Portugal ain't just for Port anymore.
Portugese table wines are becoming more familiar to Americans, but I say not nearly fast enough! Yes, the grapes are impossible to pronounce, and there are 250 of them, and you're having enough fun drinking through France and Australia and the US so this is majorly uncharted territory for most of you.
Two words: FLAVOR and VALUE.
You should have gotten that from the title, but it really bears repeating. There is a little something for every palate from this country as well - refreshing whites, tangy rosés, bold reds, and most of these wines are generally available under $20.
First of all, like our dear friend Italy, wine is made from top to tail in this country. The three major styles of climate all come into play - the Atlantic Ocean is a big influence in the North (cool winds and lots of rain), from the East there's the Continental clime (big temperature swings from day to night and low to moderate rain) and in the South we have textbook Mediterranean - hot, dry summers and mild winters. So as the conditions for growing grapes vary, so do the grapes that grow vary!
|Slightly fuzzy map of Portugal - which is "hugged" by Spain, if you remember Elementary School Geography.|
ALVARINHO: yes, the same as Albariño from Spain! - also similar to dry Riesling or Pinot Gris/Grigio with some oomph.
ARINTO: also like dry Riesling, as well as Pinot Blanc or dry Chenin Blanc.
ENCRUZADO: close to Chardonnay à la Burgundy, or Vermentino.
FERNÃO PIRES: more aromatic, straw and herby like Rousanne, Viognier, Torrontés.
LOUREIRO: super light and refreshing like Grüner Veltliner and Pinot Blanc.
BAGA: acidic and earthy like Nebbiolo or some Pinot Noirs.
CASTELÃO: meaty and intense like Cabernet Franc or Rioja's Tempranillo.
TINTA RORIZ: the same as Spain's Tempranillo, a grape of many names.
TOURIGA FRANCA: primarily blending grape, mostly like Malbec or Merlot.
TOURIGA NACIONAL: also good to blend, but on its own like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah.
See what I mean about the array?! In addition, most of these grapes are blended together per the winemaker's desire, so it is less common to find a 100% varietal wine. Often, international varieties like Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are also introduced into the blend.
Due to the multiple diverse and hard-to-pronounce region names, and indigenous grape varieties and their blends, it's hard to categorize these wines simply and you may have to just trust your local wine retailer or sommelier for recommendations. But for a jumping-off point, here are some tasting notes!
OS BRANCOS (the whites):2011 Aveleda Alvarinho Vinho Regional Minho: Concentrated but crisp, warm melon, minerality. Nice acidity, hint of shpritz, flavorful and supremely quaffable. 100% Alvarinho. ~$12
2011 J. Portugal Ramos Vinhos Loios: Green and grassy but nice yellow apple and melon with good acidity. ~$9
2011 Cortes de Cima Chaminé White: Bit of baked apple, grass, florals, integrated acidity, oak. Chardonnay lovers must try this for ~$9
2010 Herdade da Comporta White: Very aromatic. Not too acidic, great round peach notes. I would recommend this to a LOT of my clients who want a light but not overly acidic white with character. ~$12
ROSA (rosé):2011 Heredade do Esporão, Defesa Rosé: Neon pinky! Minerality, berries, bit of meatiness. A lot of depth of flavor. Just fantastic! I could drink this all day. ~$13 [NB: I went out and bought 4 bottles the next day and have already finished one! Yum.]
OS TINTOS (the reds):2009 José Maria da Fonseca Perequita, Vinho Regional Peninsula de Setúbal: Tight blueberry and cherry notes. Pretty dense but lighter in style, good summer red. Good acidity, hint of tannin. Widely available. Fantastic value. ~$9
2007 Herdade da Comporta Red: Lots of lavender! Light but very sexy. Aromatics draw you back again and again. ~$16
2008 Parus Vinho Regional Peninsula de Setúbal: Minerality, tart berries. Super dense! Incredible purity of fruit. Velvety licorice. Mouth-painting tannins but they're integrated. Powerful but not flashy. Wow. A little pricier but worth it. ~$35
2009 Cortes de Cima Red: Dark fruits, good integrated tannins, rich and full but velvety. Very nice - needs food! Unbelievable value at ~$9
2009 Wine & Soul Pintas: The exception to the rule, this wine is quite expensive. BUT within reason - it's a field blend (meaning the many indigenous grapes have been growing all together for decades) from a single vineyard of 80-year old vines with a tiny production. WOW. Knockout. Layers upon layers of fruit. Tannic but beautifully balanced. Velvety. Sophisticated. Amazing. ~$95
PARA SOBREMESA (for dessert):2005 Bacalhôa Moscatel de Setúbal: This fortified dessert-style wine is orangey-brown with notes of caramelized apricots, nutmeg, orange peel and typical Muscat (= Moscatel = Moscato) "grapey" aroma. OH YEAH. YUM. Decent acidity. Unusual to age Moscatel in barrel, but it adds character. ~$NA
2006 Dow's Late Bottled Vintage Porto: The focus here has been primarily on table wines, but LBV ports are really fantastic values. Eucalyptus, moss, licorice, dark fruits. Smooth and very approachable. Doesn't overwhelm, although it is higher in alcohol due to fortification. ~$20
Wineaux, get yourselves immediately to the Portugal section of your wine shop or wine bar menu. Even with the complexity of offerings, you can afford to try a number of different wines on the way to discovering something you will truly love! And your wallet will thank you.