Wednesday Wines – Episode 164 – A Portuguese Extravaganza

The Finest Portuguese Supermarket Recommendations

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Three Elite Portuguese Estates

Last June, I wrote an article about my top picks from a couple of Portuguese supermarkets. It was a well-received piece – albeit a little random and perhaps unexpected! As we know, thousands of Brits head to Portugal every summer. Last week, I visited the Alentejo region of Portugal and tasted as many bottles as possible to bring you a list of the best widely available wines. The two leading supermarkets I visited were Pingo Doce and Continente. Of the fifty or so wines I bought, these are the finest. It is worth noting that all of the whites are fresh and young 2022s – most of the 2021s I picked up were already tiring on the nose and palate, regardless of style. I tasted a lot of 2021 and 2020 reds, and while a couple were older (see below), it is clear that these are both great vintages. A few older vintages from decent wineries looked tired, which was disappointing. Finally, look out for deals. On one occasion, the Ponte de Lima was reduced to €3.19, Vallado was €6.18, and Post Scriptum was reduced to €12.74 – all absolute steals!

Branco

2022 Vinho Verde, Loureiro, Ponte de Lima €4.29, Continente

This was the finest white cheapie by a mile.  Made from the silky, perfumed Loureiro grape and with a genuinely classy, long and refined finish, this is a textbook Vinho Verde with an impossibly noble palate for a wine of this price.

2022 Planalto, Reserva, Casa Ferreirinha, Douro €5.75, www.garrafeiranacional.com, Pingo Doce

I bought six bottles of this beauty after just one sip and another six for my return later this year. Planalto can be a little weighty in certain vintages, but this 2022 is pinpoint accurate, boldly assembled, crisp, and refreshing on the finish. It is light enough for pool-side duties and easily ripe enough to cope with barbecue chicken and main course fish dishes.

2022 Palacio da Brejoeira, Alvarinho, Vinho Verde €24.99, Continente

I have never spent twenty euros on a bottle of white wine from a Portuguese supermarket, but I thought I would roll the dice this time, and I am so pleased I did because this is a stunning wine. It is even more refined than the Fefiñanes (see a link to this wine here), making this the most impressive young Portuguese white of the year so far. Shaped like an elite Chablis, spritzed with mouth-watering ozone notes, this is a massive treat, so please push the boat out.

Tinto

2021 Esteva, Casa Ferreirinha, Douro €5.49, Continente

Esteva Tinto is the easy-drinking, entry-level red in the excellent Casa Ferreirinha firmament. It’s a blend of Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barocca, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional fermented and aged in stainless steel. It is shaped like a Beaujolais and flavoured like a blackberry-stuffed summer pudding with a sprinkle of spice. It sits between £10 and £12 in the UK, and yet it costs half of this in Portugal, making it, by a very long way, the finest red glugger on the shelves.

2021 Papa Figos, Casa Ferreirinha, Douro €7.99, Pingo Doce

Very simply, this is Esteva’s big brother, and it leaves red aperitif duties and simple or spicier food to Esteva while enjoying the spotlight when you have made it to the main course. Stunning with barbecued pork or beef, this is a spectacular wine for the money and is drinking now.

2021 Vallado, Tinto, Douro €8.25, Continente

I bought 2019, 2020 and 2021 Vallado because some stores had old stock, and I far preferred the 2021 even though its tannins are still a little frisky. As long as you stick to meaty main courses, you won’t go wrong, and it even works well, slightly chilled. I have long been a fan of Vallado, and there is a lot of wine here for eight euros!

