A week in southern Portugal provided opportunities to sample a range of fine wines. Some would cost a small fortune in Asia but in the country of origin they are available to people like me on a limited budget.
The Pêra-Manca is one of Portugal’s legendary estates. I tasted the most recent vintage of the white, the 2010. Its reputation and relatively high price mean the wine can be released after a few years in the bottle.
The label is simple, depicting a man on a horse presumably bidding farewell to a young woman. But the wine is complex: beautifully rounded and ripe, with aromas of pears, apricots and herbs wrapped in a structure of toast and with an intense clarity of texture. It feels simple and delicate yet is so profound.
Pêra-Manca is made on the Adega da Cartuxa estate in Évora, probably the best sub-region in the Alentejo region, from arinto and antão vaz grapes. Bottles have individual numbers.
Another wonderful wine with an individual number on the bottle – this time hand-written – was the Palacio da Brejoeira vinho verde. It is probably the most expensive vinho verde made in Portugal, but seems relatively inexpensive given the quality of the wine.
Palacio da Brejoeira is one of the flagship estates of the Vinho Verde region in the north of Portugal, in the Moncão e Melgace sub-region. The best vinho verde should be bone dry with a high level of citrus acidity that gives the sensation of sharpness.
The wine has the kinds of flavours and aromas one associates with high-quality riesling. But the intense sense of green apple and citrus flavors prove it is vinho verde (which translates as green wine).
It is mostly made from the alvarinho grape. Alvarinho tends to produce the biggest vinhos verdes in terms of alcohol levels – about 12.5 per cent – or much more than the 9.5 or 10 per cent common in the region. The Palacio da Brejoeira is 13 per cent.
The Brejoeira Palace is located in the town of Pine near the fancifully named county of Monsoon. Construction of the palace started early in the nineteenth century but was not completed until 1834. It was classified as a national monument in 1910. The now famous wine label was launched in 1977.
The 2008 Luis Pato Vinha Formal is considered the winemaker’s most serious sparkling white and one of the best sparklers in the country so I was looking forward to the encounter. The wine I tasted was disappointing.
The cork was shaped like a pencil when it came from the bottle rather than the usual expanded wedge shape. A dud cork meant diminished flavours and almost no bubble. The wine was flat within minutes, though the quality of the base wine was impressive.
Overall it was a pity because I’d been looking forward to the pleasures of this wine from the Barraida region. This wine – I cannot bring myself to call it a sparkling – is made from the bical grape fermented in new oak. The base wine had moved from the acid and citrus of its youth to a more subtle lemon and cashew nut combination.
Jose Bento Santos purchased the Quinta do Monte d’Oiro in the Lisboa region in 1986, convinced that the region could make wines similar to those made in the Rhone region of France. Lisboa is near the capital, Lisbon, and is not regarded as one of the country’s major regions. Santos removed the existing vines and planted syrah and cinsault initially, later adding indigenous grapes such as tinta roriz and touriga nacional.
A colleague and I tasted his 2008 reserva, made mostly from syrah with a dash of viognier. The proportion varies slightly each year but is typically about 5 per cent. The grapes are co-fermented in stainless steel vats, followed by a long maceration (leaving the skins with the juice to extract colour) that produces deep and vibrant hues. The wine is aged in French oak for 18 months – about a third new and the rest a few years older.
Words on the wine’s back label translate as “there’s a metaphorical gold in those hills”. It is a reference to the slopes of the region, which turn gold around sunset. Thus the origin of the vineyard’s name, translated as mountain of gold. In the glass the wine presented sensations of black plums and a range of spices typical of syrah. The viognier adds floral notes and a perfumed sensation. A lovely wine.
Some major wine writers consider this the best syrah on the Iberian peninsula. The famous American critic Robert Parker said Monte d’Oiro should be considered one of Portugal’s “most interesting boutiques” noting that prices were rising because of its reputation.
Buying wine in the country of origin offers twin wonders – a way to appreciate unique flavours and also find bargains. Both apply in Portugal.
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