Steeped in Tradition
When it comes to wine making, Portugal is a country steeped in tradition. Many wines are still made by stomping the grapes by foot in ancient lagares. Portugal’s most famous wine, Port, is still meticulously handcrafted using century-old methods. Port is a lusciously sweet, powerfully fortified wine and is considered one of the most remarkable wines in the world. The history of Port is intrinsically tied to Britain. The British transformed simple juicy red wines made on the banks of the Douro River into the rich, fortified wine it is today. The five leading grapes used to make Port are Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca,Tinto Cao, Touriga Francesa and Tinta Roriz. To make Port, grapes are crushed and put into a tank to macerate. After about twenty-four hours, fermentation begins and the grape’s sugar begins to turn into alcohol. At the point when about half the natural sugar has been converted, fermentation is stopped by pouring the wine into a vat containing neutral grape spirits (clear brandy). The alcohol in the spirits causes the yeast to die and fermentation subsides. The result is a sweet wine with about 10 percent residual sugar, fortified with about 20 percent alcohol. The Port is then usually aged in wood depending on what style is being created. There are many different types of Port, ranging from White, to Ruby, Young Tawny, Aged Tawny, Vintage Character, Late Bottled Vintage, to Vintage.
Madeira comes from the small, rugged, volcanic island of the same name and is similar to Port as it is a fortified wine. In the late seventeenth century, wine makers began adding brandy to Madeira to stabilize and preserve it. This allowed the wine to be shipped great distances overseas. Madeira’s toffee-caramel like character comes as a result of heating the wine. The best Madeiras are aged in wood casks with a deliberately left head space for the wine to slowly oxidize and mellow the flavor. There are several styles ranging from dry to sweet, starting with Sercial, then Verdelho, Bual and finally Malmsey. Madeiras range in quality from common bulk wine to aged ranging from three to fifteen years, then Solera, the ultimate vintage wine.
There are five major wine regions in Portugal ranging from north to south. In the northwest is Minho, a major agricultural region and the place where Portugal’s most popular white wine comes from. Vinho Verde is a light, low alcohol wine with a touch of fizz. It is meant to be consumed soon after it’s production. The most commonly used grapes are, Alvarinho, Trajadura, Loureiro and Paderne. Douro is famous for Port, but also for dry red wines. The same grapes that are used to make Port are used to make dry red wines ranging from light and fruity to spicy dense wines with flavors of plum and raspberry. Dao lies 30 miles to the south of the Douro river, and is also a promising region, known for some excellent values in red wines made from over 50 grape varieties, most prominently Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo). Bairrada is just west of Dao, in central Portugal, near the Atlantic Ocean. The leading grape is the juicy acidic Baga, which by law must make up 50% of the blend of any red wine made there. About 60% of Portugal’s sparkling wines are made here, usually rustic, grapey red sparkling wines which pair well with the region’s suckling pig. The biggest wine region is the Alentejo, in the southeastern part of the country. Known mostly for red wine made using Periquita, and Aragonez grapes, this region produces more than half the world’s supply of corks.
I hope you will have the opportunity to sample the delicious wines from Portugal!
April’s Wines of the Month are a 2013 Raptor Ridge Pinot Gris from Willamette Oregon. This white wine shows stone and tree fruit, citrus notes and a refreshing mineral- focused acidic finish. The red is a 2009 Chateau du Port Malbec from Cahors France. This wine features aromas of ripe red and blackberries, a silky texture with notes of oak and vanilla.
Wine Club members please come in early in the month to pick up your bottles before they are gone.