Letting loose wine lovers in a tasting of the size of the New York Wine Expo is like putting a child in the middle of a candy store. It can get ugly. With exactly 760 wines from nearly 200 wineries from around the world, the three-day 4th Annual New York Wine Expo at the Javits Center was packed with folks hungry (thirsty really) for new wine discoveries.
My modus operandi for the day was to get through as many Portuguese wines on the floor as possible. There were about 40 tables in the Wines of Portugal section alone, so I had to pace myself. I also decided to skip over some of the wines I’m quite familiar with—and in many cases love—like Aveleda, Ciconia, Esporao, Defesa and Fado. I couldn’t, however, pass up on Graham’s 20-year-old Tawny Port. It was delicious with subtle notes of butterscotch and nuttiness. Mostly recognized precisely for these types of mouthwatering Port wines, Portugal’s still often undiscovered table wines are ever more exciting to me. The names of the grapes are unusual, hard to figure out, some are synonyms for others, they offer new flavor notes and are full of history—even if this old wine producing country is perceived by some to be an “up and coming” wine region. The truth is that there’s always been good wine in Portugal, but it’s gotten even better and more readily available in the recent past. The trade association viniportugal reports that as of November 2010 exports of Portuguese table wines increased by 30.2% in value and 12.4% in volume from 2009. A big contributor I’m sure has been—finally—a more robust marketing strategy. Hallelujah!
The new wines I discovered at the NY Expo were top notch, but sadly not all are distributed in the U.S. Hopefully their presence at the NY Expo will change that for them (and for consumers like me and you). There was the Lisbon region DFJ wines that included a bottle of Pinot Noir blended with the Portuguese grape Alfrocheiro, which gave it a boost of fruitiness resulting in similarities to the popular single variety (and often expensive) fruit-forward Pinot Noirs from Oregon state. The most delightful surprise of the afternoon was the Douro region Vinhas Da Ciderma whose wines were being poured by its engaging winemaker and owner Monica Figueiredo. These wines, among many other’s left a lasting impression on my palate.
What follows are a handful of Portuguese wines that I would love to get my hands on and pair with a few choice recipes this spring and summer:
In addition to the Pinot Noir and Alfrocheiro blend mentioned above, DFJ had an entire line up of excellent wines, including a 2008 white Alvarinho and Chardonnay un-oaked blend that had body but enough crispness and acidity that both white and red wine drinkers alike would certainly enjoy. I’d love to pair it with herby roasted Cornish hens (slightly cooled) topped with capers. For me, if a wine can evoke a food pairing on the spot, it’s a winner. Naturally, there are those wines that need no food, but as a passionate cook, that’s generally what makes my light bulb go off. From DFJ’s wide-range of reds, I also enjoyed a 2008 full-bodied Caladoc and Alicante Bouschet blend with hints of spice ideal for drinking with a steak hot off the grill covered in generous amounts of freshly cracked black pepper. Great was also their 2007 Grand ’Arte special selection bottle that left a velvety smokiness lingering in my mouth. (No U.S. distributor to date)
Roasted Cornish Hens
Monica Figueiredo’s selections of wines are inspiring. Both the 2009 Donzel Colheita and the Reserva with blends of Codega do Larinho, Malvasia Fina and Rabigato are light, but show a round, lush mouthful. They’re refreshing yet remind me of a fluffy zest-infused cake, likely attributable to Malvasia Fina’s traces of molasses and nutmeg with the refreshing citrus of the Rabigato. The Colheita is lighter than the Reserva, which uses the same grapes but that were picked a week later, adding more body. Then there are the reds. My favorite, the Donzel Reserva Tinto 2005, is a delicate wine at first but quickly reveals complex notes of honey, fig jam and vanilla. The wine is fermented in open-air granite press tanks and made using the foot treading method of old. This red would be a hit with dark fowl, like roasted duck, squab or quail. I usually make my duck similar to the Cornish hens, but without the capers and add lots of shallots and marinade overnight. Plus, I add a cup of Moscatel, which has hints of fig and raisin and would really open up the jammy notes in the Donzel red. Let the duck roast for an hour covered in foil at about 375/400 degrees, then let roast for another hour uncovered. (No U.S. distributor to date) Photo by Paulo Nolasco
Made with the Dão restricted Encruzado grape, Quinta do Mondego’s Munda’s use of the varietal results in a refreshing and mineral wine that is perfect for the warmer days ahead of us with or without food. It’s a cooling, crisp wine that’s not overpowered by acidity. The Rosados Tinto wine, a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro, Jaen (also known as Mencia in Spain) and Baga, is as complex as it sounds. It’s a wine that would likely pair well with a variety of meats, especially pork and turkey. For a deeper red, the 2008 Munda Touriga Nacional is chocolaty and smoky, and though a bit too dry at first, I could tell it would open up beautifully if decanted or left sitting in the glass for a little longer. Find Munda wines, not these unfortunately, but others at Tewksbury Fine Wine, Oldwick, NJ.
