Roll over, Mateus!

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At one time, Portuguese wine meant Mateus Rosé, a fizzy sweet drink that became hugely popular in the 1970’s. It appeared in characteristic flask-like bottles, many of which ended up as table lamps, considered chic by some people but distinctly naff by others. Nevertheless, Mateus Rosé is still being churned out.

Today, Portugal has a great deal to offer the serious wine-lover. They have been making table wines there since ancient times and the country has its own repertoire of grape varieties too, exotically named things that might raise an eyebrow if you haven’t heard of them before. They include grapes like the Alfrocheiro Preto, the Bastardo, the Castelão Frances, the Encruzado, the Fernão Pires, the Mourisco and the Esgana Cão, but there are dozens more. The last one by the way, means “Dog Strangler” but whether this is a description of the fiercely acidic wine it produces, I don’t know.

Both the wines this week come from the distinguished Portuguese family company of Aliança, which was founded in 1927 and now has wine estates all over the country. Today, over half their wines are exported.

Aliança Vinho Verde (white), Portugal. (Wine Connection Bt. 499)

Vinho Verde comes from the Minho, up in the North-West of Portugal – a land of fertile hills and one of the most agriculturally productive areas in the country. Many growers train their vines high off the ground, up trees, fences, and even on telephone poles. This prevents the grapes from becoming too hot and creates additional space to cultivate crops below the vines. The name means “green wine” and refers more to the fact that it has a youthful freshness, rather than the colour. These wines are to be consumed young, so most producers don’t even bother putting the year on the label. This example from Aliança is absolutely text-book and one of the best you are likely to find. It’s made from another two indigenous Portuguese grapes, the Pedema and the Azal.

In the glass, it is a slightly sparkling pale gold. Hints of green too, since you asked. There’s a refreshing aroma of apples, lime and floral overtones. The mouth-feel is unmistakable: very spritzy, crisp, plenty of green fruit and a lively tang of acidity. It’s very dry with just the slightest hint of lemony sweetness on the palate. It’s light-bodied too; typically very low in alcohol (9%) and with a longish finish with apples up-front. This wine has been described in the press as, “one of the best Vinho Verdes ever”. If you want to try something different you can’t go wrong with this. Although the label gives food suggestions (salad, seafood, and chicken) to my mind, this would make the perfect apéritif. Serve it as cold as you dare.

Casal Mendes Rosé (pink), Portugal. (Wine Connection, Bt. 399)

This wine is a real winner. It comes in an elegant tapered liqueur-style bottle and is made from a Portuguese grape variety known as the Baga, which is barely known elsewhere. The wine is a vibrant light pink-orange and has a refreshing fruity aroma of strawberries and raspberries, with a faint aroma of herbs and grass in the background. It is slightly dry and very light-bodied, with delicate fruit on the taste and just the faintest hint of sweetness. “Off-dry” would perhaps be the best description. There’s a good dash of refreshing acidity too, giving it a zesty lively mouth-feel.

This wine has a lively spritzy quality (but not as fizzy as champagne) and there’s an attractive peppery finish with a dash of strawberry too. This wine also comes from the Aliança Company and is the third largest rosé brand in Portugal. It’s a superbly made wine, yet at only about 10% alcohol, a delightful easy-drinker. Served really cold, this would make an exciting and interesting apéritif.

Wine-writer Oz Clarke recently wrote of this Casal Mendes wine, “What a rosé! This is the perfect accompaniment to a hot summer’s day.”  That just about says it.