine made from this latter variety that we enjoyed recently.

Anselmo Mendes’ Muros Antigos is a delicious, fragrant, perfumed white with an incredible depth of flavour and great complexity and length. My wife and I had a glass each one evening and then put the cork back in and left it. By the following day, it had developed even more flavours and aromas. I can hardly believe it is only £8.75 (Wine Society) – quite remarkable at the price and the wine bargain of the year!

I’m not surprised at the quality of this wine – we visited Anselmo Mendes when we were in Portugal last year and quickly realised that here was a top class winemaker. We were treated to one of the most diverse and comprehensive tastings I can remember. Yet, we were faced with so many different wines, all the result of his great passion for experimentation, that, in the end, it was difficult to agree on what worked brilliantly and what didn’t quite work.

With just the one wine enjoyed in the peace and quiet of our own home, the quality shone through. But Mendes isn’t the only person making high class Vinho Verde. You should definitely look out for green wines on the shelves!