Aragonês et al... Saúde!

Welcome to Alentejo, the part of the country tucked away along the southern border with Spain. The land is fertile -- paradoxically not the best conditions for winemaking but a good place to start acquainting oneself with the wines of the region. With a long hot and arid growing season, Alentejo offers wines that are inexpensive and often charming beyond their rustic charms.

Alentejo has another claim to fame in the winemaking world, one that is much more prestigious: the mostly flat countryside doubles as for a hotspot for harvesting cork. Unfortunately it is in this milieu that Alentejo has received the most acknowledgement. But now, with the invention of other wine stoppers, this niche seems to be as much on the wane as Portugal's upstart vintners are on the way up. Alentejo will fight for its long-time specialization, which is currently being revved up in a new promotional effort. (Eagle eyes at Vinosense have just pointed this out.)

For now, many cork trees continue to dot the landscape. And it's safe to say that locals will never be at a loss for a proper seal for their characteristic red wine: full and agreeable with emphasis on fruit and spice. Without ado, the wine!

Vinha do Monte 2003 alentejo portuguese wineSogrape's Vinha do Monte 2003 is a fun, flavourful wine. It is not incredibly dry, and instead of tannins, a strong grapefruitiness provides plenty of acidity to create balance. It's not often that citrus flavour comes through in a red but I would say that when it does, it doesn't necessarily means the bottle is off. Vinha do Monte is a case in point, because the fruit-based acidity strikes a balance for this blend. It creates a kind of structure that absent tannins cannot.

Certainly, this wine is all about fruit. From the spicy plummy goodness on the nose, to the juicy, pungent and fleshy matter on the palate. Instantly evocative of spice and candied fruits, light to medium bodied and amicable with a variety of foods. Hints of chocolate wrapped in a noticeable herbal astringency are also noted. While this bottle is a blend, the main component is Aragonês, a grape variety that goes by the name Tinta Roriz or Tempranillo in other areas of the Iberian Peninsula. The grape is known for its spiciness. It is an immediately gratifying wine, ready to drink, which is partly why it is so much fun. You could also decant it for looks but this is a wine that does not need its rough edges softened through the process of oxidation.

altano 2003 douro portuguese wineMade primarily of the same Portuguese regional grape (though situated in a different, more northern region of Portugal) is a wine that definitely does require aeration. The Altano 2003 produced by the Symington Family Estates makes for quite a counterpoint. For here is the most serious wine you can buy for such a low pricepoint, and we're not just talking about from Portugal but from virtually anywhere.

Full-bodied and replete with matter, notes of tobacco, this wine is also chocolatey, much more so than the Monte. In fact there's a earthiness about the Douro that renders it to an entirely different register. It's simply jam-packed with dense and intense fruit. But you might not know it in the first hours of uncorking -- this wine is shy. Should you open and immediately serve this Douro, greenness and bitterness overshadows the structure, the power, and the generosity that lies within. You ought to decant this bottle for a least an hour to arrive at its heart.

1 comment:

Tim Jacobs said...

I love Altano--a great suggestion and tremendous value. Another fab Portuguese wine is Jose Maria da Fonseca 'Primum' Red. Very tasty.