Portugal: Wine for the People?

Yesterday I tasted an array of Portuguese wines that were all priced under $20 (tasting price). So what did I find out?

Portuguese wines, though still value-priced, are no longer totally undiscovered and undervalued and so prices are rising. But good news is that compared to over-inflated wine making regions we all know too well, they can still be a steal.

I need me some everyday wine that is not as dull as dishwater. And a few of the wines tasted fit the bill. I will discuss the three I liked the most and the one that baffled me the most.

2009 Quinta da Pellada Saes, white blend Dao “Riserva.” A ringer. I had before and took home for its elegance and interesting style reminiscent of White Bordeaux that had a baby with baby with a German Riesling.

2008 Quinta da Pellada Saes, red blend Dao. A surprise made from Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Jaen (Mencia), and Tinta Roriz.  This earthy, dusty wine infused with violets fascinated me. It was rustic, indeed. I found myself ready to pair it with a game bird dish. (Ended up pairing it with a crisp braised duck because of its cherry fruits and yes, Pinot married and had a baby with a Grenache-based Rhone blend in the case.)

Wines from Portugal are definitely on the ascent. Though my trusty wine shop sales person at the San Francisco Wine Trading Company reminded me that not long ago wines that are now $12 per bottle were more like $6.

Alvaro Castro of Quinta de Saes and Quinta da Pellada in the Dão is definitely a mover and shaker in this shift. Here’s a short piece on the changes afoot. http://bit.ly/lleadi

Now back to that tasting: 2009 Afros, red Vinho Verde made from Vinhao was more of a challenge for me. Steel-tanked, no oak. It confused me but in the end enchanted with its unique flavors captured by dark fruit and spice coupled with Fleurie-like floral notes and a miner laity that contributed to the balanced presentation. Now what to make with this? (Any ideas to share?)

Finally, what are you to me, Mr. 2008 Quinta de la Roas, red Douro? Yes, you were more balanced than the previous wine tasted that reeked of raisins on the nose but still I don’t get your charms. Rioja meets Chateauneuf-du-Pape was in the description but I don’t think so – they did not marry yet alone have a baby worth paying attention to.

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My Trusty Red Cup

Summer in San Francisco is brutal – ‘nuff said. I was looking for warmth and sun last Sunday and a short drive to it. Weather.com says Livermore is going to be 85 degrees. I am so there.

And while enjoying the real weather of summer, also checking out one of California oldest wine growing regions. It’s a small one – about 40 wineries.  This post is about 3 of those. This is also about the trusty red cup without which tasting would not be possible.

Fenestra Winery was first where I confronted a dizzying number of wines – 21 to taste. The lady behind the counter provided me with the red cup when I asked for one, You know one of those plastic cups that you use at picnics that holds about 16 oz?

Swirl. Sniff. Sip. Spit.  (Thank you Trusty Red Cup for making the last task more doable.)

What did I take home the 2007 Touriga Nacional (plays a big role in blends for Port but also used for table wine in the Douro and Dão regions of Portugal) and the 2010 Torrontes (Argentina’s white wine grape) What can I say, I am always on the hunt for not-the-usual California varietals to see what wineries can do with them. Pretty nice job.

Up: Thomas Coyne Winery, a homey and friendly joint. Most of the wines were not so memorable except the 2007 Petit Verdot, which is apparently a notoriously temperamental grape) and the 2008 Graciano (ah, but I had better by a Santa Cruz winery –more to come about that). The sig-other wanted the herbaceous PV and so we bought a bottle – I can live with that and maybe pair with rack of lamb. Maybe come back and try their Rhone varietals – we were there for Bordeaux (plus) tasting week. They alternate. Tasting room staff was terrific – I’ll be back.

Fin: The lovely winery on the hill, Bent Creek. Can’t beat the scenery and the scene: on top a tasting room with a lawn with rocking chars and below the quiet gazebo, walk down past all the dashing rabbits.  Livermore is the place where Petite Sirah is king and here that was true, the 2007 Petite Sirah was big but not over the top or one-dimensional, nicely balanced by dust and pepper.

