Wednesday, October 10, 2007

WBW #38 - Portuguese Table Wine

This month's installment of Wine Blogging Wednesday is hosted by Gabriella and Ryan at Catavino, and the theme is Portuguese table wines. As you probably know by now, Lenn at Lenndevours began this tradition over three years ago now, and it continues to pick up steam.

One of the reasons that I love WBW is that it sometimes forces me out of my comfort zone. With the exception of a super cheap bubbly called Espiral Vinho Verde, I have never to my knowledge tasted Portuguese wine. The irony is, I am going to what will surely be an incredible event focusing on Portuguese wine in two weeks. But that is in the future, and this is now. So knowing essentially nothing about Portuguese wine, how should I choose a bottle for WBW? I thought it might make sense to try something that resembles wines I know, for the sake of comparison.

I love dry whites that are made to sip with local seafood, and so do lots of folks in Portugal, particularly in the northwest, apparently. The Vinho Verde (Green Wine) region is known for the Alvarinho grape, aka Albarino in Spain. The wines are known to be light, low in alcohol, brightly acidic, and sometimes with a bit of petillance, or fizz. That fizz is the carbon dioxide that's retained in the wine after malolactic fermentation. These wines are meant to drink young and to compliment the region's fresh and tasty seafood dishes.

BrooklynLady and I enjoyed some scallops for dinner the other night with a simple white wine, lemon, and butter sauce. Some broccoli rabe, an ear of late summer corn on the cob - not Portuguese fare, but seafood nonetheless. So with great curiosity (okay, BrooklynLady's had lots of Portuguese wine - I was the curious one), we opened our Alvarinho and toasted WBW 38.

2006 Antonio Esteves Ferreira Alvarinho Soalheiro, $17 (Chambers Street Wines).
I'm not gonna sugar-coat this, people. No matter how much we wanted to like this, it was just no good. And it wasn't corked or heat damaged or anything else. It's just a style of wine that is never going to get any traction in our house. The problem is, the wine I drank is not at all typical of Vinho Verde, and I learned that after drinking the wine, while wondering how on earth it could be so different from what we expected.

The wine had an attractive straw color with a nose of green apple, grapefruit, and vanilla cream. But the palate was flabby, totally unfocused, with an almost viscous texture. A little sweet, with almost no acidity at all, just a fat white jelly roll of a wine. And the wine did not taste or feel clean to me - I'm betting that there is all sorts of manipulation going on with this particular wine. Either that or the wine-making equipment wasn't clean, which is more common than you'd think. I re-corked it and figured we'd taste it again in a day or so to see if anything developed. Nope - same same same.

So what the heck is going on here?!? I read the entry on Vinho Verde in Jancis Robinson's Oxford Companion to Wine, and I picked up a really important clue from the following passage.

The Vinho Verde DOC officially divides into six subregions, distinguished by climatic differences and the white grape varieties grown there. The area around the town of Monção on the Spanish Border produces one of the best but least typical Vinho Verdes from the Alvarinho grape. Alcohol levels of up to 13% set these apart, and thanks to a combination of consumer demand and low yields, they are relatively expensive.
Well, my bottle is 12.5% alcohol and is indeed from the subregion of Monção. So I'm going to take a few guesses at what specifically is happening with my wine, and I'm hoping that the fine folks at Catavino, or anyone else, can raise me up from the depths of ignorance, tell me right from wrong.

The wine was totally and completely still - not a teeny bit of petillance. Did they skip the malolactic fermentation? Maybe, but it sure seemed smooth and buttery, the whole point of malo. I bet instead that they did malolactic but did not retain the CO2, maybe in some way attempting to separate the wine from the "average" Alvarinho, make it somehow more "international," or something.

The vanilla creaminess on the nose - that smacks of wood to me. Did they oak this wine? I'm gonna guess that the wine sees some small portion of new or used, but not neutral oak. Maybe 10%?

In any case, it is clear to me now that this wine is not representative of Portuguese Alvarinho. We wanted a bright and acidic dry white that worked well with seafood. We got a thick and creamy white that I think might be intended as an aperitif, or to compete with a California Chardonnay. So we're not done - we're coming back for more Alvarinho, but for now we're avoiding the Monção subregion.

Thanks to Gabrielle and Ryan for hosting, for creating such an informative site on wines from the Iberian Peninsula, and for urging me to get out of my comfort zone.


Anonymous said...

No, no, no!!! Don't avoid the Monção subregion! At least not after just one bad wine. I'm no expert in Portuguese wines, but I have had a good share of it. I am not familiar with this particular wine you tasted, but I would suggest an Alvarinho from the Monção subregion of Vinho Verde that I believe is spectacular, especially for the $12 I pay for it at one of my local wine stores. The "Muros Antigos Alvarinho" produced by Anselmo Mendes. (Note: Not to be confused with the "Muros Antigos Loureiro".

I hope that you are able to find it. Let me know. If you don't like this wine, then chances are that Vinho Verde is just not your thing. If you do, then you can step up to the next level... a "Palácio da Brejoeira" or an "Alvarinho Curtimenta".


Anonymous said...

wow, it sucks to leave you comfort zone and then end up...uncomfortable. it's so much nicer when you find pleasant suprises.

I can't make any recommendations, not knowing much about this region myself, but I'm going to take Marco's suggestion and track down his recommendation!

Unknown said...

One of my favorite for the summer has been Famega at $6.99 alcohol at 9.5%.
I tried to see anything else on the label only that it was Vinho Verde. So keep on looking. Nice bright, fresh, crisp almost fizzy.

Anonymous said...

Funny, the Famega is actually part of the Catavino Pack we just launched!

Brooklynguy said...

Hi Marco - you're right, and I know it. i just need some guidance, is all, and now i have some - i will keep an eye out for the wine you recommend, and thanks. And I am VERY interested to follow your progress making wine in New England. Thanks for stopping by.

Hey Jill - it happens though, and it's all part of the fun. i prefer to review wines that i like for WBW, but this time twas not to be. sounds like Sheila and the Catavino folks are on the same page though, eh?

Thanks for your recommendation Sheila- definitely the right price.