Calgary Wine Life: Wines of Portugal Tasting @ Market

7 11 2013

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.

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Wine Review: 2008 CARM Douro Reserva

8 07 2011

Know what the problem with most wine labels is? Not enough turquoise.

Most people are probably acquainted with Port, the fortified sweet wine from northern Portugal that has never met a blue cheese platter or a dark chocolate dessert it didn’t like.  Port is made by partly fortifying a blend of indigenous grapes from Portugal’s Douro region, but interrupting the fermentation before all of the grapes’ sugar is converted into alcohol by adding concentrated grape spirits to the mix.  These spirits vault the booze level over 20%, which kills off the yeast driving the fermentation and leaves some residual sugar in the finished product:  a half-fermented, spiked, naturally sweet wine.  What would happen if this fortification process wasn’t interrupted and the yeast wasn’t killed off before it turned all the grape sugar into alcohol?  Dry Douro table wines like this would happen.  Not all of grapes in this region are pre-destined for Port production anymore; an increasing proportion of them are cultivated in the steep terraced vineyards along the banks of the Douro River strictly for non-dessert wines.  These wines are fascinating to try, because although it is only production and aging methods that separate them from their sweeter, more famous counterparts (which are made from the same grapes grown in the same areas), they show a completely different side of Portugal in the glass. Read the rest of this entry »

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