I must admit, I was nervous. It was the very first trade and media tasting opportunity since San Francisco emerged from the Orange Tier of COVID-19 status. But the organizers were insisting on proof of vaccination for entry and masks were required whenever not actively tasting. And since the wines were from Portugal, I decided to take the plunge at the end of September and go to the annual Wines of Portugal tasting in San Francisco.
The experience was a bit surreal after not being in a room with that many people for 2 years, but I quickly fell back into the groove of things, albeit with a bit more caution around when and where I spit and trying not to dive into a crush of tasters at any table that seemed popular.
So I took it slow and didn’t taste too much while I was there, only aiming for some interesting whites, a few reds, and a bunch of Madeiras, which I will review separately in the near future. When I attend public tastings like this, I typically taste and score a lot of wines, jotting only brief notes about the best wines. However, since this was my first such tasting in 2 years, I opted to go a bit slower, and take full tasting notes.
Unsurprisingly, there were some fantastic wines on offer, and most represented almost ridiculous values. I also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet an old friend, albeit one that has had an awful lot of “work done” in the 20 years since I last hung out with them. I’m speaking of one of my gateway wines, Mateus, Portugal’s answer to Sutter Home White Zinfandel. Since we last encountered one another, Mateus has gotten quite svelte, in a slimmed-down bottle, that has gone totally clear, the better to showcase the wine’s newly light-pink Provençal style. Mateus has given up sugar, as well, now offering a totally dry face to the world that, frankly, is pretty attractive. While it might seem a little odd to those of us who know Mateus’ age, being able to play with the young hot things on the beach in Ibiza deserves more than grudging respect.
Here are my highlights.
Note that some of these wines are not yet in the US in the vintages that were offered at this tasting. For instance, while some of the wines below are 2020 vintage, their importers are still selling the 2017s and 2018s.
2020 Carmim “Monsaraz Reserva” White Blend, Alentejo, Portugal
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon peel. In the mouth, gorgeous lemon peel, lemon pith, and wet chalkboard minerality have a lovely bright salinity and excellent acidity. Lovely and crisp and mouthwatering. A blend of 30% Gouveio, 60% Antão Vaz, and 10% Viosinho. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $25. click to buy.
2019 Quinta dos Roques Encruzado, Dão, Portugal
Pale gold in the glass this wine is wonderfully aromatic with hints of flowers and a very strong aroma of beeswax. In the mouth, bright lemon pith, grapefruit, and other citrus notes make for a very pithy, juicy, and bright mouthful, with a fantastic salty kick in the finish. Outstanding. Made from 100% Encruzado, a native grape to the Dao region, where it is sometimes also known as Salgueirinho. Partially destemmed and made 50% in steel, 50% in used French oak. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $24. click to buy.
2019 Quinta do Paral Vinhas Velhas White Blend, Alentejo, Portugal
Light gold in the glass, this wine smells of struck match and lemon zest. In the mouth, flavors of lemon, apple, and pomelo are juicy and salty and quite delicious. A blend of Antão Vaz and Perrum, from vines planted in 1969. Score: around 9. Cost: $??
2020 Quinta das Maias White Blend, Dão, Portugal
Pale gold in the glass, this wine smells of lemon juice and pomelo pith. In the mouth, flavors of apples and grapefruit are zippy and bright with a distinct tannic texture. Excellent acidity. A blend of Malvasia Fina and Encruzado. Certified organic. Score: around 9. Cost: $17. click to buy.
2018 Azores Wine Co. Arinto de Açores, Pico, Azores, Portugal
Palest gold in color, this wine has a tangy aroma of stone fruit and struck match. In the mouth, deeply mineral flavors of grapefruit pith, citrus oils, and a touch of resin have fantastic, zippy acidity and a long finish. Score: around 9. Cost: $25
1994 Caves Sao Joao “Poco do Lobo” Arinto, Bieras, Portugal
Light gold in the glass with a hint of bronze, this wine smells of bruised apple and a hint of sherry. In the mouth, tangy apple flavors mix with lemon peel and crushed nuts. A gorgeous salinity and fantastic acidity are this quite mouthwatering. Score: around 9. Cost: $60. click to buy.
2018 Quinta do Pinto Arinto, Alenquer, Lisboa, Portugal
Palest gold in color this wine smells of grapefruit and lemon pith. In the mouth, juicy and bright grapefruit and lemon flavors are tangy and zesty with excellent acidity. Score: around 9. Cost: $22. click to buy.
2020 Quinta das Maias Malvasia Vina, Dão, Portugal
Palest greenish-gold in color, this wine smells of lemon and herbs with a hint of lime. In the mouth, lime and alfalfa flavors are deeply stony, to the point of being somewhat austere. Searing acidity. Certified organic. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $13.
2020 Mateus Rosé, Portugal
Light baby pink in the glass, this wine smells of candied berries. In the mouth, citrusy berry flavors are plush and silky with good acidity and nice freshness, and a dry finish. This wine, essentially the White Zinfandel of Europe was once a worldwide phenomenon. It’s been remade in the style of a Provencal rosé, and is all the better for it, having lost the residual sugar that characterized it from the 70s to the 90s. Still comes in the unusual squat bottle that is instantly recognizable to a whole generation of wine drinkers. Score: around 8.5. Cost: $12. click to buy.
2019 Luis Seabra Vinhos “Xisto Ilimitado” Red Blend, Douro, Portugal
Dark garnet with purple highlights, this wine smells of blackberries. In the mouth, blackberries, mulberries, and some herbal notes have great acidity and a long finish. Score: around 9. Cost: $28. click to buy.
2019 Quinta das Maias Red Blend, Dão, Portugal
Medium garnet in color, this wine smells of blackberry and black cherry. In the mouth, blackberry and sour cherry flavors are juicy and bright and tangy, with faint tannins and excellent acidity. Crunchy and delicious. A field blend dominated by Jaen. Certified organic. Score: between 8.5 and 9. Cost: $14 click to buy.