I was invited to experience a wide range of Portuguese wines at a luncheon hosted at the still-hot Wildebeest in Gastown yesterday. We tasted eight wines in the downstairs wine bar before heading up for a three-course paired luncheon.
The restaurant’s interior is group-friendly, making it easy to discuss wines while admiring the wood tables and interior decor, something reminiscent of an old school meets repurposed 19th century architecture.
Iain and Barb Philip led the tasting. Portugal has an exciting diversity of wines, and has resisted the temptation over the years to produce varieties sold around the world, instead focusing and maintaining indigenous varieties. While many of the country’s wines are difficult to pronounce, they are delicious and in keeping with Portugal’s long history of blended wine production by region.
A single vineyard here can contain one soil type in one area and a completely different type in another. Portugal ranks eighth in the world and is the 12th largest producer globally.
As wine remains a large part of food culture there, a smaller amount is exported.
Formerly a conglomerate of nine different wine cooperatives with little care for quality control, Portuguese wine production has experienced an amazing revolution in the last 15 to 20 years. Production is in the hands of smaller winemakers eager to produce top quality varietals.
And here are the wines.
Dao Sul Cabriz Espumante Bruto ($14.99) – This is a lighter grape from the Dao region, and a crisp wine produced in the traditional method. Portugal has a great amount of bubble, particularly from the Barrarda region. There’s a lot of acidity in this wine. Dao Sul Cabriz was started by four wine lovers who wanted to get a quality wine on the market.
Quinta do Ameal Loureiro ($16.99) – The cool, northern climate of Vinho Verde produces wines that are low in alcohol with zing. Grapes are lucky to grow in this area; traditionally the grapes were picked at an early stage, imparting less flavour. The yields have recently been reduced to five tons, using different farming techniques in order to get riper grapes.
Casa das Gaeiras Branco ($14.99) – This wine is new to the market and produced in the windiest, coolest parts of the Lisboa region. Not a lot of aging occurs in the oak, making this a wine with citrus qualities. The grapes aren’t left that long on the vine either. Parras is a company that sources small wineries in smaller regions, helping growers to both produce the wine and get it to market.
Quinta do Crasto Branco 2010 ($24.99) – This one’s grown in the Douro, the same region where port is produced. This crisp white has 12% alcohol and imparts a peach character. I found it both rich and soft, and would pair it with aged cheese. It’s produced in 100% stainless steel barrels.
Van Zeller Quinta Vale de Maria 2008 ($39.99) – This one had an amazing buttery aroma on the nose and was by far my favourite of the reds poured. The wonderful velvety finish reminded me of Cabernet Sauvignon. 2008 is apparently an excellent vintage for this one.
Udaca Touriga Nacional 2007 ($25.99) – Historically, the Dao region (where this wine is produced) is better known for its reds. This wine is drier, with ripe tannins.
Parras Cavalo Bravo 2009 ($12.98) – The Cavalo is lighter in colour and higher in acid, making for a fruit-friendly wine. This winery is also one of the first to boldly move away from cork closures and use a screw cap.
Jose Maria da Fonseca Periquita Reserva ($17.99) – I found a light bouquet of fruits in this one. Periquita dates back to the 1850′s, Portugal’s first brand of bottle wine. In fact, Periquita became synonymous with Castellano grapes, due to its enormous and lasting popularity. The wine spends eight months in French and American oak.
Quinta do Chocapalha Arinto ($17.99) – This wine is prized for its ability to retain acidity; its grapes are grown across Portugal. It contains light fruit aromas with a slight feeling of Riesling in its makeup. I tasted lychee at the back of the palate. A gem oyster with sorrel foam and pickled shallot, as well as a scallop with compressed kohlrabi and sea buckthorn (a curious little berry grown inland) accompanied the Arinto. The berries just came alive with the wine, or was it the other way around?
Capitao Rayeo Reserva ($13.99) – This is a fun little red. This wine maker produces one third of the country’s wine. The Reserva’s got a light body, is jammy in texture, and blended with three grapes: Trincadeira, Syrah, and Aragonez. We enjoyed this with the main course: honey-glazed duck breast, with a selection of root vegetables from North Pemberton.
Dow’s LBV Port 2005 ($25.99) – A fantastic finish to our lunch, the Dow’s was paired with chocolate cheesecake, rhubarb, and malt soil. An abundance of rich decadent tastes and sips to round off the meal.
Wildebeest is located at 120 West Hastings Street in Vancouver’s Gastown district.