Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Wineaux, I hesitate to write about Madeira.  It is a special wine, not always easy to find, a little confusing, somewhat specialized and often exceedingly expensive. But Madeira is so amazing; there is no other wine like it.

It is a sweet wine - but not a swap-out for dessert like Sauternes might be.

It often has a steely salinity not unlike Sherry - but you won't mistake it for Sherry.

And Madeira is basically indestructible - you can leave a bottle open for years and it will never go bad.

Madeira is a fortified wine that is also subject to a heating process (which accounts for the indestructibility) made from indigenous grapes called Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malvasia, plus the workhorse grape Tinta Negra Mole, blended or alone.  Named for the island from which it comes, Madeira is made in a range of styles ranging from drier to sweeter, usually seen in association with those different grapes.

I recently sampled a number of Madeira wines that showcased the range of possibilities you can find from these wines.  Some favorites included:

The Henriques & Henriques Rainwater had a light gold color - at three years old, it was one of the babies at the tasting.  It had a nice buttery element, both in texture and somewhat in flavor, with a hint of saline.  The Rainwater designation refers to a lighter style of Madeira that is more approachable and the H&H showcased that beautifully. ~$18

My favorite offering at the Blandy's table was the Blandy's Colheita Malmsey 1994.  A light mahogany color, it showed nice elements of floral perfume on the nose in addition to more traditional notes of caramel and sweet oak.  It was rich and nicely balanced. ~$48/500ml

The star of the tasting, in my opinion, was the D'Oliveira Verhelho 1912.  Granted, most of the tasting's offerings were more common and/or recent vintages, so there were not a lot of Madeiras at this level to compare.  But I have a bottle of 1898 Blandy's Reserve Terrantez (a rare "fifth" grape) open at home which is pretty darn tasty, so I have some experience with long-aged Madeiras.  The D'Oliveira had the most incredible nose of lilac.  The florals in the mouth combined with a toasty caramel and lots of acidity.  Just a beautiful wine.  ~$400

So don't be afraid to give Madeira a try.  The lighter and less-sweet styles - Sercial and Verdelho - are lovely as an aperitif, and the sweeter styles - Boal and Malmsey - will go beautifully with dark chocolate cake.  In fact, adventurous Wineaux should have a lot of fun coming up with interesting food pairings for Madeira.  And don't let the price scare you away; a glass once a year at a special occasion will make the bottle last and last, giving you a very hedonistic bang-for-the-buck!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


About once a year on this blog, I extol the virtues of wines from Portugal.  I can't help it; they are delicious, generally quite affordable, appeal to a range of preferences and are becoming easier and easier to find.

So how come y'all don't know more about Portuguese wines?!?!

I'll tell you why: CONFUSION.  To start with, there are over 250 different grape varieties in Portugal, and these are not your typical Chardonnays and Shirazes.  Also, wines are made in regions that span the entire country without much of their own brand awareness (i.e., not "Bordeaux".)  Hence the paradox - what makes Portuguese wines so wonderful is precisely what makes them so hard to understand.

So what is a Minx to do?

Well, I will just keep chipping away, Wineaux, tantalizing you with mouthwatering descriptions and low price points.  (Eventually it'll stick!)  Ready?

If you're looking for a nice summer white, try the 2012 Aveleda Vinho Verde.  Most Vinho Verdes are a blend or made from other grapes like Loureiro but this is 100% Alvarinho (= Spain's Alvariño) and it has floral aromas with a hint of salinity and lemon curd.  In the mouth it is bright and acidic with a light melony finish.  I'm already feeling the summer sun.  ~$10

You know how I like strange wines?  I really liked the oddness of the 2009 Campolargo Arinto from Bairrada.  It's 100% Arinto (if you've even heard of that grape) but has a somewhat Chardonnay-like vibe.  The nose was full of straw, hazelnut, ripe melon, dried herbs and a nice earthiness.  In the mouth it was somewhat bitter - not a bad thing - with medium acidity but a LOOOOOOOONG balanced length.  Odd, maybe, but very intriguing.  I should try it again with grilled swordfish! ~$19

