Portugal Redux

Portugal is so under-represented in Israel that if I didn't include a couple of bottles I'd bought abroad, Portugal would come off like the niche that it really isn't. The sad fact is that as far as table wines are concerned, supply in Israel is limited to  a handful of Duoro producers, one Dão producer (two different labels of said producer carried by two different importers, but one producer nonetheless) and one Bairrada producer. I'm not saying the local market could support much more than that, but I do think there is room for one or two more marquee names from Dão and Bairrada. I simply recommend you search these wines out abroad, or take a trip to Portugal - it's a lovely vacation and you'll drink well and cheaply.


Quinta de Saes  (Alvaro Castro), Encruzado, Estagio Prologando, 2017

This is the reserva version of the regular Saes Encruzado - which I found very drinkable at three years of age, but on the young side, yet to develop the exotic fruit and alien minerals that blow my mind whenever I drink a decently mature Portugese white. So obviously, a younger wine from higher up the pecking order is going to hide its hand even more. Right now, it shows gunpowder and flint, an exotic version of the Chassagne aromas, but the barrels still show up as a bittersweet finish that masks the salinity and exoticism Dao whites can show. (July 19, 2019)

Casa da Passarella, O Oenologo, Encruzado, 2015

This is my first encounter with Casa da Passarella, but like the other mature Dao whites I've had, it tastes and smells as though the vines were planted in moon rock and raised on sea water. Utterly exotic in aromas and flavors, yet classically structured and molded - the finish long, racy and saline, which is what happens when you cellar these whites a few years. (July 20, 2019)

About 30 GBP in jolly old London. Not imported to Israel.


Niepoort, Redoma Branco Reserva, 2015

Niepoort is one of the highly regarded names in the Duoro, a producer of both Ports and table wines. What I loved the about the Duoro whites we drank in our holiday last year was their tasty, mineral-infused fieriness. We drank moreish, mouth-watering, wines showing the same gusty heft of a Chablis or a Muscadet, with even more piercing acidity, combined with small-town elegance. They cost about 10 euro retail, which in Israeli terms translates to about 80-100 NIS, when you factor in the importer's cost of shipping, storage and taxes. Which is what Niepoort's quite charming Dialogo, a terrific candidate for a house wine or a by-the-glass at a bistro, costs. This is much more upscale (about 250 NIS) and tones down the fieriness in exchange for focus and finesse that wouldn't be out of place in the Cote de Beaune. While not quite as complex as I'd have liked to have seen it evolve into at this point, it paints a pretty picture of shells and lime in admittedly broad strokes. The four years post vintage this bottle waited are definitely a pre-requisite. (July 31, 2019)

Quinta do Crasto, Reserva Old Vines, 2014

This is the kind of wine you can find in both wine shops and supermarkets in Portugal. I bought it at a supermarket on a family vacation, because I recognized the name. What I didn't remember is it's imported to Israel, else I'd have utilized the baggage space for other purchases. Decently priced here, 170 NIS or so by Hakerem, it's a solid effort with plenty of aging potential. The 2014 is fairly inscrutable at the moment, with mute aromatics and flavors, but with enough presence and balance to inspire optimism. It's a field blend of god knows how many indigenous varieties - Touriga Nacional is probably the one you recognize. Air brings out a spiciness and faint kinship with the garrigue of Rhone and Provence. The tannins are firm without harassing the taste buds. (Aug. 8, 2019)


Luis Pato, Vinha Formal (sparkling), 2010

Portuguese wines are odd enough without throwing a sparkling rose make of Touriga Nacional into the fray, yet this funky screwball works. Like Pato's whites, the best of which come from the same Formal vineyard, the nose is a melange of exotic spices, alien bedrock and strange fruit, while the palate evokes the umami and faint sweetness of a lobster. (July 28, 2019)

Luis Pato, Vinha Barrosa, 2013

Pato's not-so-secret weapon is his Baga, a grape that can combine either the best or the worst of Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir, depending on the producer's skills. Pato's skills ensure a wide exploration of the the grape's styles and potential, always he always crafts wines of very good to legendary quality. Barrosa is arguably his best vineyard and in 2013, the Baga was especially fine and velvety, the nose showing a mix of iron, tar, flowers and red fruit, the palate showing fine acidity, supple tannins and a clean, savory finish. (Aug. 5, 2019)

Luis Pato, Vinha Formal (red), 2011

This is the red wine Pato makes from relatively young Touriga Nacional vines from the Formal vineyard, which he prices significantly lower than the Baga wines from the Barrosa and Pan vineyards. In itself a strong enough statement about his Pato's priorities even before you consider that he's stopped producing the wine. Which is a shame. If you've ever looked for well priced, rustic clarets from Madiran, Iroulguy or any of the Bordeaux satellites, then the disappearance of the Vinha Formal red will dent your heart. It shows vibrantly muscular black fruit with plentiful helpings of minerals, iron and blood. Think of, say, old school Graves or Saint Estephe married to the warm, fiery depths and tobacco leaves pungency of Iberia. Very appealing and a lovely bottle at eight years of age. (Aug. 20, 2019)

Luis Pato, Vinha Formal, Parcel Candido, 2015

This is the third or fourth time I've drunk and written about this gem and I return to it here because I cannot think of any better example of how exotic, unique and excellent Portugal's white wines can be, so much so that they defy breaking down in terms of descriptors (try describing Thai eggplants in terms of their European cousins). This varietal Cercial is sourced from a single parcel of the Formal vineyard that had been previously owned by the Pato's family physician, one Doctor Candido. Even more than the Oenologo, it smells and tastes like a wine from another planet. the 2015 seems like it could age another decade. (Aug. 24, 2019)

Niepoort, Poeirinho, 2015

Dirk Niepoort has been expanding to Dão, Vinhos Verde and Bairrada. In each region, as well as in his native Douro, he has been experimenting with a multitude of varieties, blends and techniques. The Poeirinho, and the 'reserve' Poeirinho Garrafeira cuvee, are his most heartfelt forays into the Baga grape. This is a lithe, almost lightweight (11.5% ABV) wine, with smooth tannins, ripe acidity and a funky, autumnal character reminiscent of Beaujolais or Macon, much like Luis Pato's Baga Rebel (available in Israel) or daughter Filipa's Post Quercus (which isn't). A stylish, moreish wine, fresh and vibrant, and an excellent value abroad at 30 euros. (Aug. 11, 2019)


The range isn't deeper or wider where fortified wines are concerned, but at least Barbeito is well represented. Here's one of the best I found in Israel priced reasonably (vintage Madeiras are expensive all over the world, so I've yet to try, but Eyal Mermelstein sells a Bual, 1995 for, well, a barrelful of money).

Barbeito, Sercial, 10 Years Old Reserve

Excellent stuff and I really need to try a vintage Madeira, price be damned, This has the filigree finesse and rancio bite of a Palo Cortado, albeit without the iodine, brine and whatever other pungent flavors flor provides. Just the ten year in the humid solera that has transformed the Sercial grape into a confection of walnuts, orange jam, dark chocolate and jamon. (July 23, 2019) 

Barbeito, Quinta de Saes, Niepoort and Luis Pato are imported to Israel by Eyal Mermelstein (Tchernichovsky). Quinta do Crasto is imported by HaKarem. Casa da Passarella and the Poeirinho are not.