De Long Wine Moment


October 10th, 2007

Portugal Old and New


Is it OK to yell blueberry milkshake in a crowded wine tasting?

Portugal and Spain are often described as both new world and old world wine countries because of the mix of traditional and modern methods. This doesn’t just mean that there are new players making wine among the traditionalists. The winemakers themselves are increasingly beginning to mix and match. The two wines tasted here are definitely characteristic of this schizophrenia.

Personally, I enjoy old fashioned style wines. What they lack in fruit they usually make up for in personality with a wide range of unique secondary flavors. In Portuguese reds, I often get the taste of something similar to old wooden furniture. Not that I enjoy gnawing on old furniture but it’s very interesting, complex and enjoyable. Perhaps the casks are made of old galleons. Some of them have rough tannins but for me that just seems to add to the charm. And their higher levels of acidity definitely make them food friendly.

The first wine, a 1 star2005 JP Ramos Trincadeira Vinho Regional Alentejano, seemed to be the perfect embodiment of the mix of old and modern styles. Made from the indigenous grape variety Trincadeira, it had wonderful spicy woody old furniture aromatics as well as generous amounts of berries on the aroma and palate. The tannins were softish and the acidity level was fairly lively. This was an excellent wine full of gregarious personality. But then something happened. blueberry-ipod.gif Over the course of the evening with a chance to breathe and let it all hang out, it became that bland cliché of international winedom: the ubiquitious blueberry milkshake! Just where did all that vanilla come from? Where did the other berries go? Where was my furniture? It was if our worldly and fun Portuguese guest just stopped talking and decided to listen to Justin Timberlake on the Ipod instead. Who are you?

In contrast, our other wine was one I was sure I wouldn’t like. The 4 stars2001 Quinta de Cavela Colheita Seleccionada is made from Touriga Nacional, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot so I guess that would make it a Super-Minho. Oh brother. But instead of being suave and shallow it was refined and elegant and with characteristic Portuguese charm. It has a bit of maturity and is drinking well right now with restrained sour/black cherry fruits and cigar box and spice. It could pass for a Medoc wine if it weren’t for its unique spiciness. Yes, old furniture once again. And unlike our other guest, this one became much more interesting, complex and likeable over the course of the evening. Embarrassingly enough it was pizza night but this wine didn’t seem to mind at all with its lively food-friendly acidity. Yes, please come back anytime.

I like how in Italy and increasingly in Portugal that there is an increasing confidence in marketing indigenous grape varieties. It’s just unfortunate how the Tricandeira gave such a favorable first impression that didn’t’ last. The Cavela seems to be from a slightly earlier era where it was thought necessary to include some Cab and Merlot for the marketing departments even though the wine retains much of its unique sense of place.

Thanks to Ryan and Gabriella Opaz of Catavino for hosting this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday. Be sure to check out their well done Portuguese Table Wine Cheat Sheet as well.