A Portuguese Natter
In Portugal the backlash against austerity measures has kicked off and the country is bobbing in choppy waters. If it were a sailor, like Vasco da Gama, it would have scurried up the gangplank of the nearest tea clipper and cast out into the fearful Atlantic waters to explore new lands and trade in new markets. But what would Portugal take to trade on this expedition? Well, wine of course, we’re Oddbins; did you think we were going to carry on this nautical talk for long?
Well we might, because it’s fun. Although the Portuguese economy appears to have hit the doldrums, its wine industry is heading on a steady course. In fact exports to the USA, a major market for Portuguese wine, are expected to double by 2014. Here in Blighty, the strength of currencies in the southern hemisphere and increasing shipping costs have put European wines back in the game. Therefore, here in the Oddbins crow’s nest we have turned our telescopes towards the Iberian Peninsula.
It’s time to get acquainted, or reacquainted, with this small and, as Dubya would probably have described it, misunderestimated nation. Let’s play a game of “Did You Know?” Did you know that the Portuguese Empire was both the first global empire in history and the longest-lived of the European colonial empires, spanning almost six centuries? Did you know that the Anglo-Portuguese alliance is the oldest military alliance in history, having been ratified in 1386, some 626 years ago? Did you know that the Portuguese tried to introduce Catholicism to Japan? Though they may not have completely succeeded with this, they did convert their hosts to the joys of tempura. Did you know that the Cutty Sark was once Portuguese property, and its crew called it “Pequena Camisola”, meaning “little shirt”, a direct translation of the Scots “cutty sark”? Did you know that Portugal was the first colonial power to realise that slavery wasn’t very nice? Did you know that Portugal has the longest bridge in Europe? And did you know that Canadian-Portuguese singer Nelly Furtado has written songs that weren’t about her avian tendencies and some of them weren’t even that annoying? If you are on our mailing list you may have known some of these facts already, if you aren’t, well tsk, shame on you, straight to Davy Jones’ Locker without any tea. But you’ll be forgiven if you sign up here.
Sorry, we got carried away there. Hot-footing it back to the heart of the matter, instead of meandering around Portuguese history in a manner that would embarrass those brave people who tried to teach us history so many moon ago, we want to talk about the beauty of Portuguese wine. Portugal has steadfastly declined to go down the route of the classic “international grape varieties”, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, which are grown almost everywhere. Instead it has stayed anchored to its largely unpronounceable indigenous grape varieties, like Alfrocheiro, Castelão, Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira. This is because the country is very comfortable in its own skin and proud of its traditions, and although these grape varieties may sound confusing, it’s worth bearing in mind that a lot them feature in Port, a drink that we British all know and love. The Portuguese have a proverb that “all wine would be Port if it could”, we think that this usage of this adage will fade in the face of the belting wines that are being produced.
Take Quinta de Bons Ventos (£6.50) for example. This has reached legendary status in our stores, and customers have started abbreviating the name of this trusty wine to “QBV” and even simply “BV”. In fact it has proved so popular that we’ve just had magnums of this elixir made, which have started to arrive into our stores this week. The mix of 50% Castelão, 20% Camarate, 15% Tinta Miuda and 15% Touriga Nacional, produces a wine that is complex and weighty with juicy fruits and liquorice notes that belie its meagre price. BV represents a serious bang to buck ratio.
Or, take Quinta dos Roques (£12), a chunky monkey from the historic region of Dão that uses some of those amazingly named local grape varieties. The 2009 vintage has heady violet and pine needle notes running through its rich fruit, making it an ideal partner for Portuguese fare like Cozido, a rich stew of different meats and vegetables. If you fancy getting cosy with some Cozido, check out this recipe. Apologies to any veggies reading, we realise that this is a bit meat heavy and promise to include something more vegetable-based next time. According to Quinta dos Roques, they’ve enjoyed favourable weather conditions so far this year, and the producers “have strong hopes for a very good harvest” , which is great news because if they’d had our weather they’d have been scuppered.
You may have seen in our stores one of our small parcels, the Conceito Contraste wines. Produced by a very talented lady, who also makes wine in South Africa and New Zealand, as well as some daringly labelled Ports, the white in particular is an unusual wine. Here in the UK when we think of most Portuguese whites we think of crisp and spritzy Vinho Verde, but the Conceito Contraste Branco is an oaky white that really packs a punch. Their red wine bottles inspired Drew from our Liverpool store to take the photo below, which made us think that he and Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth might have been separated at birth (Drew is the one on the right with the bottles, in case you were wondering). These wines are limited parcels, so we’ll try and get them listed on the website soon, but at the rate they’re selling we’ll need to limit the number of bottles to one per customer. Both wines are however available in the majority of our stores, so get yourself down to one soon. Concurring with the guys at Quinta dos Roques, Conceito tell us that things are shaping up nicely this year and if you are as juvenile as we are, you might enjoy the turn-of-phrase in the last harvest report they sent us, in which they told us that: “Bastardo has just reached 13% alcohol.” Although this may sound like the description of Premier League footballer during a night on the beers, they are in fact referring to another of Portugal’s wonderfully named grape varieties.
Hopefully your interest in Portugal is at least been partially piqued. Our new wines have certainly grabbed the attention of the press. If you don’t believe us check out this article written by one of our favourite bloggers Sarah Ahmed, aka The Wine Detective, giving our whole range what can only be described as a glowing review. Alternatively you can go and listen to wine experts Neil Phillips, Tom Cannavan and Charles Metcalfe wax lyrical about them at free Portuguese wine tastings in collaboration with Vini Portugal at five of our stores:
- Thursday 27 September, 2pm-5pm, at our London Bridge store in London, with blogger Neil Phillips aka The Wine Tipster.
- Thursday 27 September, 6pm-8.30pm, at our Crouch End store in London, with Neil Phillips.
- Friday 28 September,5pm-6pm, at our Mitchell Street store in Glasgow, with wine journalist Tom Cannavan famous of the Wine-Pages website.
- Saturday 29 September, 3.30pm-4.30pm, at our Tunbridge Wells store, with Portuguese wine expert and writer Charles Metcalfe.
- Saturday 6 October, 3.30pm-4.30pm, at our Queensferry Street store in Edinburgh, with Tom Cannavan.
These tastings are completely free, but spaces are limited, so get in touch with the store to secure your spot. Details of our stores can be found here. If you can’t make it to one of these, why not grab our Portuguese Explorers Case online and begin your own voyage of discovery. (LT)
This post was written while drinking: FP Branco by Filipa Pato. This wine swept us away like a strong sea current, turning us from landlubbers to salty seadogs. To be honest with you, we’d happily have drowned in it. The Wine Gang also seemed to be swept overboard by it, as they gave it 92 points in their September 2012 Newsletter, an almost unheard of score for a wine so far below the £20 mark. Unfortunately, the monkey opposite doesn’t care too much for it because he prefers red wines, see how he eyes the magnificent glass of our chunky Cortes de Cima, while leaving the Champagne and bananas untouched. Good monkey.