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Portugal Goes It's Own Way

We like to think of Portugal as the wine producing equivalent of M. Night Shyamalan’s the Village. This might strike you as mean, after all it’s the film that confirmed M. Night Shyamalan as a one hit wonder and that Joaquin Phoenix definitely isn’t as good an actor as River…You know their sister is called Rain Joan of Arc Phoenix? The Phoenix family clearly had some fun with the Big Book of Baby Names.

Despite the Village’s questionable quality, it serves as a useful metaphor for Portuguese wine. Just as the Village was, the Portuguese wine industry is an isolated pocket, unaffected by the influence of the rest of the world. While this was rather macabre in the Village, in Portugal it means there is a huge resource of indigenous grape varieties, resulting in wines that are replicated in few other places.

Perhaps due to the Pyrenees cutting off Portugal from the rest of Europe, their winemakers have never fallen into the trap of ripping up native vines and replacing them with fashionable international varieties. Often part of high quality blends, few Portuguese grapes are household names, but the wines offer some of the best value of any old-world region and are well worth the time of any adventurous wine drinker.

The National Touriga if you prefer (you probably don’t, you probably prefer to call it by its actual name), is arguably the Portuguese black grape of most renown. Often compared to Cabernet Sauvignon as, like Cab in Bordeaux, it is regularly used in blends to add structure and fruit intensity.

Where’s It Grown?

It’s most widely planted the Douro where it is significant in Port blends however a growing number of producers in the Douro and in the Dao region are making excellent quality table wines from port varieties such as Touriga Nacional.

What Does It Taste Like?

It will quickly become a favourite if you’re a fan of full-bodied, ripe red wines. On the palate black fruit dominate namely blackberry, blueberry and dark plum backed by more savoury aromas of bitter cocoa, dried violet and eucalyptus. Tannins and acidity tend also to be high, so it is a wine that tends to age well, if you do lay it down for a few years, except notes of prune, tobacco and leather to develop.

What to Pair It With?

As we’ve established Touriga Nacional takes no prisoners, it’s basically Liam Neeson who wants his daughter back. Thus, subtle food is not going to cut it, think rich fatty meats to balance the tannins and acidity, such as a well-seasoned lamb shank. Creamy vegetables curries are awesome pairings if you don’t dig the meat.

The only grape that is grown in any significant quantity outside Portugal however it’s confusingly called Tempranillo in much of Spain but often goes by Tinto Fino in the Ribera Del Duero & Aragonez in Alentejo, this grape has more names than P Diddy. Tempranillo is derived from the Spanish word for early, a reference to the grapes early ripening.

Where’s It Grown?

It’s been kicking about the Iberian Peninsula since the time of the Phoenicians, most notably as the dominant grape in Rioja, it is considered a noble grape in Spain. In Portugal it is a key ingredient in Port and unfortified ‘Port- style’ blends from the Douro. It can be found more frequently as a single varietal wine in Alentejo, these are of rapidly increasing quality. Interest from New World producers has also been increasing with some very fine examples coming out of California and South Australia.

What Does It Taste Like?

Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) is relatively neutral compared to other full-bodied reds making it an excellent blending partner and does very well with extended oak aging. Flavours tend to be quite savoury the fruit profile tends to be more on the red spectrum; red cherry, red plum and currants, while given its affinity for oak, oak characters such as vanilla and coconut are common.

What to Pair It With?

Due to its savoury characters, it’s quite versatile as a pairing. BBQed grilled meats & Mexican cuisine are excellent choices.

A white grape on the rise, often part of Vinho Verde blends but is becoming more widely planted in other regions of Portugal. The UK market hasn’t scratched the surface of what Arinto can deliver, be excited, be very excited!

Where's it Grown?

The Minho region as a blending partner in Vinho Verde, while becoming more important as both a single varietal and in blends in Baírrada and Alentejo.

What Does It Taste Like?

It has racy acidity, grapefruit and citrus notes, with an undercurrent of honeycomb and hazelnut. It does decidedly well when aged in oak so will often display sweet spice characters.

What to Pair It With?

With the renown Portugal has for its fish, it’s hard to look past sardine dishes and similar to pair with Arinto. Keep it simple – try Arinto with sardines, fresh tomatoes and watercress on toast with a touch of balsamic vinegar.