Posts Tagged : London

When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water

Text Sarah Ahmed

Blend is a brilliant name for a Portuguese wine magazine. Why? Because the Portuguese are the masters of blending – whether it’s different grape varieties or vintages. It helps that, with 250 plus native grape varieties, these vinous artists have a rich palette of aromas, flavours and textures from which to draw.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Menu blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Menu

Sixtyone Menu for the Event – Photo by Sip & Savour | All Rights Reserved

Of course another variable is terroir, a topic which I enjoyed placing under the microscope at a Sip & Savour tasting earlier this month focused on the Douro and Vinho Verde. When you think about classic Vinho Verde wine – fresh, white, light, low alcohol – it is remarkable to think that this region’s neighbor, the Douro, produces one of the world’s most famous fortified wines – rich, red and robust Ports! Fire to the Vinho Verde’s water.

I had fun contrasting six benchmark examples from these northern regions. As you might expect, the Vinho Verdes were white and the Douro duo were (at least intended both to be) red – no surprises there. But I also played around with perceptions as I took the chance to highlight not just the freshness but also the intensity of top Vinho Verde and the elegance of the Douro reds, even if they came from the Douro Superior, theoretically its hottest, driest sub-region. The surprises continued with our dessert wine, a Moscatel do Douro, which proved that the Douro can do elegant fortifieds too.

Returning to my fire and water analogy, water is a big fat clue to a major point of difference between these two neighbouring regions. Located alongside the Atlantic and criss-crossed by rivers which funnel the Atlantic influence inland, Vinho Verde is wetter and cooler than the land-locked Douro. You have to travel some 100km inland from Oporto to reach the Douro region, which then stretches another 100km further inland, snaking along the Douro river, right up to the Spanish border.

While Vinho Verde has a maritime influenced climate (especially those parts nearest the coast), the Douro is shielded from the brunt of Atlantic weather by the Marão mountain range. Located betwixt the Douro and Vinho Verde and rising to 1,415m above sea level, the Marão is Portugal’s sixth highest mountain range. Its sheer height and mass has a rain-shadow effect and helps the Douro to keep the Atlantic storms at bay.

The Douro’s inland location also results in a continental climate which is characterized by extremes of temperature. As one winemaker vividly expressed it, the Douro has ‘nine months of winter and three months of hell.’ Hell, we’re back to fire, but not hell, fire and damnation! Autumn temperatures may soar to 40 degrees plus (which is perfect for Port and red winemaking), but the good news is that those temperature extremes occur on a daily and not just seasonal basis. In the autumn, even if it’s 40 degrees in the daytime, the temperature drops significantly at night.

What’s more, elevation comes into play. Remember, we’ve ascended the Marão mountain range into the Douro – some might say into heaven, not hell! And because the Douro is itself mountainous, grapes are grown at altitudes ranging between 100m (by the river) to up to 900m above sea level and facing every which way – north, south, east and west. Given that temperatures can drop by up to one degree centigrade for every 100m you climb, plus aspect affects exposure to sunshine and wind which in turn impact on the ripening process, the Douro can make elegant red and white wines, as well as robust Ports and red wines. It was to elegance that I looked for this Sip & Savour tasting in the height of summer.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Sixtyone-Restaurant blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Sixtyone Restaurant

Sixtyone Restaurant – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

Naturally, food writer Sip & Savour’s Amber Dalton came up with a fine foodie foil for the wines in the shape of Sixtyone Restaurant. Chef/Patron Arnaud Stevens tempers big bold flavours with his elegant touch. He told us his menu for this tasting was very much informed by matching the acidity – the freshness – of the Portuguese wines.

Which brings me to our first example, our refreshing, intensely mineral aperitif, Quinta do Ameal Loureiro 2013. I had deliberately selected single varietal, sub-regional Vinho Verdes because they brilliantly kick into touch any lingering stereo-types about Vinho Verde being dilute and too acidic. Based in Nogueira in the heart of the sub-region of Lima where the Loureiro grape thrives, Quinta do Ameal has long produced the region’s benchmark example.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Quinta-do-Ameal blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Quinta do Ameal

Quinta do Ameal – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

The secret to Ameal’s success? Aside from being in the right spot (Lima, on south-facing slopes), vaulting ambition helps. Owner Pedro Aruajo is descended from Adriano Ramos Pinto of Port fame and has plainly brought his great grand-father’s magic touch to Ameal. So when it comes to the raw material, Aruajo has slashed yields in order to ensure that his organically grown grapes are healthy and concentrated in aroma and flavour. In the winery, he has employed none other than Vinho Verde guru Anselmo Mendes to ensure that the grapes’ lively lime and celery salt aromas and flavours and cool minerality are preserved in the glass. Well received, it was the perfect tonic on such a hot and humid London day.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Octupus-Carpaccio blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Octupus Carpaccio

Octopus Carpaccio – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

For the Vinho Verde pair which we enjoyed with this stunning starter of octopus carpaccio, red pepper, wood sorrel, sesame, I looked for even more intensity and concentration. So it made sense to show off Vinho Verde’s warmest, driest sub-region, Monção e Melgaço, the epicentre of Portugal’s flagship white grape, Alvarinho. What’s more, two of its greatest exponents, Quinta do Soalheiro and Anselmo Mendes.

Though you might expect it to be cooler than Lima to the south, Monção e Melgaço is located well inland, where the land starts to rise and the topography helps to shelter the vineyards from Atlantic influence. So the climate is a little more continental, which explains why the grapes attain good ripeness (hotter days), yet also have good acidity (nights are significantly cooler). It makes for Vinho Verde’s most powerfully fruity yet fresh, long-lived wines; my audience was struck by the relative delicacy and minerality of the Loureiro compared with the two Alvarinhos.

As for which of the pair most caught their fancy, at Sip & Savour events we always ask which wine people most preferred on its own and which with the food. In this case, the answer was the same. Quinta do Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas Alvarinho 2013 just pipped Anselmo Mendes Contacto Alvarinho 2014 on both counts. Made from the oldest vines at the Cerdeira family’s organically cultivated estate (planted in 1974, they were Melgaço’s first) and with a barrel-fermented component (15%), Quinta do Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas 2013 had greater complexity. Its subtle savoury nuances chimed brilliantly well with the sherry vinegar, sesame oil and pine nuts in the octopus’ marinade. But it was a close call. I also loved the honeysuckle perfume and bounteous peach and apricot fruit of the bolder Contacto from lower vineyards closer to the Minho river in Monção. (Incidentally, this wine takes its name from the fact that the crushed grapes stay in contact with skins for a short period prior to fermentation. Why? Because the skins harbour the most aroma and flavor compounds and can add a touch of texture to the wine too).

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Main-Course blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Main Course

Roasted Guinea Fowl – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

For our main course of roasted guinea fowl, coco beans, tomatoes, peas, black olive, lime, I’d selected two Douro reds, Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Tinto and Conceito Contraste Vinho Tinto. Both were from the elegant 2012 vintage and made by winemakers who place great emphasis on freshness and balance.

