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There's more than Port to Portugal these days

WinesBars and ClubsDining and Drinking

Merlot has had its day. So has cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. Malbec is booming. Spanish reds are becoming more and more mainstream. Shiraz is ever-popular.

Could the dry reds of Portugal be the next big thing?

They certainly offer value for the dollar and a taste profile that combines fruit and spice into a nifty little package with very approachable tannins. If smooth is the ticket, Portugal delivers.

This wine-producing country is best known for its fortified reds (port) and its delicate, floral whites (albarinos and vinho verdes), but its dry red wines, built for food, are fun, flavorful and fit the budget.

And everyone is hunting for a tasty deal these days!

Try the Casa Ferreirinha Esteva 2009 from the Douro at $11. This luscious little number is full of blackberry fruit and violet perfume and finishes with dark chocolate. The scent alone is enough to make you want to dab a little behind the ears. It's a blend of tinta roriz (tempranillo), touriga franca and tinta barroca, all three of which are found in spirit-laced Port (which clocks in at 19 percent alcohol and 10 percent residual sugar). This wine is dry, though, (i.e. no sweetness at all), yet the flavors found in Port hold true.

The red Cabriz 2008 from the Dao at $11 is a blend of alfrocheiro, tinta roriz (tempranillo) and touriga nacional. The last two grapes in the blend are found in Port, the first is found in the Dao region and is responsible for the delicate and subtle hint of spearmint in the nose. This wine needs a little time in the glass to open up and display all its fabulous aromatics and to deliver a robe of satin-smooth tannins. Open 30 minutes before drinking.

Esporao Monte Velho 2008 at $12 is a rich red from the Alentejo region of Portugal. The area is famous for its cork oak trees and olive trees, but its vineyards should also share top billing. This red is crafted from the aragones (tempranillo), trincadeira and castelao grape varieties. Castelao is responsible for the walnut character of this toothsome red. The aragones delivers a sweet, kid-leather quality. Trincadeira contributes bold cherry fruit. This wine is so easy-drinking that is should carry a warning label: buy two, the first bottle is gone in 60 seconds.

Austrian Gruner Veltliner first made its claim to fame in top restaurants across the country as a wine-by-the-glass offering. Portuguese reds are doing the same. At the Red, Red Wine Bar in our state capital (Main Street, Annapolis) owners Brian and Lisa Bolter are pouring a flight of Portuguese reds for $9.

In this flight are:

Lello Red 2008 from the Douro ($9 a bottle retail) crafted from touriga nacional. Again, a Port variety. There is a ton of spice in the glass, specifically clove and toasted cinnamon. The wine is gutsy and robust with chewy tannins and is built for food.

The Vega Tinto 2007 ($11 a bottle retail) made from touriga franca, another Port variety. It also hails from the Douro and is packed with very, very ripe, sun-dried red berry fruit. It is truly Port-ish without the extra alcohol. Nice and smooth with a hint of residual sugar.

The Alte Corte Red 2006 from Estremadura ($10-12 a bottle retail) is a wild blend of tinta roriz (tempranillo) and caladoc, a malbec/grenache cross. Wow. Talk about a powerhouse of tannin, fruit and spice.

Don't miss the boat. Portugal is the next wine frontier. Catch the wave early and snap them up while they are still cheap!

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