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Wines from Portugal are Coming

Portugal is making great efforts to increase the awareness of her quality dry wines in the United States from all major regions, including Alentejo , Minho/Vinho Verde, Lisbon/Estremadura, Bairrada, Dao, Setubal, and Algarve, as well as Douro, from which Port comes.  Douro has already made inroads for some of its dry wines, with Douro Boys portfolio as an example. The campaign here is a follow up of one that has reached maturity in England, where it has been very successful and is currently in its ninth year. Drawing on that success, and the improvement of Portuguese wines in the last decade, the show has been brought to the States, and what better place to start than New York.
Wines of Portugal, using “a world of difference” as their catch phrase, are at the vanguard of this PR and educational push. This effort included an all day  Portuguese Advanced Wine Academy run by Doug Frost, MS/MW on September 10, 2012  and a follow up, again here in NY, called “50 Great Portuguese Wines”  on January 24, 2013. Some 20 mighty interesting wines, many great values were poured at the September Master Class, and many more at the luncheon/awards ceremony and walk around tasting in January. I had been to Lisbon for two days and toured a bit about 10 years ago, but not much in wine country, and sampled mostly Port. I admit to a lack of knowledge and awareness of the rest of the wines from Portugal at that time.  Maybe they were just getting started to modernize wineries and marketing, but I was certainly not aware of what was to come.
The four hour class in September was very intense, focusing on some of the more than 200 types of grape, soil, climate as well as regional differences, with three flights of wines to illustrate the variety and quality levels available, followed by a light lunch, then an hour long exam. Of the 100 or so attendees, about half stayed for the test, and I’m told that about 70% of us passed. The January follow-up session and awards ceremony was a great opportunity to revisit and review, since there were so many new things in the class.
The course materials, format and wines were dictated by the Portuguese Wine Academy, as a prelude to their exam. Information was presented using a multitude of PowerPoint slides, rapid discussions, quick smells, sips and spits of the wines, with an ongoing commentary and discussion led by Frost. 
Some wines and observations from the class included:
2011 Alvarinho, Vinho verde, produced by Aveleda, about $11 retail: aromatic with peach notes, leaner than wines from Rias Baixus; quite long with nice mouth feel/viscosity and both high acidity and fruit.
2010 Arinto, Lisbon, produced by Quinta da Romeira, about $11 retail: yellow apple, slate and minerals, with moderate acidity and grapefruit on the finish.
2007 Vinhas Velhas, Bairrada, produced by Luis Pato, about $24 retail: Very tight tannins, no oak, made from Baga grapes (minimum  50% in Bairrada) a very tannic grape. Reminds me of Sagrantino.
2010 Reserva, Palmela, produced by Casa Ermelinda de Freitas, about $13 retail: Blueberries, high tannins, but jammy and tart.
2008 Domini, Douro, produced by JM da Fronseca, about $14 retail:  Juicy black fruit and very good balance. Nice wine.
2008 Vale da Reposa Tinto, Douro, produced by Alves de Sousa, about $29 retail: Lots of wood/ barrel flavor, very big tannins, needs more time and tasted hot (fact sheet says 15.5%).
Frost had spent several days in Portugal blind tasting over 600 wines, and picking the 50 that were poured at the January awards and  tasting program, including the 10 at the luncheon. This lunch and walk around was much more laid back than the class, with the wines chosen by Frost, and pairings done by Evan Goldstein, MW, whose Full Circle Wine Solutions was the US planner in the Portuguese initiative.  Full Circle currently is the lead for all ViniPortugal events like the 50 Great program, as well as all promotional and educational initiatives in the three key markets of New York, San Francisco and Miami.  Doug is part of Full Circle as a Chief Engagement Officer.
Aidil Wines (www.aidilwines.com)  was Importer of the Year, Aldea (www.aldearestaurant.com) was Restaurant of the Year, and Wine Library (www.winelibrary.com) was Retailer of the Year. As a side note about Aldea, George Mendes, the chef, gave a cooking demo at Astor Center about 6 months ago as part of a Madeira walk around tasting, where he paired the savory dishes he made with only Madeira wines. I always meant to write that up, since the pairings were wonderful, as was the food. The thing about Madeira (see my earlier blog about Blandy’s) is that it has the acidity and balance to go with food, even though it has sweetness. As always, it is about the balance.
The menu and paired wines:

The sparkler was delightful with the Amuse Bouche, just enough yeast and restrained oak in the wine, concentration and long finish.

I liked the 2010 Quinta dos Roques better with the poussin, because of the higher level of dark fruits, and its more new-world style. Not that the other wine was flawed, just my taste.

The flatiron steak course was interesting, because I thought the 2009 Quinta do Crosto Reserva was better paired with the meat, but the 2009 Quinto do Poeira was better with the spinach on the plate.

And the final course,  no favorites,  all paired well with the cheese and its platemates.

You should expect to see more wines from Portugal coming to the US, because for the next year, ViniPortugal will continue to hold high level educational seminars for key members of the press and trade in the top markets previously listed.  I think it would be rewarding to investigate these wines and give them a try. As Frost noted, there has been over a 30% increase in imports here from Portugal in the last year, and as distribution improves, it should continue to grow. Should you like more information about the regions, grape types and the like, the Wines of Portugal has produced a nice  42 page booklet, “ Perspectives on Portugal, Wines of Portugal Sommelier Guide,” available at http://www.portugalwinebook.com. Perhaps one of the most important points made is that Touriga Nacional is their major red grape, and that Portuguese wines are likely to be blends, with the national grape playing well with others depending on the region and producer. This is as true for dry wines as it is for Port.
On a personal note, here are a few additional observations. First,  just as Greek wines have increased in awareness and popularity, with their “strange” names and pronunciation, so I think will the Portuguese wines grow in interest here, again regardless of the ‘new to us” varietals, regions and pronunciation. Second, the geography of Portugal is longer north to south than wide, with ocean to the west and mountains to the east, encompassing  both latitudinal variation  and altitude differences over relatively short distances. It  exhibits many soil types and microclimates as a result of these physical factors. To me, this sounds a lot like Chile, and look at the variety and quality of wine from there. Though certainly geographically much smaller, Portuguese wine output is 11th in the world, and we would benefit to sample their wines.
The Portuguese "50 Wines" event was wonderful, very professional and on target for the audience. Kudos to all involved. Be on the lookout to attend if you get the chance, it will be well worth your time
Let me know what you think.

Bernard Kenner     eatwine@verizon.net

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