Portugal (Oct. 8, 2019)

Montage courtesy of the one and only Lee Hoffmann Agiv
Welcome to 2GrandCru, the only Israeli wine blog with regular coverage of Portuguese wines. This post reports on one of the monthly meetings of Itay Gleitman's "Sunday Wine Club', which he dedicated to the wine country we both love dearly (Itay probably wrote as much as I did about Portugal in his newspaper column and on his site). The tasting covered 18 wines across all the major table wine regions of the country. Some are available locally, some were purchased by Itay abroad. 

Anselmo Mendes, Vinho Verde, Moncao and Melgaco, Expressoes, 2017

The consensus is that Moncao and Melgaco is the best appellation for Vinho Verde (and the region doesn't have enough of a history to have generated any contenders), where Albarinho is the star white grape. Mendes is considered one of the best of the lot. This will be available in Israel shortly, at the Tchernichovsky restaurant and the import arm managed by Eyal Mermelstein. And I have every reason to look forward to that. This is much more focused than even the best of Vinho Verde I’ve tasted, both palate and nose showing the slightly herbal greenness I find typical of the appellation, as well as persistent minerals.It's not very complex, except for the textured finish, but very pure and crisp. The acidity and that texture I mentioned are the kind that generate both excitement and optimism for the cellar.

Azores Wine Company, Pico, Arinto des Acores, 2017

I'll try to be brief, although the story here is interesting. The topography of the Azores limits vinegrowing to a coastal strip before the steep mountain terrain creates a perpetual fog that won't allow the grapes to ripen. The growers plant the the vines in pits and rock cracks, which serves as protection from the sea breezes. The Azores Wine Company is a joint venture of two locals, Filipe Rocha and Paulo Machado, and mainlander António Maçanita who made the wine. This wine is made from the Arinto des Acores grape on the Pico island. The main features here are low alcohol, strong but not overwhelming acidity and flavors and aromas very big on minerals. I get smoked salt and some talc, but except for strong flavors of lime on the finish, the fruit aromas and flavors are too reserved on the attack for me to make out what they are. An interesting wine for sure.

Casal Sta Maria, Colares, Ramisco, 2009

Colares happens to be the westernmost wine region in Europe and the vineyards there are as exposed to wind as the ones in the Azores, forcing similar growing techniques. Their red grape, Ramisco, is famed for its tannins and longevity (personally, I'm wary of grapes where the key to longevity is big, harsh tannins). The old producers used to release the wines after many years in the cellar, in 640 cl bottles. When the EU banned those idiosyncratic bottles, the good folks of Colares chose to release their wines in 500 cl bottles and charge the same as for regular bottles. Casa Sta Maria is a newcomer and the 2009 is a recent release. The wine is interesting enough that I'd buy a bottle in the unlikely chance that it were imported, or buy it off a restaurant list, but I would save my luggage space for other purchases. It's tanninc but not harsh, with a soft core and a spicy finish, delineated by fine acidity and earth and leather aromas and flavors.

Viuva Gomes, Colares, Reserva Tinto, 1969

This is one of the old time producers and it comes in the old 640 cl bottle. it reminds me of a mature Rioja. Because I've never tasted the grape before, I have no sense whether it's showing a generic sort of maturity or whether this is how it expresses itself. Perhaps it would have been better drunk at 20 or 30 years of age, even 40, but I have no idea. The nose evokes the romantic beauty of those old Riojas, the way the aromas are still vibrant but are sauteed in balsamic vinegar. The palate is still tannic, but the flavors of balsam are very prominent and that's one reason the question of the wine's maturity curve worries me.

And now on to more familiar grounds. But before we continue, I want to repeat what I've written in previous posts about Portugal: the secret weapon of Portugal is their whites grapes - Malvasia, Viosinho and Rabigato in the Duoro, Ecruzado in Dao, Bical and Cercial in Bairrada. My big regret is that I've only tasted a handful of producers so it's hard to generalize, but I'll try. The Duoro whites are the most robust and smoky, Dao the most elegant and Bairrada the most exotic.

The reds are also good to excellent, they just don't have the same wow factor as the whites, that exotic, alien allure that makes you want to open another bottle right away. It's like the first encounter with Thai vegetable dishes. You almost recognize the flavors, they almost remind you of western vegetables, but you just can't wrap your senses around them and sort out what you're smelling and tasting.

Niepoort, Duoro, Redoma Branco, 2018

Niepoort is the most familiar name tonight, with an empire that spans a Port lodge and dry wines across every wine region in Portugal. I'm serious, just check out their site. This is a blend of Rabigato, Códega, Donzelinho, Viosinho and Arinto sourced from high altitude vineyards. Still young, it does show the smoky, mineral tint of the Douro whites, less so the exotic fruit flavors. I know from experience that it needs to be drunk at least four years post-vintage. It's imported by the Tchernichovsky restaurant  and it's not cheap, but I recommend it.

