Portugal’s Other Offerings Give New Flavor Experience
While forever associated with the sweet, alcohol-fortified wine Port, the nation of Portugal has so much more to offer.
Many of the indigenous grapes used in Port, which can be both red and white, also are used in dry table wines. According to Wines of Portugal, 78 percent of the nation’s exports are non-fortified wines — the sort you would have with dinner or to unwind. The names of the grapes are very specific to Portugal and don’t mean too much outside of the country. Also, as with Port production, the wines tend to be blends of several grapes.
But these grapes little-known outside the Iberian Peninsula offer a new experience of flavor when made as dry food wines. With so little recognition in a competitive wine world, the wines of Portugal are also very affordable.
The popular, approachable white of Portugal is the vinho verde, or “green wine.” The light, low-alcohol, often spritzy, refreshing white wine is an ideal summer libation. With alcohol levels of less than 10%, vinho verde is a great choice for those who want to be careful about over-indulging.
The slightly spritzy Arca Nova 2017 Vinho Verde is dry with a lemon, lime and green apple character. Having drunk gallons of the 2016 version, I can confidently say that 2017 is not quite as good and is a bit shallower in terms of flavor and finesse. The 2017 I found in the store still is not the current vintage. It will be worth checking out the 2018 installment of this vinho verde and others. $9. ★★★ 1/2
Vinho verde isn’t the only white wine from Portugal. The nation produces other, more serious, whites.
One of the standout wine regions is high-altitude Dão, which I have found very reliable when buying without any research.
Lua Chela Vinhas Velhas “Insurgente” 2015 Dão — vinhas velhas meaning “old vine” — is juicy and plummy with a hint of caramel and a round texture. If you like hearty pinot noir or syrah, you may love this. $15. ★★★★
I had higher hopes for Silk & Spice 2016 Red Wine Portugal, but closer inspection showed no discernible region or seal to designate its pedigree. While nicely packaged, the wine is a spicy, fruity but rather generic semi-dry red blend designed to target the Apothic Red consumer. Still, this is a deal for those looking for one. $12. ★★★
While I can never understand why Port, which is such an inexpensive luxury, is not more popular than it is, I’m happy to enjoy the other great offerings of Portugal.
GRADE: Exceptional ★★★★★, Above average ★★★★, Good ★★★, Below average ★★, Poor ★.
DAVID FALCHEK, executive director of the American Wine Society, reviews wines each week.