One of the most interesting things about appreciating wine is discovering new wines and growing regions. This week Portuguese producer Herdade do Esporão introduced their premium offerings at a dinner prepared by chef Anthony Bombaci at Nana atop the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas. Leading the tasting was Esporão winemaker David Baverstock, an Aussie who has worked in Portugal for over a decade and now, as he puts it, speaks more Portuguese than English.
One unavoidable feature of the Portuguese wine landscape is exposure to previously unheard of grape types. Treat them as intriguing, rather than ‘weird’. Portugal has 250 indigenous wine grapes so you could, in principle, drink a wine made from a different grape every day, Monday through Friday, for a year. This would still leave the problem of what to drink at the weekends of course.
From this week’s tasting two reserve wines are of particular merit. The 2008 Esporão Reserva White ($20) is a blend of three grapes, Antão Vaz, Arinto and Roupeiro. It is a bright, straw-colored medium-high acid wine that has flavors of grapefruit and lemon. Its fruitiness and generous mouth feel mean that it can substitute for the ubiquitous Chardonnay as a quaffing wine, while its acidity makes it a substitute for Chardonnay with lobster or white fleshed fish.
The 2007 Esporão Reserva Red ($25) is a blend of Trincadeira, Aragonês (aka Tempranillo), Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouschet. It is a substitute for Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec or red Rhone wines with beef or lamb in terms of its suitability. However, it brings a completely different set of flavors to the table. Alicante Bouschet, in particular, is a variety to watch for in future. It has traditionally been a blending grape, even in well-known wines, where it brings opacity to wines that would otherwise be thin. Looking through a glass of Alicante Bouschet is like scuba diving in the Trinity River (but without the catfish). You can’t see though it. The grape (at least, in this incarnation) has the acid one normally associates with northern Italian wines such as Tuscan Sangioveses or Piedmont Dolcettos. This makes it better as a food wine than a quaffing wine. Nana served it with a tasty Grilled Filet of Beef, Foie Gras’ed Fingerling Potatoes, Creamy Goat Cheese, Zante Currants. I didn’t see anybody leave any of that uneaten.
Both of these wines are good value in my estimation. The jury will be more divided on the more expensive Private Selection line from Esporão. The 2005 Esporão Private Selection Red ($60) is made from Alicante Bouschet and Aragonês. It is a good and distinctive wine to be sure. But $60 good? As a friend in the trade told me a few months ago, “In this recession, $30 is the new $60”. Esporão also makes other wines, at lower price points. Expect to see more of them around Dallas