My first experience of Portuguese wines occurred back in the 1980’s when I went on an ill- fated vacation there. It was organised by Lord L, (I shan’t disclose his full name, to avoid reprisals!) a dilettante financier, who had the use of a luxury villa – via a friend at Hampton’s, the property company. He was dating the sister of my then girlfriend and liked the fact that I knew my way around a wine cellar and had a wealth of travel knowledge. We bonded. So, off the four of us toddled to Portugal. The holiday went well for the first week but began to sour after his lordship injured himself during one of our drunken pool games. The game involved lining up airbeds spanning the width of the pool and then running across them from one side to the other without putting a foot in the water (a bit like “Total Wipeout”, but for hedonists!). Unfortunately, Lord L slipped and gashed his head on the edge of the pool during an attempted crossing which necessitated a trip to the A&E unit at Faro hospital and, as result, he was housebound for a few days.
Life at the villa rapidly began to resemble Martin Amis’ novel Dead Babies and, to alleviate his boredom, Lord L decided we should undertake a road trip to a storied 5* hotel where he felt certain he would be able to “get his prescription filled” (©Jagger/Richards). In the course of the drive, ferociously intoxicated on vintage port, he succeeded in scraping the wing of our luxury hire car, shearing off one of the wing mirrors and severely denting the boot as he moved a reluctant parking post that was obstructing his reversing progress. His ‘road gang’ mutinied, confiscated the car keys and he was forced to sullenly ruminate on matters from the back seat whilst one of the girls drove us back to the villa.
I can’t honestly say matters improved after he caught me and his then girlfriend em flagrant delito – as the Portuguese would term it – in the pool house, ‘checking the efficacy of the pumping action’, (in the vernacular!). Tensions grew and the atmosphere became increasingly poisonous; not least after he related, at length, what he had just witnessed in the pool house to my significant other. I waited for a day when the rest of the party had gone to a local beach, hurriedly packed my suitcase, took a táxi to the airport and scuttled back to my flat in Chelsea. But not before purchasing a souvenir bottle of Daõ at the airport Duty Free.
Prior to all the general fuc*ery that ensued midway through the trip, I have fond memories of visiting venerable Portuguese restaurants and, after perusing expansive, leather bound wine lists, ordering lavish vintages from Daõ and Alentejo and being mesmerised by these dark, brooding red wines. As I became more sensible (slightly!) and mature (hah!) I began to enjoy Portuguese wines more and more; enthusiastically embracing the advances that were being made throughout the winemaking industry there and the new styles that were being produced. Some from regions that barely existed on the wine map when I first visited.
Today modern winemakers throughout Portugal are working to preserve aromatics, fruit and freshness and restoring tradition through cement tanks, amphora and large oak barrels (Toneis). They are also accentuating their distinct terroir and indigenous grapes. That’s not to say they aren’t afraid to experiment with Verdelho; Chardonnay, Viognier, Sauvignon Blanc; Syrah; etc. But, for me, the native grape varieties available to Portuguese winemakers are where the boldest statements are being made.
Portugal has, of course, some big name winemakers like Pato, Niepoort, Symington and Esporão, but many outstanding examples from the main wine regions are made on an artisanal scale and now attract attention from the new breed of sommeliers in the UK and Europe. Independent merchants are a good resource for finding these wines and, whilst Corney & Barrow; Berry Bros & Rudd; Farr Vintners all have great examples, do check out The Wine Society; Hedonism; Red Squirrel and Portugal Vineyards too!
Here is a selection of my favourites split by region, all sub £25 mark (apart from my Special Treat wines):
- Alentejo: Herdade do Arrepiado Collection 2015 – Winemaker António Maçanita ages this full-bodied red for 16 months in new French oak
- Azores: Vulcânico – A perfumed and complex red that achieved very high praise and top marks in a recent Decanter tasting that Sarah Ahmed led
- Bairrada: Cabo da Roca Reserva 2015 – From Casca Wines where Frederico Gomes and Helder Cunha have created an exceptional red wine from their Atlantic Coast vineyards
- Bairrada: Filipa Pato’s Post Quercus Baga 2015 – Aged underground in amphorae by the daughter of legendary winemaker Luis Pato
- Colares: Adega Regional de Colares, Arenae Ramisco 2007 – Viticulturist Francisco Figueiredo uses grapes from old, ungrafted and untrained vines grown in the sand dunes west of Lisboa
- Dão: Druida Encruzardo Reserva 2016 – Has the minerality, citrus flavours and acidity of a Chablis or white Burgundy
- Daõ: Julia Kemper’s Reserva Branca – A sumptuous wine with an unbelievable bouquet of peaches, passion fruit and orange blossom from organic vineyards at Quinta do Cruzeiro
- Douro: Quinto de la Rosa Vinho Tinto Reserva 2015 is a titanic wine that is highly rated by Jancis Robinson
- Douro: Quinto do Pôpa 2016 Rosé: A pale pink, juicy rosé with fresh red fruits and hints of strawberry and raspberry; an uplifting wine for al fresco summer dining
- Trás-os-Montes: [‘Behind the Mountains’] – Quinta de Arcossó Grande Reserva 2011. From vineyards, located in this historical northern province, Francisco Montenegro produces an astounding red wine that is aged in 100 year old chestnut barrels
- Herdade do Sobroso Arché 2015 – A formidable Alentejo red that will blow your socks off!
- Marquesa de Alorna Grande Reserva Branco 2014 – Winemaker, Martta Reis Simões, makes this expressive white wine in the Ribatejo region in the centre of Portugal
- Julio Bastos Dona Maria Late Harvest 2011: A botrytised Alentejo Semillon with aromas of caramelized apricot, peach and honey, with fine acidity and a long finish
- Murganheira Pinot Vintage 2006 : Their 70 year old Caves are located in the Távora-Varosa wine region and this méthode Champenoise will prove a winning, and unusual aperitif
Something For The Weekend Sir…?:
- Adega Velha Aguardente Vínica De Vinho Verde: Considered by many to be the best Portuguese eau-de-vie and ranking alongside the finest Armagnacs, Adega Velha has spent more than 12 years in Limousin oak casks resulting in a rich, complex digestif. Perfect with a Hoyo de Monterey Petit Robusto. Viva! Saúde!