To play by the rules, two entry level Portuguese wines will be discussed for this WBW:
2003 Pedra do Urso from the Beira Interior region
2006 Monte das Ânforas from the Alentejano region
Wine 1: 2003 Pedra do Urso
Price paid: $3 (2006 sale at Astor but this is available in Portugal for €3)
The Beiras region is located in north-central Portugal around the highest mountain ranges of the country, Serra da Estrela. Pedra do Urso (literally means the rock of the bear) is also a popular rock climbing site near the town of Covilhã with boulders scattered all over a high plateau at over 2500 feet.
Adega Cooperativa da Covilhã is the coop that produces Pedra do Urso. Initially, sale of bulk wines is the company’s main business since its inception in 1954. Since the 70’s, it has moved into producing and bottling their own wines. Today, the coop has almost 1200 members with around 1500 hectares of vines, producing around 4 million bottles per year.
Pedra do Urso is a red blend using grapes such as Marufo, Periquita and Touriga Nacional among others. It is not filtered and bottled 12 months after harvest. ABV is 12.5%
Color: Light ruby.
Nose: Port like aroma upon opening. After 30 minutes, aroma of red fruit pops out with a metallic (iron) undertone. Hints of smoke with continuous presence of bret (in a good way).
Palate: Sour cherry and salty olive flavor, hints of leather supported by bright acidity and light tannins.
Body: Light but smooth.
Finish: Short with primary red cherry notes.
Wine 2: 2006 Monte das Ânforas Tinto
Price paid: $6 (at Astor)
Vinho Regional Alentejano is located in the south east of Portugal, near the border of Spain. It is often referred to as the ‘bread basket’ of Portugal. Fertile lands are reserved for wheat growing while poorer soil is used for olive tree, oak and vineyards. In contrast to the hilly Beiras with cool climates, Alentejano is mostly flat plains where the climate is much warmer.
Monte das Ânforas is an entry-level wine produced at Herdade das Ânforas, one of the four wineries owned by Bacalhôa Vinhos de Portugal S.A. According to notes from the producer:
“The vineyards are located in three regions that are very well suited to Alentejano wine production: Portalegre, Borba and Moura. … the grapes are picked and quickly transported in small trucks to our “Monte das Ânforas” cellar in Arraiolos, where each grape variety, from each vine, undergoes separate vinification in small tanks (10 T). Part of the wine is then aged in Portuguese oak casks before it is bottled.”
2006 Monte das Ânforas Tinto is a blend of 40% Aragonez, 30% Trincadeira, 10% Alfrocheiro.
ABV is 13.5%.
Color: Dark ruby.
Nose: Cherry aroma in kool-aid style with a spearmint undertone, slightly alcoholic nose.
Palate: Soft and supple, fruit forward with flavors of high-toned cherry and raspberry jam, hints of rose petal. No noticeable tannins and very low acidity.
Body: Light but round.
Finish: Short and peppery with slightly bitter aftertaste. Fruit flavor is mostly cherry.
[Note] We finish this wine in 2 days. On the 2nd day, the flavor profile of Ânforas has actually changed to resemble a light Beaujolais with more intense cherry flavor and pronounced spiciness.
Interestingly, the website of Bacalhôa offers food pairing recommendation on most of their wines. For Monte das Ânforas Tinto, they suggest Grilled Octopus with potatoes. However, there is no food pairing suggestion for Pedra do Urso on the producer's website.
Pedra do Urso is much more traditional in style when compared to the Monte das Ânforas which has ‘in your face’ style fruit. Although both wines are drinking well now, Pedra do Urso can be cellared for 1-2 more years without seeing any significant decline. On the other hand, Monte das Ânforas has relatively low cellaring potential based on its lack of acidity.
In spite of their relatively monolithic flavor profiles and lack of character, there are far worse plonks from around the world at this price point. Are these 2 wines good? Not really! Are these 2 wines a true representaives of what Portuguese wine is about? Absolutely NOT! However, considering the price paid, both Pedra do Urso and Monte das Ânforas do provide good QPR values and fit the bill as simple 'Portuguese table wines'.
These wines DO complement a variety of food dishes of rich flavors due to their relatively low alcohol content. As an experiment, we took them to dinner with friends in a Chinese restaurant and ordered food such as chicken in scallion ginger sauce, sweet and sour pork chop, pan fried T-bone steak, stir fried vegetable with dried squid, casserole of eggplant cooked with salted fish and chicken. Both wine showed well in pairing with the above dishes.