2020 Vinha Grande, Casa Ferreirinha, Douro €10.99, Pingo Doce

The 2019 vintage (same price in Continente) is still out there, and it looks good. I even found a rogue 2018 and it, too, and I bought every bottle I could find. But the new vintage and the one that will be a mainstay for every discerning holidaymaker this season is the 2020. I wrote this wine up in MoneyWeek earlier this year, and here is an excerpt – ‘The Vinha Grande label represents the top of the ‘everyday wines’ range at Ferreirinha.  Under this label, the white, rosé and red are made with the same exacting standards as the icon wine Barca-Velha and by the same winemaker, Luís Sottomayor. I think it is the finest ever released under this label.  Made from a heady blend of 40% Touriga Franca, 30% Touriga Nacional, 25% Tinta Roriz and 5% Tinta Barroca, and spending 12 months in French oak and weighing in at 14.5% alcohol, this is a serious wine! In terms of its shape and size, it is richer than most clarets, similar to a Rioja, Super-Tuscan or Ribera del Duero, but so much more polished and detailed on the palate than any sixteen quid wine I can think of (this is the UK retail price).  Load up now – you will be in orbit when you taste this wine.’

2021 Fitapreta, António Maçanita, Alentejo €12.90, Continente

Made from Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet and Trincadeira and subjected to ‘neutral ageing’, it shows none of the grubby oak found in many of the lesser Alentejo red wines. Fitapreta is a modern, glossy, black fruit and liquorice concoction with serious glossiness and depth. It has a lot of flavour and texture, and fans of ripe, velvety, plush reds will adore this wine. In global terms, this price is a snip for a wine of this quality, given it is £19 in the UK. This will blow your socks off, but be sure to drink it after the slightly lighter reds mentioned above.

2018 Cedro do Noval, Tinto, Vinho Regional Duriense €15.49, Continente

I am such a massive fan of this wine and the Noval estate, and Cedro is classy, elegant, honed and downright delicious. It is lighter than many Douro wines with an almost Pinot-like sensuality on the palate, making it a great wine to sip after dinner. Mellow, delicious, stylish and with a weight and style that is sure to please all palates, this is the connoisseurs’ choice.

2021 Post Scriptum de Chryseia, Prats & Symington, Douro €16.99, Continente

Retailing for north of £20 in the UK, if you pick this stunner up at €16.99, you will be saving a fiver, but if you can find it for the discounted price, which I stumbled upon, then you can throw the house at it because this is a superbly suave wine that will last this summer, next summer and the one after, only it won’t because you will have polished it off in double-time. Dark, brooding, deep and charry, this is a hedonistic wine with an epic stance on the palate. But it is not a blockbuster – it is intense, velvety, plush but not heavy. It is kaleidoscopic, involving, and delicious and never tires the taste buds. It is my top Portuguese supermarket red of the year!

Three Elite Portuguese Wineries

In addition to undertaking my extensive supermarket sweep, I also conducted a deep dive into three of the most incredible estates in the country. You can buy these wines to be shipped from the estate to your apartment, villa or hotel ahead of your arrival, safe in the knowledge that you are a long way ahead of the crowd and possess exquisite taste!

Quinta de Sant’Ana, Mafra, Lisboa www.quintadesantana.com 

It was a delight to meet James and Lucas Frost from Sant’Ana for the first time on this trip, and we worked our way through all of the wines listed below over a lazy, long lunch. This was my first encounter with Sant’Ana, and these are all wines with a unique stance on the palate. Beloved by the Lisbon gastronomic set, I was delighted to learn they are represented by Caviste (www.caviste.co.uk) in the UK.

2022 Branco €12.50

Made from Fernão Pires and Arinto, 9089 bottles produced, certified organic

The estate white is a beauty, with a flirtatious nose and just enough floral detail to suggest dreamy complexity and then, all of a sudden, the palate firms up, finishing neat, prim and refreshing. This is a sophisticated number and a keenly priced one, too.

2020 Arinto (the 2018 vintage is €31)

Made from 100% Arinto, 2655 bottles produced, certified organic

The flagship white is built in precisely the same shape as a fine white Burgundy, with ample use of oak and batonnage and yet the flavour is more pliable, kindly and also perfumed thanks to the use of the stellar Portuguese white grape Arinto. It performs all the tasks you would set a Pouilly-Fuissé with just a little more panache and flair.

