Viva Portugal!

So let’s face it. We don’t really know jack about Portugal, do we? If you had a similar educational experience like me in the American public school system, we all learned about Portuguese explorer Christopher Columbus, right? Well, it seems his heritage may be disputed and by birth he’s actually Italian. So there goes that little bit of Portuguese history we thought we knew. Okay, but I still remember Vasco de Gama and Ferdinand Magellan. There. Dispute THAT elementary school world history teachers. Other than that, the only thing I’ve learned about Spain’s Iberian neighbor is a bit about their wines.

To say I know their wines isn’t saying much. Portugal, like much of Europe, have been under vine for centuries, thanks to ancient cultures. Yet unlike many others that share the continent with them, we just haven’t had much exposure to their wines. Why is that? I can only imagine it has to do with the decisions of marketing and exporting companies over the years. The better known European wine regions dominated the marketplace, perhaps just by name recognition alone. When any Portuguese wines did arrive on our shores it was often a result of Port houses packing in their regular wines to “tag along” for the ride in the cargo containers with their fortified bretheren.

Things have started to change for Portuguese wines. It reminds me of about 15 years ago when the South American wine boom seemed to really be taking hold of the value wine market. Flooded, rather. New wineries were popping up in Argentina and Chile like prairie dogs. (Insert Chile-dogs joke here). It was mass amounts of bulk-run juice from new vineyards, new producers, and old European producers playing the “flying winemaker” game.

Portugal is a different kind of deal because it has always been there and has always been doing their own thing. The major challenge is marketing these wines for new export. The price may be appealing, but it’s going to be uncharted territory for a good majority of wine shoppers. Most folks know what a Chianti or Bordeaux is, or could point out the regions on a map, or know what grapes make up many regional European wines. But who knows what region Dao is? Or Estremadura? What the heck is a Trajadura grape? Or Encruzado? It’s all new territory and it’s going to be learning more lessons.

All that said, let’s get to the meat of the matter for the day. Here we have the Carim “Terras D’El Rei”, both red and white. We find them around here for $6.99. And they’re both full 1-Liter bottles, so that stretches the value out a little bit. They hail from the Alentejano region of Portugal. The producer and importer’s websites gave conflicting information from what the bottles themselves stated, and the online photos didn’t match the labels.So I’m going to be relying on the information that is actually on the bottle.

The white lists on the bottle the grapes Síria and Rabo-de-Ovelha. Ever heard of them? No? No big surprise there. They’re Portuguese varieties, only used in Portugal, chances are. The wine is dry and light with more herbaceous and spicy characteristics than fruit, so if you prefer a full-bodied white, like the Chardonnays and Viogniers, this probably won’t make you happy. But being light and dry it works great as a simple sipper while cooking dinner or hanging with friends. Or both.

The red lists on the bottle the grape varieties Trincadeira, Aragonez and Castelão. Never heard of those either? Nope? Well, Castelão and Trincadeira are Portuguese, like the previously mentioned white grapes, but the Aragonez is the Portuguese name for Tempranillo, the noble grape varietal of Spain. Yes, just to make thing even more confusing, right? It’s a medium-bodied red, with more spice than fruit, dry and not very showy, and feels oddly thin. I haven’t really enjoyed it as much as the white, but the flavors do seem to be growing on me and it seems to have some hidden complexity to it that still gives it some value.

I’ve tried a vast number of these less expensive Portuguese wines and if I could sum up the general feel of all of them I would list them as dry, subtle, gamey, at times harsh and dirty, and often with off-putting flavors. This makes them sound terrible. They aren’t terrible. They are definitely a different collective entity from their fellow European counterparts and might take a bit more understanding for the American palate to comprehend. It could be that’s the real reason why we haven’t seen much of the Portuguese wines here. Perhaps they’re just too different.

But, hey. For 7 bucks, maybe it’s a pretty cheap way to expand your horizons.

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