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Wine Talk – End-of-year wine thoughts

Patrick Stuart reflects on unusual year as a wine lover

I expect that some of my regular readers have been missing what was my weekly column in the Resident over the last 10 years or so, for in spite of my best efforts to send in a weekly contribution, my column has dwindled to just one or two articles a month.

It all started at the beginning of the year when I embarked on my first ever intentionally dry January, after which I decided that rather than drinking wine every day, I would change my habits and stay dry for four days each week.

I am probably partly to blame for recent reports in the press about the drop in wine sales around the world. The fact is, I have been buying and drinking far less wine. In addition to this, back in March, I caught a horrible dose of what wives call man-flu, resulting in a total loss of taste and smell for over three months (and no, it was not Covid).

All in all, it has been extremely difficult to taste enough different wines each week in order to find something worth writing about, hence the reduced number of my wine columns.

Anyway, I have had a few relevant wine moments over the year, the first of which was back in February when I tried the fabulous “naked woman” wine from Quinta da Pellada. This Dão red is what I will be drinking with my Christmas dinner this year and it is difficult to think of a better wine to pair with my mixed table of roast turkey and beef.

The wine is made from a field blend of old Dão vines mixed with 20% Touriga Nacional, and only part of the blend is aged in used oak. It is the savoury notes on the nose that make this wine so special, but the finesse and elegance do full justice to the abstract rendering of a naked woman on the label.

champagne bottle

The wine is known as “mulher nua” (naked woman in Portuguese), and the actual name on the label, ‘pelada’ (meaning stripped), is a clever play on words based upon the name of the producer Quinta da Pellada (spelled with two Ls). It’s not cheap at €39.95*, but worth every cent.

Christmas would not be Christmas without some nice Port to go with our cheese and, unless we have the budget for a real vintage, the next best thing, in my opinion, is an LBV (Late Bottled Vintage).

When shopping for an LBV, my rule of thumb is always to look for ports that were not made in vintage years. The reason is that, in vintage years, the best grapes are used for the high price-tag vintage ports and what is left over ends up in the LBV. But with so many years having been declared as vintage over the last decade or so, they are becoming very hard to find.

This year, there is a large selection of LBVs on the shelves at Apolónia, but all are from the vintage years 2016, 2017 and 2018. I have tried a few of them and, for example, was very disappointed with the LBV from one of the top producers Quinta do Noval, costing €24.99, which tastes a bit “green” and really not ready for drinking.

A good choice is the 2017 LBV from Poças, costing a bit less at €17.95, with bundles of upfront dark berry fruit on the nose, smooth and rounded in the mouth with soft tannins. Ideally suited to pair with strong cheeses such as Stilton or a nice Portuguese Queijo da Serra.

My Christmas article in this newspaper also always includes a mention of fortified Moscatel wine, and specifically Alambre 20-Years-Old, which I still consider to be the best partner for mince pies and Christmas cake.

Only a few years ago, the price for the small 50cl bottles was around €30, but, like everything else, it has gone up and now costs close to €40*. But given the quality, it still takes some beating for the money.

And finally for bubbles, I am going to stick to pink. Value-for-money-wise, my suggestion is the Brut Rosé from Soalheiro (€18.95*), made from the Alvarinho grape blended with a touch of Touriga Nacional. Immensely fresh on the nose with predominant citric notes and hints of strawberry; a fine and persistent bubble leads to a long clean finish.

Finally, I have to congratulate whoever it was on the marketing team either of SMEG kitchens or of the Laurent-Perrier Champagne house for the brilliant idea of encasing their pink bubbles for this Christmas in a natty pink, tin-box replica of a SMEG fridge. The quality of this NV Champagne (€74.95*) goes without saying and it makes for a great gift.

*All prices quoted are at Apolónia Supermarkets; prices may differ elsewhere.

And now for a Portuguese whisky

Woodwork Whisky

If you’re looking for a gift to surprise and please a whisky lover, why not try one of the first whiskies ever made in Portugal? The whiskies are made at the Vanakki Distillery in the town of Alpiarça, near Santarém, and a selection of their single malts can be found at the Garcias wine and spirit shop near Portimão. Prices start at around €70 for the single malts going up to over €300. The whole range can be seen on the producer’s website –portuguesewhisky.com

In the photo is an example costing €110 on the website, first matured in a Bourbon barrel for three years with further ageing for an undisclosed number of years in a freshly-emptied, rare Portuguese brandy cask. The whiskey has an exotic fruity nose and highly concentrated flavour, similar in style to a good Japanese whisky.

By Patrick Stuart
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