Portuguese table wine’s old image is long gone, Tim Pawsey photo

Three reasons propelled me to this week’s Wines of Portugal Seminar and lunch at Vancouver’s Wildebeest:

1. Portugal’s table wines still don’t get the respect they deserve.

2. Barb Philip MW and husband Iain  are not only some of the nicest people in the wine biz but also kick-ass presenters.

3. Wildebeest—including its new, downstairs wine cellar, but also the food—continues to impress.

Source: Wines of Portugal (click to enlarge, slightly)

This may come as a surprise but while Port is floundering, Portuguese table wine sales in BC are actually growing. (My guess is that a lot of old Port lovers have gone to meet the Bishop of Norwich for the last time). But it may be also only a matter of time before vintage port becomes The Next Big Thing. Again.)

Interestingly, though, people are rediscovering the value that Portugal can deliver—especially at the $15 to $20 ‘sweet spot’ say Barb and Iain.

Winemaking in Portugal dates from Roman times, as evidenced by this foot press, TP photo

They also suggest it’s time we stopped lumping Portugal in with Iberian big brother Spain, as Portugal’s niche, food friendly wines have more in common with Italy. In fact it was most likely the Romans who brought vines to Portugal in the first place.

Over the last couple of decades we’ve all become way too hung up on varieties. That in itself can be a tad challenging, especially if you’re intent on knowing (let alone pronouncing) what’s in every bottle, when some of the time even the Portuguese don’t know (or care). If you can get as far as Touriga Nacionale (the most widely planted) or Tinto Roriz (which is actually Tempranillo—the variety arguably with more names than any other) you’re off to a good start.

This tasting served as a reminder that there’s plenty to discover from Portugal— with more than a few good value drops (including a bevy of decent whites), nicely matched with excellent tastes from Wildebeest chef David Gunawan.

Here’s a few…

Cabriz Bruto.  The full name is “Dao Sul Cabriz Espumante Bruto”—but if you just remember Cabriz Bruto you’ll be doing fine. This Méthode traditionelle from one of Portugal’s best value producers sports plenty of sparkle, with soft fruity notes and a clean fresh finish.  Not a bad price for a well made, festive bubble. $14.99 BCLS  87 pts

Quinta do Ameal, Loureiro.  This league-leading Vinho Verde comes from vines grown in vineyards established 300 years ago. Its clean, crisp, floral and gently mineral notes also pack some nice acidity. 16.99 88 pts.

Casa das Gaeiras Branco, Lisboa (formerly Estremadura).  Citrus and grapefruit with tropical undertones, mineral hints and good length.  Excellent value for BCLS $14.99, 90 pts. (From the historic, fortified town of Obidos—famous for its Ginja cherry liqueur.)

Quinta do Crasto Branco 2010, Douro.  Not what you’d expect from the Douro, the heart of Port and red wine country: Citrus and floral notes on top followed by a well balanced palate with pleasing fruitiness and clean acidity. $24.99 89. pts

Quinta do Chocapalha Arinto, Lisboa.  Vibrant zesty notes on top followed by clean and juicy lemon lime and mineral hints—no wonder it was a slam dunk with Gem oysters on the half shell and sorrel foam; and a nice match for smoked foie gras too. BCLS $17.99 88 pts. 

Parras Cavalo Bravo 2009, Tejo.  Sports a fresh ‘n fruity up front intro but follows through with definite grip that cries out for something hearty—like pork ‘n clams or chorizo, maybe?  BCLS $12.98 88 pts

Jose Maria da Fonseca Periquita Reserva 2010, Setubal.  A step up from one of the familiar long-running Portuguese budget mainstays.  Vibrant berries plus quite perfumed top, followed by fruit forward, gently peppery palate wrapped in easy tannins and juicy acidity. 89 pts. BCLS $15.99

Capitao Rayeo Reserva 2009, Alentejano.  This wine was the surprise of the day. Its modern style (a blend of Trincadeira, Syrah and Tinto Roriz) epitomises the new face of Portuguese table wines. Juicy dark fruits such as black cherry and mulberry with easy tannins and a plush mouthfeel suggest five dollars more than BCLS $14.99  89 pts. Great value! And perfect with chef Gunawan’s honey-glazed duck breast and roasted beets.