What is the best cuisine to showcase the wines of Portugal?
Recently, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to taste a dozen Portuguese wines with dinner at L'Espalier. I previously discussed the food and now want to highlight the wines and how they paired with the dinner, as well as talk about the format and educational aspects of the tasting.
The evening began with a brief presentation by Nuno d'Orcy Cancela de Abreu, a wine maker and consultant. His family has been producing wine in Portugal for five generations. He personally selected the wines for the dinner, and they included several wines that he produces. The slide presentation provided a brief summary of Portugal wine production and its three primary climatic regions, Atlantic, Mountain and Plains. For each wine we then tasted, Nuno talked about it, describing its flavors and characteristics.
We tasted twelve wines, generally split into groups of three. I already knew a few of the wines, and had actually drank two of them within the two weeks prior to the tasting. We had whites and reds, a sparkling wine and a port. Overall, I enjoyed many of the wines but none of them were exceptional or "wow" wines.
What I feel, as did several others I spoke to at the dinner, was that the L'Espalier dinner did not do justice to the wines. It was not the proper forum for these wines. We should have had simpler food with these wines, maybe something heartier. Maybe Spanish cuisine, Brazilian BBQ or even simple American fare. The worst pairing of the evening was a Portuguese cheese with the Casa de Santar Reserve, a red blend of Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro and Tinto Roriz. Though I like this wine, it just did not go well with the smoky cheese and not one at my table liked the pairing.
Maybe my favorite wine of the evening was the 2005 Cartuxa Reserva ($35), a red blend of Trincadeira, Aragonez and Alfrocheiro. An inky dark red wine with a wondrous aromatic nose. It had flavors of ripe, black fruits with spice notes, especially a bit of clove on the long finish. A smooth wine with mild tannins.
I find Portuguese wines often have their own unique flavors, especially those made from indigenous grapes. But I think the cuisine needs to be more fitting for the wines to show their best nature. This unfortunately was not such an occasion. Though the food was delicious, it just did not fit the nature of these wines.