Tasting Portuguese Wines At The Ritz

Ξ October 27th, 2009 | → 5 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, PORTUGAL, Wine History, Winemakers, Wineries |

A little bird from the Alentejo told me of a wine tasting at the Ritz in Lisbon. Would I be interested? Yes.
Today I thoroughly enjoyed tasting through Portuguese distributor Américo Maia’s Decante catalogue. The occasion was greatly enriched by the presence of many of the winemakers themselves. This proved extraordinarily helpful as I was able to get important insight into their varied winemaking philosophies.
As is well understood, the current economy is playing havoc at the high end of the market. The pressure is on to produce quality wines at a certain price point, whether for the Portuguese or American wine drinker. In America that translates generally into downward pressure on existing winery stock. For a wine company struggling with an established high-end brands, these have been difficult days.
One industry response has been the wild proliferation of new, lower priced labels. Indeed, for every new animal or savvy pop label that appears you can be sure that behind the scenes a winery is creatively working to reduce its liquid inventory. (Cameron Hughes, anyone?) Needless to say, this shifting of juice from one label to another does nothing to add to over-all variety. Though the wine drinker benefits temporarily from this brand-protecting strategy, they may get to (unknowingly) taste wines previously outside their budget, for example, you can be sure that as the economy rebounds so shall the prices. More importantly, as we all put on our worn work boots for the long slog to recovery, who is to say that a lower price point will not become the standard for quality, that our budgets, as well as our palates, will not become ‘re-calibrated’, as it were?
As amusing as it would be to have a negociant relabel Opus One as ‘Summer Breeze’ and sold for $15, there is an even more creative, and honest, solution: Portuguese wines. What will prove to be a constant refrain on this blog during my stay here in Lisbon, and beyond, is the observation that Portuguese wines are fundamentally unique and distinctive, across the board. And not only with respect to their modest price points. They are quite simply, in the main, stylistically and philosophically different than what is generally found in domestic American wines: Different grapes historically wedded to terroirs; different winemaking traditions; a basic orientation toward the enhancement of food; the very conscious resistance to forces of globalization (with notable exceptions, of course. The subject of a future post).
Though I continue to insist that Portugal is one of the world’s last great terroir cultures, this is only to suggest that international distributors serving the America market take a hard, fiscally responsible look at what the country has to offer. Decante’s Portuguese holdings in his most recent catalogue is a good place to start.
Two of the biggest surprises of my afternoon of tasting were wines from Goncalo Souse Lopes (left) and Nuno Araujo (right). The first gentleman is half of G&R Consultores (Rui Cuhna, the other half). Out of the Duoro, their wines and the specific meaning of the labels may be read about on their Secret Spot website, still under construction. They are quite new. Just click on a label in the banner. CataVino has additional info.
Nunu Araujo is a biodynamic producer working under the Covela label. His website is in need of a bit of a make-over. Basic information on the wines may be read here.
It is worthwhile to note that the two gentlemen pictured above likely shared a table at the Decante tasting because both utilize the profound talents of enologist Rui Cunha, Nuno’s cousin. These three folks deserve far wider recognition, certainly in the United States, no doubt. And so I add my thoroughly American endorsement to their growing European acclaim. None, I repeat, none of these wines are currently available in the US. The clincher? The wines begin at under 10 euros, for god’s sake.
Other wonderful wines included a range of bottlings by producer Quinta de Chocapalha, located near Lisbon. I shall try to visit them while here. From the Alentejo, the always dependable Cortes de Cima was present. At least they are available stateside! Their unique cuvée Courela, referred to by asst. winemaker Helena Sardinha, as a “crisis wine”, a wine for our troubled economic times, reinforced the truth of the exceptional quality and finesse Portuguese wines offer at such modest price points.
Time constraints prevented me from enjoying all of the wines on offer. And of those I did taste, many are not mentioned here. Another time. Alas, I have a train to catch! I will, however, close with special mention of the braille labels on all the bottlings of Pinhal Da Torre’s wines, the first to do so in Portugal, it is said. The wines are generally available in the US. The affable CEO Paulo Saturnino Cunha impressed me with his humility.
Off to Colares…


5 Responses to ' Tasting Portuguese Wines At The Ritz '

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  1. 1WineDude said,

    on October 27th, 2009 at 4:31 pm

    I’m glad that little bird found you! Sounds like you’re making the most out of the opportunity there. Looking forward to reading your coverage of EWBC. Cheers!

  2. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on October 28th, 2009 at 1:27 am

    Thank you, Joe. Your sparkling presence is much missed.

  3. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on October 28th, 2009 at 1:29 am

    Carrie Jorgensen of Cortes de Cima writes, “”chirp,chirp!” Ken, you just arrived, but you are have hit the ground running! Great job you are doing for Portuguese WInes! VIniPortugal and Catavino sure picked the right man for the job! Keep up the good work, and see you here tomorrow for our Live Wine Blogging from the Alentejo event.”

  4. Bob Singewald said,

    on November 1st, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Question for Ken Payton: Your interview with Jonathan Nossiter was excellent. May I have your permission to copy and distribute that article to some of our local wine friends who are earnesty endeavoring to learn more and more about wines?

  5. Admin, Ken Payton said,

    on November 1st, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Bob, yes. Feel free to pass it along. Thank you for reading.

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