The wines being made in Portugal have changed in just the last few years, and they are really hot right now. To celebrate the dynamic changes taking place there trade body Wines of Portugal took the theme of Taste A World of Difference for its annual portfolio tasting. They changed the venue, the style of the tasting, drafted in Three Wine Men for the evening consumer event, and have put even more oomph behind their already-impressive education programmes, Organics section and focus on the excellent white wines coming out of the country.
In addition to a roundup of the Wines of Portugal tasting in London, Mike Turner also picks out 6 of the best white wines he tasted on the day with full tasting notes. Take it away Mike…
I don’t go to Brick Lane (in London’s East End) that often. God help me I’m just not trendy enough. I actually have lenses in my glasses, my attempts at growing a beard are pathetic, and after 20 years of playing field hockey my ankles are not worthy of cut off chinos. But after a few years of Lindley Hall I was very happy to hear that Wines of Portugal were shaking things up and heading to the Boiler House, so as I wandered down past the vibrant street art, listening to Woody Guthrie on my headphones, I was in the mood to have a fun day.
I’m being a bit flippant, of course, because that’s kind of how I am about a lot of things. But in all seriousness, the change of venue is very symbolic. Portuguese Wine is changing. The dynamic of the UK importing scene is changing. There is an underlying fresh energy about both, and as Wines of Portugal’s very own Sónia Vieira notes “the importers are partners, we need them for success, we listen to how they want to operate as much as how we wish to.”
The venue change also gave a nod to the consumer side of things.
Wines of Portugal know that education is massive for them, both trade and consumer, and try hard to push on both. As recently as 2018 the evening consumer show was a bit of a disaster. Producers left early for flights home and paying consumers were left wandering round a sparsely populated room littered with half empty wine bottles. Wines of Portugal clearly learned their lesson. This year, an investment in a tie-up with the Three Wine Men (those boys don’t come cheap I’d imagine, nor should they!) had seen 500 consumers pre-booked and unlikely to leave without some excellent Portuguese-Wine-related snippets from Tim, Olly, and Oz.
And some excellent tips on where to buy shirts, of course.
Ongoing education was something I was very keen to quiz Sónia on.
Every trade association under the sun talks about it, but how are Wines of Portugal walking the walk so-to-speak? She introduced me to the Wines of Portugal Academy, an initiative that’s been going since 2012. Now rolled out over their 16 target markets, this is a two level learning approach, with grapes and regions to start, and gastronomy, culture, and in depth looks into sub-regions to finish your studies. Even more exciting is the Level 3 Ambassador Programme coming in the near future. I’d already mentally signed up before she’d finished her sentence, and I wouldn’t be alone. It’s estimated that over 1000 wine lovers enrol on the Academy every year, with a whopping 500+ in Brazil alone.
Education is pivotal, especially in the face of a rapidly changing wine market in Portugal.
Incredibly, the Wines of Portugal trade day managed to cover most of the 250 or so varieties commercially grown across the 14 regions of the country, including table wines from Azures and Madeira. The upper tier of the venue was laden with free pour tables proudly focusing on topics ranging from the Atlantic Influence to Master Blends of the Portugal’s indigenous varieties. There was even a fledgling Organic section. Although Portugal has lagged behind in this aspect, pressure from consumers is coming, especially from Nordic markets, and changing mentalities in the vineyards.
But with so much on show, where do you even start?
“Start with Alentejo” advised Sónia. “It’s a good place to start, with familiar tastes and structures. From there you can see the differences across Vinho Verde, Douro, Dao and more.” That’s exactly what I did.
And I was right. It was going to be a good day. I tasted my way through a room of food friendly reds and progressive whites. I came across super fresh sparkling wines and, of course, managed to finish with those game-changing ports. It hasn’t been just cheap rosé and house reds for many years now, and the top quality wine they’ve been showing continues to improve every year. The wine of Portugal really does have something for everyone.
Below you’ll find out my Mixed Case suggestions from the tasting. Other than obviously reading through those, do check out the Wines of Portugal website for upcoming events and get in touch with the team at Wines of Portugal UK for upcoming dates on Academy classes. I’ll see you all there!
Mike’s Top 6-pack of Portuguese white wines
It would be a bit too easy to string off a list of beautiful single varietal Touriga Nacionals, but I thought I’d follow on down the marketing push of Wines of Portugal to highlight some excellent whites being produced. Portugal’s whites are much more than just light Vinho Verde and Encruzado… although there are so many styles in just those two categories that even writing that felt wrong!
Here are 6 of my favourites from the day, hope you like them.
Quinta da Costa do Pinhão, 2016, Douro
Not a wine or winery I’d come across before, but one that really stood out with a beautiful golden colour, smells of struck match, cooked apple, candied lemons, and a lovely cashew nuttiness.
A bit more digging with the very helpful Simone from Alliance placed this biodiverse vineyard in the heart of the Douro wine world, right on the river bank at Pinhão. They aim for native varietals, wild fermentations, minimum intervention, and maximum care.