At Casa Ferreirinha (which makes iconic Douro red Barca Velha) Luis Sottomayor follows the tradition of sourcing grapes from different altitudes for elegant balance. It helps that Sogrape (Casa Ferreirinha’s owner) has two Douro Superior estates – Quinta da Leda at 150m-400m and Quinta do Sairrão which rises to over 600m. As for Rita Ferreira Marques, she contends that the freshness of Conceito’s wines stems from the Teja Valley being the Douro’s coolest spot. Not just because of elevation (her vineyards are located at 300-450m), but also because of the Teja Valley’s distance from the tempering influence of the Douro river. It was a quality (freshness) that I was able to demonstrate more emphatically than I’d originally intended when it transpired that her importer had sent Contraste Branco (white), not the red!

The inadvertent pairing of the main course with a white and red wine brought to mind João Pires’ wise words about taking your cue from the colour of the dish. Not for nothing is he a Master Sommelier! Like many Portuguese whites, Conceito Contraste Branco is not overtly fruity and, with its vegetal notes, it performed a harmonious duet with the thyme, rosemary and tomato notes in the dish as well as the protein; its acidity cut through the creamy saucing too. Most preferred it with the guinea fowl. On the other hand, with its bright still very primary fruit, most people preferred the Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Tinto on its own. The fruit was a little too overwhelming for the delicate flavours and creamy texture of this dish.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Desert blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Desert

The Dessert – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

You need only look at this dessert to put on weight! Suffice to say, it would be difficult to find a wine to overwhelm salt caramel chocolate tart with caramel marshmallow and salt caramel ice cream. Rather, the challenge might be to find a wine to stand up to it, so a fortified wine made sense. But if the dessert and dessert wine were to be pronounced the perfect match (as indeed they were), then the wine had to have sufficient freshness to cut through the richness of the dish and cleanse the palate after each (heavenly) mouthful. Step forward Moscatel do Douro, the Douro’s lesser known fortified wine, not to mention Portugal’s lesser known fortified Moscatel (Moscatel de Setubal being of higher profile).

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Quinta-do-Portal blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Quinta do Portal

Quinta do Portal – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

The Douro’s Moscatels are made from Moscatel Galego, a.k.a. Muscat à Petits Grains, a different, more delicate variety to Moscatel de Setubal. Our example, Quinta do Portal Moscatel do Douro Reserva 2004, also comes from the Mansilha Branco family’s much higher, cooler, acidity preserving vineyards in Favaios at 600m at the northern end of the Pinhão Valley. Not only did it have the freshness to bring balance to the ensemble (especially when served chilled) but, having been aged for several years in wood (none new), it also had the depth of flavor and complexity to marry with the chocolate tart and all its intricate, textural accompaniments. So well that the restaurant was bathed in a reverential silence for minutes! What a perfect ending.

When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water

Text Sarah Ahmed

Blend is a brilliant name for a Portuguese wine magazine. Why? Because the Portuguese are the masters of blending – whether it’s different grape varieties or vintages. It helps that, with 250 plus native grape varieties, these vinous artists have a rich palette of aromas, flavours and textures from which to draw.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Menu blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Menu

Sixtyone Menu for the Event – Photo by Sip & Savour | All Rights Reserved

Of course another variable is terroir, a topic which I enjoyed placing under the microscope at a Sip & Savour tasting earlier this month focused on the Douro and Vinho Verde. When you think about classic Vinho Verde wine – fresh, white, light, low alcohol – it is remarkable to think that this region’s neighbor, the Douro, produces one of the world’s most famous fortified wines – rich, red and robust Ports! Fire to the Vinho Verde’s water.

I had fun contrasting six benchmark examples from these northern regions. As you might expect, the Vinho Verdes were white and the Douro duo were (at least intended both to be) red – no surprises there. But I also played around with perceptions as I took the chance to highlight not just the freshness but also the intensity of top Vinho Verde and the elegance of the Douro reds, even if they came from the Douro Superior, theoretically its hottest, driest sub-region. The surprises continued with our dessert wine, a Moscatel do Douro, which proved that the Douro can do elegant fortifieds too.

Returning to my fire and water analogy, water is a big fat clue to a major point of difference between these two neighbouring regions. Located alongside the Atlantic and criss-crossed by rivers which funnel the Atlantic influence inland, Vinho Verde is wetter and cooler than the land-locked Douro. You have to travel some 100km inland from Oporto to reach the Douro region, which then stretches another 100km further inland, snaking along the Douro river, right up to the Spanish border.

While Vinho Verde has a maritime influenced climate (especially those parts nearest the coast), the Douro is shielded from the brunt of Atlantic weather by the Marão mountain range. Located betwixt the Douro and Vinho Verde and rising to 1,415m above sea level, the Marão is Portugal’s sixth highest mountain range. Its sheer height and mass has a rain-shadow effect and helps the Douro to keep the Atlantic storms at bay.

The Douro’s inland location also results in a continental climate which is characterized by extremes of temperature. As one winemaker vividly expressed it, the Douro has ‘nine months of winter and three months of hell.’ Hell, we’re back to fire, but not hell, fire and damnation! Autumn temperatures may soar to 40 degrees plus (which is perfect for Port and red winemaking), but the good news is that those temperature extremes occur on a daily and not just seasonal basis. In the autumn, even if it’s 40 degrees in the daytime, the temperature drops significantly at night.

What’s more, elevation comes into play. Remember, we’ve ascended the Marão mountain range into the Douro – some might say into heaven, not hell! And because the Douro is itself mountainous, grapes are grown at altitudes ranging between 100m (by the river) to up to 900m above sea level and facing every which way – north, south, east and west. Given that temperatures can drop by up to one degree centigrade for every 100m you climb, plus aspect affects exposure to sunshine and wind which in turn impact on the ripening process, the Douro can make elegant red and white wines, as well as robust Ports and red wines. It was to elegance that I looked for this Sip & Savour tasting in the height of summer.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Sixtyone-Restaurant blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Sixtyone Restaurant

Sixtyone Restaurant – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

Naturally, food writer Sip & Savour’s Amber Dalton came up with a fine foodie foil for the wines in the shape of Sixtyone Restaurant. Chef/Patron Arnaud Stevens tempers big bold flavours with his elegant touch. He told us his menu for this tasting was very much informed by matching the acidity – the freshness – of the Portuguese wines.

Which brings me to our first example, our refreshing, intensely mineral aperitif, Quinta do Ameal Loureiro 2013. I had deliberately selected single varietal, sub-regional Vinho Verdes because they brilliantly kick into touch any lingering stereo-types about Vinho Verde being dilute and too acidic. Based in Nogueira in the heart of the sub-region of Lima where the Loureiro grape thrives, Quinta do Ameal has long produced the region’s benchmark example.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Quinta-do-Ameal blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Quinta do Ameal

Quinta do Ameal – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

The secret to Ameal’s success? Aside from being in the right spot (Lima, on south-facing slopes), vaulting ambition helps. Owner Pedro Aruajo is descended from Adriano Ramos Pinto of Port fame and has plainly brought his great grand-father’s magic touch to Ameal. So when it comes to the raw material, Aruajo has slashed yields in order to ensure that his organically grown grapes are healthy and concentrated in aroma and flavour. In the winery, he has employed none other than Vinho Verde guru Anselmo Mendes to ensure that the grapes’ lively lime and celery salt aromas and flavours and cool minerality are preserved in the glass. Well received, it was the perfect tonic on such a hot and humid London day.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Octupus-Carpaccio blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Octupus Carpaccio

Octopus Carpaccio – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

For the Vinho Verde pair which we enjoyed with this stunning starter of octopus carpaccio, red pepper, wood sorrel, sesame, I looked for even more intensity and concentration. So it made sense to show off Vinho Verde’s warmest, driest sub-region, Monção e Melgaço, the epicentre of Portugal’s flagship white grape, Alvarinho. What’s more, two of its greatest exponents, Quinta do Soalheiro and Anselmo Mendes.

