It isn’t hard to fall in love with Portugal. Though geographically a small country, it has an immense amount to offer. While places like France, Spain, and Italy get a lot of attention, Portugal is often overlooked. We believe this is changing.
The Portuguese people are wonderful. Enthusiasm, generosity and kindness poured from nearly every person we met. We could sense from each of them their appreciation and pride in the growing interest the world is showing them and their wines.
As wine importers, our focus is always on meeting with small farmers and winemakers who are more committed to natural farming and minimal intervention winemaking. They value taking care of the land and grapes and do as little as possible to manipulate the wine after the harvest. Wine is a hard business to be in, but the passion we saw was evidence that their interests lay more in producing great wine and living fulfilling lives than in turning massive profits.
When we share stories and insights about our journey as wine importers, we usually focus on the positive things about the places and the wine we’re loving. In reality we certainly don’t like all the wine we find. Not everyone we meet is as passionate or dedicated to quality as we’d like.
We only have a few clues about the quality of the wine and the winery before we get to each one. In Portugal, we found ourselves at two different mass produced wine factories. I use the word factory, because that’s exactly what it feels and looks like. It’s loud. People are all over the place working, but not actually making wine. We learned that they use more additives than usual and when we tasted, it came across in the wine. I even tried to trick myself with blind tastings later away from the winery, but they were unmistakable next to brilliant wines from small vineyards. Fortunately, we visited plenty of small producers that were committed to natural farming and minimal intervention winemaking.
The Dão was the first region in Portugal we explored. The best of the wines here are wonderfully structured, full of purpose and deliberate flavors. Many of the reds have the essence of strawberry, purple flowers and minerality. The whites are strong and acidic but beautifully balanced, many with citrus and mineral flavors. Some whites here are go through malolactic fermentation which causes the acids to transform into a more soft and luscious mouthfeel that is a special treat!
After the Dão, we went to the Duoro. The Duoro is the most famous wine region in Portugal, where the grapes that make Port wine are grown. But what most don’t know is that they also make still wine there. It’s hotter in the Duoro, so the berries become more ripe. This means they have more sugar to turn into alcohol, so the wines are more full bodied and bold, just the way a lot of Americans like their wine. Even with the high amount of fruit flavors, they typically still have a wonderful mineral component.
We also had a few visits in the Minho Valley, most famous for the semi-sparkling style of the DOC Vinho Verde. I hear people are going crazy for these white wines with just a hint of fizz, but we didn’t fall in love with any. If a still wine continues to ferment in the bottle the result is a slight fizz when you open it up. Normally this is considered a flaw in the wine. But Vinho Verde took hold of the reigns and made this their style. Today’s advances in the technology of winemaking can easily prevent this flaw, but because of its reputation, some producers artificially create the fizz. We only fell in love with one Vinho Verde wine, but not a fizzy one. It was a still white made from the Alvarhino grape. It had wonderful fruit flavors, was elegant, easy to drink on its own but had enough structure to pair with an array of foods. I’m sure I still have more tasting to do in this area to find more gems, but happily we found one on this trip.
After visiting with numerous winemakers day after day and trying countless wines from this beautiful country with it’s emerging wine scene, we’re now working hard to bring back to the United States the ones we loved with the best values.
Music Attribution: “When the Sky Turns Blue” by BOCrew (http://ccmixter.org/files/BOCrew/31685)
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