Portugal’s Undiscovered Wines

(TORONTO, ON) – For the past five years I have received some extensive exposure to Portuguese wines through both sampling their wines in the available supply chain at the LCBO, Portuguese wine tastings here in Toronto and in Portugal, and personal visits to the leading estates in the Douro. My conclusion is that many Canadians are still reticent about trying Portuguese wines.

Portugal is in the outer limits trailing behind California, Italy, France, Australia, and New Zealand. How could this happen?

Portugal deserves better.

I have been writing about Portuguese wines since 2014, doing what I can to wake wine drinkers to a sleeping giant. But, I think what it will take is simply getting more Canadians over to Portugal, which should be an easy job because of its numerous tourist attractions, whether it be the rugged northern Portugal, the wonderful medieval town in Obidos, Coimbra, as the first university town in Europe, the rough and charming Porto, the rugged Douro Valley, the Chiado District of Lisbon, the windswept beaches of Guincho, the Roman ruins at Evora, and so forth and so on.

Tourism development means not only the visitors taking home a love of Portugal, but an appreciation of its wines.

My favourite area of Portugal is in the north, which means a starting point of Porto. No visit to Portugal is complete without a visit to Porto and a cruise on the Douro River. The Douro Valley is home to many a fine and well-established Douro reds and, of course, the home of Port wine. The Douro Valley is the Grand Canyon of Europe.

You could easily spend two weeks in northern Portugal visiting the Douro, Guimaraes, Braga, and Lima.

Dona Matilde is about the first marker you will see on your left as you start to encounter the rugged and baking hot Douro Valley on your cruise from Porto on the Douro River. Spectacular terraced vineyards heading up hundreds of meters, topped by wild forests.

Dona-Matilde-wineDona Matilde is family-operated winery, run by patriarch Manuel Barros and his son Filipe, both of whom I have dined with in Porto and in Toronto. These fellows are very typical Portuguese. Initially very formal and polite, but get to know them and the formality drops and a warm effusiveness starts to take over.

I can recall one event at a restaurant in the trendy beach district of Porto, Matsohinos, where we had a magnificent meal and tried an array of Dona Matilde wines. So, in Toronto, I have a Dona Matilde Douro 2014 red from the Douro.

Black cherry in colour. A rich nose of black cherry, blackberry, lavender, and a hint of licorice. On the palate, it is full of juicy blackberry, solid blueberry, and cherry liqueur. The tannins are heavy. This wine is a baby like many Douro reds, released within five years of their bottling.

The wine, as it stands, is tough enough to handle Douro beef, pork, or cabrita (baby goat). However Douro reds, when aged, soften up and become more elegant. I would give this wine until 2030 to really soften, if that’s the way you like your wines.

If you want a rough and tumble wine right now, you have it with this one. I would suggest decanting an hour prior to serving.

To simplify things, most Douro reds are aggressive within five years of bottling. Within 10 years, they are sweet little puppies. In many ways they are almost Bordeaux-like of years ago, when the wines were bought “green” and required a decade to tone down.

If you have the patience and a cellar, you will be well rewarded.

Typically, Douro with Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Amarela.

(Dona Matilde Douro 2014 Vinho Tinto, DOC Douro, Quinta Dona Matilde, Porto, Portugal, $24.95, 13.5%, 750 mL, LCBO #374180, Square Media Group Rating 91/100)

Still in the Douro, we move to an Andreza Reserva 2014 made with a blend of Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, and Tinta Roriz. A dark black cherry colour. On the nose, big black fruit like blueberries, black cherry, and blackberries. Simple, powerful, and direct.

Sort of what you get on the nose you get on the palate. You may want to call that good follow through.

This is a very firm and austere wine despite its lack of grippy tannins. You might want to call this immediately approachable. Simple, pleasing, and smooth, which is a bit unusual for a young Douro wine.

I have had much roasted pork, potatoes, and cabbage in the Douro, and the traditional bacalhau. This would suit them well.

On the more domestic side, lightly spiced grilled beef or even a prime rib would be a great match. For vegetarians out there, try with Ontario stuffed Red Sheppard peppers.

Half the wine was aged in American and French oak barrels. The oak is well hidden and integrated.

I can’t see much point in ageing the wine. Drink by the end of 2019. I do not think there is any room for improvement in the bottle.

(Andreza Reserva, Vinho Tinto 2014, D.O.C. Douro, Lua Cheia, Portugal, 13.5%, $16.95, 750 mL, LCBO #385849, Square Media Group Rating 86/100)

I once had the pleasure of having lunch in the Douro with Vicente Faria in 2013. Faria, then, was a virtual winemaker without his own winery, pumping out huge amounts of wine to the tune of 800,000 cases. I remember that lunch or roast pork, potatoes, and cabbage as if it was yesterday. What a treat.

Now, his 2015 Douro Reserva surfaces in Ontario. Black cherry coloured. There is black cherry, blackberry, strawberry, and herbs that cascade gently into the nostrils. The tannins are moderate.

On the palate, solid black cherry tinged with blueberry. This is a very simple but pleasing wine. If you are looking for complexity you will not find it here. But, if you are looking for a decent wine, this is your bus stop. A fruity wine, but no juiciness. Straight at you.

It might be softened by a couple of more years in the bottle.

Good with simply prepared beef, lamb, or goat, or burgers and pizza. One of those end of the week wines to switch you into relaxed mood.

