At The Spanish Table in Berkeley I buy wines with a very specific national focus. Spain, Portugal, Chile and Argentina. That’s it.
Still, selecting wines from just the countries we represent, I go through periods of intense interest in one style or region or winemaker and I take home lots of wines from wherever/whatever/whomever is my current obsession. Lately I have been really enjoying the wines from Portugal, specifically the reds from the Dão region and the whites from Vinho Verde.
Not so long ago Dão wines were often rustic, chunky reds that displayed little in the way of freshness or complexity. These days, and especially this time of year, I have been enjoying a range of Dão wines, both young and more mature, that show off the improvements in quality for wines from this region.
In Vinho Verde, as with Dão, the quality level is rising with each year. Intrepid importers who once only shipped inexpensive, non-vintage blends for summertime picnics now supply us with some top notch varietal wines from this region on Portugal’s northern border.
As spring continues to unfold in the Bay Area I find that these Portuguese wines match the season perfectly. Lively, youthful aromas, bright fruit character and intriguing mineral notes pair wonderfully with a springtime menu. These wines, many of which have yet to be discovered by food and wine lovers in our little corner of the globe, offer a clear sense of place with styles and characteristics that are distinctly Portuguese.
To get a feeling for these wines, I suggest pairing them with a typical Portuguese dish, and few foods in Portugal are more typical than salt cod. Here is a classic version of a baked casserole that also has the advantage of using up some of those hard boiled Easter eggs that many of you will have on hand right now.
Salt Cod and Potato Casserole – adapted from The Food of Portugal by Jean Anderson
(Serves 6 as a main course)
1 lb. Dried salt cod fillet
1 Large yellow onion
2 lbs. Yukon Gold (or Russet) potatoes
1/3 cup Minced parsley
1 tblspn. Butter
3 tblspns. Portuguese olive oil
3 Hard boiled eggs, peeled and cut in wedges
12 Oil cured black olives, pitted
1 tblspn. Salt
1 tblspn. Ground black pepper
One day ahead, soak the Salt Cod in cold water, changing the water twice in 24 hours.
The next day, drain the Cod and poach it in 1 quart of simmering water on the stove for twenty minutes or until the fish starts to flake apart.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While waiting for the oven to come up to temperature, slice the onion in thin rings and sauté in a clay cazuela on the stove top with the butter and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until the onion has softened and taken on a bit of color. Remove the onions when cooked. Peel and slice the potatoes in thin rounds and add them to the cazuela with the rest of the olive oil. Sauté the potatoes until they start to soften and fall apart. Mix in the cooked onions along with the salt, pepper and half of the parsley. Tuck big flakes of the cod into the potato and onion mixture. Top with the pitted olives and bake uncovered in the oven for 30-40 minutes until lightly browned on top. Remove from oven and garnish with wedges of hard boiled eggs and the rest of the parsley. Serve with a green salad and any of the wines below.
Broadbent Vinho Verde $10.99 An excellent example of top quality Vinho Verde. Composed of 50% Loureiro, 40% Trajadura and 10% Padernã it is light in color with lemon and grapefruit aromas. On the palate it offers more citrus as well as a bit of flinty minerality carried along by slight effervescence that makes the wine refreshing and easy to drink.
Ponte de Lima Adamado 2006 $9.99 This Vinho Verde is fresh and a bit fuller bodied than some others from this region. The extra dollop of fruit character is round and generous, adding weight to the flinty/spritzy Vinho Verde style. I pair this with a composed salad of butter lettuce, white asparagus and top shelf Ventresca tuna.
Solar de Serrade Alvarinho 2006 $17.99 In Portugal, Vinho Verde is often thought of (with good reason) as a simple, spritzy white wine for picnics and parties. This Vinho Verde on the other hand is a whole different story. Made from the Alvarinho grape (Albariño in Spain), this elegantly dry and flinty white wine is finely balanced and fragrant. If you are curious about just how good Vinho Verde can be, this is a perfect place to begin your investigation.
Quinta dos Grilos 2005 $15.99 Grilo is Portuguese for cricket, and while you won’t find any crickets in this wine, the flavor may remind you of a warm summer night in the back yard, grilling something tasty, swatting mosquitoes and listening to the (you guessed it) crickets. From the Dao region of Portugal, this red wine is bright and savory, with cherry-like fruit overlaying a tannic core. Chirp!
Primavera Dão 2003 $14.99 The Dao region was once among the most desirable sources of quality red wines in Portugal. These wines were dry and earthy with rich but oxidized fruit character. Over time this style fell out of favor with the international market (the Portuguese still love the old style). Flash forward to the current day and we see some fresh, fragrant Dão wines that still retain some elements of the old style. This wine is a perfect example of how this region is blending modern style with traditional heritage. Fashioned from a blend of Touriga Nacional Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca, the garnet color and the dark berry fruit character balance fine tannins and background minerality.
Cardeal Reserva 2002 $13.99 This Dão wine is made from 100% Touriga Nacional, one of the traditional varieties used in Porto. This wine was aged in barrel for over a year and has bed come softer and rounder from several years of bottle age. Still, the barrel character gives this wine a bit more of the old school Dão character, blending well with the dark berry fruit. Serve this with some grilled sardines for a traditional pairing.