A Taste of Portugal’s Native Grapes

With names like Trajadura, Loureiro, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet and Touriga Nacional, the grapes of Portugal don’t exactly roll off your tongue.  Nor do they have the recognition of a Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay.  But with more than 200 indigenous varietals, Portugal’s wines are definitely exciting to explore.

For a great introduction to Portugal’s wines, I recommend trying the wines from Herdade do Esporão.  I’ve been a fan of Esporao’s wines since I first tasted them last fall.

Monte VelhoEsporão is located in Alentejo, a region in the southeast that covers one third of mainland Portugal.  Hot and humid summers and granitic soil add unique character to the grapes.

For a taste of Portugal’s white varietals, try Esporão’s Monte Velho White.  It’s a blend of Roupeiro, Antão Vaz and Perrum grapes.  It’s fresh and aromatic with flavors of peach and apple.  The finish is clean and crisp.  Try this with seafood or pasta, or as an alternative to Chardonnay.  The Monte Velho White costs around $10.

For a more elegant and refined white try Esporão’s White Reserva.  It’s a rich and fruity mix of Roupeiro, Arinto and Antão Vaz, with hints of vanilla from time spent in new American and French oak barrels.  The White Reserva costs around $20.

Quinta da AveledaIf you’re a fan of Spanish Albariño try a bottle of the 2007 Quinta da Aveleda from the Vinho Verde region in northwest Portugal.  It’s a mix of Trajadura, Loureiro and Alvarinho (the Portuguese name for Albariño).  The wine is complex and dry with a crisp lemon-lime flavor.  A nice minerality and good acidity make this a great wine for shellfish and seafood.  It’s a great value at around $9 a bottle.

For a taste of Portugal’s red varietals try Esporão’s Monte Velho Red, a blend of Trincadeira, Aragonês and Castelão.  The wine has rounded flavors of ripe berries and spice with oak and gentle tannins that give it a good body.  This goes well with a variety of meat dishes and tomato-based pasta dishes.  A bottle costs around $10.

Esporao RedI also really like Esporão’s Red Reserva, a blend of Trincadeira, Aragonês and Cabernet Sauvignon.  It has intense flavors of blackcurrant and cherry, with layers of oak and vanilla spice.  This goes great with beef or lamb.  The Red Reserva costs around $20.

My favorite red wine varietal from Portugal is Touriga Nacional.  This grape produces full-bodied wines that have flavors of blackberries, blueberries and rosemary.  Touriga Nacional is great on its own and can be even better when blended with other grapes.  Try a bottle of this instead of a Cabernet Sauvignon.

In previous years Esporão has produced a delicious single varietal Touriga Nacional.  From this year on the winery will only be producing this wine during exceptional years, so be sure to buy a bottle if you see one at your local wine shop.

Quinta das TecedeirasCasa Santos Lima in the Estremadura region in west central Portugal makes a delicious Touriga Nacional.  The 2007 vintage has big and chewy flavors of spicy deep red fruit.  This goes great with grilled meats.  A bottle of Casa Santos Lima 2007 Touriga Nacional costs around $12.

A more expensive alternative is the Quinta das Tecedeiras 2005 Reserva.  It’s from the Douro region in northern Portugal, which is best known as the source of Port.  The wine is a mix of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinto Cão, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Amarela.  It has rich and full-bodied flavors of blackberry, plum and mocha with smooth and lingering tannins.  A sip of this makes you crave steak.  A bottle of Quinta das Tecedeiras 2005 Reserva costs around $28.

If the only wine you’ve ever tried from Portugal is a Port, it’s definitely time to visit your local wine store.

For more information on Herdade do Esporão visit www.esporao.com.

Click here for more information on Portugal’s indigenous grapes.