After touring southern Spain for a couple weeks it is obvious the rules for tasting and writing about wine must be rewritten. At least when it comes to southern Spain the commonly accepted and greatly emulated business of swirling, sniffing, comparing, opining, recalling and placing the drink in context of anything simply does not apply. This is a land where life is all at once and wine is an important part of the experience…as is love…as is living…as is dressing to show it off. When it comes to wine you should pull the cork, fill a copaand throw it down the gullet with a bite of something. Wine is often served chilled regardless of color. Eat. Talk. Look at your surroundings.
Hemingway described how to drink wine in southern Europe in Farewell to Arms. His setting is Southern Italy. The message is the same. Wine is not an isolated experience. Wine goes with everything from dining to playing billiards (with the Count Greffi who prefers champagne). Wine is transformative in the most casual and profound manner. It is omnipresent. Wine helps ease difficult social situations. Drinking wine helps Miss Ferguson lose her anxious edge. After a glass or four Hemingway’s character can relax even though he knows he can be shot as a deserter. Wine is always there. You drink it. It follows then, does it not, that a wine blogger should write as much about the social setting as the wine which enhances ordinary and everyday activities.
Even a wine tasting is not necessarily what we are used to. The charming sommelier Christiano at the fancy hotel in Evora Portugal held a daily tasting that was really more like a welcome to the Convento do Espineiro hotel. We were there two nights. tBoW was able to break free for both late afternoon tastings at 7:00 (Spanish/Portugal time).
2009 Bodegas Varal Blanco ~$12: Produced by the Herdade Monte da Ribeira in Portugal from the Alentejo region. A local product. Fresh, lean, and nicely priced. Could drink these all day. 12.5%
Portugal differs from Spain in several important ways. First, the women are more conservative in their dress. You would never see a Portuguese woman wearing a Maid-of-Honor dress to a wedding like the one pictured above which was taken in front of our Seville hotel. Grape varietals provides another distinction. Spain has several novel varietals but Portugal seems to ONLY grow novel varietals. Here is a list to test your knowledge from the producer of the 2009 Varal: Cabernet Sauvignon, Arinto, Aragonez, Castel√£o, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet, Syrah, Anthony Vaz (tempranillo), Riesling, Tamarez, Perrum and Wardrobe. As a half British half Portuguese travel pal put it the Spanish live life like there is no tomorrow while the Portuguese live like yesterday is long gone.
2006 Solar dos Lobos $6: Another Alentejo wine. A blend of Trincadeira, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Aragonez. Served chilled. Tannic, ripe, soft. Red brick color. Spicy nose. Shows more life and flavor after 20 minutes. 13%
The Alentejo region of Portugal includes territories east and south of Lisbon to the Spanish border. The Alentejo is wide, hot and with the most blindingly bright sunlight I can remember. The Algarve coastline south of Lisbon is the Portuguese Costa del Sol lined with beach resorts and second homes for the new Euro millionaires.
This was once the Languedoc of Portugal producing hundreds of millions of bottles of cheap and popular plonk. In the past two decades the region has seen considerable upwards mobility: new modern equipment, new winery facilities and new winemakers. There are still plenty of monstrous enterprises producing a million bottles or half. Reminds us of Mendoza Argentina with the large scale productions buffered by the recent commitment to upgrading quality. More later on the issues that go with expansion and upgrading. The main advantage for Alentejo is they can still keep the bottle price pretty low. Just look at the two wines above: $12 fort the branco and $6 for the tinto.
2010 Pal√°cio da Brejoeira Vinho Verde (DOC) Alvarinho de Mon√ßao $20: A “serious” vinho verde afforded much respect probably because it is associated with an historical royal property. Here is the problem. Serious Vinho Verde is like Sinatra Christmas carols or religious Elvis song collections. We really don’t need any of them. They are curiosities, for collectors only. 12%
2010 Vi√±edos de Taramilla $8: The oldest city on the continent, Cadiz, produces the youngest tasting wine. Cadiz is in the heart of Jerez where sherry is king. This is fruity, raisin, ripe, and a teeny bit hot. Sounds a little like sherry. Serve chilled. 13%
2009 Bach Vi√±a Extremisima Rosado $10: From the Pened√©s region of Spain. Tasted in Sevilla on the hotel roof early evening watching sun go down over “largest cathedral in Christendom”. A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and Merlot. This is a man’s pinky. Rich flavors from all those dark red grapes. Very dry yet full flavored. Serve chilled, of course. Nice. 13%
Stay tuned. Coming up…visit to one of the big dog wineries in the Alentejo were they are “getting serious”.