By Tom Marquardt and Patrick Darr
Each of us has been to Portugal, a beautiful country whose wines are undiscovered by far too many people. One thing we learned while there is that the wine industry it is not just about port.
Portugal is making some incredible wines from indigenous grape varieties that may not be familiar to most wine enthusiasts. Many producers are blending Bordeaux grape varieties with 250 local grapes. The result is often stunning.
Over the last couple of years, we have sampled refreshing white and delicious red wines from several regions, including Alentejo, Dao, Vinho Verde and Douro. The variety of micro-climates and soils give these wines the diversity necessary to favor every palate.
These wines are vastly underpriced. The wines from Dao, for instance, have a lot of power for the money.
Recently, there has been a renewed interest in the ancient grape varieties, such as arinto, trincadeira and vinhao.
Here are a few gems we recently discovered:
Chao Dos Eremitas Tinta Carvalha Alentejano 2020 ($36). With 100 percent of tinta carvalha grapes, this unique wine has fresh dark fruit character and a long finish.
Adega de Portalegre Conventual Reserva 2019 ($12). Arinto, fernao pires, roupeiro and bical comprise this refreshing white wine. Peach, citrus and some tropical fruit flavors give this wine wide dimension.
Esporao Colheita 2018 ($18). This simple, medium-bodied blend consists of alicante bouschet, touriga nacional, cabernet sauvignon, aragonez, and touriga franca. The grapes here are organically farmed and we appreciate that the producer has gone to a lighter, more environmentally conscious bottle. Expect ripe red fruit character with a dash of spice.
Torre de Palma Arinto and Alvarinho 2021 ($40). This is one of the best white wines from this region that we have tasted in a long time. Arinto adds acidity and flavors of apple and mineral to the lush texture and pineapple notes of alvarinho.
Adega de Redondo Porta da Ravessa Special Edition White 2020 ($15). Made in stainless-steel tanks and relatively low in alcohol, this crisp white wine is perfect for summer sipping. It has citrus and stone-fruit flavors. Made from verdehlo, arinto and antao vaz grapes.
Rocim Mariana White 2020 ($13). The indigenous antao vaz, arinto and alvarinho grapes go into this simple and bright white wine with tropical fruit notes and good minerality.
Quinta Da Fonte Souto Red Portalegre Alentejo 2018 ($26). This is the first property owned by the Symington Family of Dow and Graham port fame outside of the Douro region. The dry red wine is crafted from 40 percent syrah and 30 percent alicante bouschet grapes with the balance from local indigenous grapes. This is an amazingly good red blend featuring berry and cherry elements with a subtle wood presence.
Quinta Da Fonte Souto Branco Portalegre 2020 ($26). This white version is a blend of 75 percent arinto and 25 percent verdelho. It is very expressive and concentrated, thanks to a 60 percent dose of oak-barrel fermentation and seven months of oak aging. Peach, pineapple and mineral notes. Very delicious.
Quinta do Ameal Loureiro 2021 ($18). From the Lima Valley of Portugual, this wine made from loureiro grapes is a pleasant surprise for those looking for something different in white wine. Citrus and stone fruit notes with crisp acidity and low alcohol.
Quinta Da Fonte Souto Portalegre Bianco Alentejo 2020 ($26). A big, bold white wine from the Alentejo region of Portugal. Barrel fermentation as well as aging in new and old French and European barrels has resulted in a honey, floral, peach experience in the glass. Very rich harmonious and smooth, an outstanding white wine.
Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port 2007 ($80). Purchased by the Symington family in 1989 this producer continues to over-achieve. A blend of 55 percent touriga nacional, and 45 percent touriga franca this vintage port is in a good place to try. Still sporting fresh fruit notes of plum and cherry with a hint of licorice. A wonderful port.
Wine consumption in America hovers around 3 gallons per person. However, port wine is only about one half of one percent of total domestic wine imbibed.
Port producers have embarked on a campaign with bartenders to incorporate port in the vibrant cocktail scene with some success. A recent tasting of Cockburn’s mid-level offerings revealed two surprises. The first was a very non-traditional labeling.
Historically port houses label their offerings with traditional “information only” labels that seldom depart from the oft-used model reminding one of the phrase “name, rank and serial number.” Featuring a bright multi-colored circus poster like label, these wines are branded as “Tails Of The Unexpected” and described as experimental. According to Cockburn’s, the ports use the same quality grapes that are utilized in their more premium brands.
Second, each bottling features a recommended cocktail use on the rear label, something we have never noted on other port labels.
We tasted the three Cockburn’s offerings staring with the Cockburn’s Tails Of The
Unexpected White Heights White Port N/V ($35). We first experienced white port in Portugal several years ago where it was served in a cocktail called “port/tonic.” Traditionally the drink is one-third white port and two-thirds tonic with a slice of lemon. However, white port can stand on its own as evidenced by the Cockburn’ version. Served chilled, this delightful, fortified wine presented floral, nectarine and citrus note with a smooth creamy finish. Not overly sweet.
The Cockburn’s Tails Of The Unexpected Tawny Eyes ($32) is Cockburn’s expression of a tawny port and showed well with just a hint of the tawny color from extended barreling. Cherry, orange and vanilla notes were noted.
Our favorite of the three was Cockburn’s Tails Of The Unexpected Ruby Soho Ruby Port N/V ($32). The wine showed a very deep dark almost opaque red color. A very young port, this wine exhibited lovely aromas and flavors of cherry, plum, caramel and a hint of chocolate.
Chappellet Apple Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2021 ($60). Part of the producer’s “growers collection” series, this pinot noir has Chappellet’s stamp of quality. Balanced, concentrated, long in the finish. Bright cherry and pomegranate notes with a dash of clove and coffee.
Bodega Beronia Rueda 2020 ($14). You would be hard pressed to find a more refreshing white wine for the price than this Spanish verdejo. Its flavors are unique from sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, common to U.S. palates, which makes this wine so much fun. Using both stainless steel and cement containers for fermentation, the producer combines body with pure-fruit character. Citrus, white peach and herb notes with a dash of fennel.