Portugal has skyrocketed in popularity as of late, both for leisure travelers and for digital nomads looking to stretch their dollar. It seems like everyone is discovering how amazing Portugal is! From the cuisine, wine, and affordable lodging, it is a no-brainer to make it next on your travel list. In the meantime, pour a glass of Portuguese wine and transport yourself to the old country.
Portuguese wines are built for food. They tend to have a strong acid backbone and structure (things like body, tannins, and flavor intensity). What I love about Portuguese wine and food is that the pairings are not hard and fast. This sure isn’t white tablecloth fine dining. Portuguese food is hearty, rustic, and flavorful. It is not fussy and immaculate pairings need not apply.
If I had to distill down why people should pay attention to and drink more Portuguese wines, I’d say the food friendliness as described above and the fact that most of the wines are incredibly value-priced and with strong QPR (quality price ratio), especially compared to domestic wines.
If you’re drinking commercial grocery store red blends in the $15 range, Portuguese red blends are sure to be your next favorite wines. You’ll find more variety with Portuguese red blends, as grocery store red blends are quite homogenous and indistinguishable. Also, you’ll be getting honest regional wines versus mass-produced commercial grocery store glug.
Shrimp, Crab, Avocado, Local Halibut
Anchovy Cream, Pomegranate, Monte Enebro
The Dão region is considered the Burgundy of Portugal by some. Wines from this region are elegant, elevated, and ageable. This is the first Kelman wine of the evening, from this female-owned producer. Made from the Encruzado grape, the wine is bright and fresh, but with a grounded, savory and herbal note.
The goal here is to pair acidity. This is the “like with like” food and wine pairing principle. The acidic elements in the dishes (tomato, apple, and pomegranate) matched the acidity in this Portuguese white. Also, both dishes were great pairings because they have a juxtaposition within them (acid and fat in both dishes), as does the wine with bright versus savory notes.
Heirloom Garlic, Arbol Chile, Salsa Verde
Tomato Rice, Black Olives, Dandelion, Aïoli
A lively and zippy wine serving stone fruit (apricot) and tropical fruit (both pineapple and passion fruit).
Local Rock Crab, Grilled Linguiça, Kale, Mussels, Potato
Back to Kelman with this Portuguese red blend comprised of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Alfocheiro, and Jaen grapes. This wine is Pinot Noir in style and is a lighter red when it comes to Portuguese red blends. A lovely pairing with caldo verde, a traditional Portuguese soup with a modern spin by the addition of seafood. Proof that seafood doesn’t always need a white wine!
Avocado, Green Chile, Crema, Radish
Garlic, Chile, CARM Organic Olive Oil
This is what I’d call “Portugal in a glass” for those new to Portuguese wines. Pronounced rusticity/earthiness but great fruit, acid, and structure. Chef’s kiss!
Almonds, Walnuts, Figs, Doce de Tomate
Pear Brandy, Vanilla Chantilly and Hazelnut Streusel
Vintage Port is only made in the best years (the producer decides) and with grapes from the best vineyards. This Vintage Port delights with its “figgy” cooked fruit notes. Drinks a bit like a Ruby Port, but not as sweet. Great acid which is a nice foil to the fat in the cheese course.
In February I had the opportunity to attend a Masterclass on the wines of Alentejo, Portugal led by Evan Goldstein, MS. It was a wildly educational session and we tasted some stellar wines. In the class we got an overview of the Alentejo region, explored the sub-zones, and learned about the leading varieties and classic producers.
Fun Fact: Portugal has the highest per capita consumption of wine in the world. In Portugal, people consume, on average, 54L of wine annually! France is #2 with 51.8L per year and the US is a measly #53 with 10.56L consumed annually. Portugal climate is hot and dry with a long warm summer. Wine production has greatly modernized and production levels have been increasing steadily for the last 13 years.
Alentejo specifically is in the south of Portugal and covers ⅓ of the country. The Romans influenced and developed viticulture and vinification in the area. Wines made in amphora (called talhas de barro in Portugal) have been made continually since the Roman era. No trendy clay use here! In Alentejo, production is mostly red (78.9%), with white making up 19.7%, and rosado 1.4%. The topography is mostly flatlands and rolling hills. And the area gets tons of sunshine (over 3,000 sunshine hours annually).
Alentejo wines are #1 in domestic consumption, but make up only 20% of Portuguese wine exports. Alentejo is one of the largest suppliers of cork in the world. 49.6% of the world’s cork come from Portugal. And 84% of Portuguese cork output comes from Alentejo.
There are many grapes indigenous to this area, including: Arinto (w), Antao Vaz (w), Roupeiro (w), Trincadeira (r), Aragonez (r), and Alicante Bouschet (r). Don’t worry, there won’t be a quiz at the end!
Here are notes on the wines tasted:
This wine is 100% Touriga Nacional. The wine is made in the traditional method and no dosage is added (the style is called nature). This wine was amazing. Lots of nice leesy and yogurt notes. Red fruit. Overall there are not many bubbles in Alentejo, so this was a treat!
This wine is a field blend, which means that several varieties are planted together in one vineyard. The grapes are then picked and vinified together. Bottles generally will not list the percentage per variety, since they aren’t sure. Fun fact: In 2017 this vineyard started to be tended biodynamically. This wine has a bright lemon color, sharp acidity on the tongue, with notes of citrus (lemon zest), green fruit (green apple), and tropical fruit (pineapple). This wine has an insane texture; almost chewy.
This wine has a bright yellow color. Notes of citrus (lime rind) with a tropical note. The wine is herbaceous, even a bit green with some savory/oxidative notes, such as almond skin.
