Port, not Port
Here's a truth that bears repeating: One of the things that makes wine so interesting is the boundless variety that intrigues us with every bottle we open. With hundreds of grape varieties, thousands of wine regions, vintage variations with every year's harvest and wine's tendency to change in the bottle over time, it's arguable that no two bottles of wine will ever be exactly the same.
I particularly enjoy exploring the vast world of wine grapes, and judging from your response to Steve and Deborah De Long's Wine Grape Varietal Table that we featured during the holidays, so do a lot of you.
All of which is by way of saying that when I spotted a recently arrived red wine from Portugal at a local shop last night, I was unable to resist bringing it home and uncorking it with dinner.
Quinta do Portal 1999 Douro Reserva caught my eye because it comes from the Port region and is made from a blend of three key Port grapes - Tinto Roriz (70 percent), Touriga Nacional (20 percent) and Touriga Franca (10 percent). But it's no Oporto. Neither sweet nor fortified, it's a dry red table wine of apparently normal alcoholic strength, warm and fruity and, at least from the standpoint of a dedicated wine-grape explorer - intriguing in the way that it shows some aromas and flavors that remind me of Port while retaining a distinct character all its own.
Tinto Roriz, by the way - often abbreviated to just-plain "Roriz" - is the same grape that the Spanish call Tempranillo, an unexpected link between Port and Rioja. It's one of the workhorse varieties in the Port blend, as it is in this dry rendition from Quinta do Portal. Touriga Nacional (and its cousin Touriga Franca) is less widely grown but is highly respected, and at least a bit of it turns up in most quality Port.
The wine is warm and grapey, almost pruney, with a distinct earthy character that saves it from simplicity. It went surprisingly well with food, and was well worth the toll for the sake of the varietal excursion, although to be honest, I'm not sure I would stock up on it at an upper-teens price.
WINE GRAPE VARIETAL TABLE:
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A blend of three of the traditional Port red grapes vinified dry, this is an inky, blackish-purple wine, Portlike in its deep color and in its warm, pruney, grapey aromas. On the palate, though, it's bone-dry, ripe and bursting with lush if rather simple black fruit and crisp acidity with a tart lemony twang. Pleasant "barnyard" and "tarry" notes and a touch of herbs add rustic complexity and flavor interest. U.S. importer: MHW Ltd, Manhasset, N.Y. (Jan. 11, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: Its ripe and grapey fruit worked very nicely with a quick, simplified "Cordon Bleu" dish of chicken breasts wrapped in prosciutto with a slice of earthy Emmentaler cheese.
VALUE: It's an interesting wine, worth the upper-teens price at least as a one-time experience in offbeat grape varieties. To be honest, though, the rising strength of the Euro makes it difficult to describe it as a bargain wine at this price. Shop around: Internet sources have the '99 for $10 or less.
WHEN TO DRINK: It might not keep as long as Vintage Port, but this wine's sturdy structure, acidity, and fruit that's still luscious and forward more than five years after the vintage suggests that there's no harm in cellaring it for several years.
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Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2005