2016 Riesling (the 2021 vintage is €16.50)

Made from 100% Riesling, certified organic

One from the library, I was a little concerned that this wine might be losing its freshness, given its age, but it was zesty, clean, lime-juice-soaked and incredibly enticing. I felt it had more of an Eden Valley shape than an Alsatian, and I certainly never expected to taste a Riesling of this distinction coming from the hills north of Lisbon! I can see Lisbon restaurateurs beating down Santa’Ana’s doors for allocations of this wine.

2018 Tinto €12.50

Made from Touriga Nacional, Merlot & Aragonez 10890 bottles produced, certified organic

The estate red wine is the perfect partner to the white, with its sanguineous, dark tones and sea spray freshness. It is mineral-soaked and refreshing, and it never once tips into tasting too rich or cumbersome. Blessed with a textbook maritime climate, all of the wines from this estate possess in-built freshness and lift, and these traits elevate the wines considerably, highlighting their qualities while bringing dynamism and momentum to their flavours.

2015 Reserva (the 2017 vintage is €28)

Made from Merlot & Touriga Nacional, 512 bottles produced

With a little more structure and oak imprint, this was the Bordeaux-shaped candidate in the line-up, looking statesmanlike and brooding. With plenty of time to go, this lip-smacking eight-year-old wine showed just how arresting the minerality and freshness are at Sant’Ana. I wrote ‘black icicle’ in my notes because this is a long, lean, tense wine with a liquorice and blackberry theme, and the flavours are so vampiric and carnal that you cannot resist coming back for more.

Ramisco €50 (50cl bottle)

Made from 100% Ramisco, 1240 bottles produced, a multi-vintage blend

I have never knowingly tasted the Ramisco grape before, and this wine is about as esoteric and curious as it gets. This is a multi-vintage wine, blended not necessarily for complexity but out of necessity because the harvest in any one vintage is so tiny! The flavour is gripping from start to finish, that is, if there was a finish, because the flavour just keeps on rolling. Brutally challenging and shockingly dry throughout, the exquisite musculature and rapier-sharp acidity keep the fruit aloft perfectly, and you end up with a blacker flavour than any Nebbiolo and a flavour silhouette not dissimilar to an elite Cabernet Franc. If you seek unique flavour experiences that reward as much as they baffle, you must find this wine! 

Howard’s Folly, Alentejo www.howardsfollywine.com 

Howard and Tom Bilton are pushing the top-end food and wine category as hard as they can in eastern Alentejo, using stunning fruit drawn from cool climate sites in Portalegre and creating delicious wines to complement the beautiful food found in the winery restaurant, the Folly and their charming bar in the centre of Estremoz, Pelourinho Bistro. I am thrilled to say that the wines listed below, taken from the greater range, are the finest that Howard has ever put his name to, and I cannot recommend them enough.

2021 Sonhador Branco, case of 6 bottles, regular price €72, member price €57.60

I loved last year’s 2020 (you can find my notes on many of the HF wines by searching this website), and this year’s 2021 is not only a more sophisticated wine, but it was also a genuine contender for one of the most beautifully balanced Portuguese whites of the year.  I drank it several times with a wide range of cuisine, and it worked its magic in every single sip. This is a must-buy white wine in 2023.

2022 Sonhador Rosé, case of 6 bottles, regular price €72, member price €57.60

In common with Sonhador white, this year’s Sonhador Rosé release is a beauty. It is head and shoulders above any other rosé I tasted on my trip, and I suspect if I stayed for the next six months, I would fail to find a more enticing, energetic or delicious pink wine. Bravo.