This wine is 55% Alicante Bouschet and the rest is a field blend. It has a purple, inky color. It is a bright, fresh wine with good acidity. Aroma characteristics include red fruit (raspberry and plum), floral (rose petals), spice (pepper, garrigue-sage/thyme). The tannins are medium and drying.
Evan described this winemaker as an unabashed modernist. This wine has a nice earthiness with a green note that I think comes from the Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend.
This wine is 70% Alicante Bouschet plus some Trincaidera. This is a very traditional wine. It is their current vintage as Alicante Bouschet needs time before it is ready to drink. Fun fact: the estate is mostly a cork forest! This wine will be able to age for decades. A very deep ruby color, almost black. On the nose I get both red and black fruit with a raisined/pruned note. On the palate, the notes are mostly primary. It’s a warm/hot climate here, and the fruit is very ripe and juicy. Vanilla notes from the time in oak. Med + to high tannins. Woahhhhh tannins!
A contrast to the previous wine. This wine is modern in style. A combination of American & French oak (8 mos aging before release). This is a beautiful wine. Medium ruby in color with purple hues. On the nose I get both red and black fruit with a medicinal note. Perhaps eucalyptus? Could be Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend? Also, floral (violets) and vanilla. This is a feminine wine. Very pretty.
This wine goes through extensive post-fermentation maceration with maturation in both vats and barrels for 12 months. Plus an additional 6 months in bottle before release. Deep purple in color with red and blue fruit on the nose and medium (smooth) tannins. This is a nice, easy to drink red.
This wine spends 1 year in new French oak. A deep, inky, purple color. Ripe black fruit, with some red. A perfumed note plus vanilla.
This wine is 100% Moreto (which is an old varietal that is being abandoned). This is a grape that is traditionally made in amphora and rarely exported. This is one of the lightest colored wines we tried. An interesting nose (mostly primary) and this wine opened up a bit as I swirled and tasted. Lots and lots of tannins and a slight oxidative nutty note on the back palate.
I loved this wine! It has an earthy, forest floor note and black licorice and mocha on the back palate. I want to curl up with this wine in front of a fireplace.
The wines from this Alentejo sub-region (Vidigueira) are generally approachable and soft. Upon first tasting, my notes say this was the oldest and funkiest wine we tasted tonight. Lots of fun, savory notes. I love it. As I worked through this taste, the wine became a bit more subtle.
In a nutshell, Portugal’s wines are food-friendly and diverse in style with a choice of traditional or modern wines. Also, amphora wines….who doesn’t love that. And Portugal is one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in the world, so it’s a GREAT place to visit.
When you find yourself buying wine at retail, a Portuguese wine has great value to offer. For under $20…..heck for under $15…..you can get some really great wines. Refreshing whites with good acid or deep dark reds that are balanced and fruit forward. Step out of your wine comfort zone and try something from Alentejo….you won’t be disappointed!
Last Saturday, the hubby and I decided to have a fun day around town. The plan was to venture out during the day, come home that afternoon, cook dinner, and enjoy a bottle of Portuguese wine I received as a sample. What to pair with a Portuguese wine, than some Portuguese bites, called Petiscos. Petiscos are to Portugal what Tapas are to Spain. Small bites meant to be consumed before a meal (or as a meal) along with an alcoholic beverage!
Finding Portuguese fare isn’t the easiest, but I knew that Bay Cities Deli & Market in Santa Monica is where I should start. Bay Cities specializes in Italian foods, but they also have a strong representation of products from many European countries. More accurately I should have called this blog post “Iberian Night in LA” as I didn’t quite find everything Portuguese that I wanted, but was able to fill in with some Spanish products to round it all out.
We visited Bay Cities and, first things first, enjoyed a Godmother sandwich, which is the mother of all sandwiches in Los Angeles. It is their signature made with Prosciutto, Ham, Capicola, Mortadella, Genoa Salami and Provolone Cheese – best with the works, plus mild or hot peppers. We then walked up and down the aisles and grabbed some chorizo, cheese, cured meats, and small bites. I had packed a cooler with some ice packs, so luckily we were able to keep everything cool while we enjoyed our day, which started out at Venice Beach. We rented bikes for a couple of hours and rode up and down the boardwalk from Marina del Rey up close to Pacific Palisades. It was a bit chilly and overcast, but the tradeoff is that it was much less crowded than it would have been on a hot, sunny summer day. You gotta love Venice, it’s such a hodge podge of people and things, that it never gets old. After the chilly bike ride, we stopped a Deus ex Machina for a perfectly hipster cup o’ joe and then home for the Portuguese feast!
This wine, which inspired my meal, is produced by Symington Family Estates. Grapes are sourced from Dow’s same vineyards in the Douro Valley that are used for their acclaimed Vintage Port. The blend includes: Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Amarela, and a field blend of indigenous varietals. This wine was originally only made for the family to enjoy, but after receiving many compliments, they decided to make the wine for consumers.
10,000 cases produced
Deep purple in color, this wine was tight upon opening. On the nose I got black fruit (blackberries, plums), bramble, and black pepper. Same flavor characteristic on the palate plus cedar and tobacco. Medium + rustic tannins. This is a textbook Portuguese wine with a dark and brooding sensibility plus a decent amount of complexity. Quite pleasing, especially at the $13 pricepoint.
This Vale do Bomfim wine worked famously with my Portuguese Petiscos. Menu below:
Paper-thin sliced Italian Prosciutto
Omorro, a Portuguese soft cow’s milk cheese
Manchego aged 6 months
Moliterno al Tartufo (a hard cheese with truffle veins running through it)
Vacherousse (a delicious soft cow’s milk cheese)
Tuna Filets with Garlic in Olive Oil
Shrimp Cocktail with Homemade Cocktail Sauce
Steamed Crab Legs and Drawn Butter, Garlic, & Lemon
Grilled Chorizo on a bed of Grilled Onions