Portugual’s Wines & Wine Tasting Friends

Since my return to the United States from Italy four years ago this December, I have been very lucky to meet lots of new friends with similar interests. You guessed it, wine friends of all colors, strips, ages and most importantly, palates. A font of these new friends have been the schools where I have studied, prinicpally the International Wine Center but also the Society of Wine Educators.

Additionally, one makes friends at all of the tastings and press conferences you attend if you are in my line of work. I have had the privilege of tasting with some great tasters and of meeting people from across the industry. I always ask people what their particular tasting method is in order to glean information to help me with my own tastings.

At a recent aperitif with people studying for Diploma this year, I had the chance to meet a lovely woman named Giselle. In addition to her charm and wit, she gave me some good ideas about tasting. When she tastes she said, she imagines wines as people. This was a novel approach for me. I am much more banal I guess. I try to memorize the profile of the wine and think about it in relative terms. I liked her approach however and have been trying to put it in practice.

I have tasted a number of lovely French wines in recent days and I keep thinking of them as chic and sultry French women and men, elegantly dressed with subtle notes and much harmony. Something like a longchamps handbag or a perfect tarte tatin, nothing out of place or overwhelming but an elegant combination and one that lasts…

I met Giselle together with fellow IWC students who were studying for their fortified wine exams. We met at Pao, a delicious little place with great food on the corner of Spring and Greenwich in the West Village. A friend from Washington was in town and he thought we were walking to New Jersey. The place was a delight. They have a large menu of Tawny ports, Madeiras and the like but my favorite was a wine that we ordered thanks to Rodolphe Boulanger, a fellow Diploma graduate and lovely person. Can I say hysterically funny as well… Anyway, he did the legwork to find out some information about this lovely wine.

It was called Morgado de Sta. Catherina Reserva 2006 and is made in Estremadura in the Bucelas DOC. Made from the Arinto grape, it is fermented in 80% new French oak barrels for 9 months. It had tropical and dried fruit notes.


It was elegant with lovely acidity and reminded me of some wines from Josko Gravner in Italy. I saw the news last week that Gravner is now being imported by Domaine Select. That’s quite a coup but I can see the fit. The other wines that this Bucelas brought to mind were those of Movia, also a Domaine Select producer.

This past summer I took a seminar on wines from Portugal at the Society of Wine Educators conference in Sacramento. Entitled “Still Wines of the Douro Valley, Ed Korry gave a very detailed account of Portuguese wines and their history.

An ancient wine producing region, the Phoenicians were apparently active in this part of the world in the 10th century B.C., yes B.C. Most people used to think of the Douro only for its’ Port wines. In recent years, the Douro has been producing some very interesting still wines as well.

For many years Portugal lived under the Salazar dictatorship and quality wines were not a priority. All that changed in the past 10-15 years. The Douro is a very small region, only 63 miles long.

It has a difficult climate to contend with in certain parts as it is prey to violent downpours and can be affected by the Atlantic ocean. The making of port wines is very complicated in terms of the qualities that wines are judged by. This has created a niche market for still wines from the Douro which may not respect the parameters needed to make a port wine. There are some 50 to 80 varieties in the Douro but the most renowned is Tourga Nacional which makes big, black fruity and tannic wines.

Some of the vineyards have very old vines. Among wihite varities you can find much Rabigato, Viosinho and Codega. Viticulture in this part of the world is extremely challenging because of the steep slope of the hills. We tried a variety of interesting and modern wines made from indigenous grapes including Niepoort Tiara 2007 made with Ribagato, Malvasia, Codega and other grapes. It was really interesting and I would surely not have picked it out in a blind tasting as a portuguese wine.

My two favorites wines were the Chryseia 2004 which was layered and nuanced with waves of flavors and the Quinta do Crasto Old Vines 2006 with its spice, leather and cedar notes. It was rich and developing with fine tannins and savory flavors. The tasting ended with a gem called Pintas 2006. This fabulous wine had oak and savory meaty notes. It was Burgundian in style, slightly contained and just exquisite.


The photos of the Douro Valley alone are enough to entice one on a trip. The wines are now giving the landscape serious competition as a tourist draw.

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