One of the varietals I always find myself defending is Trincadeira, which is commonly found in Alentejo and Terras do Sado wines. It generally creates a medium red with hints of freshly dug wet soil, herbs, olives and dried prunes. I like to say it tastes of Portuguese terroir, and is one of the oldest and most widely planted varietals in the Alentejo. When used in a blend like the Alentejo Roquevale Redondo that combines Aragonez (Tempranillo in Spain), Castelao and Moreto (also an Alentejo grape used for blending) it’s less noticeable amid the ripe fruit and spiciness but it comes through adding a balanced dryness and marking its territory to remind us where the wine we’re drinking is from. I would pair this with one of the 1,000 cod fish recipes Portugal has to offer (stay tuned for my next article featuring a few of these recipes). It’s also a good wine to pair with soft cheeses, like a Serra da Estrela, which can be found in New Jersey at The Cheese Store Hoboken; other cheeses not so readily available in the U.S. are the Amarelo da Beira Baixa and Azeitao cheese. Find Roquevale wines, not these specifically, at Planet of the Wine Linden, NJ; Cellar, Washington D.C.; Primo Vino, Denver, CO.
Encosta Longa’s reds and whites are elegant and an ideal example of the quality wines the country can produce. A more commonly known region for reds, Douro whites had remained relatively undiscovered to me until recently. The Encosta Longa un-oaked, a blend of Malvasia Fina, Rabigato and Siria (synonymous with Codega do Larinho), is refreshing with loads of minerality and hints of eucalyptus. The more full-bodied Encosta Longa oaked (for four months) mixing Malvasia Fina, Siria and Fernao Pires would be delightful with roasted red snapper topped with lots of red peppers. This producer’s 2004 Encosta Longa red, a blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Barroca, is everything I expect a full-bodied red to be. It filled my mouth with smoothness, just enough spice and ripe fruit, refreshed by a very light acidity and well-balanced tannins. (No U.S. distributor to date) Photo by Paulo Nolasco
Roasted Snapper with Red Peppers
This producer’s wine, which is named exactly for its Douro region grape called Bastardo, has on its label the face of a young boy who has neither nose nor mouth and two large black holes for eyes. It’s a serious kind of playful, if you will. For lovers of the Gamay grape used to make Beaujolais, this is a wine for you. Though I’m not a fan of Beaujolais, I do think it has its place and can be a paired with foods that often go well with a dry rose, like shrimp or scallops sauté in butter, white wine, black pepper and parsley, and accompanied with olives and presunto (cured ham). Borrowing from the producers own name “Conceito,” which translates to “Concept,” I would say it’s definitely a different concept compared to the Portuguese wine I’m accustomed to. Do I like it? I’m not sure yet. But I do keep giving Beaujolais a chance, so why not Bastardo. Find it at Vindeterra, Springfield, VA.
Like the lighthearted inviting colors on its bottles, the wines from Quinta de Gomariz are full of vibrant flavors. It’s made in the northern-most tip of the country, Minho, where Portugal’s Vinho Verde’s source from. The single varietal bottles of Loureiro and Espadeiro were vibrant and inviting, an emblematic trait of Vinho Verde, but at the same time, showed a surprising amount of body and structure. The Loureiro’s floral, yet grassy and zesty, bouquet with hints of peach makes this wine a gorgeous pairing for shrimp or crab cocktail and salads this summer instead of your usual Sauvignon Blanc. A bit more robust, and a perfect pairing for ripe beefsteak tomatoes drenched in olive oil, coarse salt, black pepper and fresh basil, is their Vinho Verde Rose that has a well-balanced mix of sweet and tart berry flavors. Find the Loureiro at Flickinger Wines Chicago, IL; Loureiro and Espadeiro at PR Grisley, UT and PA.
I truly hope you can get your hands on some of these bottles, potentially experimenting with either some of the recipes listed above or some of your very own. I’ll be scavenging retail shops far and wide in search of these wines, and will share any updates on my findings. Please do the same!
Note: Mark your calendars! Wines of Portugal will be showcasing more wines during its New York City Grand Tasting on April 4 (RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org) and its San Francisco Grand Tasting (RSVP: www.winecouch.com/rsvp) on April 6.
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