I was fortunate to be able to attend the Portugal Wine Experience masterclass led by Eugénio Jardim, US Brand Ambassador for Wines of Portugal. Following is what we covered with Eugénio followed by my wine-tasting notes for the flight of wines he had prepared for us.
Eugénio Jardim’s Masterclass
Did you know that Portugal is the closest European country to Canada? It has similar weather to BC’s west coast with humidity from the ocean, a lot of rain and wind, and that coolness that is so important for the making of quality wines. It is also one-third the population of Canada. The country is so small, 135 miles wide by 350 long. MyWinePal: as a reference, Vancouver Island is 75 mi wide by 286 mi long. Wine has been making wine for about 2000 years in Portugal, but their wines are still new to Canada. When Portugal joined the EU in 1986 there was an incredible amount of investments that were put into the country for infrastructure and the wine sector benefited highly from it.
There was a time when Portugal was wondering what was going to happen next because the old guard was dying and retiring and there was no one else to carry the torch of Portuguese wines. Plus, most importantly, nobody else to carry the torch of the new wines of Portugal. Now it’s commonplace that you go to a winery in Portugal and the young winemaker has done harvests around the world. So unlike their parents, you can see the reflection of this in their wines and their curiosity in searching for new places to plant grapes. All the things that the old guard used to do, like using lagars, the new guard is doing by doing better.
Portugal has a massive number of indigenous grape varieties, with 250 as the current count, but new varieties are being identified regularly. Why are there so many varieties, e.g. Encruzado, that are not related to vitis vinifera, e.g. Cabernet Sauvignon? During the last ice age, most of the land masses were covered in ice, but the area of the Mediterranean remained relatively warm so plants and animals flourished in Portugal’s Iberian Peninsula. Having all these unique grape varieties is exciting because you can taste new exciting wines. Of the 250 unique grape varieties, about 60 varieties are mainly used for wine production.
It is very easy to understand the climate and geography of Portugal. There are two influences. One is the cool, moist, salty, fresh air from the Atlantic Ocean that affects the style of wines made in the coastal regions. In the interior of the country, the mountains are located and abut against Spain. This is unusual as mountains are usually located along the coastline, MyWinePal: like in BC. The landscape is made of a wide variety of soils. Granitic soils dominate the north of the country, which includes the Dão region. The Alentejo region has a patchwork of soil types in the south of Portugal. So Portugal is basically very easy to define in terms of terroir styles because everything on the half of the country is coastal with the other half is under continental influence. The interior of Spain is quite hot, dry, and sometimes semi-arid in some areas which affects the interior areas of Portugal.
Portugal is the ninth largest wine exporter in the world and tenth in wine production. Portugal is the number one consumer of wine in the world. Eugénio noted several reasons for being the number one consumer of wine in the world: very good quality wines, the wines are inexpensive in Portugal, and they receive many tourists (30 million tourists last year). The tourist population is three times the native population in Portugal. The UK, Spain, and the USA are the top countries to visit Portugal and their tastes influence Portugal’s wine production. Canada is Portugal’s number five export market. He noted that we are drinking less volume of Portuguese wines, but the wines we are drinking are of higher quality.
Overall Portuguese wines have great acidity, even the red wines. The red wines do not need to be big and heavy like in other wine regions. The acidity makes the red wines enjoyable, even without adding things like oak to the wine.
DOCs of Portugal
Dão is a continental region of Portugal. It is surrounded by mountains on four sides and has high-altitude vineyards with granitic soils. Alentejo covers one-third of Portugal but only 5% of the area has vineyards. It is the bread basket of Portugal as well as a wine region. There is a mix of granite, schist, chalk, marble and other soil. The land varies from wide rolling hills in the central region to high country region in the northeast of Portugal. Lisboa is a long thin region along the Atlantic Ocean. Mostly sandy soils along the coast and clay more inland. Heavy Atlantic influence with high precipitation, fog, cold and salty winds. Porto e Douro located in northern Portugal is the first demarcated and regulated wine region in the world in 1756. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. North and West mountains block the Atlantic Ocean influence, giving hot summers and freezing cold winters. The soils are vertically fractured schist soils and over 60 indigenous grape varieties grow in this region. This region has three subregions and three types of vineyards making it exceptionally diverse. The Península de Setúbal region has an Atlantic climate as it is bounded on one side by the ocean as well as the Tejo River estuary and the Sado River. There are both sandy and stony chalky soils in this region.