2021 Aldeia Tinto, case of 6 bottles, regular price €45, member price €36

This is an eye-catching discovery made from a hodgepodge of red grapes from the excellent Howard’s Folly Portalegre vineyards. Clean, bright, smooth and based on a summer pudding suite of red and black fruit notes with the merest whispers of spice and wild herbs, this is a cracking red wine which drinks extremely well slightly chilled with meaty fish dishes and all manner of chicken, pork, lamb and beef extravaganzas. Spread the word because Aldeia is what the cool kids will drink this summer!

2018 Sonhador Tinto, case of 6 bottles, regular price €72, member price €57.60

Completing the trio of Dreamer wines, Sonhador Tinto is a glossy, textural red wine with no coarse edges or astringency. Deeper and more resonant than Aldeia, this is more of a dinner party wine, given its deeper structure and long finish. It is approaching its peak, so you do not have to cellar it either! Thanks for doing this for us, Howard.

2018 Syrah, case of 6 bottles, regular price €156, member price €124.80

100% Syrah, label design by Michael Craig-Martin

This is another wine with a sensational label (see the website for information on Howard’s work with his Sovereign Art Foundation). If you are looking for a Portuguese version of Graillot Crozes-Hermitage, look no further. With a black cherry as opposed to a blackberry core and a white pepper dusting as opposed to black, this is Portalegre’s translation of a wonderful, spicy, medium-weight wine. It is mouth-wateringly attractive even though it is a puppy, yet I feel it has even more to give over the coming years.

2018 Reserva Tinto, case of 6 bottles, regular price €210, member price €168

I have already expounded on my love for this wine – here are a few lines from an article I wrote last year. “In a word, tremendous. 2018 Reserva is a lusty wine with swaggering fruit and generous, toasty oak. This is a wine with confidence oozing out of every pore, and it is ready to drink now, announcing itself with a vast fruity fanfare. There is enough grunt under the bonnet to propel this wine forward for another decade, so while you will hear it calling you from the wine rack, you need not hurry as I suspect there are more chapters of flavour to discover as this hearty wine evolves.’

2019 Cristina (a preview sample, no price yet)

I have tasted another Cristina – the as-yet-unreleased 2018, which I greatly enjoyed. But 2019 is a very different beast. Intense, long, calm and detailed, this is a perfect example of ‘less is more’. Less brawn than expected, less oak, less tannin, less knackering, but more perfume, more silkiness, more drama and more length. Cristina is a homage to Howard’s Folly’s vineyard manager Cristina Francisquinho, and it is a very worthy wine to express just how grateful this winery is to have someone born in Portalegre sourcing their grapes!

Herdade do Mouchão, Alentejo www.mouchao.pt 

2022 Dom Rafael Branco – the 2021 vintage is €9.50

The soon-to-be-released 2022 is my favourite Dom Rafael to date. It is super-fresh, pristinely clean, and it manages to retain a magical texture and long, smooth finish. While the overall appearance hints at tropical notes, it keeps its feet on the ground with refreshing acidity bringing well-mannered tension to every sip. 

2021 Ponte Mouchão Branco €19.50

Made from Verdelho with a hint of stunning oak supporting the thrilling fruit framework, this is a silky wine with gorgeous minerality and white pepper spice under the languid, wildflower, pear and green apple-smooched fruit.

2022 Ponte Mouchão Branco (barrel sample)

I was afforded a preview of the 2022 vintage from the barrel, and it was glorious. With more intensity and obvious fruit expression than the 2021, this is a great white wine that will turn heads at will on release. It is worth saying that this is one of the most elegant and refined Verdelhos I have ever tasted.

2020 Dom Rafael Tinto – the 2019 vintage is €9.50

Smooth, clean and silky, with a red fruit chassis punctured by liquorice and faint fennel tones, this is a hearty fellow from a warm vintage and is already drinking well. The Mouchão signature is present, which says something for a nine-euro wine.

2018 Ponte Mouchão Tinto €18.50

This is a shockingly impressive wine made from Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Syrah. I kept returning to the price and scratching my head because there is so much breeding and sophistication here; it is incredible. 2018 was a challenging vintage; some made epic wines, and others failed. Ponte has embraced the challenges and come up with a wine of rare distinction. Polished, poised and pretty and then deep, dark and devastating, this is a wine you cannot afford to miss out on.