(Gloria Reserva 2015, DOC Douro, Vicente Faria Vinhos, Lda, Vila do Conde, Portugal, $16.95, 13.5%, LCBO #146522, 750 mL, Square Media Group Rating 83/100)

We move to a 10 year-old Port from Messias. It has a black cherry colour. Ultra decadent aroma of blueberry, strawberry, marmalade, and cranberry. On the palate, a terrible exhibitionism of totally ripe blackberry, chocolate covered cherry, and fermented cranberry.

Solid tannins, but in the totality of matters they just add weight and solidity to a superbly crafted Port. A long mellow burn of a finish.

Is there no crappy Port?

Although this is a Tawny Port, it has the guts to stand up to grilled beef. A bit young for Portuguese egg and custard desserts. If I can be so bold as to suggest pairing it with a Porto speciality, a Franchesina, which is a massive meat stacked sandwich with a long-simmered beer gravy, which will leave you flattened from lunch to breakfast. God forbid do not mix with jetlag.

(Porto 10 Anos Messias Tawny Port, Messias, Villa Nova de Gaia, $26.95, 20%, 750 mL, LCBO #87205, Square Media Group Rating 92/100)

From the Beira Interior region of Portugal we try a Beyra 2015. Black cherry in colour with a ruby hue. Rich on the nose with blackberry, blueberry, black cherry, coconut, bacon, and a bit of coffee grinds.

On the palate, some militaristic and rigid notes of black cherry and strawberry. Moderate tannins with a short finish with a bit of juiciness to it. Not a lot of complexity, but a straightforward and likeable wine, very suitable with roast meats and, if chicken is involved, a good spice rub.

Well made and, I think, a couple years in the bottle might take the goose step out of the wine. At this price they are just about giving it away.

A blend of Tinta Roriz (75%) and Touriga Nacional (25%). Grapes grown at an altitude of 700m.

(Beyra Vinhos de Altitude Red 2015, DOC Beira Interior, Rui Roboredo Madeira, São Joã da Pesqueira, Portugal, $12.95, 13.5%, 750 mL, Square Media Group Rating 86/100)

Let us head back to the Douro with a grand sounding Dourum Reserva Old Vines 2012. It certainly has the age to be enticing. A thick black cherry coloured wine. On the nose, its geriatric features are present. A very heady ultra black fruit buffet of decadent richness. The oak is evident with a definite note of coconut.

On the palate, a bit oaky, although wonderfully rich if not decadent. Perhaps a tad too much of new French oak robbing the wine of a higher measure of sophistication. A short burst of black fruit, but cut short by a blunt finish. Rather abrupt. I am not sure why.

I suspect a bit too much oak.

Very tannic. I think this one needs another 6-7 years to calm down, like an old-style Bordeaux. Do you have cellar space and time?

The wine is rich with a wonderful aroma, but very blunt and lacking a real identity on the palate. Like many reds from the Douro, some patience is required. For this wine it may be that you’ll have to wait a decade.

An old-fashioned approach to red wine as opposed to immediate approachability. I am not certain many of you can afford $63 for a bottle of wine that is in its infancy. I’ll take my chances with Port.

(Duorum Reserva 2012 Old Vines, Douro DOC, Duorum Vinhos, Vila Nova de Foz, Portugal, $63, 14%, 750 mL. LCBO #372235, Square Media Group Rating 86/100)

Coming close to the end of our blitz we move to a white Casa Ferreirinha 2015 from the Douro. On the nose, a noticeable core of pineapple and tangerine flanked by lemon, lime, apple, and butterscotch.

On the palate, its on the nose lushness snaps back into a most typical Douro white, which means a bit austere. Lacking in firm acidity, so I would be more prone to pair its gentle acidity with pork or chicken rather than with fish.

Pineapple, pear, and green apple on the palate. Short finish. Drink before the end of 2019.

I feel rather sorry for the white wines of the Douro as they compete with absolute top-notch world class reds.

Made by the Portuguese wine making giant Sogrape.

(Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande 2015, Vinho Grande, Vinho Branco DOC Douro, Sogrape, Villa Nova de Gaia, Portugal, $16.95, 13%, 750 mL, LCBO #523555, Square Media Group Rating 86/100)

I make no bones that my favourite wine region in Portugal is the Douro, but nipping at its heels are the red wines from the Alentejano region, which is famous for its black pigs. A big factor in my appreciation for their wines is the use of Alicante Bouschet that, as part of a blend, adds some smoothness and approachability to red blended wine.

So, for our last wine, we try a Herdade Paço do Conde 2016. It has a black cherry colour. On the nose, very high-toned notes of blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, and a strong core of cherry liqueur.

On the palate, a rich blend of sweetened cranberries, rhubarb pie, strawberries, and raspberries. Grippy tannins and a medium finish.

I think some softening in the bottle will turn this wine into a seductive beauty and it will improve up to 2023.

Definitely a foodie wine as most Portuguese wines are. I can imagine a good match with vegetarian chili or with black eyed peas cooked with tomatoes, carrots, celery, bay leaf, and a cup of red wine. If you can’t find any Alentejano black pig, local organic pork will do fine.

This is a blend of Aragonez, Trincadeira, Touriga Franca, and Alicante Bouschet.

(Herdade Paço do Conde 2015, Vinho Regional Alentejano, $14%, $19.95, 750 mL, LCBO #131821, Square Media Group Rating 87/100)

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write." Email Robert Stephen