It appears to be Underappreciated Wine Region Month here at Pop & Pour. Last week I was exposed to the new wave of bottlings coming out of the southern Italian island of Sicily; this week it was Portugal, another unheralded European wine area, that was aiming to bring its remarkable wines to the attention of international export markets. I got the opportunity to sit in on a guided tasting put on by the Wines of Portugal and led by energetic and well-versed sommelier extraordinaire DJ Kearney, who brought us up to speed on everything from the number of indigenous grape varieties found in Portugal (250+) to the proper pronunciation of key Portuguese wine terms (hint: if it ends in an E, don’t pronounce the E, no matter how much you want to). The tasting was held at Market Restaurant on 17th Avenue, which I had never been to before but which proceeded to serve us an absolutely stellar three-course lunch that will be reason enough to bring me back very soon.
It was sort of fitting that I got to experience Portugal’s wine story after sitting in on Sicily’s, because the two regions have much in common. Both are home to large numbers of local grape varietals that are barely found anywhere else, and both have made the conscious choice to embrace these lesser-known grapes and focus their quality production around them. As a result of a lack of name recognition and a dearth of critical attention on these under-the-radar wines, both can offer tremendous value for money for those consumers brave enough to take the plunge (I think Portugal might win the worldwide gold medal for these kinds of bargains). And both tend to focus more on wines that are blends of multiple different grapes as opposed to single varietal offerings, with Portuguese wine in particular almost always a group vinous effort as opposed to a solo act. Kearney channeled her inner Wino Karl Marx when talking blending, urging us through these wines to shed the shackles of varietal typicity and embrace the communal symphony of these intrepid groups of local grapes (featuring reds Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz [aka Tempranillo] and Baga, and whites Alvarinho [aka Albarino], Arinto, Encruzado and many more) all working together to make something greater than themselves.