Mouchão

I tasted three vintages of Mouchão and one Tonel with winemaker Iain Richardson and his sister Sophie, and friends, and the other couple at home because my wife Amelia’s grandfather, Victor, is part of the Mouchão story, and she has always bought this wine for special occasions. Most back vintages are available on the broking market, so shop around, and you can secure a neat vertical with little effort!

Here is a rundown on the vintages –

2013 Mouchão Tinto – the 2013 seems preternaturally youthful, and it is undoubtedly pumped up all of the way to inflate its suit of tannic armour, which still looks freshly polished and unblemished.  This is a stunning wine that is moving slowly and deliberately, but it is not quite drinking despite being decanted, so hold off for another year! I love this vintage and will exercise more self-control in the future.  

2014 Mouchão Tinto – the 2014 vintage is ready to enchant. Open, bright, melodic and enticing, the fruit might well be deep and lip-smacking, but the temper and timbre are both relaxed and mellow. This is easily the pick of the bunch for immediate consumption, but it will easily live for another decade.  

2015 Mouchão Tinto €44.50 – this is even more expressive and sensual than the flirty 2014.  Smooth, beautifully fleshy and amazingly seductive, this is another Mouchão that drinks well but has another 20 years in the tank. These are such incredible wines, and as I taste each individual vintage, they not only show the identity of the property off to a tee, but they also reflect the vintages and the lagares and large foudre in which they are made. 

2016 Mouchão Tinto (to be released in 3 months) – it was an honour to taste the 2016 before its release, and, this time, the fruit is robust, hard, packed with attitude and remarkably attractive bitterness on the finish. This is such a noble flight of wines that it is tempting to pick out a favourite, but I will not. I think a minimum of three vintages is needed to truly understand this legendary property. This is First Growth-standard winemaking, perhaps hinting that Mouchão might be Portugals Carruades while the wine below, Tonel, is in this country’s Lafite Rothschild. 2016 Mouchão is a heroic release, and I imagine it will establish a cult following before too long, so make it your mission to track down this wine.

2013 Mouchão Tonel No 3-4 €195

Tonel No 3-4 is only made in exceptional vintages and only when there is enough elite Alicante Bouschet available without compromising the quality of Mouchão proper. After this spectacular 2013 vintage, I understand that a 2015 and 2021 might see the light of day, but time will tell. Tonel No 3-4 is a single varietal Alicante – a tenturieur in its purest form. The ancient barrels in which it slumbers remind me of Barolo production, except that the tonels in question are 50-60 years old with 100-year-old heads! I made a series of crazy tasting notes that all seem somewhat fantastical now that I read them back; suffice it to say that this is already one of the wines of the year, and it holds its own on a global stage with some of the most arresting and evocative flavours I have ever tasted.

1985 Mouchão

Three curios came my way, and the first was an old Mouchão bottled in what appeared to be a Fonseca port bottle. Apparently, bottles were hard to come by, so anything would do! With a Burgundian texture and charry, smoky, kirsch-kissed fruit, this is still a bold and fully pumped-up wine. In this vintage, it was a pure Alicante – fascinating!

2015 Mouchão Sobremesa Dessert Tonel Aged €24.50

The second ultra-rare wine was a 1929 fortified, first made by my wife Amelia’s grandfather Victor Reynolds. It was a rare privilege and honour to taste this utterly perfect wine. I tasted an 1885 Para Liqueur this week, and both wines warranted perfect scores in my notes. This one might nudge it, given its family link, but I still pinch myself when I taste wines that are this old. A commercially released 2015 vintage of the same style of wine followed, and it was sublime – lifted and vinous but also heady and fortified with figgy, nutty, toffee notes with a crisp, cleansingly bitter finish. 

FIN