My Wine Tasting Notes
Soito Wines Encruzado Reserva 2021, Dão e Lafões – Soito is a young winery making its mark in Portuguese wine. The wine is fermented in 50% French oak barrels with batonnage for 12 months. This wine has a medium-plus lemon colour. A light tropical and toasty nose. Medium-plus body with medium-plus acidity and a thicker mouthfeel. Mineral, tart apple, toast, and pineapple flavours. Light pepperiness, tart citrus and pineapple on the finish. Medium-plus length.
Cartuxa – Fundação Eugénio Almeida Cartuxa Branco, 2021, Alentejo – A blend of Arinto, Antão Vaz and Roupeiro grapes. It has a deeper lemon colour. Juicy stone fruit and oak on the nose. Medium body, soft with a light mouthfeel. Medium-plus acidity comes from the Arinto grape. Rich stone fruit flavours. Light peppery finish. Tasty.
Companhia Agrícola do Sanguinhal Quintas das Cerejeiras Grande Reserva 2017, Lisboa – This wine is made of 40% Castelão, 30% Touriga Nacional, and 30% Aragonez grapes. The grapes were fermented in stainless steel tanks then aged for 6 months in new French barrels and 18 months in used 300-litre French oak barrels before ageing in bottle for two years before going to market. This wine has a deeper clear garnet colour. Light juicy berry fruit, with touches of vegetal, dark fruit, chocolate and oak aromas. Dry, medium body with a soft mouthfeel. Juicy berries, red cherries, and sweet spices on the palate. Medium-intensity fine-grained tannins. Medium-plus acidity. Some tart berry fruit on the finish. Medium-plus length. A quality wine that is only made in excellent vintages. –
Boas Quintas Fonte do Ouro Touriga Nacional 2019, Dão e Lafões – made from 100% Touriga Nacional grapes. This grape is the home of Dão. The wine underwent a long fermentation followed by malolactic fermentation in new French Allier oak barriques then aged in barrel for 12 months. This wine has a deep clear mix of ruby and garnet colours. Light spicy and berry fruit nose. Medium-plus body with a heavier mouthfeel. Dark fruit, black cherries, along with touches of oak, nutmeg and black pepper. Medium-plus acidity. Tart finish and medium-intensity tannins. –
Casa Relvas Relvas Alicante Bouschet 2021, Alentejo – This is an imported vitis vinifera grape from France that has made its home in Portugal. The wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks then aged in French oak barrels for 12 months. It has a medium-minus intensity clear ruby colour. A closed nose, unfortunately. Light dry, soft and smooth mouthfeel. Floral and candied cherry flavours. Light tartness on the palate and barely noticeable tannins. A touch of black pepper. –
Ravasqueira Vinha Romãs 2020, Alentejo – A blend of Touriga Franca and Syrah. Open tank fermentation with the blend aged for 20 months in new French oak barrels. This wine has a deeper garnet colour. Medium-intensity cedar, sweet spices, red fruit and red cherries on the nose. Medium-plus body, smooth and round, but not mouth-filling. Candied cherries, sweet spices on the palate with a tart red cherry finish. Very light tannins.
Aveleda Quinta Vale Dona Maria Vinhas Velhas 2019, Porto e Douro – This wine is a field blend of 41 different varieties. The grapes for this wine are destemmed then foot trodden in granite lagars. The wines are aged for 21 months in French oak barrels. The wine has a medium-plus mix of garnet and ruby colours in the glass. Medium-intensity aromas of cedar, vanilla and red fruits. I quite liked the aromas of this wine. It is dry, has a medium-plus body, is smooth and has a thicker mouthfeel. Ripe berries and raspberries on the palate with some cherry flavour on the finish. Medium intensity tannins and medium-plus length.
José Maria da Fonseca Alambre 20 anos, Moscatel, Península de Setúbal – Jose Maria da Fonseca was the first Portuguese winery to bottle still red wines. The area for this wine comes from along the Atlantic so you have the ocean and rivers, and humidity for the grapes to ripen slowly in sandy soils. This is an exceptionally delicious fortified wine aged in oak barrels for 20 years. The wine is oxidized due to being in the oak barrels so no further ageing is needed in the bottle. It has a clear medium-intensity copper colour. Pronounced aromas of molasses and ripe stone fruits. Medium-bodied, this wine gets lighter on the mid-palate. Bright acidity. Medium sweetness with a smooth mouthfeel. Apricots, molasses and a touch of pineapple. Some pepperiness on the mid-palate and a touch of citrus on the finish. Pair with blue or aged cheese. –
Thank you, Obrigado, to Eugénio Jardim for being an entertaining educator for the Wines of Portugal and introducing us to many exciting new wines.