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Friday 10 February 2017

Wines of Tejo, Portugal

Tejo wines with Sarah Abbott at 67 Pall Mall

When it comes to Portugal, I tend to think what I always thunk - I'm not really sure what to make of the country.

Sure it makes nice wines; there is plenty of interesting stuff to find. But what is the essence of Portugal - what is its intrinsic, essential identity?

I have no idea.

Portugal has over 600 native varieties and whilst I could name a handful, I can't necessarily characterise them or tell you which regions and which grapes go together. There is no Portuguese equivalent of Loire Sauvignon, Argentinean Malbec or Barossa Shiraz.

Rather like South Africa, Portugal's diversity is, in the first instance, a barrier to easy understanding rather than a virtue.
Also like South Africa, Portugal has a long and complex social history that is perhaps the better jumping-off point for an understanding of the country - rather than the minutiae of grapes, terroirs and techniques.

Until the early-C20th, it was a rural, aristocratic nation with grand farmhouses, horses and falconry. Like Britain, it also had a sea empire.

Then cames the dictatorship and the days of cheap, rustic supermarket plonk - Mateus rosé anyone?

Finally, Portugal emerges, blinking into the sunlight of democracy and a new wave of winemakers starts focusing on quality.

Portugal, like Britain, lies isolated on the Atlantic fringe of the European continent - the barren waste lands of Spain being as much of a barrier as the English Channel.

Its down-at-heel, faded aristocracy is somehow familiar and reassuring to the British with whom the country, uniquely, shares a time zone.
At this Tejo tasting, I tried elegant fizz, aromatic and oaky whites, rosés, juicy and substantial reds and a couple of dessert wines.

There were varietal wines and blends; indigenous grapes alongside Chardonnay and Syrah. Some wines were Rhone-esque, some Bordelais.

Tasting 30 or so wines, I came away with no better, more-nuanced understanding of Portugal's oenology than when I started.

Yes, the wines are good, well-made and interesting.

Yes, you should try them.

But I can't especially tell you where to start or which international style they are most like.
For that you need either to go to Portugal itself and get a first-hand understanding of the area. Or failing that, find a friendly wine merchant with a good Portuguese range who will help you navigate your way.

Nick Oakley of Oakley Wines specialises in the wines of Portugal and Northwest Spain and says:

I recommend Quinta do Casal Branco wines - Terra de Lobos is entry level and in screwcap. They also make a finer wine called Falcoaria in red and white. Very poised.

I would also recommend the wines of Lagoalva, available through Lance Foyster. Tejo has the benefit of high production levels, sound quality and affordability. It's the engine room of Portuguese agriculture, and wine is no exception.

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