We may think we know much about Ports (though there’s much left to learn), but the unfortified red wines of Portugal are almost totally unknown in San Antonio and difficult to find, to boot — a classic which-came-first situation. Oh, you never heard of the grapes, either. Which is, of course, why the topic intrigues me.
Grapes have been grown in Portugal since the Phoenicians brought them around 600 B.C., and many of the remaining varietals are not grown elsewhere; there’s indeed a slug of history in each sip of wines made from baga, periquita, touriga nacional, trincadeira preta, tinta da barca, and other, equally obscure grapes. And we haven’t even mentioned the whites. (Nor will we, in this column.)
Though there are numerous sub-regions, some just now coming into their own on an international scale. The most important classic regions are, starting from the north, Minho (mostly whites), Douro (home of Ports as well as unfortified wines of note), Bairrada (on the Atlantic coast), Dao, Alentejo, and Setubal. We didn’t taste from every region, but the variety is impressive nevertheless — especially when price is factored into the equation.
You should pay under $6 for a bottle of JP Vinhos Porca de Murça from the Douro (Google porca de murça for another historical perspective), and it will be money well-spent, especially in the company of a picnic basket plump with sliced hams, stuffed eggs, and a little broiled chicken. The wine itself has a bright fruit aroma, light plum and cherry flavors, and slight astringency that suggest the need for chilling in a Hill Country stream.
From Terras do Sado, a sub-region south of Lisbon, comes Serras de Azeitao, a vinho regional made from castelao, aragonez, merlot, and syrah grapes. The aromas conjure cherries plucked straight from the tree, and if the wine finishes short, the ride is good and the cost is even less.
Tune in next week for another handful of pretty-nice Portuguese sippers. In the meantime, look first to Central Market, where wine “rock star” Heidi has devoted most of a rack to Portuguese reds and whites. Whole Foods is trying hard as well, and with a little encouragement … Saglimbeni Fine Wines also stocks a few, so press them for more, too. These wines will continue to attract attention, so be the first on your block; right now, you’re pretty much assured of that distinction.