Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Esporão and Murças: Wines Spawned By Love

I have heard a clarion call for the wines of Portugal, those intriguing wines which seduce with their tantalizing aromas and flavors. Will you heed that call as well?

I am a proud lover of Portuguese wines, and have praised their merits many times here. They have some of the best value wines, especially considering wines under $10. They often possess a unique and exotic aroma and taste which excites and pleases my senses. Yet they still are under appreciated and not enough people consider them when they visit a wine store or order a wine at a restaurant. That needs to change.

Last week, I was invited to a Portuguese wine dinner, hosted by Herdade do Esporão at Harvest restaurant in Harvard Square. This past June, I had attended another wine dinner with Esporão in New York City, and it was a superb event with some excellent wines. So, I was very interested in the Harvest dinner, hoping to try some of Esporão's other wines. In addition, David Baverstock, the Technical Director and Wine Maker for Esporão, was going to be present so it would be nice to meet and chat with him too. The Harvest dinner turned out to be a fun and delicious event, with plenty of tasty food and fine Portuguese wines.

The evening began with a patio reception, where we sipped 2010 Herdade do Esporão Duas Castas ($12.99). This white wine is a blend of Gouveio and Verdelho, two grapes which once were thought to be the same. "Duas" means "two" and "Castas" means "grape varietals," so the name has a clear meaning, and they also produce a Quatro ("four") Castas blend.  The Duas Castas had an alluring nose, and a delicious taste of melon, tangerine, and pear fruit with a mineral backbone. An easy-drinking wine, this should be very consumer friendly, though it is not yet available in Massachusetts but will be in the near future. This would be a very good wine with seafood, from scallops to haddock. We enjoyed this wine with mini Maine Crab Cakes with a cherry tomato gremolata & herb aioli.

During the reception, I got to chat a little bit with David Baverstock. He was born in Adelaide, in South Australia, and has spent the last twenty years at Esporão. So what brought David to settle in Portugal? Love. While on holiday in Portugal, he met a woman, a Portuguese native, who would eventually become his wife. Though he returned to Australia, his wife missed Portugal and David eventually decided to return there to settle. So it can be said that the wines of Esporão and Murças over the last twenty years were spawned by love. David was very personable, down to earth and knowledgeable about wine. His passion was also very evident.

Our first course was Matsutake Mushroom with quail egg, arugula & quince vinegar, a dish of mixed textures and tastes, with a nice earthiness from the mushrooms. Two wines were paired with it, the 2009 Esporão Reserva White (which I previously reviewed) and the 2008 Esporão Reserva Red ($24.99). This red was a blend of Aragones, Trincadeira, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Alicante Bouschet and has a beautiful nose of floral perfume and black cherry. On the palate, there was plenty of black fruit flavors, from black cherry to plum, some minor spices notes and a floral backbone. Quite a delicious wine with plenty of Portuguese character.

The next course was Seared Atlantic Halibut with olive breadcrumb crust, creamy polenta, Sicilian style eggplant & crispy artichoke. This was a superb piece of fish, flaky, moist and very flavorful. The polenta was also creamy and rich. One of the two wines paired with this dish was the 2009 Private Selection White ($24.99), a Rhône style blend of Semillon, Marsanne, and Roussanne. Though this was a tasty wine, and I do enjoy these grapes, I am generally not a big fan of Portuguese wines using such international grapes. I much prefer the use of Portuguese varietals, which give a distinctive character to the wines. If I had tasted this wine blind, I would never have suspected this was a Portuguese wine.

The second pairing was the 2007 Private Selection Red ($60) a blend of Alicante Bouschet and Aragones. This is a silky, smooth wine with an intriguing taste of black fruit, smoke and spice. It is a high quality wine, albeit at a high price, though it is not overpriced for what it delivers. As the tannins were well integrated, the wine did not over power the fish and actually was a good pairing.

The third course was amazing, a Duo of Heritage Pork, braised cheeks and belly, with violet mustard & butternut squash puree. Both the cheeks and belly were very moist tender, with compelling flavors, and were cooked just perfectly. The silky fat in the belly, the meaty cheeks, just sublime. The two wines, from Quinta dos Murças, with this course were both excellent values, despite the price difference between them.

The 2009 Assobio ($12.99), a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Tinta Franca, was an easy drinking, delicious wine with bright red fruit flavors and a bit of exotic spice. A fine example of the low-priced value wines that you will find in Portugal. This would be a perfect every day wine, fine with everything from pizza to burgers. In many other countries, a wine of this quality would probably cost you $20 or more.

The final wine of the evening was the phenomenal 2008 Quinta dos Murças Reserva ($39.99), which I previously reviewed and was my favorite wine of the NYC dinner. Well, it was once again my favorite wine of the evening, and I still believe it is a very good value at this price. This wine delivers on every level, and exemplifies for me some of the best that Portugal has to offer.

Esporão and Murças are producing some excellent wines, including a number of good value wines. This is reflective of many other Portuguese wineries and I strongly encourage all wine lovers to explore the wines of this compelling Iberian country. They are often wines of strong character, showcasing a unique Portuguese profile. They are also very food friendly wines, and pair well with a variety of cuisines.

So get up, go to your local wine store and try a few Portuguese wines.


Daniel J ONeill said...

Hey, this is Danny O'Neill from Brookline Liquor Mart. The Herdade do Esporão Duas Castas arrived at the shop today so I took home a bottle and I am currently enjoying it. I did a quick google search and it brought me here. Very cool!

Richard Auffrey said...

Great to know it is finally available, and that you are carrying it. Happy holidays.