Though you might expect it to be cooler than Lima to the south, Monção e Melgaço is located well inland, where the land starts to rise and the topography helps to shelter the vineyards from Atlantic influence. So the climate is a little more continental, which explains why the grapes attain good ripeness (hotter days), yet also have good acidity (nights are significantly cooler). It makes for Vinho Verde’s most powerfully fruity yet fresh, long-lived wines; my audience was struck by the relative delicacy and minerality of the Loureiro compared with the two Alvarinhos.

As for which of the pair most caught their fancy, at Sip & Savour events we always ask which wine people most preferred on its own and which with the food. In this case, the answer was the same. Quinta do Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas Alvarinho 2013 just pipped Anselmo Mendes Contacto Alvarinho 2014 on both counts. Made from the oldest vines at the Cerdeira family’s organically cultivated estate (planted in 1974, they were Melgaço’s first) and with a barrel-fermented component (15%), Quinta do Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas 2013 had greater complexity. Its subtle savoury nuances chimed brilliantly well with the sherry vinegar, sesame oil and pine nuts in the octopus’ marinade. But it was a close call. I also loved the honeysuckle perfume and bounteous peach and apricot fruit of the bolder Contacto from lower vineyards closer to the Minho river in Monção. (Incidentally, this wine takes its name from the fact that the crushed grapes stay in contact with skins for a short period prior to fermentation. Why? Because the skins harbour the most aroma and flavor compounds and can add a touch of texture to the wine too).

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Main-Course blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Main Course

Roasted Guinea Fowl – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

For our main course of roasted guinea fowl, coco beans, tomatoes, peas, black olive, lime, I’d selected two Douro reds, Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Tinto and Conceito Contraste Vinho Tinto. Both were from the elegant 2012 vintage and made by winemakers who place great emphasis on freshness and balance.

At Casa Ferreirinha (which makes iconic Douro red Barca Velha) Luis Sottomayor follows the tradition of sourcing grapes from different altitudes for elegant balance. It helps that Sogrape (Casa Ferreirinha’s owner) has two Douro Superior estates – Quinta da Leda at 150m-400m and Quinta do Sairrão which rises to over 600m. As for Rita Ferreira Marques, she contends that the freshness of Conceito’s wines stems from the Teja Valley being the Douro’s coolest spot. Not just because of elevation (her vineyards are located at 300-450m), but also because of the Teja Valley’s distance from the tempering influence of the Douro river. It was a quality (freshness) that I was able to demonstrate more emphatically than I’d originally intended when it transpired that her importer had sent Contraste Branco (white), not the red!

The inadvertent pairing of the main course with a white and red wine brought to mind João Pires’ wise words about taking your cue from the colour of the dish. Not for nothing is he a Master Sommelier! Like many Portuguese whites, Conceito Contraste Branco is not overtly fruity and, with its vegetal notes, it performed a harmonious duet with the thyme, rosemary and tomato notes in the dish as well as the protein; its acidity cut through the creamy saucing too. Most preferred it with the guinea fowl. On the other hand, with its bright still very primary fruit, most people preferred the Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Tinto on its own. The fruit was a little too overwhelming for the delicate flavours and creamy texture of this dish.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Lunch-Desert blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Lunch Desert

The Dessert – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

You need only look at this dessert to put on weight! Suffice to say, it would be difficult to find a wine to overwhelm salt caramel chocolate tart with caramel marshmallow and salt caramel ice cream. Rather, the challenge might be to find a wine to stand up to it, so a fortified wine made sense. But if the dessert and dessert wine were to be pronounced the perfect match (as indeed they were), then the wine had to have sufficient freshness to cut through the richness of the dish and cleanse the palate after each (heavenly) mouthful. Step forward Moscatel do Douro, the Douro’s lesser known fortified wine, not to mention Portugal’s lesser known fortified Moscatel (Moscatel de Setubal being of higher profile).

Blend-All-About-Wine-Sip-and-Savour-Quinta-do-Portal blend When Blend met Sip & Savour & Fire met Water Blend All About Wine Sip and Savour Quinta do Portal

Quinta do Portal – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

The Douro’s Moscatels are made from Moscatel Galego, a.k.a. Muscat à Petits Grains, a different, more delicate variety to Moscatel de Setubal. Our example, Quinta do Portal Moscatel do Douro Reserva 2004, also comes from the Mansilha Branco family’s much higher, cooler, acidity preserving vineyards in Favaios at 600m at the northern end of the Pinhão Valley. Not only did it have the freshness to bring balance to the ensemble (especially when served chilled) but, having been aged for several years in wood (none new), it also had the depth of flavor and complexity to marry with the chocolate tart and all its intricate, textural accompaniments. So well that the restaurant was bathed in a reverential silence for minutes! What a perfect ending.

Blend Teams Up For London’s Portuguese Wines Event

Text Bruno Mendes

Blend – All About Wine seeks to promote and disseminate portuguese wines around the world and has that as its main aim and guiding principle.

It was based on that purpose that Blend teamed up (as partner) with Sip & Savour to carry out an event designed for oenophiles (consumers) that will take place next Monday, 3rd August, in London.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Sip-Savour portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Sip Savour

Sip & Savour “holds food and drink matching events at top restaurants in London and the UK, hosted by award-winning writers and producers”.

Sarah Ahmed – The Wine Detective -, a recognized authority in Portuguese wines (Chair of the Portugal panel at Decanter World Wine Awards) will present her hand-picked wine selections of six top portuguese producers from the wine regions of Vinho Verde and Douro, on behalf of Blend. Namely: Quinta do Ameal, Quinta de Soalheiro, Anselmo Mendes, Conceito Vinhos, Sogrape e Quinta do Portal.

The selected wines were:

Quinta do Ameal Loureiro 2013Alvarinho Contacto 2014Alvarinho Primeiras Vinhas 2013Contraste red 2012Vinha Grande red 2012Quinta do Portal Moscatel do Douro Reserva 2004;

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Quinta-do-Ameal-Loureiro-2 Portuguese Wines portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Quinta do Ameal Loureiro 2

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Anselmo-Mendes-Conacto-Alvarinho-2 Portuguese Wines portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Anselmo Mendes Conacto Alvarinho 2

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Quinta-de-Soalheiro-Primeiras-Vinhas Portuguese Wines portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Quinta de Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Conceito-Wines-Contraste portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Conceito Wines Contraste

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Casa-Ferreirinha-Vinha-Grande portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Quinta-do-Portal-Moscatel-do-Douro portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Quinta do Portal Moscatel do Douro

The chosen venue for holding this event was the Sixtyone Restaurant, a restaurant in south Maylebone, London, which was awarded three AA Rosettes in September 2014 and is run by the Anglo-French Chef Arnaud Stevens.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Sixtyone portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Sixtyone

Sixtyone Restaurant in sixtyonerestaurant.co.uk

For this lunch Stevens has created an especially designed menu to complement the portuguese wines chosen by Sarah Ahmed.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Arnaud portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Arnaud

Chef Arnaud Stevens in sixtyonerestaurant.co.uk

For a more detailed and complete picture of this event do not miss Sarah’s next article on Blend – The Online Wine Magazine, August 13, where she’ll provide a report of the event in its entirety.

Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event

Text Bruno Mendes

Blend – All About Wine seeks to promote and disseminate portuguese wines around the world and has that as its main aim and guiding principle.

It was based on that purpose that Blend teamed up (as partner) with Sip & Savour to carry out an event designed for oenophiles (consumers) that will take place next Monday, 3rd August, in London.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Sip-Savour portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Sip Savour

Sip & Savour “holds food and drink matching events at top restaurants in London and the UK, hosted by award-winning writers and producers”.

Sarah Ahmed – The Wine Detective -, a recognized authority in Portuguese wines (Chair of the Portugal panel at Decanter World Wine Awards) will present her hand-picked wine selections of six top portuguese producers from the wine regions of Vinho Verde and Douro, on behalf of Blend. Namely: Quinta do Ameal, Quinta de Soalheiro, Anselmo Mendes, Conceito Vinhos, Sogrape e Quinta do Portal.

The selected wines were:

Quinta do Ameal Loureiro 2013Alvarinho Contacto 2014Alvarinho Primeiras Vinhas 2013Contraste red 2012Vinha Grande red 2012Quinta do Portal Moscatel do Douro Reserva 2004;

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Quinta-do-Ameal-Loureiro-2 Portuguese Wines portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Quinta do Ameal Loureiro 2

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Anselmo-Mendes-Conacto-Alvarinho-2 Portuguese Wines portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Anselmo Mendes Conacto Alvarinho 2

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Quinta-de-Soalheiro-Primeiras-Vinhas Portuguese Wines portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Quinta de Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Conceito-Wines-Contraste portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Conceito Wines Contraste

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Casa-Ferreirinha-Vinha-Grande portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Quinta-do-Portal-Moscatel-do-Douro portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Quinta do Portal Moscatel do Douro

The chosen venue for holding this event was the Sixtyone Restaurant, a restaurant in south Maylebone, London, which was awarded three AA Rosettes in September 2014 and is run by the Anglo-French Chef Arnaud Stevens.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Sixtyone portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Sixtyone

Sixtyone Restaurant in sixtyonerestaurant.co.uk

For this lunch Stevens has created an especially designed menu to complement the portuguese wines chosen by Sarah Ahmed.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Blend-Teams-Up-London-Arnaud portuguese wines Blend Teams Up For London's Portuguese Wines Event Blend All About Wine Blend Teams Up London Arnaud

Chef Arnaud Stevens in sixtyonerestaurant.co.uk

For a more detailed and complete picture of this event do not miss Sarah’s next article on Blend – The Online Wine Magazine, August 13, where she’ll provide a report of the event in its entirety.

A Taste of Alentejo at London’s New Portal to Portugal

Text Sarah Ahmed

It was a thrill to present a tasting on behalf of the Alentejo Wine Commission at one of London’s hottest new restaurants, Taberna do Mercado.  And even more exciting that, not only is its chef/patron Portuguese, so is the food and wine. Which may sound a strange thing to say but, thus far, Nuno Mendes’ renown has rested on the eclectic, highly innovative dishes of his previous restaurant, Michelin-starred Viajante, now his American accented menu at celeb hang out Chiltern Firehouse (where he is Head Chef).

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting-Nuno-Mendes alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting Nuno Mendes

Nuno Mendes – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

In an interview with Mendes a couple of years ago, he let slip about his plans to open “a very casual, fun, modern but rustic Portuguese restaurant in London.” But there was a problem.  He explained, despite Portugal’s “wealth of amazing unique products,” it was hard to source them,  Why?  He said because, “production is very limited in quantity and second very few artisan producers see the potential outside the local market to expand their project.”

Fully expecting him to have overcome these challenges, I asked him what had changed since we last spoke. Mendes asked, “did I want the nice answer or the true answer?”  Naturally, I said the truth!  Admitting “it makes me sad,” Mendes remains palpably frustrated that, in the UK, sourcing the very best Portuguese products of which he can be “super-proud” has still proved elusive. He observed, UK-based Portuguese-owned importers are “mostly used to supplying the local ex-pat community” (as opposed to high-end restaurants with demanding ‘foodie’ customers).  It reminds me of a point he made when we first met and emphasised how important it was in his field “to be aware of what’s happening in the food and wine world and to find a way to fit it in other people’s realities.” It’s why, he adds, “I had to walk away” from Portugal when he opened Viajante – the range of products did not fit with his Michelin-starred reality. It was “not amazing,” nor could he count on consistency of supply.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting

Taberna do Mercado – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

The good news?  Where he sees Taberna do Mercado as “the portal to tap into Portugal’s great resources,” he tells me “I’m not giving up.”   He may be softly spoken and modest of demeanour, but there’s a steely determination in Mendes’ eyes when he reveals his solution. Pointing out “I have many more connections than the importers based here,” (not to mention a Michelin-starred chef’s fastidiousness about sourcing the very best), he plans to set up his own export/import business. After all, his reputation depends on it. And the stakes are high where, given supply issues, he believes it’s premature for Portuguese food to be touted as the next big thing as The Daily Telegraph recently suggested. It is why he asserts, “now is where the research comes in…we can’t relax, we have to push ourselves and bring in the best…we have to evolve”. There is no room for complacency.

Shortly after the tasting, I paused to reflect on Mendes’ comments in relation to Portuguese wine when a journalist asked me why it has yet to really hit the big time. I am pleased to report that the UK has been rather better served by its wine importers, especially Portuguese specialists Raymond Reynolds and Oakley Wine Agencies who have helped their producer clients navigate the highly competitive UK market with aplomb. But if, like Mendes, I am to be Portugal’s critical friend, the truth is that far too many Portuguese producers have yet to find a way to fit into the realities of the UK market, which is widely acknowledged as the most competitive in the world. What’s more, ‘cellar palate’ (becoming too habituated to your own wines, including flaws) can be a problem. It’s why the most successful Portuguese winemakers themselves keep visiting the UK to understand where their wines best fit (and to benchmark them against the competition). It also helps to ensure that they are still seen and heard in our crowded, noisy marketplace.

Happily, all eight producers whose wines I showed in my master-classes at Taberna do Mercado are represented in the UK. But there is still work to be done where Alentejo has forged it reputation in the UK on a bedrock of great value, fruity, approachable reds.  The next step is to raise the profile and appreciation of its premium, terroir-driven red and white wines among fine wine lovers (white wines now represent around 20% of wines from Alentejo). It was a challenge to which I gladly rose.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting-Nuno-Mendes-Sarah-Ahmed Alentejo alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting Nuno Mendes Sarah Ahmed

Me and Nuno Mendes talk Alentejo wine & food – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

My selection of wines was accompanied by Mendes’ contemporary take on petiscos (how’s that for fitting them into the realities of the UK market) and followed by an excellent tasting of Alentejo olive oils presented by Teresa Zacarias of Casa do Azeite. Here are my notes on the wines, together with some background on what individuates this diverse selection in terms of terroir and winemaking.  As you’ll see, the Alentejo is not as flat or unremittingly hot as regional stereo-types would have you believe. What’s more, all the grapes were hand-picked.

Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho Reserva Branco 2013 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this single varietal Antão Vaz comes from Vidigueira, one of Alentejo’s eight DOC sub-regions.  Despite being the southernmost, it has a long tradition of producing white wines. Why?  It’s all to do with the lie of the land, specifically, the Vidigueira fault, a 50km west-facing escarpment known as the Serra do Mendro which marks the border between the Upper and Lower Alentejo.  Rising to 420m it traps cool and humid Atlantic winds which cool the region with overnight fogs.  Cold air also descends from the Serra do Mendro at night.  What’s more, when southern winds bring clouds, the escarpment causes a cloudburst (rainfall). For winemaker Catarina Vieira, this is what accounts for Vidigueira’s “very mineral, elegant and fresh wines that can age very well.” She believes that the sandy soils also enhance the minerality of her Antão Vaz, which is sourced from her best, dry grown, low cropping 24 year old vines.

Winemaking: Hand-picked early (on 3rd & 4th September) to preserve freshness (no acidification is required), the wine fermented in new 300 litre French oak barrels for around 20 days.  It was then taken off lees and aged in barrel for five months. Meanwhile, the fine lees were aged for two months in second use barrels with daily batonnage for a month or so, then added back to the wine.  For Vieira, this work with the fine lees is very important for the minerality, freshness and for the aging potential of this wine.”

Tasting note: thanks to the work with the lees it exhibits struck match/flinty notes to nose and lemony palate, with hints of green olive, under-ripe pineapple and dried pear as it opens up. A long, firm, mineral finish with racy, grapefruity acidity sustained my sample bottle of this wine well into day three. 13.5%

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting-House-Canned-Fish alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting House Canned Fish

House-canned fish Nuno Mendes style – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

Cartuxa Pêra Manca Branco 2012 (DOC Alentejo)

Terroir: this blend of 62% Antão Vaz and 38% Arinto comes from Évora, another DOC sub-region, this time in the Alto/upper Alentejo.  The fruit was sourced from three parcels of Cartuxa’s oldest vineyards on slopes which rise to 300 metres above sea level. Planted in 1980 on brown granitic soils, the vines were dry grown.

Winemaking: for this fuller-bodied, more traditionally-styled white, the fruit was hand-picked later and in three stages for complexity (12, 18 & 19 September). Following de-stemming and crushing, a portion of the grapes was left in contact with the skins prior to fermentation.  Sixty-seven percent of the wine was fermented and aged on the lees for 12 months in French oak barrels (60% new) with batonnage for body, complexity and ageing potential. The balance was aged in stainless steel (to enhance fruitiness) with lots of batonnage (for body).  There was no acidification.

Tasting note: a rich, beeswaxy nose with stone fruits, especially apricot close to the kernel, which notes follow through on a palate with a pronounced nuttiness (fresh marzipan/calisson) and vanillin oak. Though weighty, a ripe but zesty backbone of citrus acidity brings balance and teases out a long, leesy, savoury finish with lemon and orange peel nuances. A powerful wine, which often puts me in mind of an Hermitage from the Northern Rhône, France.  13.5%

Monte da Ravasqueira MR Premium Rosé 2013(VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this rosé made from 100% Touriga Nacional is from Arraiolos in the Évora district of Alto Alentejo.  For winemaker Pedro Pereira, the key to the freshness of Monte da Ravasqueira’s range lies in the estate’s very pronounced diurnal temperature variation.  Even in the hottest months of July and August when temperatures might hit 40 degrees centigrade, at night the temperature can fall below 10 degrees. Cool nights help the grapes to retain acidity better; it’s good for aromatics and structure too. Gonçalves attributes this strong diurnal to the amphitheatre-like topography of the vineyard (all 45 hectares are planted on slopes rising to 270m), together with the surrounding forest and dams. Though supplemental irrigation is required, clay-limestone soils have good moisture retention while granite outcrops seem to enhance minerality/freshness, as in the Dão.

Winemaking: where Gonçalves’ style revolves around “freshness + complexity (a matrix of flavours) + varietal character + intensity + concentration,” he sourced fruit from five different parcels (by row orientation-exposure, soil type and canopy management) and hand-harvested the grapes on different days, ranging from 8 September to 27 September. The grapes were kept in refrigerated containers between two to 20 days at two degrees for concentration and to enhance aromatic potential and fruit. Two parcels were pressed directly to new French oak barrels and naturally fermented with batonnage on full solids.  The other three were first settled and inoculated with yeast prior to transfer to new French oak barrels on the second day of fermentation. All five parcels were aged in barrel on the lees for six months with light batonnage for the first 2 months.

Tasting note: Touriga Nacional seems to lend itself well to rosé wines and this is an unusual example, savoury yet fruity, round, yet fresh. It’s thoroughly delicious with savoury, creamy lees, delicate wild strawberries, strawberry shortbread and refreshing peach tea. Mineral acidity brings freshness and persistence to its lingering finish.  13%

Susana Esteban Aventura Tinto 2013 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this, my first red, is from the Alto/Upper Alentejo but is a blend of DOC sub-regions.  Esteban sources the Aragonês and Touriga Nacional (40% and 20% of the blend respectively) from a dry grown 15 year old vineyard in Évora at 300m on clay/limestone soils. The balance is a mix of varieties from a dry grown 30 year old field blend vineyard in Portalegre, the Alto Alentejo’s northernmost sub-region. It’s not just the northerly location which accounts for Portalegre being Alentejo’s coolest, wettest area. The Serra de São Mamede mountain – at over 1000m, the highest point in southern Portugal – provides serious elevation (up to 800m) and poor granitic soils. Where Esteban’s aim is “to make a fresh wine, with character but appealing at the same time,” she looks to Portalegre for freshness and austerity, while Évora provides the heat which the winemaker believes Touriga Nacional and Aragones need to show their potential (though she emphasises “I have attention to pick with only 13 or 13% alcohol).

Winemaking: the grapes are hand-picked and naturally fermented (with no acidification) in small stainless steel temperature controlled lagares. I very much like the fact that Esteban has put the emphasis squarely on the fruit and freshness – this wine is unoaked.

Tasting note: wonderful vibrancy and texture (think crushed velvet) to its pure, freshly picked and puréed (so it feels) fruits of the forest. Smooth tannins and sappy acidity reinforce the charming immediacy of this youthful red. Lovely.  13.5%

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting-Casa-do-Porco-Preto alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting Casa do Porco Preto

Casa do Porco Preto, Alentejo at Taberna do Mercado – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

Herdade de São  Miguel Reserva 2012 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: Herdade de São  Miguel is located in the Redondo sub-region (a DOC) of the Alto/Upper Alentejo. For Alexandre Relvas junior the Serra d’Ossa hills (which rise to 650 metres) shelter Redondo’s vineyards from northerly and easterly winds and furnish cold, dry winters to offset the hot, sun-drenched summers.  His vineyard is located at 400m on low yielding clay/schist soils which produce concentrated, small berries. This wine is a blend of 80% Alicante Bouschet, 15% Aragonez and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon from 13 year old vines.

Winemaking: hand harvested fruit is totally de-stemmed and undergoes a 48 hour cold soak prior to fermentation in open stainless steel lagares with automatic pigeurs for softer extraction, a bit of natural oxidation too “to help fix colour and tannins from the beginning” says Relvas. It was aged for 12 months in 400 litre French oak barrels (50% new).

