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11 July 2018

Portugal: 'wines of the moment' (and restaurant tips in Funchal).

Or Portuguese 'holiday wines of the moment' since these recommendable bottles were sampled and enjoyed recently on the wonderful island of Madeira (a separate piece on two Madeira cellars is here), enhanced by a few eating-out tips where some of them were discovered. These are all convincing examples of just how happening Portugal now is on several different levels: well-made flavoursome wines, across the red white and rosé spectrum, fantastic diversity including many excellent (although sometimes difficult to get your tongue around pronunciation-wise) indigenous grape varieties and, to crown off the clichés, often good value too!  Even if some of the more sought-after or celebrity wine names have become surprisingly expensive in fact. Euro prices quoted are supermarket, cellar door or restaurant prices in and around Funchal.
The fairly famous Alentejo winery Esporão produces a very enjoyable, easy-going 'house wine' range called Monte Velho. This includes a chunky fruity 2017 red made from the Aragonez (the local name for Tempranillo), Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional and Syrah varieties (14% abv), offering soft texture and dark fruit with spicy liquorice flavours. The tasty 2017 white is a blend of Fernão Pires, Arinto and Perrum (= Palomino, the sherry grape), with its weighty 14.5% abv lending it nicely to fried fish or pork dishes say, but also has plenty of aromatic fruit, rich ripe-textured mouth-feel and zesty finish making it difficult to resist. (€4.99 / €2.90 half).
From the Alentejo region as well (where the winemaking scene has exploded over the last twenty years) comes Chaminé 2015 from Danish/American-owned wine estate Cortes de Cima, which is one of their good-value entry label reds shaped from 30% Aragonez, 30% Syrah, 20% Touriga Nacional, 10% Alicante Bouschet and 10% Trincadeira (I think they were among the first to plant Syrah here by the way). It costs about €5 in supermarkets in Portugal (€6.95 Madeira airport). Cortes de Cima's top wines are pretty dear nowadays too, although they do make a much broader range since planting more vineyards than when I went there about twenty years ago!
This pair from the Douro Valley (Port country although these wines aren't) is a well-distributed (worldwide) red and white from vineyards owned by the mighty Sogrape group: Casa Ferreirinha 2016 Esteva red (40% Tinta Roriz (another local name for Tempranillo), 35% Tinta Barroca, 15% Touriga Franca and 10% Touriga Nacional), which has light tannin countered by peppery fruit; and Casa Ferreirinha 2016 Planalto Reserva white (30% Viosinho, 15% Malvasia Fina, 15% Gouveio, 15% Arinto, 15% Códega, 5% Rabigato, 5% Moscatel), which has yeast-lees tones, is rounded with white peach flavours and a bit of zing. €6 or €7 for a half-bottle of each in a decent Brazilian-themed restaurant in São Martinho (a towards-trendy western suburb of Funchal) called Espettus.
Good, inexpensive, dry Vinho Verde isn't hard to find in Portugal and its islands: the 2017 Torre de Menagem (Alvarinho / Trajadura) made by Monção e Melgaço (12% abv) is a refreshing and aromatic example with zesty citrus and soft juicy finish (€3.79). Like other traditionally red-focused wine areas, the Dão region is now producing some lovely white wines as well, such as the zesty and concentrated 2017 Grão Vasco Branco from Quinta dos Carvalhais (39% Encruzado, 38% Malvasia Fina, 15% Bical, 8% Gouveio). €6 or €7 for a half-bottle in the highly recommended Five restaurant (also located on the very long Estrada Monumental main road on the way into Funchal): perfect with the Madeira speciality grilled black scabbard fish.
Also made in Dão region, and far from being 'traditional' although that is the 'official' method of producing this superb sparkling wine, is Raposeira 2010 Super Reserva Bruto (12.5% abv): classy fizz indeed with the toasty yeasty richness you'd expect from vintage Champagne or top Cava, a tad rounder on the palate perhaps with underlying freshness. Follows the Champagne 'tradition' too of using white and red grapes: Malvasia Fina and Tinta Roriz. Lovely mouthful for only €8.99 a bottle.
Finally (almost), here's a couple of unusual dry whites from the Lisbon area to look out for (one to the south and the other to the north): Vinhas de Pegóes 2017 Verdelho (the 'Madeira grape' if you like) from the Setúbal peninsula (13% abv), which is aromatic and oily textured with apricot tones and a bargain for under €5. And Bucellas Arinto 2017 from the Bucelas DOC region, made by Caves Velhas (12.5% abv), offering elderflower aromas and white peach, lees-y zesty and 'chalky' mouth-feel with crisp dry finish.

Inevitably, I should include a couple of Madeira wines here too (separate feature on two quite different wine cellars, H&H and D'Oliveiras, coming soon...): Henriques & Henriques' delicious 10 Year Old Sercial, which is one of the drier styles, has great balance of citrus and apricot hints layered with lots of tangy roasted almond flavours, powerful with refreshing cut, long and complex finish. €15.50 for 50cl.
As part of the Restaurante do Forte's very good 'special concept' menu (three dishes chosen from their a la carte plus amuse-bouche, sorbet, coffee and petits fours all served with different wines for €42.50 per head), you get a glass of rich 5 Year Old Malmsey with your dessert, which is pretty sweet but its toffeed toasted pecan flavours go nicely with their varied cheese selection (and probably the chocolate pudding as well). I forgot to note down the names of the other wines served with this menu, but it included a lively dry rose-scented Touriga Nacional rosé and a firm-ish peppery red from the Beiras region (Bairrada country), made mostly from the Baga variety (with some Cabernet I think?), that went down well with my confit of duck. Photo above: me outside the old São Tiago fort thinking of taking a ride in their Austin 12 (can be booked for a taxi ride to or from the restaurant, which is literally poised on the seafront on the eastern side of Funchal old town). More info: en.forte.restaurant.
Back in the São Martinho district near the Forum Madeira shopping centre, Ego's Café is also worth checking out for good simple Portuguese food served outside if you wish, best served with a refreshing Coral beer (brewed in Madeira)!

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.