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Is Portugal the Most Exciting Wine Place?

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Is Portugal the Most Exciting Wine Place?

Matt Kramer is putting down roots in what he considers the world's most exciting wine region at the moment: Portugal.

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PORTO, Portugal—If you’ve read my stuff over the years, you may recall that I like to dive into places that grip my wine imagination. So in the past I, and my wife, Karen, have lived in Buenos Aires, Melbourne, Venice and Piedmont for varying lengths of time, our minimum residence three months. If there’s a privilege to being a wine writer, this is it.

Deciding where to go is not an entirely rational thing. Although all sorts of places appeal, the decision to set up house elsewhere is fundamentally emotional. Something about the culture, the landscape, the people and, not least, the wine, has to exert a siren call, an irresistible pull.

That, in the proverbial nutshell, is what happened with Portugal. For all the time I’ve spent in Europe over the decades—we’ve bicycled for months at a time in France alone, never mind living for long stretches in Italy—I have to confess that we never bothered with Portugal. The wines, apart from Port, for so long seemed lackluster. You could taste the lack of ambition.

But in the course of tasting, I began to receive different messages in the bottle, as it were. Something seemed to be stirring, or so the wines suggested. So in the past year or so, we visited Portugal twice. I loved what we saw, who we met, what we ate and, above all, what I tasted.

So I began to investigate Portuguese wines more closely. What at first appeared promising—and extremely enjoyable—turned out to be nothing less than revolutionary. I came to what I freely confess is an emotional conclusion: Portugal is arguably the most exciting wine place on the planet today.

Now, whether that’s demonstrably, provably so is beside the point. It’s how I as a wine lover, a wine taster, a wine drinker, felt. And that’s all that matters for any of us, isn’t it?

“Let’s live in Portugal for a few months,” I proposed to my wife.

“Why not?” she agreeably replied.

So now, as I write this, we’re newly settled into pretty nice digs in the Ribeira district of Porto. (And, yes, everything about this jaunt is on my own dime, just in case you were wondering.)

Much as we enjoyed Lisbon, there was no question that for us Porto would be “home.” It’s just the right size (1.3 million people in the larger urban area); it’s an ancient city that has retained much of its architecture intact (the Ribeira zone where we live is a UNESCO World Heritage site); and not least, it’s the closest city to the great Douro wine region.

That last fact is not insignificant. In the same way that you’ve really got to see the Grand Canyon sometime before you die, the same—for wine lovers, anyway—applies to the Douro wine zone. It is, in a word, boggling. Really, I’ve never seen anything quite like it: more vast than I had imagined, more forbidding in its endless stone vineyard terraces, and just plain more improbable than any other wine area I’ve seen. I mean, what kind of a wine area has growers using dynamite just to create a hole in which to plant a grapevine? It’s scary beautiful.

And now it’s changing. The Douro has famously been consecrated for more than three centuries to just one wine: Port. But the past few decades have not been kind to the Port business. The modern mass palate turned away from it, although there’s still a sizable number of drinkers who enjoy at least a sip from time to time. Make no mistake: Port is hardly about to disappear.

That noted, there’s no question that the Douro zone is changing. One (rough) fact tells all: In the past 15 years or so, about half of the wine production from the larger Douro zone—an area that extends beyond the boundaries designated for Port production—is now table wine. That’s really incredible. I know of no other historically significant wine zone that has transformed to anywhere near that degree.

So I wanted to be close to the Douro action. The table wines emerging from the Douro can be thrilling. Many—most even—are still works in progress. After all, nobody knew how to make table wine in the Douro. But they’re learning mighty fast. The best wines are stunners, truly world-class in their originality, flavor distinction, character, depth and finesse.

The dry white Douro wines can be surprisingly compelling. It’s surprising because the place is take-your-breath-away hot in the summer. (One winegrower said to me: “The Douro is eight months of paradise and four months of hell.”) So how can the white wines be so crisply good? Elevation. The best whites come from old vines grown in elevations upwards of 2,000 feet.

So the Douro is mighty interesting. But it’s not the real reason why I’ve chosen to take time to live in Portugal. It’s because of the grapes. Portugal is home to a dazzling number of indigenous grape varieties that create wines of supreme originality. You’re looking at red grapes such as Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinto Roriz, Baga and hundreds of others, and white grapes such as Arinto, Viosinho, Rabigato, Códega do Larinho and Gouveio, among many others.

Until very recently, the Portuguese did a pretty poor job with this patrimony. Too often the wines were dirty-tasting, from old, unclean barrels. The winemaking was crude, the ambition for greatness non-existent.

No more. Portugal is now gushing with stunning wines—and yes, stunning deals. Call me a value hound, but except for a tiny handful of reach-for-the-sky wines (and every wine nation needs those, too), Portugal very likely now offers some of the greatest wine values on the market today. The reason is easily grasped: Portugal’s achievement is still recent, and the word hasn’t quite made the rounds.

That’s why I’m here. And that’s why you’ll be hearing yet more. (And no, we don’t have a guest room.)

Source: Winespectator

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Wines award winners

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Wines award winners

The Douro and the Alentejo regions were home to the biggest award winners at the recent Wines of Portugal 2014 competition award ceremony, said Jorge Monteiro of the ViniPortugal wine association.

Monteiro said that the Douro had picked up 67 medals and the Alentejo 59 but that the event had above all shown the quality of Portuguese wines currently in production.

The ViniPortugal competition had attracted some 1,070 wines from across mainland and archipelago Portugal with Monteiro adding that 80 percent of the wines gained the kind of classification worthy of medals even if only 25 percent or 280 wines of that total received any official recognition.

The wine specialist explained that due to the high quality levels, the competition had done away with bronze medals to hand out more silver medals.

