If there's one thing I would have thought certain after my recent visit to Portugal and interviews with natural-cork producers, it is that Portugal's wine industry fully supports the cork makers in their commitment to fend off all imitators, foreign and domestic.
Indeed, for a Portuguese winery, you'd think that using an artificial wine-bottle stopper would be almost as out of place as telling a rude joke in church.
Whaddya think of that?
Personally, although I'm still open to quality screw caps (like the Stelvin brand) as a plausible alternative to natural cork, I think the jury has pretty much come back with a negative verdict on synthetics, based not only on esthetic factors but a growing body of experience that suggests they simply don't do a good job of keeping the wine intact. But wherever you come down on this argument, it's still an unexpected thing to see anything but real cork in a wine from Portugal.
All that said, this 2003 "Mural" Douro from Quinta do Portal, still young enough to fall within a reasonably safe zone for synthetic stoppers, was an enjoyable table wine and a very good value for the price. I'm a bit puzzled about its backround, though: The winery's own Website provides information only on the 1999 vintage, and Wine-searcher.com comes up with a single listing for a 1996. So how did this apparently rare 2003 with a plastic cork find its way to Louisville, Ky.? We'll just have to file this away as one of the small mysteries that makes wine interesting.
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Quinta do Portal 2003 "Mural" Douro ($8.99)
This is a very dark blackish-purple wine with ruby glints. Smoky black-cherry and plum aromas carry over on the palate as medium-bodied black-fruit flavors shaped by tart, almost sour acidity that's fine with food but on the tangy side for sipping by itself. Light tannins appear only in the long, tart finish. A blend of 60 percent Touriga Franca, 25% Tinto Roriz (Tempranillo) and 15 percent Touriga Nacional, it's aged nine months in French barrels. U.S. importer: MHW Ltd., Manhasset, N.Y. (Feb. 21, 2006)
FOOD MATCH: Fine with red meat or roast or grilled poultry; it was excellent with a Portuguese dish, the Galinha Estufada featured in the Wine Advisor FoodLetter on Feb. 16, 2006.
VALUE: Dry Douro reds generally offer fine value, and this one is no exception.
WHEN TO DRINK: Although these wines normally show good aging potential, I wouldn't recommend it under the plastic "cork."
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Friday, Feb. 24, 2006