Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A Portuguese Wine Tasting

Recently the gods, having decided that my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds (like Bernard Kerik when he was Police Chief in NYC maybe?), ensured that I was invited to participate in a very special lunch and wine tasting put on by The Port Wine Institute, ViniPortugal, and the Portuguese Trade Commission. Lunch was in the private back room at Gramercy Tavern, a hallowed institution of fine dining in New York City.

There were about 15 distinguished folk at this event, and I'm talking about Rui Abecassis (the Deputy Trade Commissioner of Portugal), esteemed wine writers such as Jamal Rayyis of Food and Wine Magazine, David Talbot of Wine Enthusiast, and bloggers like our very own Dr. Vino. And Rui Reguinga, Portuguese wine maker and wine consultant guided us through our tasting.

I know that I'm probably supposed to write about this event if and only if I'm going to shower praise on the wines. But that's why I'm a blogger - I can report my real feelings about what I experienced. And although I really enjoyed a few of the wines (and the food was great), I was basically unimpressed with the overall lineup of wines we tasted before our lunch. I found the reds (8 of 10 wines were reds) to be almost uniformly big and characterless. Not memorable or emotional, business-like, the result of a focus group or something. Smooth and powerful, yes. But not my cup of tea.

Be warned - I have almost no context in which to place these wines. If I knew nothing about French wine and went to this kind of event, but it was French wine instead of Portuguese, and they poured only big manipulated Bordeaux wines, I might walk away thinking that I don't like French wine. For all I know, they poured only the Portuguese equivalent of big manipulated crowd-pleasing Bordeaux at this event. Are there soulful, lighter, elegant reds from Portugal? What is the Burgundy of Portugal, the Cru Beaujolais, the Chinon?

Anyway, here are a few wines that I liked. There was a lovely rosé, the 2006 Quinta da Alorna Touriga National Rosé from Ribatejo DOC, a large flat valley in the south-central part of Portugal. This wine had an absolutely gorgeous color, a nose of fresh berries, and a sweet berry palate with an interesting medicinal nuance. This wine retails for about $12, and I would buy it happily if I saw it on the shelf.

I enjoyed the 2005 Quinta do Poeira Douro. It was described as having "less structure, more elegance" by Mr. Reguinga, and maybe that's why it stood out for me. At 13.5% alcohol, it was lighter than many of the other wines. I liked the light nose with some cinnamon spice, the well balanced palate of spicy fruit with a bit of earth, the relaxed mouth feel. I do not know the retail price of this wine, so I have no idea whether or not it is a good value. But if it were under $20 I would happily buy it.

If I had to select one red to bring home to BrooklynLady and enjoy over dinner, it would be the 2005 Quinta da Bacalhoa of Terras do Sado, at about $29. This wine is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot -- that's right, a Bordeaux blend is the wine I liked most in the tasting. I liked the lovely dried rose petal nose, the pretty fresh berries and the overall feeling of the wine, light and elegant, but with deep and focused flavors, well balanced with good acidity. I didn't even notice the alcohol, and at 14.5%, that's impressive.

Let me say this right now - the revelation of the tasting for me was Tawny Port. I loved the Sandeman (beware of ridiculous website) 20 year old Tawny so much that I've looked in at least four stores for it so far, with no luck. Peter Cobb, a delightful English gentleman who lives and loves Port wine guided us through a tasting of four Ports, including a young ruby vintage Port by Quinta de Noval, a Fonseca 10 year old Tawny, and the Sandeman 20 year Tawny. I learned that Port wine is better served with a chill, that Tawny compliments cheese quite well, that the Tawny style really appeals to me, with its complex and oxidized nature, and that I would pay good money to have an afternoon of Port with Peter Cobb.

So thank you gods for smiling on me that afternoon. This was a wonderful afternoon of wine tasting, eating, and learning, and I met some great people too. And I'm going to find a bottle of 20 year old Sandeman Tawny before the holidays, I can promise you that.

Addendum: here is the full lineup of wines we tasted before our lunch:

1. 2006 Anselmo Mendes Muros de Melgaco, Vinho Verde
2. 2006 Quinta da Alorna Touriga National Rosé, Ribatejo
3. 2005 Campolargo Termeao, Beiras
4. 2005 Quinta dos Roques Touriga Nacional, Dao
5. 2004 Quinta de Chocapalha Reserva, Estremadura
6. 2005 Quinta da Bacalhoa, Terras do Sado
7. 2005 Jorge Moreira Poeira, Douro
8. 2004 Symington Family Estates Chryseia, Douro
9. 2005 Herdade dos Grous Reserva, Alentejo
10. 2004 Rui Reguinga
Terrenus Reserva, Alentejo


Marcus said...

Good to see you getting your due!

I have very clear-cut ideas of what I want my Portuguese reds to do -- perhaps more than the reds of any other wine region. So I respect your stance. And I think we might even be in agreement that "tannic beast" is not necessarily what Portugal deserves its wine and its share in the industry to amount to -- though Port and densely bodied table wines have their place. It's just that there is more to explore. Especially because this region is so unique and full of many approachable and interesting grape varieties, all capable of great elegance.

How can I see the full listing of what you tasted?

Brooklynguy said...

Good point Marcus - I will post a list of the full lineup as an add-on to the original post. Curious to hear your thoughts, as I know that at least one of the wines is a super expensive big-shot wine.

Dr. Debs said...

Neil, thanks for this. I'm going to our area tasting on Monday. No lunch but a beautiful setting. I like my Portuguese reds aromatic, and though still a neophyte I'm finding I like the wines made with Touriga (Nacional or Franca) very much precisely because of their aromatic profile. I'll let you know what they pour!

Brooklynguy said...

Have fun Debs-let us know what you think.

Anonymous said...

Glad you liked the Bacalhoa. That's a winery that Ryan and Gabriella recommended to me!

Anonymous said...

May I suggest Taylor's 20 year tawny. We just returned from Vila Nova de Giai and it was our favorite. I know that Taylor's is more widely sold in the US and we thought that it was even better than the Sandeman's.