Portugal; the most interesting 'affordable-reds' on the planet right now?
It is easy to fall in love with the place, as anyone who has visited Portugal will know. It was the first great seafaring European empire, and that spirit is still in the very fiber of the population, from young to old, as their instinct is always to look first over the cool and wide Atlantic Ocean rather than back over their shoulders at the high inhospitable mountains and dry plains that separate them from Spain, and the rest of Europe beyond.
It is at times a tattered and threadbare place but the culture and civilization runs deep. There are bookshops everywhere (a real contrast to Spain, for example) with books in every language. History is ever-present, but alive and evolving as it folds seamlessly into progress, such that there is an undercurrent of awareness and responsibility among the Portuguese people that is admirable and contagious.
And so it is with Portuguese wines. The multitude of unique indigenous varieties coexist with the ubiquitous imported international ones in the dynamic warm plains of the Alentejo, while further north, more and more attention is being paid to classic dry styles, both in the traditional appellations of Bairrada and Dao, and also in the incomparable Douro, where more and more dry wines are appearing as they replace inexpensive port production.
In this sub $20 price range, traditional Portuguese reds provide interesting and often unique characters that few other regions can match. If you cannot imagine finding any pleasure in just another generic Cab, Pinot or Chard at this level, please try these small-production wines of character, from seriously good and ambitious producers, in four of Portugal's best-known and respected wine regions.
V. Puro 2016 ‘Doravante’ Bairrada Tinto $19
From a vineyard where Baga and Touriga Nacional are planted in an almost random mix. They are harvested and cofermented together. The aim is to capture the most delicate sides of both these two important but formidable Portuguese varieties, by gentle extraction rounded -off by elevage in neutral large old oak barrels. The result is 'a wine full of elegance, delicate fruit, and Atlantic character' according to the producers; João Soares and Nuno do Ó. It is that for sure, but within the context of a dry and smoky 'dinner-red' style. It is a serious wine.
Conceito 2016 'Contraste' Douro Tinto $16
Made from 40 year old vines from two estates on the classic Schistose soils of the region; the Quinta do Cabido, and Quinta Chão do Pereiro. (Hence the 'Contraste.')
The varieties are (mostly) Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional, though there are many others inter-planted and in the blend (such is the way here.)
This is a bright but well balanced wine with character. Far more-so than most $16 wines.
Mira do Ó 2016 ‘Vidente’ Dão Tinto $16
From 30 year old vines, 500 meters above sea level on the granite soils of the right bank of the Dão. The varieties here are Jaen, Alfrocheiro, Tinta Pinheira, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional. As with any old wine region, the best wines are being made with a gently 'modern approach applied with respect to the soul and character of the best traditional wines of the area. In the Dao, like Barraida, the best wines weave life, fruit and color to the sturdy coarse threads of the traditional dry style of the region. Vidente is clean and balanced but still tastes like a true Dao tinto. Good stuff.
Bojador 2018 Vinho de Talha Alentejo Tinto $17
The Alentejo can be hot, and with less vinous history or deep roots, there are many 'New World' style wines being made here. Bojador, though is a different kind of 'modern.' The 40% Trincadeira, 30% Moreto, 30% Tinta Grossa grapes are basket-pressed; the stems then placed on bottom of 200 year old amphorae, called 'talhas,' which are then filled with the grape must. Natural fermentation is without temperature control, with punch-downs three times daily for four months. OK, so it's a 'Natural Wine' in name, as well as spirit (the latter applies to more or less anything decent... but that's another chapter) but it's a good one.
Mixed case sampler
3 of each wine
$189 (plus shipping)