Tasting Notes with Jim Beauregard -- Portugal: Great weather and great wines

By JIM BEAUREGARD April 04. 2018 12:49AM

Last week, an opportunity arose to write several articles I’ve been wanting to write for a long time. For the next three weeks, our topic is going to be Portugal, and we will sample red, white and a rosé.

The reason I say “for a long time” is that wines from Portugal have not been a widespread presence here in New Hampshire. As it happens, I grew up in a community that had a sizable Portuguese population, and when I go back home to visit, I can shop through a plethora of Portuguese wines, all of which have two things in common: They’re inexpensive and they’re very good. So, when I came across three wines from Terra Forte Vineyards in southeastern Portugal, the time was ripe — and we are all in for a treat.

Portugal has a centuries-old tradition of winemaking. Grapes were grown for wine all the way back to the 1100s, when wine was known to be shipped from the Minho region in northwest Portugal to England for consumption. And, since England and France were often engaged in spats across the channel, the English could not always count on French wines, while they could count on Portugal.

Oftentimes when one mentions Portugal, the first thing that typically comes to mind is port, a dark and rich dessert wine known and appreciated the world over. But port is only one of many beverages produced there. And port wasn’t the only thing shipping out of the town of Porto, near the mouth of the Douro River. For centuries Porto (sometimes “Oporto” in English) was home to English and German wine merchants who sent wines to their respective countries.

On the Atlantic coast of the Iberian Peninsula and landlocked by Spain, Portugal was in many ways isolated from the rest of Europe, and it was really not until she joined the European Union in 1986 that greater integration occurred. At the same time, until recently, whenever you bought a bottle of wine you had Portugal to thank, at least in part, because that wine was kept in its bottle by a cork that more likely than not came from the bark of a tree in Portugal: Quercus suber, a type of oak tree, to be exact. Some of the finest wines in the world are aged in cork-stoppered bottles, which lets in minute amounts of air over time, helping the wine to slowly mature.

While Portugal was in some ways isolated from the rest of Europe until well into the 20th century, it was not isolated from phylloxera, which wiped out most of its vineyards in the last quarter of the 19th century.

One of the unique features about Portugal is that while it is smaller geographically than many other countries in Europe, it produces an enormous variety of wines. Its climate is maritime, which means it benefits from the ocean breezes that come in off the ocean to temper the warm summers. As a result, there are many different types of grapes grown there, including Baga, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira and Periquita for red wines, and for whites, grapes such as Loureiro, Alvarinho and Encruzado. There are also international grapes grown there with more familiar names like Syrah and Viognier. Lots of variety, which means lots of variety in the country’s wines.

And, while the ocean has its moderating influence, providing rainy winters, as one moves further inland climate can become more continental. The country also is remarkable for having a wide variety of soils, sandy near the coastline, becoming more granite inland to the north, and limestone and clay soil in the Bairrada region north of Coimbra.

Let’s take a look at a wine from the Alentejano region that boasts two regional grapes and a French grape to boot:

Terra Forte 2013 Vinho Regional Alentejano, Portugal. 14% abv. A blend of Touriga Nacional (35%), Syrah (35%), Aragonez (30%),this is a deep red wine, deep all the way to the very rim. It is purple in color, with a clean nose of mostly primary flavors including black fruit/blackberry. The palate is very dry, with medium-plus acidity, medium-plus tannin, medium alcohol and medium body. There’s medium-plus flavor intensity that has both primary and secondary flavors of blackberry, black plum, some hints of red plum, and just a little bit of vanilla and cedar being drawn from oak. The tannin is mouth coating, and it has a good long finish. Very good quality, and ready to drink now.

I should mention that this is a food wine. Remember that in the old world, wines were largely made for pairing with food, which means they would be deliberately made to not be fruit-forward: While they certainly had ample fruit, the intention was that it should accompany the meal, not overwhelm it. This is a deep enough and rich enough red that it will pair with a variety of red meats, grilled and roasted.

Contact local beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at tastinnotesnh@aol.com.


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