12/18/08 – Portuguese wine for holiday cheer

By Jesse on December 16, 2008

The holidays are now imminent, and it’s completely possible that you’ve not yet found the perfect holiday wine. (Because there is a perfect holiday wine, by the way. There’s only one. Only one wine that will make your holidays perfect. And if you don’t find it, your holidays will be flawed and depressing, and your family will love you less.)

This week, in our quest to help you all save your respective holiday experiences from utter disaster, we throw caution to the wind and visit a region we’ve never before covered exclusively: Portugal! Back in the 1800’s, when some separatists carved off a little piece of Spain and declared it a new country, they chose a name for it by simply taking the region’s famous dessert wine and adding a few letters to the end. Hence, “Port” and “Portugal” are inexorably linked in our collective wine consciousness. However, there’s more to Portugal than just Port. Or is there? (Yes.) This week we’ll find out what, exactly.

Whites. There are a ton of white varietals in Portugal that we may not have tried before, including Encruzado, Gouveio, Viosinho, Malvasia Fina, and Maria Gomes. (This meeting will be a great opportunity for those vying for entry into the wine century club! Geek it up, baby.) The Winos have had a few bottles of Vinho Verde, that crisp and slightly effervescent quaffer that’s made to drink young… and may just be an ideal aperitif for your holiday hors d’oeuvres. When you get your bottle of white, see if you can find out (via the label, the internet, whatever) which grapes are included in the blend!

Reds. Here’s where things will really get interesting. Portugal boasts some of the most underrated and unknown value reds in Europe. According to Karen MacNeil, “they range from light and fruity to supple and spicy with dense plum and raspberry flavors.” Will we discover the perfect wine for your holiday main course? Methinks we will. Major grapes include Touriga Nacional, Baga, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), and Periquita — as well as some plantings of Cabernet, Syrah, etc.

Port. The legendary dessert wine stands alone in its association with the holiday season. It’s massive and flavorful… the perfect way to wind down a long winter’s night. Unfortunately, it’s a bit overwhelming to try to taste a bunch in a row (as we discovered one sad day). Lets cap the “Port presence” at two: if you have a Port that you love and you’re dying to share it, or you’ve heard great things about a particular bottle, please indicate in your RSVP that you’d like to bring a Port. First-come first-served on that one, as a meeting full of Ports would be a huge disaster. (Same goes for anyone wishing to bring a Madeira dessert wine… please contact me.)

As an aside, a few of us had the pleasure of tasting an ’03 “Late Bottled Vintage” Port this weekend, next to a roaring fire, with some Stilton cheese. Port and Stilton is one of the most endearing wine-food pairings ever, and this weekend we learned why. Wow. (Suffice to say, there will be Stilton present!)

Kristen has the keys to a beautiful house perched high on a hill in Tarzana, and she’s graciously offered to welcome the Winos to its lofty locale this Thursday. The RSVP system functions like this: if you want in, you click on this link and tell me so (don’t forget your full name, e-mail address, and a cute message conveying to me your intentions). Priority is given to long-term members but seats are also reserved at each and every meeting for new people. If you’re denied entry due to a meeting exceeding capacity, don’t worry — you’ll be at the top of the list the next week.

Once you’ve received your confirmation e-mail, go out and find yourself a relevant bottle of Portuguese wine (or just grab a crisp $10 bill). Lets save the holidays together on Thursday at 9pm.