Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Enjoying Portuguese Wines at Meritage

As I have said repeatedly, Portugal has some of the best wine values in the world. I recommend their wines all the time, and those who take a chance on those wines usually love them. At a recent luncheon held at Meritage, Chef Daniel Bruce's wine-centric restaurant at the Boston Harbor Hotel, I found even more value Portuguese wines, including a killer dessert wine at an unbelievable price. If Portugal is not on your wine radar, then you are depriving yourself of some delicious, value wines.

The luncheon was put on by Full Circle Wine Solutions and Master Sommelier Keith Goldston discussed the wines we tasted, as well as Portuguese wines in general, during the course of the afternoon. Keith mentioned that the greatest strengths of Portuguese wines are their diversity, acidity, earthiness and the fact that they pair very well with food. I would essentially agree with him on these points, though I would add that they often are excellent values too.

For Keith, the biggest problem for Portugal is the lack of organized distribution. They do not have a plan for U.S. distribution, and often rely on friends or happenstance to find an importer. Instead, they need to made a concerted effort to target the best potential markets, to make more of their wines available where they best would be appreciated.

Keith also provided us some of his generalizations about the different grapes and wine regions of Portugal. He feels that the wines of Castelao are similar to Merlot and Zweigelt style, easy drinking, middle of the road wines. The wines of Lisboa are more easy drinking while the those of Alentejo are more modern, with strong oak use. The wines of the Dao are more similar to the wines of northern Rhone or Burgundy while the Douro wines are more similar to those of Priorat. As an interesting aside, he also mentioned how people in Portugal often omit the last syllable of many words. For example, they pronounce "Vinho Verde" as "Vinho Verd."

The luncheon began with a brief reception, a glass of the 2012 Adega Cooperativa de Ponte de Lima Colheita Loureiro Seleccionada, Vinho Verde ($8). This wine was made from the Loureiro grape and presents with a crisp, clean citrus taste and a bit of frizzante. Lemon is most predominant on the palate and it makes for an excellent summer wine, especially at this price. It is refreshing, an easy drinker not a complex thinker.

Keith stated that the Portuguese generally don't respect their white wines, and don't drink them much either. He also indicated that in the Vinho Verde region, about 40% of their production is for red Vinho Verde, which is a rarity locally. The red version is inky dark, tannic and is very tart and sour on the palate, like a sour Japanese plum. Rosé Vinho Verde is also produced and I have seen a couple locally over the years. I want to find a red Vinho Verde though.

Our first course was a Pan Roasted Line Caught Cod Loin with black olive tapenade and zucchini olive oil puree. A fine piece of flaky white fish, I actually enjoyed the puree too, though I am not usually a zucchini lover. The puree complemented the fish, adding some more subtle flavors.

With this course, we tasted three more Portuguese whites, and my clear favorite was the 2011 Quinta da Romeira Arinto, Lisboa ($11). Made from 100% Arinto and matured for a month on the lees, this is another superb value. It has a more subtle citrus aroma with a complex melange of flavors, lemon, apple, orange peel, minerality, and subtle herbs on the finish. It was crisp and dry, clean and fresh, with plenty of character. An excellent food wine, I recommend stocking up on this wine for the summer, and keeping some aside for the rest of the year too.

The second course was Char Seared Yellow Fin Tuna with wild mushrooms, fresh garbanzos, melted leeks and a red wine butter. Silky tuna with a compelling and light butter sauce, it was a good choice for our first round of red wines.

Of this flight, I had two favorites. The 2008 Quinta de Lemos 'Dona Georgina', Dão ($45) currently does not have an importer into the U.S. It is a blend of 80% Touriga Nacional and 20% Tinta Roriz and spends about 18 months aging in French oak. It has a dark red color with an alluring nose that beckons to you for a taste. On the palate, it is a full bodied wine, with moderate tannins, and a meaty taste, with ripe plum and blackberry flavors, accented by subtle spice notes. Complex and with a lengthy, pleasing finish, it is a high quality Portuguese wine.

The 2010 Luis Pato Vinhas VelhasBarraida ($25) is made from the Baga grape, which often can be overly tannic. Not the case with this wine, which was aged in used oak for about 12 months. With a medium red color and a deep fruity aroma, the wine offers an intriguing and complex palate of red and black fruits, herbs and mild spice. It is a wine that best goes with meaty dishes, though the tannins are well integrated. Would be excellent this summer with grilled meats.

Our final savory course, my favorite of the lunch, was a Tomato Braised Kurobata Pork Belly with white beans, spinach and sundried tomatoes. Melt in your mouth tender, the flavorful and meaty pork belly was fantastic, and another excellent accompaniment to the red wines to come.

Two of the three wines in this flight impressed me. My favorite red wine of the luncheon was the 2009 Mouchao 'Dom Rafael' Tinto, Alentejo ($14), a blend of 40% Alicante Bouschet, 40% Trincadeira and 20% Aragonez. The grapes are trod by foot and the wines is aged in large oak barrels for about 24 months, with an additional 6 months in the bottle. Dark red, this wine had an exotic and exciting palate of black fruits, earthiness, and spice. Moderate tannins, a lengthy finish and plenty of character. An excellent value and highly recommended. You are probably going to see this wine on my end of the year Favorites list.

The 2010 Sogevinus 'Veedha', Douro ($12), made from a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Roriz, is another very good value. Fruit forward, it still possess some depth with underlying spice and chocolate notes. A good choice for pizza, burgers, or BBQ.

For dessert, we enjoyed a Mini White Peach & Ginger Pie, with nice, tender peach pieces topped by a crumbly topping with mild ginger notes.

We enjoyed a killer dessert wine with this course, the 2005 Bacalhoa Moscatel de Setubal, Peninsula de Setubal ($12/750ml). Made from 100% Moscatel de Setubal, this is a fortified wine with a 17.5% alcohol content that was aged for three years in small, used oak barrels. A rich, golden amber in color, the nose was compelling, and on the palate I found notes of apricot, dried fruit, honey, and herbs. A well balanced wine, the acidity ensured the sweetness was under control and its full-bodied flavors lingered long on the finish. Plenty of complexity and depth at this low price point make this an amazing value. Highly recommended.

Get on the Portuguese wine wagon now!


Penny said...

What timing, I just finished a newspaper column on low alcohol wines for summer and told my readers to look for Portuguese wines.

You might enjoy the Portuguese wines that Andrew Bishop, owner of Oz Wine Company in Haverhill, MA has been bringing in. I've become a fan of winemaker Filipa Pato.

Todd - VT Wine Media said...

Just a few nights ago I pulled a bottle from our budget basement project. A 2004 Avaleda Charamba that was about $7 when I bought it. Showing nice maturity and still some real freshness, I definitely advocate lining the cellar with inexpensive but well made Portuguese reds..

Jim Rhodes said...

It's nice to read this article over here. I will get some Portuguese wine later. Your recommendations will definitely help me.