Cellar-Starting Portuguese Reds
Mid-August may seem an odd time to talk about cellaring inexpensive Portugese reds, but the character of this genre has been something of a revelation. I’ve tasted virtually the entire LCBO general list for the Toronto Life Eating and Drinking Guide (out in October) and December’s Food and Wine CityGuide, and I’ve just finished the section on Spain and Portugal. Here’s a sneak preview of what’s coming, plus four picks demonstrating the age-worthiness of Portugal’s reds.
Spain and Portugal are next-door neighbours on the Iberian Peninsula, and side by side in market share in Ontario—with Spain in ninth spot at 2.42% and Portugal in tenth at 2.15%. (LCBO figures from the year ending March 2006). Both are gaining momentum in terms of listings at the LCBO and sales, with Spain increasing by $5 million last year and Portugal by $2 million. The reason is simple. The wines are getting better, and prices remain very fair. Both countries still rely heavily on indigenous grape varieties, often blending several together and labeling by region not grape. All of which makes the wines less familiar to many consumers, and keeps the prices lower. So those willing to venture will find some great bargains. This section is truly one of the most intriguing at the LCBO.
Spain and Portugal may be neighbours but their red wine styles are quite different. In general, both are relying less on oak barrels, and trying to bring the fruit forward through better winemaking and viticulture. Yet the Spanish palate still loves supple, smooth reds. Many are coddled in soft, vanilla/mocha and cedary oak, although fewer have the dried-out, leathery, earthy flavours of traditional, long-aged Riojas. Portuguese reds however are built on more firm acidity and tannin, offering some the best budget cellaring wines at the LCBO. In particular look to the rapidly improving, still-inexpensive wines of the Douro Valley (home to Port) and of the Dao region.
Here are four inexpensive Portuguese wines I wouldn’t hesitate to put in my own cellar, and especially recommend for those wanting to start a cellar on a budget. From the Douro Valley, Sogrape Vila Regia 2001 Reserva **** ($11.85, LCBO) is among the best maturing reds at the LCBO, with another five years in the tank. Sweet cherry centres, leather, dried herb, pecan. Medium-full bodied, firm and well proportioned, with very good length. Aveleda 2004 Charamba ***1/2 ($8.40, LCBO) captures the solid essence and ripe fruit driving Douro’s red wine revolution. Complex dark fruit, lead pencil, cedar, pepper and vanilla, its mid-weight, firm and dry; well proportioned. Best 2007 to 2011. From the Dao region, tradtionally a home for rustic, tannic reds, Qunita da Carvalhais 2002 Duque de Viseu ***1/2 ($12.95,Vintages Essential) shows lifted complex spice, evergreen, red currant, plum and vanilla bouquet. Medium-full bodied, fairly open knit and dense, with a dry, leathery, earthy finish. Now to 2009. Quinta de Cabriz 2003 Coheita Seleccionada *** ($11.95, LCBO) shows a soft vanilla, sweet cherry nose with typical Dao evergreen on the finish. Substantial and smooth with firm but not austere tannin. Now to 2009.