Niepoort, Duoro, Redoma Tinto, 2014

Port is made of dozens of red grapes, including a strain of Tempranillo called Tinta Roriz. Touriga Nacional is the only that's a household name outside of the Duoro. When the Port houses decided to start making quality table reds, they steered towards hearty wines as big as their vintage Ports. The trend these days is towards lither wines, like this one, but once again I'm informed by limited personal experience, just a lot of reading. Made from Tinta Amarela, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca. grapes from old vineyards, Niepoort describes the wine as "extreme, with a rigorous character". I hardly get that at all, I find it clean and communicative. Granted, it's still young, so I believe its spicy, tarry side will add complexity in time, but I don't think it will ever become rigorous. Maybe Niepoort was making generalizations across different vintages. Another Eyal Mermelstein import.

Luis Seabra, Duoro, Xisto Cru, 2016

Luis Seabra worked as a winemaker for Niepoort before branching out. Now, this is more "extreme, with a rigorous character". At least, it's more Old World in character. Maybe that's how the Redoma turned out while Seabra was still with the firm. Anyway, tasting note: I get friendly muskiness, like old coats preserved in a closet free of mildew and other hazards of dampness. I get a funkiness, not dirty brett, though. Good acidity. Definitely more interesting. I look forward to buying some when Dani Galil starts importing.

Quinta de Pellada (Alvaro Castro), Dao, Encruzado Reserva, 2017

Encruzado, the crown jewel of the Dao. The aromas don’t show full potential of the grape, but the palate is more expressive and very moreish, with a lime-tinged finish. Again, I recommend waiting until it's at least four years old.

Alvaro Castro has two upscale labels, Quinta de Pellada and Quinta de Saes. They used to be imported to Israel by the TEyal Mermelstein when he part of an importer called Gin Proof. They parted ways and now Eyal Mermelstein carries the Quinta de Saes and Dani Galil carries Quinta de Pellada under the Gin Proof umbrella. There are good wines in each label. If you want to explore Castro further - and you should, he's arguably the best face of Dao - buy from both.

Quinta de Pellada, Dao, Casa, 2014

The best thing about this is the blueberry fruit that retains amazing freshness and prickles the nose with spices and black pepper, which are echoed on the long, spicy finish. Very classy, with bags of potential.

Niepoort, Dao, Conciso, 2015

I'm not sure what grapes went into the Casa, but I know what's in this: Baga and Jaen. This is a very unusual blend, as Baga is the signature red grape of Bairrada. What is a usual blend for Dao? You'll find the common grapes of the Duoro, mostly Touriga Nacional, and also Jaen, known as Mencia in Spain. This is a grape with flavors and aromas that remind me of Pinot Noir and Gamay. It's dominant enough here to again remind me of a Beaujolais Cru, with it's own individual nuances. Very expressive nose and palate. I’m impressed again. 

Luis Pato, Bairrada, Vinha Barrosa, 2015

The Barrosa vineyard  is arguably the best expression of Bairrada's claim to fame in the world of red wine: the Baga grape. And Luis Pato is Baga's banner man. I've read of Baga being compared to Nebbiolo. I''m not surprised, Pato's single vineyard versions are usually loaded with tar and iron. Besides, no one ever compares a grape to Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

Filipa Pato, Bairrada, Nossa Calcario, 2018

Luis' daughter makes a very Pinot-like Baga, which is an aspect of the grape makers are starting to explore. This, however, is an example of one of Bairrada's signature white grapes, Bical. Too bad Itay didn't open one of Luis' white wines. This is either too young, or the father makes better whites. While the nose does show the exotic character of the grape, the palate is short and imbalanced. 

Finally, we had a trio of wines from Alentejano, Portugal's largest wine region, whose signature red grape is the Alicante Bouschet, basically a cross between Grenache and an older local red, Petit Bouschet. Two were by Susan Estaban, a white, Alentejano, Procura, Vinhas Velhas, 2016 and a red, Tricot, Alentejano, 2015. Both left me underwhelmed. The Mouchao, Alentejano, 2013 was better, but too young. Apparently, it's 100% Alicante Bouschet and has received high scores from Wine Enthusiast and the Cellar Tracker community. Wine Enthusiast called it out for its "dense tannins and powerfully rich texture". I did not get a sense of that description nor of anything deserving of high scores, but it may have needed more time in glass or cellar and maybe a fresher palate on my part.