The story of wine in Portugal is at its heart a paradox: home to some of the world's oldest greatest and best known wines, yet years of poor political leadership and oceans of plonk wine have all but destroyed the once great reputation. Portugal has a history of winemaking that goes back thousands of years. Long before the Romans and Moors came through the native people of the southwestern Iberian Peninsula were making wine with indigenous grapes. During the Age of Discovery Portugal became a major world power, with Prince Henry the Navigator, sending his armada around the globe.
Most famous for Porto, the fortified wine of the Douro, Portugal has some of the oldest recognized wines in the world. The wines of Portugal were famous throughout the world, Madeira was favorite of the young American colonies, and was even used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
With the decline of colonial power the wine industry in Portugal fell on hard times. During the 20th century the wine industry was hit with the double blow of fascist dictatorship and cheap jug wine (Mateus and Lancers). In 1974, "The Carnation Revolution" put an end to 5 decades of dictatorship and in 1986 Portugal entered the European Union. With membership came foreign investment and complete overhaul of the wine industry.
Today, Portugal represents one of the Best Value wine producing regions in the world. The combination of ancient wine growing traditions and modern technology means that you can buy a wine with outstanding pedigree made from ancient vines for a relative bargain. The Prazo de Roriz is a great example of what I am talking about. Crafted by Prats & Symington family, Port producers since 1882, and Bruno Prats, former owner of the famed Chateau Cos d'Estournel. The wine demonstrates the incredible potential of combining winemaking expertise from the Douro Valley and Bordeaux, two of the world's best wine regions.
QUINTA DE RORIZ "PRAZO DE RORIZ" DOURO 2015 $14.99
The 2015 Prazo de Roriz is a roughly equal blend of Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barroca, with small bits of Tinta Roriz and Tinta Amarela, aged for six months in used French oak. This is typically a good value. This might be my favorite in some time. There isn't a lot of concentration in the mid palate and it isn't the type of wine you want to age for 20 years. It's not $50, either. It's a very nice bargain with many virtues. The fruit here is just gorgeous, vivid, pure and clean. The structure lifts it and delivers it beautifully to the palate. The texture is silky and the finish is just a bit tight. Overall, it is hard to lean up more on this since it doesn't have a lot of upside potential, but if you drink it over the next few years, you might like it even better than the score would suggest.
It's summer so I am grilling everything. A wine like the Prazo beckons for grilled meat. The traditional dish of Costelas Vinho d'alhos, roasted spare ribs, transfers well to the American barbecue grill.
Churrasco Style Pork Ribs (Costelas Vinho d'alhos)
4 - 6 pounds meaty pork spare ribs
3 Tablespoons piri-piri sauce
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons Soy
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup orange Juice and zest
¼ cup lime juiced
¼ lemon juiced
1 cup onion, minced
2 teaspoons oregano
½ cup Red wine
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
More oil for grill
1. Prep the ribs by removing any meat or fat that dangles from the bone side. Also trim any tough sinew (silver skin) on the meaty side. Remove the membrane on the bone side of the ribs. Cut into 3 bone segments.
2. Combine all ingredients for the marinade in the bowl of a blender and puree until well combined. Reserve a cup for basting.
3. Place prepared ribs in large container or Ziploc bag and cover with marinade. Marinate for 2 hours.
4. Prepare charcoal for grill and move coals to one side, you can put an aluminum pan on one side to catch drippings.
5. When grill is 250 degrees place ribs opposite side of the coals for indirect heat. Cook turning every 30 minutes for 3 hours. Brushing with marinade occasionally. If necessary add a few more coals to the fire.
6. Wrap ribs in foil and Cook for 1 or more hours until ribs pull away from meat.
7. For Oven: reheat the oven to 350 or 325 degrees F. according to the method of cooking.
8. To roast, reserve the marinade and place the pork in a roasting pan and cook at 350 degrees F. for about two hours, not more. Baste periodically with the marinade.
9. Serve with Potatoes, a big salad and a nice big red.
I'll admit for quite a while I was only familiar with two wines coming out of Portugal: Port (duh) and Vinho Verde. But there is a whole host of new and exciting Portuguese wines that need to get their due. Like the Encosta dos Curiosos, which I am now decreeing as My Official House Wine.
What do I love about the Encosta dos Curiosos (EC)? Well, it satisfies my penchant for the obscure and unusual. I can't say that I've had a wine that was a blend of these four grapes:
The EC also defied my shopworn stereotype of Portuguese reds. I always found them to be rustic, and I'm using rustic as a euphemism for hard-as-nails, tannic, and barnyard-y. (Clearly I was a Portuguese wine dilettante.) But the Encosta was light, refreshing, and gulpable. At only 12.5% alcohol, the EC's easy-going personality can play nice with a variety of everyday foods from burgers to pasta. And possibly a steak, especially if it was in taco form. Wash down some carne asada with a slightly chilled bottle of EC!
And with so much to love about the EC, what was the clincher to making it my house red? The astoundingly low price: 6 bucks. Take a flier on a bottle and come back for a case. (Before I buy it all myself.)
So what is your house wine?