Portugal excels at unique whites, with exciting flavours from unusual grapes, says MARY DOWEY. Perfect for the sunny weekend ahead, whether you barbecue at home or meet friends in the park for a picnic …
With summer ahead the very idea of sipping suave white wines from sunny places is cheering. While travel horizons remain limited why not daydream, glass in hand? Come with me to Portugal. A whistle-stop autumn tour was the most intriguing trip I’ve made in ages – not just for the reds that have become the country’s mainstay alongside port, but for brilliant whites too. More and more are emerging, brimming with personality and deliciousness.
Portugal is particularly good at generating unique flavours. Winemakers have clung to a couple of hundred native grape varieties, often using them in interesting combinations – a wise move which is paying particular white dividends now that Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay have begun to bore drinkers silly. Alvarinho, Fernão Pires, Loureiro, Arinto, Encruzado, Gouveio, Bical, Rabigato, Antão Vaz, Viosinho, Malvasia Fina … these are some of the grapes behind modern white wines that stand mouthwateringly out from the crowd.
As for regions, they’re all into white to some extent. Vinho Verde up north – the coolest, wettest and best known area – still dominates white wine production and many of its light, spritzy, sweetish wines remain distinctly forgettable; but there are also superb examples of this Portuguese speciality. East of here the Douro valley – sundrenched port territory for the most part – has elevated vineyards in its upper reaches guaranteeing elegantly juicy white wines.
Dão, sitting up on a plateau towards the centre of the country, has nights cool enough to seal freshness and acidity into its whites as well as my favourite grape, Encruzado, a miracle of rippling, mineral-edged intensity. Even the bakingly hot Alentejo region down south can manage occasional white miracles thanks to the clever management of heat-resistant local varieties.
You’d be surprised at how much ground we covered – and how many impressive wines we tasted – in a two-and-a-half day zoom-around organised by Sogrape Vinhos, a long-established company with 15 wine estates to its name. While my recommendations are all from the trip, I should mention that quite a few other dazzling Portuguese whites are also making their way into the Irish market. Luis Seabra and Folias de Baco in the Douro, Aphros in Vinho Verde, Filipa Pato in Bairrada … these are just a few of the talented producers who are making us reassess the Portugal equals red ref lex.
Summer’s on the way. We’ll need white wines that are lively, pure and refreshing – to drink solo or with salads, fish or white meats. Whites that are a bit different, in the €18-30 price bracket that delivers decent quality. You know which way to turn.
QUINTA DE AZEVEDO VINHO VERDE RESERVA 2018.
A bone-dry Vinho Verde of real substance with a salty, almost chewy finish. Brilliantly refreshing too. Alcohol: 12%. From www.wineonline.ie; Clontarf Wines and Kellys, Dublin 3; McHughs, Kilbarrack & Artane, Dublin 5; Redmonds, Dublin 6; World Wide Wines, Waterford, about €18.
CASA FERREIRINHA PAPA FIGOS DOURO BRANCO 2018.
The white Douro grape Rabigato blended with four others makes for a delightfully summery wine – floral, fruity and reviving. Alcohol: 12.5%. From www.wineonline.ie; McHughs, Kilbarrack & Artane, Dublin 5; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Matsons, Grange, Co Cork, about €19.
QUINTA DOS CARVALHAIS DÃO ENCRUZADO 2018.
100% Encruzado partly oakfermented, this is subtle, complex and superb. A main course white whereas the two above suit light food. Alcohol: 13%. From www.wineonline.ie; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Luceys Good Food, Mallow, Co Cork, about €30.
Sign up to our MAILING LIST now for a roundup of the latest fashion, beauty, interiors and entertaining news from THE GLOSS MAGAZINE’s daily dispatches.