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Portugal

How many Portuguese wines get featured on Grapeaide? Not enough. They’re hearty, they’re often rustic, and they leave a red stain on teeth and lips that’s quite nearly bestial. Good carnivore wines, whether dense and tannic, or lighter and more acidic. Both have the muscle to pair with my other favorite thing: steak.

Tonight’s post is quick and to the point, concerning a wine that looks to be the same: the 2009 “Monte das Ânforas,” produced by Herdade das Ânforas, a winery located in the Alentejano region of Portugal, far to the south. Now, when most people talk Portuguese wine, they’re talking about wines made in the Dão and the Douro appellations, which are the most well-known regions for red Portuguese table wines. Douro wines tend to be more full-bodied and round, while Dão wines are usually lighter and higher in acidity. Both frequently present the budding oenophile with phenomenal values, across the board.

That said, if you want to impress your friends (and don’t we all), look further and you can find gems from the corners of the nation. Alentejano produces what most would consider “New World” style wine: red wine with flesh on its tannic bones, lip-smacking acidity dropping the drinker’s guard just before the dark core of the wine’s fruit swoops in like – pick your own animals, dear readers – a blackberry falcon.

What’s that? Not impressed yet? Alright – let’s have the wine speak for itself: the 2009 “Monte das Ânforas” is made from one of my consistently favorite grapes: Aragónez, also known as Tempranillo, the grape behind Rioja, of Spanish fame. Some Trincadeira and Alfrocheiro, two other indigenous Portuguese grapes, made the blend as well. A cherry red in the glass, straight to the rim, nice clarity. Gorgeous fruity aromas, mixed dark berries and a hint of damp earth sprinkled with dried herbs. Great intensity, hearty texture; the concentration of fruit belies the price point with every sip. Finishes medium, clean because it’s unoaked, but with poise – this is a balanced, good value wine that tastes out of its league. What kind of league am I talking about? The $8 league. Buy a case.

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So… it has been a big chunk of time since an update, and I’m backlogged by about 20 wines. These tasting notes just have to be shared in time for Thanksgiving and Christmas, then I can forgive myself.

A quick one for what’s finally seeming like fall weather! Now that it’s getting cold again, the 99% need an affordable, rich red to quaff in their modest dwellings. As one of the more modest among us, I have a recommendation: Portugal. Wines from this tiny nation remain among the best values around, and there are so many grape varietals to choose from, you’ll rarely go wrong even below the $10 price point – if you know where to look. The region Alentejo in particular, where the subject of today’s post is made, produces extroverted “New World” style wines with big fruit and ripe textures.

The 2009 Marques de Montemor is comprised primarily of Aragonez (better known as Tempranillo in Spain), but also has some juice from another favorite Portuguese red grape, Touriga Nacional, and a grape I’d never heard of before: Trincadeira. To the point: when poured, it is pale brick red in the glass, bursting with ripe aromas of strawberry and cherry. Some loam or dry leafy notes in there as well. Very approachable, with a velvety mouthfeel and a medium finish. Totally unoaked, and reasonably balanced, with enough acidity to keep the fruit bright. Pair this fine example of Portuguese wine with burgers, or pork chops and roasted vegetables. $10.

I am a dessert wine kind of guy. Not a “give me some of that wine with my Snickers” guy, rather a “stop, wait – with dinner over, let us retire to the crackling fire and wait for the snow to stop falling with glasses of Tokaji” kind of guy. Noting that it had been some while since my last post, and noting I that almost never review dessert wines, I decided to try some port.

Port is a wine with an extremely dynamic and varied past. The appellation where it is produced, the Douro Valley region of Portugal, was demarcated in 1763, making it the third-oldest appellation in the world, after Chianti and Tokaji – two of my other favorite places. Usually a sweet red dessert wine, and is always the result of blending a wide number of grape varieties – up to one hundred types of grape are permitted, but principally Touriga Nacional (Tempranillo), Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Francesa are used, as in the wine under discussion for this post. Fermentation is stopped using a neutral grape spirit called aguardente, which leaves residual sugar in the wine while also boosting alcohol content. The wine is then stored in oak barrels in caves, or cellars, for differing periods of time, depending on the final wine being produced.

