Portugal Pleases

Portugal Pleases

Posted on Jan, 27. 2010 by

Categories: Wine

Last Wednesday, we hosted Kevin Schultz of Dionysos. In our ongoing effort to introduce you to new wines at ridiculously low price points during this post-holiday-gift-buying-doldrums time of year, we poured a bevy of absurdly cheap Portuguese selections. Ease up on the wallet, not on the quality, right? Some of you may be somewhat familiar with Portuguese wines (outside of Port, of course), while others may have just had a fleeting glass here and there. Rarely, though, is a lineup of pure Portugal poured, so this was a bit of an education for all of us.

Remember a decade or so ago, when Spain was racking up the 90+ Wine Advocate scores on sub-$15 bottles left and right? Alas, as with any phenomenon in the wine world, the market caught up, and those wines are now marked up beyond what they’re worth in most cases. Well, Portugal is now what Spain was then, to an extent. Thing is, Portugal doesn’t have a whole lot of those over-the-top soupy reds that ring Parker’s bell, so it’s stayed under the radar in large part. But just because it doesn’t produce as many Rioja-esque opulence bombs doesn’t mean it’s not the source of some amazing, quality-packed wines. In fact, its restraint tends to be its highlight in my eyes. So, without further ado, here are my top wines from last week:

2007 Tojo – Lisa Muscat
Retail price before [member discount|Our members save an average of 25% off the normal retail prices. As a courtesy to the retail wine industry we do not publish our prices.] $10.00 • Buy this wine!
I’ll start off with my first and most lasting impression of this wine: in Alsace, this would cost at least twice as much. It drinks like a single vineyard Gewurtz, with a classic spiciness and a touch of smoke that’s offset by a forward richness. Plenty of this richness is your palate playing tricks on you, though, because it can come across as pretty sweet up front, but by the time it’s washed over the back of your palate, it’s clean like Sancerre. I really, really, really can’t believe this wine is under eight bucks! I kept going back to it, and it kept hitting me like a mid-tier $20-something Alsatian. I’ve also been scheming on the various dishes that I could make to pair with this…seems to me like a perfect food wine. And now I’m drooling for Choucroute…

2007 Quinta Cabriz – Dao
Retail price before [member discount|Our members save an average of 25% off the normal retail prices. As a courtesy to the retail wine industry we do not publish our prices.] $10.00 • Buy this wine!
This reminded me of stinky Cab Franc and Gamay – of course I’m gonna nerd up on it. The lightest red of the night, it stood out because of the restraint I mentioned above. Delicate, in a very precise and fragile balancing act between being too aloof and too flat. And, it wears it well. I have a special fondness for wines that occupy a knife’s edge like this, because they just seem to be meant for that one place at that one time. Any more oak, any less fruit, any more weight, and this is in an entirely different category. Moreover, wines like this are, like the Tojo, rare at this price level. Light red fruit layered on electric acidity (without being tart), a bit like cherry pie with just the right amount of sugar (or, lack thereof depending on how you look at it). A bit of funk and holiday spice, and a fleeting touch of cedar. Stuff like this is why Portugal intrigues me so much!

2007 Esporao – Reserva Red – Alentejo
Retail price before [member discount|Our members save an average of 25% off the normal retail prices. As a courtesy to the retail wine industry we do not publish our prices.] $23.50 • Buy this wine!
It’s back, baby! We tasted the 05 and 06 last year, and our minds were sufficiently blown. The 07, I think, outdoes the 06, and is in a class all by itself when it comes to bang for the buck. Granted, this is relatively expensive for Portugal, but one smell of this wine and you’ll know why. Serious, brooding dark fruits covered with chocolate and vanilla, complexity that keeps pulling you down the rabbit hole, and an exquisite structure that screams for 5 years in our cellars. It leaps out of the glass with an explosiveness that few wines from the region can match, and finishes with a long, slightly tannic coating of the palate. All I can say is, great juice, great handling, and like the last two, far, far beyond its price tag in terms of quality and depth…without ever being flat, or too opulent, or overdone. Killer!
Thanks to Kevin and to everyone who stopped by to check out the lineup. See you next week…until then, stay dry!

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