A tour of Portugal

I recently had the pleasure of sitting in on an intimate tasting featuring the wines of Portugal. I left both impressed and inspired…hence the words you read now. Portugal, while certainly not new to the wine game as any lover of Porto will attest to (myself included), has only just recently revitalized their table wine presence in the world market. Such a poignant entrance it is, as well.
Portuguese table wines have been imported to the U.S. for some time, yet their quality and character have been hit or miss for years. I vividly remember leaving tastings five or six years ago, frustrated at the wild swings between the wines. Some were an absolute revelation, while others seemed cooked and poorly balanced with stewed flavors, clumsy production and were also, unfortunately, representative of the majority. Here we are, half a decade later and my, oh my, how the wines have changed. Bottle after bottle of deftly produced, brilliantly balanced wines made their way around the table. First were the crisp, fresh whites with a clean mineral edge that seduced me immediately. These featured grapes such as Antao Vaz (a prized varietal from Alentejo), Arinto (a grape for acid-lovers to seek out immediately), Roupeiro (also called Siria and a honeyed revelation), Semillon (originally a French varietal featured primarily in white Bordeaux and Sauternes) and Verdelho (the primary grape of Madeira and absolute lemony goodness). These were so exciting and such unique wines that I found myself in full wine geek mode in a matter of minutes. Working with wine professionally tends to lead to palate fatigue and the desire, nay desperate demand, for a truly unique wine experience. Thank you Portugal, you have tempered my desperation and fed my demand. If there was one piece of advice I would offer to the Portuguese concerning their whites, it would be to leave the Semillon to the French. One of the finest qualities these wines possess is their nervy, juicy acidity and distinctive flavor profiles. Why detract from such identity by

blending with a French grape that, in all honesty did very little, if anything, to improve the wines? Stay strong, Portugal… Semillon isn’t for you, just as your indigenous varietals aren’t for the French. Then the carousel of reds came around and my excitement, seduction and wine-geeking reached new, blissful heights. These wines were…in a word, sexy. Not sexy in an easy, voluptuous, promiscuous, take-me-now sort of way (think Chateauneuf, Zinfandel, Syrah). No, these are thought-provoking, insightful, sexy-librarian, naughty-paralegal type wines. You have to put in a bit of effort and will soon come to appreciate far more than what is laid out before you at your first taste. They were exquisite and just my type. The grapes featured were Moreto (typically a blending grape), Castelao (aka Periquita, intense with berry and floral notes), Trincadeira (aka Tinta Amerela, tricky to grow, but when done right produces wonderful herbaceous notes with darker tea complements), Touriga Nacional (a commonly used grape to make Porto), Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Franca (a lighter, more perfumed Porto grape), Alicante Bouschet (a grape of French origin, producing a deep, spice laden, rich experience) and blends that included familiar grapes such as Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Ironically, my favorite of the reds was the clean varietal Alicante Bouschet, part of a clean varietal line by Esporao. It was…transcendental. It was…inspiring. It was…a damned French grape. I’m nothing if not contradictory, it seems. Esporao, as a producer, stole the show a bit with wines of distinction, class and a deftly balanced acidity that were irresistible. I came back for seconds and thirds…and I believe a fourth in the case of the Alicante Bouschet.

Overall, it was a brilliant day for this lowly scribe. Inspiration, true inspiration, is so rarely afforded me by my overworked or merely lazy Muse… that I tend to revel a bit when she indulges me. So, forgive me for waxing poetic, but I believe these wines, and the Portuguese specifically, deserve it. Bravo. Encore? My glass is depressingly empty… -J.S. Izzo