For a multi-faceted and slightly hedonistic white, try the 2011 Esporão Branco Reserva from Alentejo.  A blend of a bunch of some more grapes you've never heard of (Antão Vaz, Roupeiro & our new pal Arinto) and one you may have (Semillon), this has a nose of white flowers and butterscotch.  The mouthfeel is round, with flavors of taffy, citrus and melon, and the finish is nicely balanced with medium acidity.  I'm definitely snapping up some of this baby.  ~$15

White wines from Portugal are finally reaching a competitive level of quality, but the table reds have been knocking Wineau socks off for a while now.  Take the 2007 Quinta da Garrida Aliança Reserva from the Dão: a blend of Tinta Roriz (same as Tempranillo from Spain), Touriga Nacional with a hint of Jaen, the nose shows bright blueberry and black raspberry.  In the mouth it is light and pleasant - a great option for those who like lighter-styed red wines - with good fruit and a light structure of mild acidity and hardly any noticeable tannin.  This is elegant and complex with age-related notes of herbs and dusty cherry. ~$12

If you want a little more structure, try the 2010 Quinta do Casal Monteiro, Colheita Seleccionada DOC from Tejo.  The nose blossoms with ripe crunchy fruit - berry salad galore - and a bit of green stemminess with violet florals.  While more structured than the Aliança, it's still a light, pleasant quaffable red.  You've gotta try this, especially for ~$10.

Are you a fan of Italian wines?  The 2007 Monte da Penha Tinto Reserva has the elegant earthiness of many Italian favorites in spades.  It's a blend of Trincadeira, Aragonês, Alicante Bouschet and Moreto.  (I could just say "blah blah blah blah blah," but I do want these names to become familiar!)  With a nose of sweet oak and dark chocolate, it is dense and dark with a long, integrated, luxurious, earthy finish.  ~$18

Regular readers will know I like oddball wines and I looooove SEXY wines.  The sexiest wine of the day was hands down the 2009 Quinta do Passadouro Reserva from the Douro.  It's what is called a "field blend," meaning that the plantings are so old and unregulated that a bunch of different varieties grow and are picked and processed all a-jumble.  But they are (pretty) sure Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Sousão are in there somewhere!  This nose has candied lavender, blackberry liqueur and blueberry pie.  I could smell this baby all day.  But there's more: in the mouth, it is velvety, dense and ripe with apparent tannins and BIG fruit.  It could use some more time to age but I definitely won't turn a glass down now.  ~$14.

While Portugal is historically known for Port, its other dessert wine that you must meet is Moscatel.  I loved the 2009 Bacalhôa Moscatel de Setúbal from the Setúbal Peninsula.  Coppery orange in color, it had a nose of toasted caramel with a bit of apricot and orange peel.  In the mouth, its high acidity balanced the sweetness so it was not cloying at all, and the fruit expression was lovely.  Have it with a foie gras course or at the end of the meal with cheese, or even chocolate. ~$12

All of the above wines were handpicked by Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein for a Wines of Portugal event.  During the walk-around tasting afterwards, I sampled some other favorites, although I have had a little difficulty ensuring their availability.  They all do have importers, so some of you might come across them!

White: 2012 Quinta do Casal Monteiro, from Tejo, made from Arinto and Fernão Pires.  Herby and floral nose.  Crisp and clean for summer, herbs and lots of lemon but not overly acidic.  ~$10

Rosé: 2012 Casa Cadaval Padre Pedro, also from Tejo and a blend of Touriga Nacional, Aragonez and Merlot.  (Merlot!  You know good ol' Merlot.  Oh, but this is a rosé... so it's still confusing.)  Great floral nose, with tons of strawberry and mineral notes, very quaffable and very tasty. ~$12

Red: 2009 Duorum Reserva Old Vines João Portugal Ramos.  Sweet oak, dense and concentrated, abundant florals, tightly packed fruit, high structure, big and brassy.  ~$25

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So there you have it, the latest in my treatise championing the virtues of Portuguese wines.  Even if your local store doesn't have any of these particular wines, ask your merchant for recommendations that will suit your palate (not to mention your pocketbook.)  I look forward to hearing about your new favorites as we work to eradicate this paradox.  Cheers!