A crash course on reading Portuguese wine labels

IT IS now July, and the Algarve has taken on a holiday atmosphere. Tourists are flocking to this picturesque part of Portugal, and drinking plenty of wine. Unfortunately, many of them have a problem reading the labels, and fall back on familiar named wines. Hopefully this simple crash course on reading Portuguese labels will be of benefit.

If you are buying quality wine, the words to look for are “Denominação de Origem Controlada”. If you can’t get around that mouthful, look for the abbreviation DOC. The next tier down is “Indicação de Proveniência Regulamentada”. That’s an even bigger mouthful, but its abbreviation is IPR. What is the difference between DOC and IPR? At both levels the grape varieties are controlled, but an IPR wine is allowed a greater yield per acre than a DOC, so it could be more tannic. Being allowed a greater yield, means the grapes are pressed a second time to extract extra juice. Take two tea bags and two mugs of boiling water. Put a bag in each, but squeeze one for only 15 seconds. Then remove it. Squeeze the second bag for maybe five or six minutes. The latter will have a lot more tannins. It’s the same with the grape; you get greater quantity but less quality. “Vinho Regional (VR)” wines cover larger regions, allowing more grape varieties, greater yields, and are usually good value for money. The last in the tier is “Vinho de Mesa” (table wine). These wines are very reliable, and nearly all restaurants have a good one for their house wine.

Buying good quality wine doesn’t mean you will like it. We’ve all got different tastes, just as we have with aftershave and perfumes. The grapes are probably going to decide whether you like the wine or not, and as there are over 100 indigenous grapes grown in Portugal, I suggest you just get to know the popular ones.

Most bottles have the name of the grapes (castas) on the back label, with the first named grape being the predominant one. Reds can have full berry-fruit flavours from grapes, Castelão Francês (nicknamed Periquita), Trincadeira Preta, Aragones, Moreto and others. They can also be full-bodied dry reds from grapes such as, Touriga Nacional, Jaen, Tinta Roriz, Alfrocheiro and Bastardo. Bairrada wines from The Beiras are dominated by the Baga grape, between 75 per cent to 100 per cent. It’s a very full flavoured wine and not for quaffing. Enjoy it with a good spicy dish, like chicken Piri-Piri.

The white wines are dry and crisp, although some are fruity and fragrant. Fernão Pires, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato, Loureiro, and Gouveio are some of the white grapes to look for. I cannot tell you which wine you will like, whether it’s red or white. You are going to have to buy a bottle, try it, and decide yourself.

Remember to take note of the wine and grape varieties, and of course whether you liked it or not. If you go to a restaurant and you’re not sure of the wine list, ask the waiter. They know their wines here in Portugal, and know how to serve them. You’ll usually find the staff very helpful in assisting you to choose. Failing that, go for the Vinho Mesa (House Wine).

I hope Sir Cliff Richard was not unduly upset by remarks made to him by Gordon Ramsey. Ramsey is very good at trying to “rubbish” people, and takes a sadistic pleasure out of it. Nobody could “rubbish” him, because he just wouldn’t understand it. He thinks that people go to Claridges to eat his food. Most people don’t even know of him. Some may know his foul language all right, but if that’s his claim to fame, then he can join the millions of other people who also have that claim.

So Sir Cliff couldn’t identify his own wine. When was the bottle of wine opened, I ask? Don’t bother answering that Ramsey, I wouldn’t believe you. Aren’t you the same Ramsey who produced a vegetarian dish for a customer, and put meat in it? You thought that was clever, and boasted, saying “I made a vegetarian eat meat”. What a small-minded person. Sir Cliff said the wine was tainted, insipid and tasted like vinaigrette. If wine is left open too long, which is what I think happened, then the acid becomes volatile and the wine tastes like vinegar. The wine could have been tainted by a bad cork, which would in itself mask the true flavour of the wine. You say you’re now using this wine for vinaigrette in Claridges. Vinegar with herbs, salt and pepper, yes, but a volatile wine? I don’t think so “chef”. The big question is how can Claridges or anyone else trust someone who purposely put meat in a vegetarian dish? I was surprised that Sir Cliff agreed to a blind tasting. I have been in the business for nearly 50 years, and I would never agree to such a tasting. That’s one rule I was taught, and as a buyer, I never bought a “pig in a poke”. Ramsey you’re acting like a spoiled child. Why don’t you grow up!

And Sir Cliff, guys like Ramsey are just waiting to have a go. Don’t give them the opportunity. Ignore them.

Next: Alsace


• If you have any questions, you can e-mail me at [email protected]