This wine itself is a field blend from over 15 varieties of old, deep rooted, vines from the highest vineyards they own. Then follows two weeks of skin contact for the juice, which is then fermented with native yeasts, and aged in 500L used barrels for a little over a year. The price is, granted, at the upper limits, but at just 1400 litres this is a fun rarity for your wine-nerd customers. (Alliance Wine, £24.89 DPD)
Quintas do Homem, Vale de Homem, Loureiro, 2018, Vinho Verde,
I guess when we’re converting £8.88 DPD into a retail price we’re looking at what? £15-ish? That’s not bad at all for a very well made Vinho Verde, which this clearly is. The whole range is aimed as food friendly wines, with good weight and concentration, with a focus on oak-free fruit.
The winery is based near the city of Braga in the heart of the Minho delta. The highlighted sustainability initiatives here are ones that don’t always get enough focus around the wine world. It’s all about workers rights though a private welfare system, which is very good to hear.
The wine itself has skin contact of five hours, and extended lees ageing of three months, really hammering home a lovely mineral streak. I got tastes of perfumed pear drop, apples and lemons, fresh, slightly waxy and salty, and light in alcohol. A great By The Glass option. (Alliance Wine, £8.88 DPD)
Barbeito Madeira, Barbeito Verdelho Vinho Branco, 2018, Madeirense,
OK, so this is maybe a tad on the pricey side and needs a good hand sell, however it really is worth it. I was stood inbetween two other tasters having a go at this and we all had the same look on our faces. Impressed! Subtle sweet spice, gooseberry, nectarine, peaches, limes, apricots, bitter pith finish, long finish, and (listen up you lunchtime luvvies!) very light in alcohol.
The wine itself is only into its second vintage, the brainchild of 3rdgeneration family owner and winemaker in Ricardo Freitas. The fruit comes from a specially selected site on the north part of the island, with the juice then fermented and aged in (mostly aged) oak. Small production for now, but it’s been well received, so get your hands on a case or two quick smart! (Raymond Reynolds, RRP £30)
Campolargo, Cercial 2016, Bairrada
Another winery I remember fondly from last year, and made a bee line for to check out the new vintage of their Cercial. It didn’t disappoint. It’s an excellent “foodie” wine with almonds, bitter lemons, apples, and a lovely saline freshness.
The vineyards themselves are pretty much in the centre of Portugal (north to south), but close to the coast hence that maritime influence. Limestone and clay soils and depth to the terroir. I get a bit perturbed when sustainability drives start and end with Lutte Raisonée, but everyone’s got to start somewhere, so let’s champion that for now. Wineries like these will only improve the picture overall, so good on them! (A Taste of Portugal, POA)
Soalheiro, Nature Pur Terroir, Alvarinho 2018, Vinho Verde,
I don’t know why I always assume Soalheiro is a “ye olde” winery. Maybe it’s something to do with the very cool logo? Infact, this Melgaço based winery was only started as recently as 1974.
I came across the Nature Pur Terroir on the upstairs tasting table for the nerdy eco warriors like myself. Natural and organic, cloudy, fresh ripe apples and pears, sharp lemon juice, skin contact grip, waxy, saline minerality, light in alcohol, long finish… that do you for a tasting note? I really liked it, but be quick, think there’s only a few bottles kicking around in the UK.
Also worth a note was their Geminar range. For this wine the producers invited a local school for kids with learning difficulties to design the label. For every bottle they sell, €3 goes back to the schools (£28 rrp per bottle). It pays to be kind to each other. Just saying. (Raymond Reynolds, POA)
Covela, Avesso Reserva Bio, 2018,
I always spend a bit of time with Harry Crowther on these days as his Portugal knowledge vastly outshines my own. He does a bit of work with Lima Smith vineyards, whose production proudly includes the wines of the Covela vineyards. Technically it’s still in Vinho Verde, but the vineyards straddle the border with the Douro, so you get the combo of the warmth from the Douro, and the minerality blowing up the valleys of Vinho Verde’s river systems.
They’re putting all their vineyards through organic conversion, although this is taking a bit longer than they’d have hoped as their neighbours haven’t quite grasped the point of organics and continue to spray away!
Anyway, this wine itself comes from a biodynamically farmed plot. It’s packed full of creamy peach melba, apricots and lemons, floral beeswax and honeysuckle, and a waxy mouth feel accentuated by three months in Austrian oak. (Clark Foyster Wines, DPD £12, biodynamic)
Cheeky addition at the bottom – Quinta de Lemos – potentially looking for distribution
I came across these guys at the 2019 Wines of Portugal tasting. I was there doing some social media work for the organisers and myself and The Winebird herself, the brilliant Helena Nicklin of Three Drinkers fame, both put their excellent single varietal Touriga Nacional in our top 10 wines of the day. I think Justin Keay, writing in The Buyer, gave it a notable mention too.
Anyway, long story short, they’ve an excellent range, a well heeled and ambitious owner, and it appears that they may need an importer soon as they’ve heard their current importer is looking to jack in the importing game. Anyone with a Dao/Portugal-shaped hole in their portfolio could do a lot worse than get in touch!