First published in The Irish Times,Saturday 24th August, 2019
Portugal has always done wine differently, placing its trust in a group of indigenous red and white varieties rather than the well-known “international” grapes. For a while it seemed as if the rest of the world was content to ignore the wines, even though some were world class, but that has all changed in the past decade or so.
I wrote earlier this year about Alvarinho, the Portuguese name for Albariño, the variety responsible for Rías Baixas in northern Spain. Most Alvarinho is used to make vinho verde, or green wine, in the north of Portugal. The green refers not to the colour of the wine but to the verdant countryside; you can actually find red vinho verde. The quality of white vinho verde has shot up in recent years, but so too has white wine in every part of Portugal.
I have written about Prova Regia before too. Various versions are widely available from independents and from O’Briens for €14-€16; this is one of the best-value white wines of all. Prova Regia is made from the Arinto grape.
Originally from the coastal regions around Lisbon, Arinto has spread to other regions, particularly Alentejo, where it is prized for its ability to retain much-needed acidity in hot climates. Given a year or so to develop, it can also have richer peachy flavours.
Antaô Vaz is another high-quality indigenous variety that has some Chardonnay-like characteristics. Pick early and you get a crisp, refreshing dry wine. Leave it a while longer on the vine and you get a much richer, more textured wine, with plump ripe fruits.
The third high-quality grape is Encruzado, grown mainly in the Dâo region, where it produces excellent crisp, dry whites with structure and plenty of rich fruit.
Add in Fernão Pires, Loureiro, Bical, Roupeiro, Rabigato, Gouveio, and many more, and you have an array of exciting unusual varieties. The names do not trip off the tongue, and, to make matters even more complicated, each of these varieties will have its own unique local name in each region. All are pretty much exclusive to Portugal, and most are capable of producing good, sometimes great, wine. Once you taste a few wines, you begin to understand why Portugal never really needed to import Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay.
At the entry level, O’Briens pioneered inexpensive Portuguese blends, with the Porta 6 and Júlia Florista wines both available for about €10. SuperValu and Fresh now offer similar wines. But it is worth paying a few euro more to find wines with uniquely Portuguese character and style. All of the wines below are made from blends, all 100 per cent Portuguese.
Fonte do Ouro 2018, Dâo Branco, Portugal
Fresh and fruity; greengages and apples with lively lemon zest and a crisp, dry finish. Perfect with grilled hake and dill.
From: O’Briens, obrienswine.ie
Herdade de Grous Branco 2018, Alentejo
A wine blessed with succulent plump, peachy fruits balanced perfectly by a streak of citrus. The Reserva (€27) is even better. Drink solo, with nibbles or a Greek salad.
From: Morton’s, Dublin 6, mortons.ie; La Touche, Greystones, Co Wicklow, latouchewines4u.ie; the Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Fresh, freshthegoodfoodmarket.ie; Redmonds, Dublin 6, redmonds.ie; Matson’s, Grange and Bandon, Co Cork, twitter.com/matsonswines; MacGuinness Wines, Dundalk, Co Louth, dundalkwines.com; Whelehan’s Wines, Dublin 18, whelehanswines.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Listons, Dublin 2, listonsfoodstore.ie; D-Six Wines, Dublin 6; peggykellys.ie; Donnybrook Fair, Dublin, donnybrookfair.ie; Red Island Wine Co, Skerries, Co Dublin, facebook.com/Red-Island-Wine-Company
Clima 2016, Vale da Capucha IG Lisboa
Delicious textured nectarines with a distinctive salty tang. Serve with richer fish dishes; some stewed squid or octopus, perhaps?
From: First Draft Coffee & Wine, Dublin 8, firstdraftcoffeandwine.com; Avoca, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4, and Monkstown and Rathcoole, Co Dublin, avoca.com; the Wine House, Trim, Co Meath; Lilac Wines, Dublin 3, sweeneysd3.ie
Redoma Branco 2018, Douro, Niepoort
Light, crisp and mineral with light pear fruits, hints of toasted almonds and a long, dry finish. Drink this with oysters – or go Portuguese, with grilled sardines.
From: Morton’s, Dublin 6, mortons.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; Blackrock Cellar, Co Dublin, blackrockcellar.com; Redmonds, Dublin 6, rRedmonds.ie; siyps.com; Wicklow Wine Co, wicklowwineco.ie; Nectar Wines, Dublin 18, nectarwines.com