Are you ready to drink more Portuguese wine?
Márcio Ferreira of Viniportugal certainly hopes so. Viniportugal, a Portuguese wine export trade organization, was in the Bay Area last week meeting with local wine merchants and sommeliers. Márcio Ferreira hosted a lunch (at the impeccable NOPA) organized by Evan Goldstein of Full Circle Wine Solutions to taste a few wines and share some information about the grapes, growing regions and producers of Portugal.
I am happy to report that the wines were very good as is the news in general coming out of Portugal. The Portuguese wine industry has paid close attention what has worked well in Spain over the last ten years and is applying the lessons learned from the recent success of their neighbor to the east. With recent infrastructure improvements, private investors from within Portugal as well as from other countries are building new wineries and producing an ever widening array of wines across a broad range of styles and price points. Indigenous grape varieties are being recuperated and ancient growing regions are being renovated. Portugal is embracing tradition while simultaneously recognizing the need for modern wine production technology.
In the year ahead I expect to see more Portuguese wines showing up on local restaurant wine lists. At The Spanish Table I am adding a few wines from the tasting last week (read about them below) that I think are perfect choices to help you become more familiar with a country whose wines deserve more attention. Look forward to more choices in Portuguese reds (and whites too) as the year progresses.
‘Calçots’ are a variety of green onion (somewhere between a scallion and a leek) that are traditionally harvested at this time of years, grilled over a wood fire and wrapped in newspaper where they steam a bit before being consumed out of hand after a dip in rich, nutty/peppery Romesco sauce and a sprinkle of sea salt. Never having attended the real deal in Catalunya, I am anxious to check this out for myself. I’ll report back if I make it up to Napa on Monday.
Speaking of Romesco sauce, you can buy one of several brands of Romesco sauce here at The Spanish Table and liven up not only grilled onions but also just about anything grilled from fish to beef. If you are feeling like making your own, here is a recipe adapted from the César Cookbook that many customers rave about.
Salsa Romesco (makes about 2 cups)
1 cup blanched marcona almonds
4 dried ñora peppers
½ cup day old bread pieces
¾ cup piquillo peppers
1 clove garlic
¾ teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon picante smoked paprika
¾ cups extra virgin Spanish olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Toast the nuts in a 350 degree oven for ten minutes until light brown, then allow to cool. Rehydrate ñora peppers by simmering in 1 cup of water for 5 minutes. After the peppers have cooled in the water remove them and soak up the remaining water with the day old bread. Pulse the room temperature nuts in a food processor until coarsely ground. Add the rehydrated ñoras, piquillo peppers, soaked bread, garlic, salt, sugar and smoked paprika to the food processor and blend to a thick paste. With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil followed by the lemon juice and both vinegars. Blend to a slightly chunky puree. Serve this in a bowl alongside grilled vegetables, fish, meat or just about anything that could use a little zing. The unused portion keeps well in the fridge for a week.
Paella Class: The first paella and wine class of the year is coming up at Kitchen on Fire cooking school here in Berkeley and a few tickets are still available. The date is Monday February 23rd at 6:30 pm. The cost is $65 per person and includes hands-on instruction to create several tapas and a large paella mixta, all of which will be consumed during the class. Several paella-friendly Spanish wines will also be sampled. Kitchen on Fire is handling the signup for this fun and popular class. Go to their website for more details.
Capote Velho This non-vintage red ‘vinho de mesa‘ from Portugal really delivers on freshness and versatility. This is a full liter (1.5 regular sized bottles) of wine with gentle berry-like fruit character, bright acidity and soft grape skin tannins coupled with a moderate level of alcohol (11.5%). Like a no name house wine in a little Portuguese bar or restaurant, this red tastes great by itself and will also accompany, but not overshadow, a broad range of foods. I just retried this wine a few days ago and not only is it in perfect shape but it has gone down a buck in price since the last time I ordered it. This is an amazing bargain. $10.99 (1 liter)
Quinta de San Francisco Tinto 2005 From a little known region called DOC Óbidos located just north of Lisbon comes this red wine composed of 60 % Castelão, 20% Aragonez and 20 % Touriga Nacional. Garnet colored with a brickish tinge, this wine displays initial aromas of fresh berry and fresh portland cement. I get more mineral notes and light mulberry fruit character on the palate along with a bit of black pepper spice. Eight months of barrel age lends a gentle tannic note to the wine. One of my favorite wines from the recent Viniportugal trade tasting. $11.99
Cartuxa Évora 2004 This wine has a long history in the Alentejo region of eastern Portugal. The winery was established in 1896 on the site of an ancient Carthusian monastery. In 1957 Vasco Maria Eugenio de Almeida bought and refurbished the winery which now carries his name as part of his philanthropic efforts to improve the Alentejo region. Cartuxa is composed of a blend of of Periquita, Aragonez, Trincadeira, Moreto and Alfrocheiro grapes. The wine displays dark garnet color that fades to brick red at the rim of the glass. Loamy mushroom aroma intermingles with the scent of fresh earth. The wine mixes flavors that are savory and lean (black olive, oak, white pepper) with bold fruit flavors of black currant and plum. Firm tannins add texture and indicate that this wine will hold its character even after years in the cellar. We featured the 2003 vintage of this wine in our wine club a few years ago, priced at $25.00. Would you believe that the price has gone down a bit since then? $21.99
Altozano Blanco 2007 This fresh, food friendly Spanish white wine was the big hit of our recent Gonzalez-Byass wine dinner at César in Oakland. Made by the same folks who bring you the ever popular Tio Pepe Fino Sherry, this Castilla region blend of Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc is bright and tangy with green herb aroma and grapefruity citrus flavor. $9.99
Beronia Crianza 2005 Another wine featured and enjoyed at the recent Gonzalez-Byass wine dinner was this barrel aged Rioja from Beronia (the Rioja region winery of Gonzalez-Byass). This blend of mostly Tempranillo blended with small amounts of Garnacha and Mazuelo spends 12 months in oak (American and French) before bottling. The barrel character plays a prominent role here but never overwhelms the cranberry and cherry fruit character. The various elements in this wine are well knit, unlike some wines where the oak envelopes the wine like a woolen blanket, obscuring all other scents and flavors. This is a very “Spanish tasting” wine at a very reasonable price. $14.99
Tejada 2005 This Tempranillo/Garnacha blend was the best seller of our recent experiment in wines made from Iberian grapes grown in California. Back in 1999 Spanish natives Celia Tejada and her brother Ivo started this small family winery in Lake County. They planted part of their 80 acre property with 3.5 acres of Tempranillo and Garnacha (the grapes they remembered from home). This small estate vineyard is the source for the fruit that goes into two Tejada wines (this one and a more mature reserva). The blend here is 58% Tempranillo and 42% Garnacha. This is a dark garnet colored wine with fresh red berry fruit character, mid-weight barrel tannins and a lean, savory element that helps retain the Spanish style of the wine. $21.99