Wines of Portugal served up a luncheon and education hour recently for a group of wine writers, educators and sommeliers in Los Angeles, to which I was happy to be invited. We congregated in the back area at Republique and got schooled by the speaker, Evan Goldstein, below.
The Master Sommelier opened with remarks about a few of the 300 grape varieties that are indigenous to Portugal, and some of the difficulty of wrapping one’s American head around them. He said it's not easy teaching folks about Portuguese wines. "Grapes that people can't pronounce and a language that sounds like a bunch of drunk Russians arguing," he said, "make a rather hazy platform for wine education."
First, Goldstein says protein is not always the star. Especially in restaurants, you may find several commanding flavors in the side dishes that beg to be addressed by the wine.
Second, he emphasizes the cooking impact. Is the food grilled? Smoked? Blackened? He says all of these cooking styles can overwhelm a wine.
Third, is there a sauce? If so, that's the key to a wine pairing. A wine you would match with plain pasta is very different from the one you’d match with a marinara sauce that goes into it.
Goldstein gave us the chance to mix and match with the lunch, which was served in three, two-stage courses, perfect Portuguese pairings prepared by Walter Manzke and Eric Bost of Republique and Telmo Faria of San Francisco's Uma Casa.
Before we sat, a wonderful aperitif wine was poured, the Esporão Verdelho, Alentejo 2015. The wine makes a great opener, with a mineral-driven citrus nose and flavors of grapefruit and lemon in a crisp, fresh acidity. The 13.5% abv wine was made entirely from the Verdelho grape, grown in the Alentejo region, in the south-central part of Portugal. It was declared the best wine of the year in that country, the first time a white wine had ever won the honor.
Each lunch course was paired with four wines, from which we were to select the one that best fit the dish, according to our palates. This, Goldstein assured us, meant that there were no wrong answers.
Hamachi Crudo Gazpacho, Mustard Seed Oil
The Sogrape Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde, Vinho Verde 2015 was the best with fish, fins down.
Sopa de Funcho, Chilled Fennel Soup; Dungeness Crab, Corn Salad
As I suspected, the easiest sipper was the best with the soup, the Terras d’Alter Reserva Branco, Alentejo, 2014.
Spinach Cavatelli, Forest Mushrooms
I would have preferred a white wine with mushroom, I always do. Of the three reds, the best fit was probably the Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas Tinto, Alentejo, 2011.
Arroz de Pato, Morel Mushroom and Duck Confit Risotto; Seared Duck Breast, Red Wine Cherry Sauce
All three reds did fine with this one, great in fact.
Beef Tenderloin, Sweet Onion, Oven-Dried Tomato, Bacon
Wines #11 and #12, from the Douro selections, were best. An elegant pairing where the tannins seemed put to good use
Carne a Jardineira, Braised Short Rib, New Potatoes, Baby Carrots, Summer Beans, Braising Jus
All four Douros were great with this course.
1 Aveleda Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde, Vinho Verde 2015
From the northwest part of the country; winemaker Manuel Soares; 11% abv
The Loueira grape gives the wines wonderful floral capacity, while the Alva Rinho grapes brings the fruit. Great acidity.
2 Sogrape Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde, Vinho Verde 2015
Nearly all Loureira grapes, only 5% Pederna; 11% abv four months aging on the lees
The nose is chalky with muted citrus notes. Grapefruit flavors dominate with a very fresh acidity.
3 Caves Transmontanas Vértice Grande Reserva Branco, Douro 2013
Yes, a white from Douro, in the northern part of country, where Port comes from.
13.6% abv; half gouveio and half Viosinho; light oak
Muted mineral aromas of chalk and lemons, with a slight toastiness. Smooth and earthy in the mouth, full with a light citrus overlay.
4 Terras d’Alter Reserva Branco, Alentejo 2014
A five-grape blend from Alentejo, in the south central part of country.
25% Siria, 25% Arinto, 25% Verdelho, 10% Viosinho, 10% Gouveio and 5% Viognier; 13.5%; winemaker Retar Breight
A slight floral aroma precedes an elegant display of citrus. Peachy flavors are quite sippable in this full, less acidic wine.
5 Aveleda Follies Touriga Nacional, Bairrada 2011
From north central
All Touriga Nacional grapes from the north-central area.
Winemaker Manuel Soares; 13.5% abv; one year in French oak
The nose has lots of black cherry and spices, while the palate gives dark fruit and beautiful oak notes, like cedar. Nice tannic structure.
6 Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas Tinto, Barraida 2011
100% Baga grape, a winemaker’s fave; 40 year-old vines; 13% abv
A rosy perfume graces the nose, while black fruit and big minerals define the palate.
7 Cortes de Cima Tinto, Alentejo 2012
40% Aragonez (Tempranillo), 35% Syrah, 15% Touriga Nacional, 10% Petit Verdot; 12 months mostly French oak; 14% abv
The aromas here are beautiful. I even included an exclamation point in my notes. Syrupy, perfumed cherry and blueberry scents lead to flavors of black and blue fruit with spices and easy tannins.
8 Wine did not arrive
9 Quinta do Vallado Touriga Nacional, Douro 2012
100% Touriga Nacional; 14% abv; 16 months in 30% new oak
A dark, spicy nose predicts more darkness on the palate, with savory, spicy flavors and very nice tannins.
10 Sogrape Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Tinto, Douro 2013
Kitchen sink composition: 50% Touriga Franca, 25% Touriga Nacional, 10% Tinto Roriz (again, Tempranillo), 5% Tinta Cao, 5% Touriga Fêmea and 5% "other;" 13.5%; 12-18 months in French oak
Violet and dark fruit on the nose, with a palate that’s fruity and savory, yet breezy.
11 Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Tinto, Douro 2013
43% Touriga Nacional, 37% Touriga Franca and 20% traditional Douro grapes; 14% abv
Beautiful floral accents join the minerals on the nose. Flavors of black and blue fruit are draped with a savory aspect and a great acidity.
12 Prats & Symington Post Scriptum de Chryseia, Douro 2013
50% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca, 11% Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barroca. The rest, who knows? 14 months French oak; 13.8%
This wine has an easy, rosy nose that is muted and light, but the earthy minerals make a strong showing on the palate. Savory and tannic.
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