Livermore Valley – history, weather, friendly people, no pretense , no crowds = a place where a geek like me can learn and have fun. Next up there: Steven Kent Winery and Mitchell Katz Winey.

Oh, if I had not been using my trusty red cup, I would have drunk a full bottle of wine – no kidding. Thank you, Big Red!

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Indian Wine with Indian Food?: What an Unsurprising Surprise.

When I was a young backpacker traveling in South Asia, I never stumbled upon Indian wine. Of course, I wasn’t looking,  and was happy to have a cold Kingfisher with my meal every now and then.

Fast-forward to yesterday and I was dining at Junnoon in Palo Alto and looking for a good wine pairing. My first thought was a dry German Riesling, which they were out of. The attentive server recommended a couple of alternatives, a California Riesling from the Central Coast that was a syrupy tropical fruit bomb and not to my taste and an Indian wine, a 2009 Chenin Blanc from Sula Vineyards in Nashik, India. I chose the Indian wine and here are my notes as typed into my IPhone:

Lychee and pineapple on the nose

Candied Meyer lemon on the palate – reminiscent of a sweet-tart candy

But not cloying b/c of good acidity and dry finish

Fruity and though not usually a fan of really fruity wines, this worked with the cuisine.

Perfect match for my lunch

So I was surprised. But why should I be? Wine is made all over the world with an eye to matching the local cuisine. I know that and yet I had not expected to enjoy the wine so much. Being my first taste of wine from India, I was skeptical. I do hope that I am not turning into a wine snob. That would be awful. No, that does not work for me. I am open to good wine whatever its origins. And though I don’t like what I consider to be bad or mediocre wine, that hardly makes me a snob. A connoisseur, perhaps? Whew, dodged that bullet.

The Indian Chenin Blanc made me think of a wonderful California version that I paired with a good Thai dinner a few months ago:  the 2008 Field Recordings Chenin Blanc from Paso Robles. Lovely lemon curd flavors that were balanced by good acidity that popped with the meal. They see to be out the 2008 vintage and so got a bottle of the 2009,which I have yet to open. Will let you know what I find out when I taste it. If you have tried Field Recordings’ latest Chenin Blanc, please give a shoot out – love to hear what you think.

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Island Fever: Get me to Sicily

When you think of Sicilian wines, what comes to mind? Probably Nero D’Avola, the big red one that many of my fellow Americans are familiar with. What may surprise you is that Sicily produces more white wine than red – by far. (Or perhaps that is no surprise given the hot climate.)

Yesterday I went to the San Francisco Wine Trading Company and got quite a treat – a chance to taste Sicilian wines from Marco De Bartoli, a winemaker focused on quality, not quantity that uses natural winemaking techniques almost as old as the island itself. The winemaker’s son Sebastioni De Bartoli was there to share info about his family’s natural style of winemaking. Since for a while I was the only person at this amazing tasting (go figure), I got to chat with him. I took a picture of the diagram he drew of their process but it’s not very clear. Sorry.

Let’s cut to the chase and talk about the wines. What struck me was the wonderful perfume on the nose of the whites, which were complex and finished bone dry. I bought two of the whites. The first was the 2008 Terzavia white IGT Sicily “Occidens” bianco ($30), which has a floral and honeyed nose but good acid and minerality on the palate. The second was the 2009 Terzavia white IGT Cataratto “Lucido” ($25), which also has good perfume on the nose but more of a nutty essence balanced by a citrus zip ($25).

Frankly, I would have bought the other 2 whites tasted, if my budget had allowed. I was especially moved by the 2008 Zibibbo Integer ($55), made from the Muscat de Alexandra variety, a rival to the best Muscat that I had in France as aperitifs but because it was drier than any of those, I would serve it with a meal. Would be fun to pair it with something. Need to think of the proper stuff. Any suggestions? The other out-of-reach white was the 2008 Grillo Integrer ($45) with its sherry-like influences. Grillo is the principle grape in Marsala.

