Portugal – Up and Coming
What do you think is the most underrated wine producing country?
I’d be happy to rattle off a laundry list of countries that you all should be paying much more attention to, but according to my palate the most underrated country in the ever-congested world of wine is … wait for it … Portugal.
Clinging to the side of Spain like Charlie Sheen to an exotic dancer, Portugal gets the short end of the Iberian Peninsula thanks to the popularity of its next-door neighbour’s liquid output. Granted, it also suffers from its own success just a tad. Being so famous for its rich, sweet Port wines the average consumer has trouble seeing past the fortification profile — thinking every bottle of Portuguese vino is boozy and heavy-handed with limited versatility when it comes to food pairing and all season drinking.
While many Portuguese table reds are made with the same grapes as Port they’re certainly not fortified and can easily stand their ground against their formidable European competition. Indigenous grapes like Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa and Bastardo (always love mentioning that one) are for the most part unique to Portugal with only Tinta Roriz (a.k.a. Tempranillo) really showing off its personality in other countries. Typically ripe and medium-to-full-bodied with some of the plum characteristics of Port wines mixed with plenty of rustic charm; Portuguese reds offer big flavours for still reasonable prices.
The country’s temperate climate means white wine consumption is an all year affair. Though local fruit like Antao Vaz, Malvasia Fina and Verdelho gets squeezed into many of Portugal’s finer wines, Alvarinho — the grape of Vinho Verde — is arguably the most famous. The lightly effervescent wine of the same name made in the northern province of Minho is a classic easy-drinker that’s perfect for summer quaffing here in North America.
Will 2011 be the year that Portuguese table wines break into the mainstream? I hope so because Portugal is the most interesting “undiscovered country” on the map and its wines are sitting right under your nose.