The Dão region Quinta das Marias Touriga Nacional Reserva, produced by Peter Eckert, was the outright winner in the single caste wine section with the Rozés Porto Tawny 40 years winning the fortified wine category. 

Meanwhile, the Alentejo produced Terras d’Alter Reserva won the 2014 award in the mixed cast wine category.

The wines, representing a sector that generated €725 million in exports last year, were judged by 100 specialists including 25 international judges.

Source: Portugal News

Why Portugal is high on a wine lover’s list

People often ask me to name my favorite wine countries. I like to surprise them by putting Portugal high on the list.

I love Portugal because it offers tremendous value and variety, with wines that you won’t find anywhere else. And the Douro Valley, the region famous for those fortified ports and its stunningly beautiful landscape, leads the way.

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Why Portugal is high on a wine lover’s list

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Why Portugal is high on a wine lover’s list

People often ask me to name my favorite wine countries. I like to surprise them by putting Portugal high on the list.

Portugal seems to be stuck in an unfortunate dichotomy in our mind’s eye: There’s cheap Mateus, the wine of unsophisticates — Saddam Hussein supposedly was a fan — and vintage port, the expensive postprandial tipple of the stodgy British aristocracy. 

That’s as regrettable as it is incomplete.

I love Portugal because it offers tremendous value and variety, with wines that you won’t find anywhere else. And the Douro Valley, the region famous for those fortified ports and its stunningly beautiful landscape, leads the way.

Much of the country’s charm is in the sheer variety of its grapes, many of which are indigenous and not widely grown in other countries. Portugal has not succumbed to the lure of chardonnay and cabernet. It shares some grapes with Spain, of course. Albariño and godello appear here as alvarinho and gouveio. Tempranillo, the great red grape of Rioja and Ribera del Duero, plays a supporting role throughout Portugal under a variety of pseudonyms. Syrah makes a cameo appearance, though it hasn’t stolen the show. 

If you enjoy keeping track of the grape varieties you’ve tasted, you can add extensively to your repertoire by exploring the wines of Portugal. The port grapes of touriga nacional, touriga franca, tinta roriz (Portugal’s main pseudonym for tempranillo) and tinta cao form the major red blends from the Douro. Farther south, trincadeira anchors the reds along with aragonez (another name for tempranillo), while fernao pires shines in aromatic whites. If you search, you can find touriga in Virginia or Australia, and others maybe in experimental vineyards, but most of these varieties are unique to Portugal. 

The Douro is the world’s oldest wine region, having been officially demarcated in 1756 in an attempt to guarantee the authenticity of its wines. Those wines were almost exclusively port — fortified and sweet, in a variety of styles — until the 1990s, when a few wineries began using the same grapes to make dry table wines. Those wines have proved popular enough that more vineyards have been planted farther upriver in the Douro Superior, near the Spanish border. So the Douro is both an old wine region and a new one.  

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Stylistically, Douro’s table wines are similar to Spain’s famous reds from Rioja and Ribera del Duero; remember the tempranillo connection. Yet Douro reds have a complexity that seems to reach down into the schist that makes up the vineyard soils. They also have a leafy, somewhat woodsy character that speaks of the outdoors. They don’t conjure wood-paneled tasting rooms or barrel cellars as much as an autumn hike along a riverside trail. 

The Douro also leads Portugal in value, and I might not have said that a few years ago, when the wines seemed to aim at the higher end of the price spectrum. There are a few priced under $10: Charamba is nationally available, while Lello is available more in the Washington area market. The excitement now starts around the $15 level and up, with wines that outperform for their price. Quinta do Crasto and Muxagat are two labels I highly recommend for their entire line of wines. Others, such as Niepoort and Quinta do Vale Meao, are harder to find but worth seeking out and splurging on.

Another reason to love these wines: They often have a smoky, earthy character that pairs well with grilled foods. And the time for grilling is nigh.

Source: By Dave McIntyre www.washingtonpost.com

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Porto: Best European Destination 2014

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Porto: Best European Destination 2014

Porto, the second Portuguese largest city, was elected for the second time “Best European Destination” of the year, by the European Consumers Choice.

Porto was first awarded the honor in 2012. In 2013 the title was won by Istanbul.

Porto won with 14.8% of the votes, followed by Zagreb, Vienna, Nicosia, Budapest, the island of Madeira, Milan, Madrid, Berlin and Rome the other destinations in the top ten. The voting was carried online involving multiple social networks

According to the European Consumers Choice, “The fact that Porto has once more been selected reflects well its fame, attractiveness and excellence as a tourist destination, as well as the dynamism of this sector with the greatest growth potential and which contributes most to national GDP.”

For three weeks, from 22 January to 12 February, travelers from all over the world voted online on their favorite destination among the 20 shortlisted to participate on the competition.

Porto, population 237,559 (2011), offers a variety of resources and historic authenticity to its visitors. Discovering Porto means discovering what makes it different: the famous Port Wine, the Historical Center designated World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, Museums, enchanting parks and gardens.

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The city has undergone a remarkable renaissance in the last two decades. At the mouth of the Rio Douro, the hilly city presents a diversity of styles from narrow medieval alleyways to extravagant baroque churches, romantic little squares and wide modern boulevards.

The European Consumers Choice is an independent non-profit-making organization based in Brussels created to recognize companies skilled in producing innovative and intelligent designs for easy to use products. European Consumer Choice in partnership with tourism offices also rewards the best holiday destinations in Europe.

Using Eurostat’s annual tourism data and experts’ professional advice, a central jury selects 20 towns to compete for the “European Best Destination” title.

Source: http://portuguese-american-journal.com/

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