Rediscovering Portugal

Portuguese navigators were instrumental in launching the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries. A mere five centuries later, we turn the tables by returning to Portugal for some wine exploration of our own. Don’t expect fabled cities of gold. Still …

This column has previously mentioned that country’s sprightly, even sparkly, vinho verde wines; they’re the perfect whites for summertime drinking. They’re also cheap and generally easy to find. The well-rated Fuzelo Vinho Verde is on the wine lists of Sandbar and Mon Thai Bistro, among others. Drink young, very young.

The vinho verdes generally come from Portugal’s cool, northern region, but for today’s discoveries we turn to the rolling plains of the Alentejo in the south. Alandra is a product of the Herdade do Esporao Winery, a producer also known for some esteemed high-end wines. These are not those. But they’re also not at all bad given the price — a little over 10 bucks is the Saturday price at Saglimbeni’s. (Look for them at Spec’s as well and possibly H-E-B in the future.) Of the three wines in the non-vintage line (red, white, and rosé), I tasted the first two. Here’s the skinny.

The Alandra white, or branco, is made from three grapes most of us have never heard of (such is both the joy and frustration of exploration). It has pleasant aromas … but of what? White flowers is the reviewer’s fallback nose, but with a little effort some light citrus peel, a little green melon, and maybe a touch of mineral appear. On the palate, when first opened, there’s more of the same with perhaps an added fillip of green almond, though you may justifiably choose to ignore this last attribute. The wine also holds well in the refrigerator under vacuum (though just sticking the cork back in is likely almost as good), emerging the next day with a creamier, more lemony aspect — something like a citrus panna cotta, there being no lemon Dreamsicle I know of. In short, it’s an all-around pleasant, well-made wine that is good on its own but would also take to, say, grilled fish, cold shrimp, or a creamy goat cheese.

The red, or tinto, is also composed of a trio of unknowns, the trincadeira being the only grape you might have ever heard of. The color is a brilliant ruby, and the nose hints of ripe, red fruits — but not too ripe. Red fruits appear again on the palate, accompanied by soft tannins, and maybe a little leather if one is trying very hard to parse the product. There’s also good acidity that likely also helps this wine withstand being stuck in the fridge. In fact, it’s almost better, rounder the next day. BBQ would be a good companion; the tinto might even work with the leathery dried meat or stiff-as-a-spike sausage that could have accompanied those early Portuguese navigators. A hard, salty cheese would be perfect, too. Land ho.

Ron Bechtol writes about food and drink for the Current. Value Vino appears twice per month.

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