Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Portuguese for the dinner table

In the english-speaking world, Portuguese wine has two very well established faces. The first, and most esteemed is Port (Oporto) in all its variations. For richness and intensity of impact, for sheer ability to put a punctuation mark at the end of a meal there is nothing to match it. On the other end of the spectrum we have a host of rosés and vinhos verdes: light and refreshing and, for a generation of Americans, often the introduction to the pleasures of wine.

There have always been a handful of wines in the middle, luscious table wines-mostly from the same Duoro valley that produces port- that recalled the complexity of vintage port or the earthy intensity of a ripe bordeaux. Sadly, these wines are only occasionally available in the American market: Barca Velha is 'declared' like a port, reliable Quinta do Crasto is hard to find and yummies from other regions, Alentejo for instance only show up rarely.

So it's exciting to be able to report reliable supplies of two outstanding table wines from Cortes de Cima. The richer entry is the eponymous Cortes de Cima, ($15US) a blend of Tempranillo, Syrah and Trincadeira. The 2002 vintage showed generous portions of berries with a hint of evergreen, vanilla and raisins against an earthy, licorice background. The color is deep and bright and there's a healthy acidity and a sturdy 14.5% alcohol to keep the whole thing afloat. Serve with intensely flavored, firm textured food. We got the best results decanting several hours ahead of dinner and serving at a cool, cellar temperature.

In the days of increasingly internationalized wine, this one is unmistakably from Portugal and we should be glad of it. From the same vintner comes the softer, more cherry-like Chaminé ($8US), an easy-drinking fruit basket with lots of depth. There's lots of ripe fruit and spice on the nose and the 14% alcohol gives a generous mouth-feel. Except for one mis-match with tomato sauce, this was a delicious choice with dinner.

Both wines are wonderful and at these price points represent unusual values.

Lynn Hoffman, author of The New Short Course in Wine and the spicy, generous novel bang BANG.

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