Tasting note: an intense nose of blackcurrant and bramble fruit with a touch of vanillin oak and dusty schist undertones, which follow through on a succulent palate with lovely freshness. Though only five percent of the blend, the Cabernet is quite evident in flavour profile (blackcurrant with a hint of mint) and fine, gravelly, mineral tannins. It does not have the concentration or complexity of the (more expensive) wines which followed, but it’s well balanced and persistent. Very well made, indeed wears its 15% abv lightly.

Quinta do Mouro Touriga Nacional 2010 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: This single varietal Touriga Nacional is from Estremoz in the Borba sub-region (a DOC) of the Alto/Upper Alentejo.  It is north of Redondo and just north of the Serra d’Ossa, which offers a little protection from the warm south winds.  Where Quinta do Mouro is at 420m, elevation also tempers the climate, as do plunging night-time temperatures which, says winemaker Luis Louro, can be 20 degrees lower than in the day “especially at the later stages of maturation, and fogs are common.” Schist soils and dry-farmed vineyards also account for the very structured, ageworthy and characterful style of Mouro’s reds. Sourced from “a very good” Douro vineyard in 1998, the Touriga Nacional was grafted onto Castelão vines which had been planted in 1989.

Winemaking: hand-harvested fruit was partially de-stemmed, leaving around 10% whole bunch for a bit more structure and fresher flavours.  The grapes were foot-trodden in lagares and underwent a two day cold soak prior to starting fermentation. It finished fermenting in stainless steel tanks with temperature control and, after pressing, was aged for 12 months in new 300 litre French oak barrels.

Tasting note: a deep, opaque plum hue with an exotic bergamot perfume which provides lift to a concentrated raspberry and plum, vanillin-edged palate together with lively peppery whole bunch notes, dried sage and mint. Textured suede-like tannins cleave the flavours to the palate, amplifying its intensity and back palate resonance.  Powerful, a little wild even, yet balanced. A charismatic single varietal Touriga. 14%

João Portugal Ramos Marquês de Borba Reserva 2012 (DOC Alentejo)

Terroir: also from Estremoz, this blend of 30% Trincadeira, 30% Aragones, 25% Alicante Bouschet and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon comes from João Portugal Ramos’ original vineyard.  The vines, planted in 1989, are located around his house and have  been the source of this wine since it was first made in 1997. Located at 350m on very old schist

Winemaking: hand harvested grapes are picking grapes at night and early in the morning.  The grapes are partially de-stemmed (50% whole bunch) and start co-fermenting (naturally) in marble lagares with foot treading. For Ramos the advantages of the lagares include a higher area of contact between the liquid and the solid part of the must, gentle homogenisation of the must (because a thinner cap is formed compared to the normal tanks) and the aesthetics of the local marble (which, incidentally Mendes has used for his table tops at Taberna do Mercado). The final third of the fermentation is completed in stainless steel vats with the benefit of temperature control.  The post-ferment maceration usually lasts about two weeks. The wine is then matured for 18 months in French 225 litre oak barrels (two thirds of which are new).

Tasting note: a very polished red with tobacco and cigar box to nose and palate. Red fruits dominate the attack while the Cabernet becomes more assertive going through, bringing well-defined blackcurrant fruit and a spray coating of fine but plentiful powdery tannins which build in the mouth. Dry, firm, focused and very fine with excellent balancing freshness. The tightest of the reds, it has great ageing potential. 14.5%

Herdade do Mouchão 2010 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this blend of around 70% Alicante Bouschet and 30% Trincadeira comes from one of the region’s most established players, Herdade do Mouchão, which has belonged to the same family since 1874. Mouchão was the first vineyard to be planted to Alicante Bouschet and the current vines trace their genetic origin back to this original 19th century stock. Mouchão is in Sousel to the north of Borba in the Alto/Upper Alentejo.  The Alicante Bouschet is sourced from several parcels near the winery at around 230m and ranging between 10 and 30 years old. Located on a delta between two small rivers, the sandy topsoil is well-drained but the deep clay beneath retains the humidity which allows for a balanced maturation, freshness and good acidity. The hallmarks of Mouchão’s great ageing potential. The thinner skinned Trincadeira benefits from being planted on higher, well-drained ground at around 400m.

Winemaking: this most traditional of wines is hand picked and fermented in the old winery’s original stone lagares with 100% stems.  It is then aged in large old 5,000 litre toneis for two to three years. It spends a further two to three years in bottle before being released.

Tasting note: a very deep hue with a rich, very complex nose and palate – almost a meal in itself – but a balanced one.  Mouchão 2010 has savoury layers of mellow dried fig, black olive and incipient leather with inky floral, tobacco, berber whisky (stewed mint tea) and eucalyptus top notes.  Sturdy, spicy, grape-driven tannins build in the mouth, yet are very well integrated – not in the least aggressive.  A very long, involving finish has this estate’s warm earth, slightly bloody, ironstone tang. Terrific sense of place. 14%

A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal

Text Sarah Ahmed

It was a thrill to present a tasting on behalf of the Alentejo Wine Commission at one of London’s hottest new restaurants, Taberna do Mercado.  And even more exciting that, not only is its chef/patron Portuguese, so is the food and wine. Which may sound a strange thing to say but, thus far, Nuno Mendes’ renown has rested on the eclectic, highly innovative dishes of his previous restaurant, Michelin-starred Viajante, now his American accented menu at celeb hang out Chiltern Firehouse (where he is Head Chef).

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting-Nuno-Mendes alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting Nuno Mendes

Nuno Mendes – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

In an interview with Mendes a couple of years ago, he let slip about his plans to open “a very casual, fun, modern but rustic Portuguese restaurant in London.” But there was a problem.  He explained, despite Portugal’s “wealth of amazing unique products,” it was hard to source them,  Why?  He said because, “production is very limited in quantity and second very few artisan producers see the potential outside the local market to expand their project.”

Fully expecting him to have overcome these challenges, I asked him what had changed since we last spoke. Mendes asked, “did I want the nice answer or the true answer?”  Naturally, I said the truth!  Admitting “it makes me sad,” Mendes remains palpably frustrated that, in the UK, sourcing the very best Portuguese products of which he can be “super-proud” has still proved elusive. He observed, UK-based Portuguese-owned importers are “mostly used to supplying the local ex-pat community” (as opposed to high-end restaurants with demanding ‘foodie’ customers).  It reminds me of a point he made when we first met and emphasised how important it was in his field “to be aware of what’s happening in the food and wine world and to find a way to fit it in other people’s realities.” It’s why, he adds, “I had to walk away” from Portugal when he opened Viajante – the range of products did not fit with his Michelin-starred reality. It was “not amazing,” nor could he count on consistency of supply.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting

Taberna do Mercado – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

The good news?  Where he sees Taberna do Mercado as “the portal to tap into Portugal’s great resources,” he tells me “I’m not giving up.”   He may be softly spoken and modest of demeanour, but there’s a steely determination in Mendes’ eyes when he reveals his solution. Pointing out “I have many more connections than the importers based here,” (not to mention a Michelin-starred chef’s fastidiousness about sourcing the very best), he plans to set up his own export/import business. After all, his reputation depends on it. And the stakes are high where, given supply issues, he believes it’s premature for Portuguese food to be touted as the next big thing as The Daily Telegraph recently suggested. It is why he asserts, “now is where the research comes in…we can’t relax, we have to push ourselves and bring in the best…we have to evolve”. There is no room for complacency.

