Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard: Wines of Portugal now closer to homeBy JIM BEAUREGARD October 17. 2017 11:57PM
I like Portuguese wines. The thing is, they’re oftentimes only sold where there is a large Portuguese community. One place I could get it easily was back in southeastern Massachusetts, where I grew up. When I go down to visit my mom, if I go to a local shop, I can usually find an entire row of Portuguese wines.
I have been pleased lately, though, to see a Portuguese wine section in our own state liquor store. This is a good thing, because Portuguese wines are often relatively low-priced, and you can find a fine quality wine for $10 or very close to it.
That led me to think that I should say a word about Portugal, and try one of these wines with you.
Portugal’s fame in the wine world is often credited to the fact that it produces huge amounts of wine corks. The country has long had a substantial wine industry, and to put a little bit of history in here, since the financial crisis of 2008, there is been more focus on exporting wines from Portugal.
There are quite a few distinct wine regions in the country. One of the most famous is Duoro/Porto, but there are also Vinho Verde, Trás-os-Montes, Dão, Bairrada, Tejo, Alentejo and many others. Of course, the island of Madeira has long been a wine producing region as well.
Portugal’s winemaking history is documented all the way back to the 12th century. In the last quarter of the 1800s, Portugal was hit by the phylloxera epidemic that wiped out many of the vines of Europe. Portugal joined the European Union only in 1986, which brought support for its winemaking industries. (Great Britain are you paying attention here?)
Geographically, Portugal borders the western edge of Spain on one side, and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Because of this, there are regions that clearly get the calming benefits of the Atlantic, while other regions face the same heat that is warming southwestern Spain. Average annual temperatures can range from 50°F to the north to 95°F in the south of the country. (I think I would settle in the north if I were going to live there.)
One of the most interesting things about Portuguese winemaking is that the country was for a long time pretty isolated, and so there are a lot of indigenous varieties of Portuguese grapes not found elsewhere. So you’ll see both some familiar and great names like Tempranillo, but also Baga, Trincadeira, and Alicante Bouschet. Those of you who are on the century quest, to taste a hundred different grapes, would do well to spend some time on Portuguese wines.
“Vinho” is the Portuguese word for wine. The Vinho Verde (which means green wine) region, which is giving us the white wine we are trying today, is located in northern Portugal, and includes the cities of Barcelos, Braga and Guimarães-Oporto. It is a well-watered region, being right on the Atlantic, and the soil is fairly fertile.
The wines of Vinho Verde are famously light and refreshing. Historically, these white wines were fermented in open stone vats, and then held in casks for a secondary malolactic conversion, giving the wine a bit of bubble. The whites of this region as a whole tend to be just a little bit sweet, effervescent at times, and non-vintage, historically sold young for early drinking. That’s one factor which allows the wines to have lower prices — they’re not stored for a huge amount of time prior to release. At the beginning of this decade the Vinho Verde region had about 51,000 acres of land under vines.
That’s enough about the land. Now let’s take a look at a wine from the region: Broadbent Vinho Verde DOC (Denominação de Origen Controlada), Portugal, $10.99, 9% alcohol by volume.
Despite the fact that this one comes from a country famous for making corks, this one is under screwcap. Its effervescence rises to the surface in the bottle as soon as you unscrew the cap, and the bubbles are present in the glass. This is a white wine, pale with hints of gold. There are bubbles across the bottom of the glass. It is bright and clear.
The nose is clean and of medium intensity, where green fruit and stone fruit predominate, bringing aromas of apple, pear, a grapiness, and a bit of stone fruit, and the general direction of peach, though this is clearly in the background.
On the palate, it is off-dry, with just the tiniest hint of sweetness to it (certainly not what you might call a sweet wine, just a little bit there in the background). Medium-minus acidity, low tannin, well-balanced alcohol. This is in the ballpark of a good Riesling at 9 percent, with medium-plus flavor intensity emerging from the medium body, including apple, pear, some citrus notes and a bit of stone fruit.
A very good everyday drinking wine at a very good price. I would say it’s worth more than the $11 the state stores are currently charging for it, but under no circumstances should you tell them I said that. The finish is pleasing and only slowly diminishing, with the apple flavors staying with you for a while. You could pair this with summer salads, particularly if they include apples or pears, and white meats such as chicken and turkey. In fact, you could keep this one in mind as a potential Thanksgiving wine. 84 points.
Contact Jim Beauregard at firstname.lastname@example.org