It seems appropriate to briefly examine the most common types of Port available:

Tawny Port – this style is produced from red grapes aged in oaken barrels using the Solera process, exposing them to gradual oxidation and evaporation, resulting in a golden-brown color. Aging in oak imparts nutty flavors and aromas to this type of port, which is blended to match the producer’s house style (like NV Champagne). Tawny ports are sweet or off-dry and generally considered a dessert wine.

Ruby Port – this is the cheapest and most widely-made type of port. After fermentation, it is usually aged in stainless steel tanks to prevent oxidation, and preserve its rich red color. The wine is fined and filtered before bottling, and is not intended for aging, as its quality will not improve. Ruby port often exudes fresh fruit aromas, and seems bright in the mouth. Meant for casual consumption, this serves as a decent “party port.” Like tawny port, this wine is also blended to match the house style.

LBV (Late Bottled Vintage) Port – Late Bottled Vintage port is wine that originally had been destined for bottling as Vintage Port, but because of lack of demand was left in the barrel for longer than had been planned. LBV port wine is intended to provide some of the experience of drinking a Vintage Port but without the need for lengthy bottle aging. This style can feature some great bargains.

Vintage Port – The finest style, representing only about 2% of a Port house’s total production. These wines are made from grapes grown in a single exceptional vintage year, showing the finest qualities that can be achieved by that producer and appellation. Vintage ports are aged in oak barrels for a maximum of two and a half years before bottling, and generally require another ten to thirty years of bottle aging before reaching maturity. Since vintage port wines are aged in barrels for only a short time, they retain their dark ruby color, along with fresh fruit aromas and flavors. Particularly fine vintage ports can continue to grow more complex and fascinating for up to a century after they are bottled. Clearly, not every year is a vintage year.

So, this particular wine, the 2004 Royal Oporto Vintage Port, merits attentive description.On the nose, it shows wonderfully full aromas of black fruits, such as cherry and plum with distinct undertones of hazelnuts and dark chocolate. I also caught some notes of burnt caramel and anise. It has a lush, silky mouthfeel, with well-rounded tannins and great balance. Delicious. $15 for a half bottle.


Vinho Verde: crisp, light, fresh, possessed of low alcohol and lots of mineral, usually with a hint of effervescence: nothing better at a picnic table or the beach in summer, especially if you’ve value in mind. I have reviewed other Vinho Verde wines here before, so I will pass on the background and cut to the chase, except to note that this wine is produced in the Minho region in the far north of Portugal.

I bought this wine, the 2008 Espiral Vinho Verde, at Trader Joe’s Wine Shop in Union Square. My conclusion is the same as many others’: buy this wine by the case. At $3.99, you simply will not find a better bargain. A sun-bleached straw color in the glass, the nose features aromas of lemon and other citrus zest, leading to crisp lemon-lime fruit braced by killer acidity in the mouth. Nearly tart in its acidity, but attractively so: lean and cleansing, a great companion to shrimp barbecued in a lime-based marinade, or light fish dishes like sole, basa, or halibut.


Vinho Verde: what wine is better for casual sipping at the beach in summer? That rhetorical question out of the way, let us focus on this showing from the Minho region of Portugal. Made from the Loureiro grape, the 2008 Gazela is a light-bodied, crisp and fruity wine showing citrus notes on the nose, primarily lemon zest and apricot aromas. In the mouth, firm acidity balances the citrus and slight hints of melon fruit, making this another decent pairing for shellfish like shrimp or lighter fish offerings, such as sauteed sole or flounder. Light carbonation makes this wine slightly effervescent. Incredible value. $5.


The 2006 Porca de Murça is from the Douro region in Portugal, the same region that is home to the producers of Port, one of the great dessert wines of the world. I am sipping a glass of it as I write this post; generally, I wait for a day to allow impressions to meld with tasting notes, but in this case I just couldn’t wait to write it up. The nose is dominated by aromas of fresh cherries, while the mouthfeel is wonderful in its fleshy velvet softness, with some tannins providing structural backing for the dark plums and other black fruits. The finish is short, but features strident acidity. An excellent food wine for hearty meat dishes, like veal or lamb bolognese, or hard cheeses. $6 a bottle. Buy a case.