FOOD & DRINK: Portuguese Wines

Portuguese wine tends to slip under the radar, but a holiday reminded DAVID CLAY how good it can be. Here he recommends some of his favourites and hopes the supermarkets take notice

Our holiday in June was to the island of Madeira, a beautiful, clean, volcanic island which I can fully recommend.

When it came to wine, you could have anything — provided it was Portuguese.

However, it did remind me how good Portuguese wines could be.

I first fully encountered Portuguese wine some 30 years ago, again in Madeira, when we found one called Periquita and liked it so much we drank it for the rest of our stay.

We could not find it when we returned to England but later found that Periquita was Portugal’s first ever bottled red by Jose Mariade Fonseca about 1850 in the province of Setubal.

It’s still available today by mail order and, like most Portuguese wines, is amazingly cheap for the quality.

One of the good things is that because of its isolation, there are at least 250 grape varieties unique to Portugal.

The bad thing is that the same grape variety can have different names in different areas.

The wine regions vary enormously.

In the north is the Minho, home of Vinho Verde, where it always seems to be raining when I visit.

Below is the great Douro Valley, home of port wine and since the 1980s some excellent quality full bodied, some times tannic, age-worthy reds.

Here are some good Douro Red wines, usually rich and complex:

S&R Douro Red, 2016, João Portugal Ramos and José Maria Soares Franco (Majestic £11.99, £8.99 mixed six) This blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca combines fresh red and black fruits notes of spices from ageing in oak barrels. Deliciously moreish.

Sainsbury’s Douro, Taste the Difference 2015 14pc (£10). Made by the famous Quintado Crasto, this is plummy and smooth.

Animus Douro, Vicente Faria 13pc (Aldi£4.99) From some of the main port grapes, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional and TourigaFranca. Warm, ripe red fruit with a touch of spice. Perfect party red.

Douro Vinho Tinto 2016 14pc (Lidl £6.99). Made from Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacionaland Touriga Franca, this is spicy, fruity, chocolatey. Tinta Roriz is Tempranillo in Spain.

Azinhaga de Ouro Reserva 2016, DouroTouriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tempranillo 13.5pc (Lidl £5.99). Nice fruity aroma and rich flavour.

Further south are the Beiras.

Bairradais in the western part between the Daoregion and the Atlantic.

Woods and rolling hills in the east, flat near the coast.

Traditionally these wines contained aminimum of 85pc of the Baga grape.

Now Touriga Nacional, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are often used.

Vadio Bairrada Tinto 2014 12.5pc is from ayoung grower using the Baga grape, this is floral, cherry and spice on the nose and alittle tannin. Needs food. (The Wine Society £12.95).

Further inland is Dao, which is surrounded by mountains and has an ideal grape growing climate with quite elegant reds.

Behind is Beira Interior, an area of very high mountains backing on to the Spanish border, with vineyards high on the mountainsides.

A lovely rural area of high crags, gentle valleys filled with fruit trees, granite boulders everywhere, moorland and forest, ancient villages and fortified towns.

Very hot in summer and freezing cold in winter.  

Agenda, Dao 2015 13pc (Majestic £9.99.£7.99 mixed six). Soft, plum and bramble anda little spice from the touch of oak.

Carlos Lucas Ribera Santo, Dao 201613.5pc (The Wine Society £7.95). Light, bright, cherry fruit.

Almeida Garrett Entre Serras 2015 BeiraInterior 13.5pc (The Wine Society £6.25). Great fruit and structure. Pure Portuguese fruit with bite (and quite a bit of tannin). Agreat red for a dinner party. Very good value.

Rui Madeira Beyra Tinto 2016 BeiraInterior 13% (The Wine Society £8.50). Lovely fresh, berry fruit from a blend of 75pc Tinto Roriz/Tempranillo and 25pc Touriga Nacional.

Further south still  is Lisboa, once called Estremadura.

This is the area of the moment for easy, juicy and fragrant reds.

Cooling breezes come up from the sea over fine sandybeaches where land is expensive.

Much of the wine comes from co-operatives, but there arealso top class wines too.

Porta 6 Reserva 14pc (Majestic £11.99.£9.99 mixed six) is more serious and heftierthan Porta 6 but smoother.

Taste the Difference Lisboa Casa Santos Lima Family 2016 13.5pc (Sainsbury’s £7). Castelao, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and a little bit of Syrah. Bold, spicy, red and black fruit flavours.

Gran Passo Classico 2016 Lisboa 14pc(Waitrose £7.99). I love this wine. Rich, ripe, smooth. Touriga Franca and other local grapes plus some Syrah. Plum and black currant nose, cherry and fig palate, vanilla and mocha from ageing in American oak barrels.

Finally the largest region, taking up to a third of Portugal — the sun-drenched Alantejo making big, ripe, fruity, easydrinking reds.

Only five per cent of the land isgiven to wine.

Some of the regional wines have the name Alentejano.

Three good reds are Esperão Monte Velho Tinto, Alentejano 2016 (The Wine Society £7.75). A fine blendof Aragonez, Trincadeira and TourigaNacional plus some Sirah.

From Waitrose Esporão T Trincadeira, Alentejo 14pc (11.49) and Esporão Reserve Red 2014 Alentejo (£17.99). Intense, spicy aroma of mature redberry fruits with discrete oaky notes. Fullbodied with great balance. Medium to firmtannins. Enjoy now or in years to come.

It is a great pity that our supermarkets, with the exception of Waitrose, have so few Portuguese wines in stock.

The Wine Societyhas a very good selection of reds and whites.

The whites I have left for another time.

This article was first published in CHASE magazine September 2018. You can read the latest edition of CHASE online now

Related topics: