Does Verdelho even stand a chance in a world where hordes of Chardonnay drinkers are loath to try something new, much less something they can’t pronounce?
Pedro Lopes Vieira is banking on it. North American sales manager for Esporão, a winery in Portugal’s Alentejo region, Pedro was in Ohio recently to promote his wines made primarily from indigenous grapes like Verdelho and Trincadeira.
“It’s what Portugal does best,” he said at a wine dinner at Sergio’s Sarava on Shaker Square in Cleveland. Getting people over the grape hurdle is, he admits, the toughest part of his job.
But what we tasted that night proved that it’s well worth the leap. We began with Alandra White, a casual, non-vintage blend whose crisp, dry, minerally taste accentuated Caldo Verde, a traditional Portuguese soup made from potatoes, onions, garlic, greens and chorizo. Priced under $10, this is a wine that could easily land in my cellar as my summer go-to white.
But it was the 2010 Esporão Verdelho (about $16) that really got my mouth watering. Lovely stone fruit aromas paved the way for fresh, natural richness on the palate, the wine’s lush tropical fruit a perfect foil to the salt cod cakes accompanying it. This grape, once important in Madeira production, is now used to make dry table wines that are, said Pedro, “very adaptable and compatible.”
I was completely won over by the charming 2010 Monte Velho Red (about $10), with its pretty, wild berry aroma and complex layers of rich, bright fruit. It’s made from a blend of traditional indigenous grapes, including Tinta Roriz, better known to us as Tempranillo. Minimal aging retains its fresh character, making it easy to pair with food, and at this price, here’s another case for my cellar.
Our high-end selection for the evening was Esporão Reserva Red, 2008 (about $25), a mature wine with pronounced tannins, fairly brawny yet approachable, that stands up well to hearty meats. Aged in American oak, it’s a blend of four grapes, including Alicante Bouschet and a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon to bring depth and structure to the wine.
We finished off the evening with 2010 Esporão Late Harvest (about $20/375ml), a delicate, ethereal Semillon grown in a high altitude vineyard – a pleasant departure in a dessert wine from a country known for its heavy, rich, fortified ports and madeiras.
I have long been a fan of Portuguese table wines for their generally consistent quality at a reasonable price. Yes, they are made from grapes that are unfamiliar to many wine drinkers. I think that’s a plus. We already know plenty of Chardonnays. Let’s make some new friends.