Shortly after the tasting, I paused to reflect on Mendes’ comments in relation to Portuguese wine when a journalist asked me why it has yet to really hit the big time. I am pleased to report that the UK has been rather better served by its wine importers, especially Portuguese specialists Raymond Reynolds and Oakley Wine Agencies who have helped their producer clients navigate the highly competitive UK market with aplomb. But if, like Mendes, I am to be Portugal’s critical friend, the truth is that far too many Portuguese producers have yet to find a way to fit into the realities of the UK market, which is widely acknowledged as the most competitive in the world. What’s more, ‘cellar palate’ (becoming too habituated to your own wines, including flaws) can be a problem. It’s why the most successful Portuguese winemakers themselves keep visiting the UK to understand where their wines best fit (and to benchmark them against the competition). It also helps to ensure that they are still seen and heard in our crowded, noisy marketplace.

Happily, all eight producers whose wines I showed in my master-classes at Taberna do Mercado are represented in the UK. But there is still work to be done where Alentejo has forged it reputation in the UK on a bedrock of great value, fruity, approachable reds.  The next step is to raise the profile and appreciation of its premium, terroir-driven red and white wines among fine wine lovers (white wines now represent around 20% of wines from Alentejo). It was a challenge to which I gladly rose.

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting-Nuno-Mendes-Sarah-Ahmed Alentejo alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting Nuno Mendes Sarah Ahmed

Me and Nuno Mendes talk Alentejo wine & food – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

My selection of wines was accompanied by Mendes’ contemporary take on petiscos (how’s that for fitting them into the realities of the UK market) and followed by an excellent tasting of Alentejo olive oils presented by Teresa Zacarias of Casa do Azeite. Here are my notes on the wines, together with some background on what individuates this diverse selection in terms of terroir and winemaking.  As you’ll see, the Alentejo is not as flat or unremittingly hot as regional stereo-types would have you believe. What’s more, all the grapes were hand-picked.

Herdade do Rocim Olho de Mocho Reserva Branco 2013 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this single varietal Antão Vaz comes from Vidigueira, one of Alentejo’s eight DOC sub-regions.  Despite being the southernmost, it has a long tradition of producing white wines. Why?  It’s all to do with the lie of the land, specifically, the Vidigueira fault, a 50km west-facing escarpment known as the Serra do Mendro which marks the border between the Upper and Lower Alentejo.  Rising to 420m it traps cool and humid Atlantic winds which cool the region with overnight fogs.  Cold air also descends from the Serra do Mendro at night.  What’s more, when southern winds bring clouds, the escarpment causes a cloudburst (rainfall). For winemaker Catarina Vieira, this is what accounts for Vidigueira’s “very mineral, elegant and fresh wines that can age very well.” She believes that the sandy soils also enhance the minerality of her Antão Vaz, which is sourced from her best, dry grown, low cropping 24 year old vines.

Winemaking: Hand-picked early (on 3rd & 4th September) to preserve freshness (no acidification is required), the wine fermented in new 300 litre French oak barrels for around 20 days.  It was then taken off lees and aged in barrel for five months. Meanwhile, the fine lees were aged for two months in second use barrels with daily batonnage for a month or so, then added back to the wine.  For Vieira, this work with the fine lees is very important for the minerality, freshness and for the aging potential of this wine.”

Tasting note: thanks to the work with the lees it exhibits struck match/flinty notes to nose and lemony palate, with hints of green olive, under-ripe pineapple and dried pear as it opens up. A long, firm, mineral finish with racy, grapefruity acidity sustained my sample bottle of this wine well into day three. 13.5%

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting-House-Canned-Fish alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting House Canned Fish

House-canned fish Nuno Mendes style – Photo by Sarah Ahmed | All Rights Reserved

Cartuxa Pêra Manca Branco 2012 (DOC Alentejo)

Terroir: this blend of 62% Antão Vaz and 38% Arinto comes from Évora, another DOC sub-region, this time in the Alto/upper Alentejo.  The fruit was sourced from three parcels of Cartuxa’s oldest vineyards on slopes which rise to 300 metres above sea level. Planted in 1980 on brown granitic soils, the vines were dry grown.

Winemaking: for this fuller-bodied, more traditionally-styled white, the fruit was hand-picked later and in three stages for complexity (12, 18 & 19 September). Following de-stemming and crushing, a portion of the grapes was left in contact with the skins prior to fermentation.  Sixty-seven percent of the wine was fermented and aged on the lees for 12 months in French oak barrels (60% new) with batonnage for body, complexity and ageing potential. The balance was aged in stainless steel (to enhance fruitiness) with lots of batonnage (for body).  There was no acidification.

Tasting note: a rich, beeswaxy nose with stone fruits, especially apricot close to the kernel, which notes follow through on a palate with a pronounced nuttiness (fresh marzipan/calisson) and vanillin oak. Though weighty, a ripe but zesty backbone of citrus acidity brings balance and teases out a long, leesy, savoury finish with lemon and orange peel nuances. A powerful wine, which often puts me in mind of an Hermitage from the Northern Rhône, France.  13.5%

Monte da Ravasqueira MR Premium Rosé 2013(VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this rosé made from 100% Touriga Nacional is from Arraiolos in the Évora district of Alto Alentejo.  For winemaker Pedro Pereira, the key to the freshness of Monte da Ravasqueira’s range lies in the estate’s very pronounced diurnal temperature variation.  Even in the hottest months of July and August when temperatures might hit 40 degrees centigrade, at night the temperature can fall below 10 degrees. Cool nights help the grapes to retain acidity better; it’s good for aromatics and structure too. Gonçalves attributes this strong diurnal to the amphitheatre-like topography of the vineyard (all 45 hectares are planted on slopes rising to 270m), together with the surrounding forest and dams. Though supplemental irrigation is required, clay-limestone soils have good moisture retention while granite outcrops seem to enhance minerality/freshness, as in the Dão.

Winemaking: where Gonçalves’ style revolves around “freshness + complexity (a matrix of flavours) + varietal character + intensity + concentration,” he sourced fruit from five different parcels (by row orientation-exposure, soil type and canopy management) and hand-harvested the grapes on different days, ranging from 8 September to 27 September. The grapes were kept in refrigerated containers between two to 20 days at two degrees for concentration and to enhance aromatic potential and fruit. Two parcels were pressed directly to new French oak barrels and naturally fermented with batonnage on full solids.  The other three were first settled and inoculated with yeast prior to transfer to new French oak barrels on the second day of fermentation. All five parcels were aged in barrel on the lees for six months with light batonnage for the first 2 months.

