Wine Experience of the Week – White Hot

Summer has arrived in Portugal with a bang, along with a bit of a shock to the system. The last few days have been well above 30°C. Yesterday and today it’s nudging 40°C. I grew up in Australia, so I know what a long hot summer is all about, however the last few years I have spent in Northern Europe have softened me a little. To prove to myself I can still manage the warm weather, I decided to go to Dia do Vinho (day of wine) at the Castelo de Palmela. So with 45°C showing on the car’s thermometer, I drove off in search of some wine from the Peninsular de Setúbal region.

They build castles on top of hills you know… Up there with a view to the very tempting Atlantic Ocean on one side and the plains of the Alentejo in the distance on the other, the sun was beating down on the sandstones making it like an oven. The wind was hot and dry too, so the oven was fan forced… Never the less with glass in hand I set about discovering the wines of a few new producers in this region. I saw some familiar faces, many familiar brands, but I was happy to find a few new producers I had not sampled before.

Even with the valiant attempts of the very friendly people representing their wineries, the red wines were just too warm to be enjoyed fully. The whites however were extremely refreshing! I have written a lot on the red wines from Portugal. They are so interesting and varied here that I will not get sick of them any time soon. However, in the heat of the day, I am rarely going to be looking at a big rich meal to go with a red wine. Fortunately, Portugal’s wine producers are tuned in to this need and are producing some very interesting and, as always, great value white wines too.

I tried a few from Cooperativa De Pegoes, Xavier Santana, Bacalhoa, Cooperativa de Palmela. Each using similar grapes, apart from Bacalhoa who were making a very interesting Semillon-Alvarinho . The main grape varieties for white wine production in this region are Arinto, which is usually used to blend with other white grapes to give the wine some extra lemony acid to the wines. Fernão Pires, which has a more floral character. The other white grape is Antão Vaz. This produces a finer, smoother and a subtler wine, so blending it with the other grapes makes sense, however it also makes a great single varietal wine.

This week’s Wine Experience of the Week is the Herdade da Comporta 2009 Antão Vaz. Herdade da Comporta is a part of the Setubal Peninsular region, although it is situated on the other side of the Sado River from Setubal… The old term for the region was Terras do Sado, which makes a lot more sense for this winery, but I am not sure if we need other region developed just for this winery. The wine itself has a very pale color with aromas of lemon peel and pineapple. Tasting the wine give you a delicate flavor of tropical fruit and lemon, but ends with some light acid and dryness, which is fantastic on a hot day. It goes well with seafood, fish or even a light salad. Alternatively, you could just sip it by the beach on its own. You need to be careful with it though, despite the light pallet, it does pack in 14% alcohol. At around €8 it is fabulous value for quite an elegant and very tasty wine.

If you have not tried Portuguese white wines before, this varietal would be a good place to start. It is different to your traditional white varietals, but not so different it will distract you from the pleasure of experiencing it. Then if you like it, you may want to venture toward some other whites from Portugal!

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