Keeping it Portuguese for sparkling Christmas and New Year celebrations

I love Champagne, especially good Champagne. But the fact is that whilst most of us are happy to pay €30 or a great deal more for often mainstream and mass-produced Champagne, we tend to think twice before spending even €20 on a bottle of sparkling wine produced elsewhere.

Like many wine-producing countries around the world, Portugal produces excellent sparkling wine, and it is possible to enjoy very good Portuguese bubbles costing as little as €7 or €8 a bottle in the supermarket.

In the lower price range, look out for the wine of Filipa Pato and Marquês de Marialva, both in the Bairrada region, or those of the great producers mentioned below.

Last week, I took part in a small Portuguese sparkling wine tasting event at the Morgado do Quintão wine estate near Lagoa. They are soon to launch a sparkling wine of their own, but this event was not about their wine.

We tasted a cross section of nine Portuguese espumantes, accompanied by some absolutely delicious oysters from the Alvor estuary, and the tasting helped me to put together this article.

I have selected just three wines from the tasting that all stood out for one reason or another.

First is Vértice Gouveia. I last tried this wine some years ago from the 2009 vintage and was impressed. Vértice, located in the Douro region, is one of Portugal’s top sparkling wine producers. Even their entry level wines costing around €10 are excellent, but this is one of their special cuvées, made exclusively from the Gouveio grape only in exceptional years.

It is a wine designed for ageing and this 2013 vintage only recently made it to the market. On the nose, it seems young for its age, fresh white fruits and a touch of smokiness followed by deep flavour in the mouth (€25.95 at Apolónia).

The most impressive wine of the tasting, however, was undoubtedly Murganheira Millésime Bruto 2008 (costing €24.95 at Apolónia). Murganheira is located just to the south of the Douro in the Varosa valley and, like the above mentioned Vértice, is one of the great Portuguese sparkling wine houses.

The winery is famous for its blue granite caves that naturally maintain the same temperature all year round and, having visited myself some years ago, I can testify that this a winery well worth visiting.

Their Millésime wine is produced from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and, in the style of a vintage Champagne of a similar age, is showing its years with a pale golden hue. There are mature tropical and white fruit notes on the nose with a touch of brioche; in the mouth, a fine, very persistent bubble and great acidity lead to a lingering and seductive finish. I would like to see this in a blind tasting alongside some fine vintage Champagnes.

Finally, a wine that impressed us all at the tasting was the new espumante launched at the end of last year by Algarve producer João Clara from Alcantarilha. This is a production of just 1,400 bottles made from the Algarve’s indigenous Negra Mole grape, harvested in 2015 and bottle-aged for three years.

This is not the first sparkling wine to be made in the Algarve – that accolade goes to Adega do Cantor, then part-owned by Sir Cliff Richard, who made a sparkling wine to celebrate his 75 birthday, named Cantor 75. It was actually very good but is no longer on the market.

João Clara’s Negra Mole Blanc de Noirs Bruto is currently the only Algarve sparkling wine on the market and the first to be made from the Negra Mole grape. This is a wine of great freshness and elegance, not yet showing its age and an interesting take on this unique Algarve grape variety (€34.95 euros at Apolónia).

patrick.stuart@open-media.net