Tasting note: Touriga Nacional seems to lend itself well to rosé wines and this is an unusual example, savoury yet fruity, round, yet fresh. It’s thoroughly delicious with savoury, creamy lees, delicate wild strawberries, strawberry shortbread and refreshing peach tea. Mineral acidity brings freshness and persistence to its lingering finish.  13%

Susana Esteban Aventura Tinto 2013 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this, my first red, is from the Alto/Upper Alentejo but is a blend of DOC sub-regions.  Esteban sources the Aragonês and Touriga Nacional (40% and 20% of the blend respectively) from a dry grown 15 year old vineyard in Évora at 300m on clay/limestone soils. The balance is a mix of varieties from a dry grown 30 year old field blend vineyard in Portalegre, the Alto Alentejo’s northernmost sub-region. It’s not just the northerly location which accounts for Portalegre being Alentejo’s coolest, wettest area. The Serra de São Mamede mountain – at over 1000m, the highest point in southern Portugal – provides serious elevation (up to 800m) and poor granitic soils. Where Esteban’s aim is “to make a fresh wine, with character but appealing at the same time,” she looks to Portalegre for freshness and austerity, while Évora provides the heat which the winemaker believes Touriga Nacional and Aragones need to show their potential (though she emphasises “I have attention to pick with only 13 or 13% alcohol).

Winemaking: the grapes are hand-picked and naturally fermented (with no acidification) in small stainless steel temperature controlled lagares. I very much like the fact that Esteban has put the emphasis squarely on the fruit and freshness – this wine is unoaked.

Tasting note: wonderful vibrancy and texture (think crushed velvet) to its pure, freshly picked and puréed (so it feels) fruits of the forest. Smooth tannins and sappy acidity reinforce the charming immediacy of this youthful red. Lovely.  13.5%

Blend-All-About-Wine-Taberna-do-Mercado-Tasting-Casa-do-Porco-Preto alentejo A Taste of Alentejo at London's New Portal to Portugal Blend All About Wine Taberna do Mercado Tasting Casa do Porco Preto

Casa do Porco Preto, Alentejo at Taberna do Mercado – Photo by Charmaine Grieger | All Rights Reserved

Herdade de São  Miguel Reserva 2012 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: Herdade de São  Miguel is located in the Redondo sub-region (a DOC) of the Alto/Upper Alentejo. For Alexandre Relvas junior the Serra d’Ossa hills (which rise to 650 metres) shelter Redondo’s vineyards from northerly and easterly winds and furnish cold, dry winters to offset the hot, sun-drenched summers.  His vineyard is located at 400m on low yielding clay/schist soils which produce concentrated, small berries. This wine is a blend of 80% Alicante Bouschet, 15% Aragonez and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon from 13 year old vines.

Winemaking: hand harvested fruit is totally de-stemmed and undergoes a 48 hour cold soak prior to fermentation in open stainless steel lagares with automatic pigeurs for softer extraction, a bit of natural oxidation too “to help fix colour and tannins from the beginning” says Relvas. It was aged for 12 months in 400 litre French oak barrels (50% new).

Tasting note: an intense nose of blackcurrant and bramble fruit with a touch of vanillin oak and dusty schist undertones, which follow through on a succulent palate with lovely freshness. Though only five percent of the blend, the Cabernet is quite evident in flavour profile (blackcurrant with a hint of mint) and fine, gravelly, mineral tannins. It does not have the concentration or complexity of the (more expensive) wines which followed, but it’s well balanced and persistent. Very well made, indeed wears its 15% abv lightly.

Quinta do Mouro Touriga Nacional 2010 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: This single varietal Touriga Nacional is from Estremoz in the Borba sub-region (a DOC) of the Alto/Upper Alentejo.  It is north of Redondo and just north of the Serra d’Ossa, which offers a little protection from the warm south winds.  Where Quinta do Mouro is at 420m, elevation also tempers the climate, as do plunging night-time temperatures which, says winemaker Luis Louro, can be 20 degrees lower than in the day “especially at the later stages of maturation, and fogs are common.” Schist soils and dry-farmed vineyards also account for the very structured, ageworthy and characterful style of Mouro’s reds. Sourced from “a very good” Douro vineyard in 1998, the Touriga Nacional was grafted onto Castelão vines which had been planted in 1989.

Winemaking: hand-harvested fruit was partially de-stemmed, leaving around 10% whole bunch for a bit more structure and fresher flavours.  The grapes were foot-trodden in lagares and underwent a two day cold soak prior to starting fermentation. It finished fermenting in stainless steel tanks with temperature control and, after pressing, was aged for 12 months in new 300 litre French oak barrels.

Tasting note: a deep, opaque plum hue with an exotic bergamot perfume which provides lift to a concentrated raspberry and plum, vanillin-edged palate together with lively peppery whole bunch notes, dried sage and mint. Textured suede-like tannins cleave the flavours to the palate, amplifying its intensity and back palate resonance.  Powerful, a little wild even, yet balanced. A charismatic single varietal Touriga. 14%

João Portugal Ramos Marquês de Borba Reserva 2012 (DOC Alentejo)

Terroir: also from Estremoz, this blend of 30% Trincadeira, 30% Aragones, 25% Alicante Bouschet and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon comes from João Portugal Ramos’ original vineyard.  The vines, planted in 1989, are located around his house and have  been the source of this wine since it was first made in 1997. Located at 350m on very old schist

Winemaking: hand harvested grapes are picking grapes at night and early in the morning.  The grapes are partially de-stemmed (50% whole bunch) and start co-fermenting (naturally) in marble lagares with foot treading. For Ramos the advantages of the lagares include a higher area of contact between the liquid and the solid part of the must, gentle homogenisation of the must (because a thinner cap is formed compared to the normal tanks) and the aesthetics of the local marble (which, incidentally Mendes has used for his table tops at Taberna do Mercado). The final third of the fermentation is completed in stainless steel vats with the benefit of temperature control.  The post-ferment maceration usually lasts about two weeks. The wine is then matured for 18 months in French 225 litre oak barrels (two thirds of which are new).

Tasting note: a very polished red with tobacco and cigar box to nose and palate. Red fruits dominate the attack while the Cabernet becomes more assertive going through, bringing well-defined blackcurrant fruit and a spray coating of fine but plentiful powdery tannins which build in the mouth. Dry, firm, focused and very fine with excellent balancing freshness. The tightest of the reds, it has great ageing potential. 14.5%

Herdade do Mouchão 2010 (VR Alentejano)

Terroir: this blend of around 70% Alicante Bouschet and 30% Trincadeira comes from one of the region’s most established players, Herdade do Mouchão, which has belonged to the same family since 1874. Mouchão was the first vineyard to be planted to Alicante Bouschet and the current vines trace their genetic origin back to this original 19th century stock. Mouchão is in Sousel to the north of Borba in the Alto/Upper Alentejo.  The Alicante Bouschet is sourced from several parcels near the winery at around 230m and ranging between 10 and 30 years old. Located on a delta between two small rivers, the sandy topsoil is well-drained but the deep clay beneath retains the humidity which allows for a balanced maturation, freshness and good acidity. The hallmarks of Mouchão’s great ageing potential. The thinner skinned Trincadeira benefits from being planted on higher, well-drained ground at around 400m.

Winemaking: this most traditional of wines is hand picked and fermented in the old winery’s original stone lagares with 100% stems.  It is then aged in large old 5,000 litre toneis for two to three years. It spends a further two to three years in bottle before being released.

Tasting note: a very deep hue with a rich, very complex nose and palate – almost a meal in itself – but a balanced one.  Mouchão 2010 has savoury layers of mellow dried fig, black olive and incipient leather with inky floral, tobacco, berber whisky (stewed mint tea) and eucalyptus top notes.  Sturdy, spicy, grape-driven tannins build in the mouth, yet are very well integrated – not in the least aggressive.  A very long, involving finish has this estate’s warm earth, slightly bloody, ironstone tang. Terrific sense of place. 14%