Portuguese Wine Academy

Last week, Sophia, Jenny, and I attended a day-long Portuguese Wine Academy, staged at Albert’s Shed in Castlefield, Manchester, impeccably organised by Cube Communications, and presented by wine expert Charles Metcalfe. For a small country, Portugal has a staggering and at times bewildering variety of wine and we were there to learn about the country’s regions, grapes, and wine culture, as well to try and master Portuguese pronunciation.

hanging ditch portugal wine academy tasting

A hard day’s work

so, what did we learn?

  • there are lots of varieties of grapes, 250 and counting. Most of these are indigenous, distinct from the varieties that have travelled over the millenia to Italy and France from Georgia/Armenia
  • these grapes often have completely different names from region to region
  • the most important white grapes are Alvarinho (especially in Vinho Verde; the same grape as Albariño across the border in Rías Biaxas), Arinto (also in Vinho Verde, as well as Alentejo and Lisboa), Fernão Pires (most planted white variety in Portugal; changes gender in Bairrada, where it’s called Maria Gomes), and Encruzado (elegant, full-bodied wines that take to oak, mainly in Dão)
  • the most important black grapes are Touriga Nacional (grown all over Portugal, producing complex floral, spicy, richly-coloured wines, with red and black fruits), Touriga Franca (a late-ripening grape that produces wines of a velvety texture), Trincadeira (needs heat as it rots when it rains, so is well suited to inland Alentejo), and Tinta Roriz (its Douro name, called Aragonez in Alentejo, and, among many other names, Tempranillo in Spain)
  • climate varies from Atlantic in the coastal regions to continental beyond the mountains towards Spain; this makes Portugal quite varied climatically, accounting for the range of styles of wine and grapes
  • DOC means Denominação do Origem Controlada and is the highest level of ranking; under new EU laws they can be called DOPs (Denominação do Origem Protegida), though Charles told us only the islands (Madeira and Açores) have changed the naming
  • there are 28 DOCs, though these vary quite significantly in importance and some are dying out, particularly in the urbanised DOCs around Lisbon
  • surrounding each DOC are the larger, less particular IGPs (Indicação Geográfica Protegida), or Vinho Regional; so there’s DOC Alentejo and Vinho Regional Alentejano
  • Portuguese wine has so much to offer and caters for almost every taste – from light, refreshing whites to big, hefty reds, as well as some of the great historic wines of the world, Madeira and Port


Wines of Portugal Line Up

Afternoon line up

so, what did we taste?

In all, we tasted twenty wines over the course of the day, which together featured twenty different grapes. It was particularly interesting to taste the whites, as I think Portuguese white wine is still quite unknown. After tasting some light refreshing wines from Vinho Verde, the first highlight of the day was the Quinta dos Roques Encruzado 2011 from Dão. Encruzado is a white grape widely planted in the Dão region and is often fermented or aged in oak to add more complexity to its natural elegance. This example, which hangingditch has stocked in the past, was a wonderfully balanced buttery, creamy wine with sweet sugary spice, tropical fruits, and a long finish. The Redoma 2011, from one of hangingditch’s favourite producers, Niepoort, was another beautifully textured oaky wine, with lovely honey and bread notes, with a rich, long peppery finish. This Douro wine was a blend of three white grapes highly rated by Charles – Rabigato, Viosinho, and Côdega do Larinho. Esporão are the biggest producers in Alentejo, a region more known for red wine, but their Reserva Branco was another deliciously oaky white, with tropical fruits coming from the Antão Vaz grape (the wine was another blend of three grapes – Arinto, Antão Vaz, and Roupeiro Branco, which is known as Siria in Douro – are you keeping track of all these names?). Although these balanced, oaky wines stood out for us, all the wines we tasted, whether oaked or not, were consistently excellent, characterised by minerality and a refreshing, high acidity.

We expected the reds to be big and bold, but the wines we sampled had a surprising amount of juicy fruitiness. The importance of vintage for the reds was clear. 2007 was a cooler vintage and that year’s Quinta do Sagrado Reserva (90% Touriga Nacional; 10% wild grapes) from Douro had beautifully balanced fruits and tannins, with a floral aroma. In contrast Julia Kemper’s Touriga Nacional from 2009 was a serious beast still to open up fully, but its chocolately, jammy liquorice and black fruits showed a wine from a hot vintage with great potential to develop. The Palpite Reserva 2010 from the Alentejano was a combination of Aragonez, Touriga Nacional, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The nose of this wine was fragrant, floral, with red fruits and blackcurrants, yet smoky; on the palate were tannins, juicy red and blackcurrant fruits, gentle yet with spicy depth. Charles repeatedly expressed his scepticism of using French varieties with Portuguese, but I have tasted some really interesting blends, particularly from Alentejo, and this was a high-quality example.

One other wine that we were excited to taste was the Moscatel do Favaios Colheita 1980, from the small hilltop village of Favaios in the Douro. Aged for over 30 years and only recently bottled, the wine was a rich, oxidised mixture of caramel, toffee, treacle, and nuts, with sweet spices on the finish. Perfect with sticky toffee pudding: Jenny, ever extravagant, suggested pouring it over ice cream.

Wines of Portugal Academy

All experts now.

Throughout the day, Charles guided us through Portugal’s history, culture, character, and of course its wines, leaving us longing to taste (drink) our way through the Portuguese wines we stock at hangingditch. Which is just what we’ve started to do: here’s Sophia and I talking about two Alentejo wines. This is our first video – we hope to get better!

Wine Antão Vaz da Peceguina Pedra Basta
Region Alentejo Vinho Regional Alentejano
Producer Herdade de Malhadinha Novo Sonho Lusitano
Grape Antão Vaz Trincadeira, Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet; Cabernet Sauvignon
Vintage 2012 2009
ABV 12.5% 14%
Price £20 £16.50

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