Friday, February 25, 2011

A Taste of Portugal at Prezza

Portuguese wines offer some of the best values in the wine world, including plenty of excellent wines under $10. No other region consistently delivers as much as Portugal does at this price point. Their wines provide intriguing aromatics, exotic tastes and plenty of character.  Yet they produce some top-notch higher-end wines too.  If you are not drinking Portuguese wines, then you need to expand your palate.

During the Boston Wine Expo weekend, I was invited to drink and dine with some representatives of Value Vines, LLC, an import company which specializes in Portuguese wines.  The company is relatively young, having been founded in 2009, and their name is intended to reflect "the wonderful price/value ratio to be found in these wines."  I was eager to taste some new Portuguese wines so agreed to meet them, especially considering we would dine at Prezza, one of my favorite Italian restaurants (and which was just reviewed in the Boston Globe.)

It was a pleasure to meet Adele, Carl and Anthony of Value Wines, and they were passionate and knowledgeable advocates for Portuguese wines.  They presented wines from Enoforum, an export company founded in 2004 by a group of grape-growers from the Alentejo region of Portugal. Their purpose is to promote, educate, and sell wines from Alentejo. Prior to the formation of Enoforum, the wines from this region constituted only a tiny business in the U.S., so the growers came together to try to change that.    

The Alentejo region, in southern Portugal, is quite large, covering almost 1/3 of the total area of the country and possessing over 22,000 hectares of vineyards.  They produce mostly red wine, but also produce good whites and roses. The region's history extends back thousands of years, to the ancient Phoenicians who probably were the first to plant grapes here.  Around 31 B.C., the Romans conquered the area, continuing vine cultivation and wine making.  When the Moors arrived in the region, they also continued wine making, despite Koranic prohibitions, reminding me of the history of the sherry region. 

This region is also the primary producer of cork, possessing the world's largest cork oak forest, which covers about 520,000 hectares.  Compared to the cork forests, the amount of vineyards is only a small percentage.  Alentejo is a vast agricultural area, of great importance to Portugal.  It is also supposed to be quite a beautiful land.   

We began tasting wines from the Alente brand, including one white and two reds.  Alente has three levels of red wines, dependent on the amount of oak used.  The three men on their label represent shepherds and minstrels. It is obvious why shepherds, in such a major agricultural area, are there but minstrels?  Well, there is a strong and rich musical tradition in Alentejo, where many agricultural workers sing while they work.  So minstrels have a significant connection to this region.    

The 2009 Alente White (about $10) is a blend of Antão Vaz and Arinto, which was fermented in vats and American oak, and then allowed to remain sur lie for another 3-4 months. It has an alcohol content of 13%. This wine was very aromatic, with that intriguing nose I often associate with Portuguese wines.  It was a crisp and pleasant wine, with delicious fruit flavors of apple and melon, along with a subtle minerality.  It had plenty of character for a wine at this price point, and would be great paired with seafood, salads, and light chicken dishes. What helps to elevate this wine above others at this price point, is its subtle exoticism.     

I began my dinner with an appetizer of Rabbit Parmigiano, a superb dish with a moist and perfectly cooked piece of rabbit. If someone tasted this blind, they would love it, even if they thought they disliked rabbit. The sauce and cheese did not conceal the sweet taste of the rabbit, only contributing to the harmony of this dish.

To accompany this dish, I drank the 2007 Alente Red (about $10), a blend of Trincadeira and Aragonez, which was aged in French and American oak and had an alcohol content of 13%.  It possessed an alluring nose, plenty of dark fruit and spice notes. On the palate, the wine was light and smooth, with delicious ripe plum and blackberry flavors and lots of spice. You get good complexity for this price point, and it paired well with the rabbit dish. This is a wine that would pair well with Italian cuisine, especially red sauce dishes.  It would also be a good pairing for pizza, BBQ, burgers and more.
My entree was the Braised Lamb Shank, a hearty and tasty dish with plenty of tender, flavorful meat atop a creamy polenta. There was enough food to sate almost any appetite. With such a dish, I needed a bigger wine and had two selections that fit the bill.

The 2005 Alente Reserva (about $18), is a blend of Alicante Bouchet, Trincadeira and Aragonez, which was aged in French and American oak for 12 months and had an alcohol content of 13.5%.  This was my favorite wine of the evening, presenting a complex and compelling wine which paired excellently with the lamb.  Its nose was so alluring, an exotic melange of black fruits, spice and vanilla, and the taste was equally as alluring. Its velvety taste was dominated by dark spice and lush blackberry, black cherry and raspberry.  The finish was lengthy and pleasing, and the tannins were mild.  At this price point, this wine is an excellent value and easily is worth twice the price.  It gets my highest recommendation. 

The 2006 Alem Red (about $16) is a blend of Touriga Nacional and Syrah, which was aged in French and American oak for 10 months and had an alcohol content of 14.5%. This wine was very good, with an interesting nose and a delicious taste of blueberry, black cherry and plum.  It was a bigger wine than the Alente Reserva and not as spicy.  It went well with the lamb, though it might have been overshadowed by the Alente Reserva which impressed me so much.

This dinner bolstered my thoughts about Portuguese wines, presenting some excellent value wines. And of course the food was superb, though I expect no less from Chef Caturano of Prezza.  Many consumers may not be familiar with the Alentejo region, being more familiar with Port, Douro, and Dao wines.  But they should learn about Alentejo, and seek out their wines. You won't be disappointed.


Romantic Dinner said...

Very nice your recently post ....thanks

Unknown said...

I've been looking for good Portuguese food other than Providence area or New Bedford area. Anything around or in Boston. Thanks, love your blog

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks Romantic Dinner!

Yes, you can find good Portuguese food in Boston/Cambridge area too. for example, Cambridge St. in Cambridge has several Portuguese restaurants and bakery. There is also Atasca restaurant in Cambridge.