Which gets me to the big pleasant surprise:  the 2 Marsala wines I tasted. No, this is not that stuff to make that famous chicken dish with mushrooms. This is the stuff to sip like an Oloroso sherry or a Tawny Port. The website proclaims, “Marco De Bartoli can be considered the living symbol of Marsala, and of Sicilian wine in general.” I get their point. The 2004 Marsala “Vigna la Miccia” ($45) was luscious and nutty like a Spanish Oloroso but not as sweet as the versions I had in Jerez. Then there was the star, the Marsala Superiore Riserva, 10 years ($68), which is extremely complex, delicious and perfect for an after-dinner drink. Good news: you open it and it can keep for 3 weeks. Bad news (for me): it did not fit the budget and so it’s on my “to drink” list.

So I am ready for a trip to Sicily, a place with an extremely interesting history and more interesting wines than you would think, given our limited exposure to their beautiful bounty.

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Days of Wine and (Candied Dried) Roses

Unique is a clothing store in NYC – at least it was when I was there. The 2009 Anthos from Matteo Correggia from the Piedmont Region of Italy does justice to the word. When I popped it open and gave it a taste, I thought what do I have here? It’s floral nose and medicinal herbs worked for me and then the sugar-coated rose petals made themselves apparent. A light fruity style that many might compare to a Beaujolais, I will forgo such comparisons because it is… well, unique! And delicious. Worth hunting down if you are a geek like me that can fall easily for a “feminine” herbaceous wine that unites fruit and earth in a way that does my heart (nose, tongue and tummy) good. The grape variety is Brachetto. Oh, and I bought it at Bi-rite Market when they had their wine blitz, regular price $16.99 but I got 20% mixed case discount. A steal for not just a drink but an experience.

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Have a Rosy Father’s Day

When I think of dads, I think of real men. You know the big guys carrying little dogs or the ones playing gently with small kids. The men who have nothing to prove about their masculinity. They don’t need tough dogs or massive alcoholic fruit bombs. They know who they are.

This bring me to rosé. On my mind a a fav wine when at a picnic on a warm day spent chowing on a variety of different yummy foods.

Last year and this year, my pick has been a wine for under $20 from the Basque region of Spain, the 2010 Ameztoi Rubentis Getariako Txakolina. The 2009 vintage has a decidedly watermelon rind like quality to it that would have made my late-great-dog Megan happy (she loved chomping on watermelon rinds). The latest vision still has watermelon on the nose (though less on palate, strawberry fruit more prominent there),  the same good minerality that I crave but more of a sea-air tinge and taste of lime than 2009. The slight fizz works — it all works. Had it with a game hen that I marinate in limes and cachaca (and a few secret ingredients) but can’t wait to try with grilled sardines.

It too knows what is it and is so good that even the rosé skeptics might venture a glass or two (at less than 11% alcohol, it goes down easy-fast-painlessly.)

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From 25 to 1: the Beauty of the Mad DashTasting

Skeptical, I entered the SF Wine Trading Company to witness a mad rush of people with glasses feverishly trying to taste 25 wines/20 different varietals. That’s a lot for a Friday night, especially since most folks were drinking, not tasting, if you know what I mean.

Still, good fun – sport even, trying to find a find from Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Spain,  or Portugal. Done it before – had a lovely reserve wine from the Bibich Winery last year that is made from the Babich grape.

After hearing Donna Summer’s “Last Dance,” I knew it was time to pair up and I found my one true love that night out of 25 suitors- an inexpensive (less than $15), expressive and surprisingly complex wine from Portugal, the 2009 Tapada do Barão Tinto imported by Vino Unico.

Made from a blend of Alicante Bouschet, a grape native to the South of France with a checkered history because of its tendency to produce flabby wines when flying solo but now more common and actively cultivated in Portugal than France. The blend  produced a wine with bright fruit, spices and herbs. Its wild strawberry nature and solid acidity paired perfectly with my cuban roast pork with mojo sauce. A beautiful pairing.

Perhaps a wine warranting more than a one-night stand? It’s now on the “to-do” list to buy more.

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