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Posted by portugalpress on December 21, 2017

Some friends of mine, who recently moved to the Algarve and have a house-full of guests arriving this week to join them for their first Algarve Christmas, asked me for some wine suggestions.

I started jotting down notes and eventually decided to request some extra space from the editor and share my ideas with our dear Algarve Resident readers.

What I buy in for the festive season is governed not only by budget but also by who will be drinking it. I like to find some wines for all occasions in the lower-price range – well, not too low as it Christmas, but wines that can be enjoyed in substantial quantity without breaking the bank. And then I will buy a few bottles of something more special to be savoured by those who really appreciate quality.

Finally, we are in Portugal and when entertaining friends and family from overseas, I like to focus on Portuguese wines, so everything here is proudly made in Portugal.

Bubbles

We always (weather permitting, which it nearly always does) start our Christmas day with a small gathering of friends and family on the beach. When fortified with a few glasses of bubbly, some us take a refreshing dip in the ocean! This is definitely not an occasion for expensive Champagne or even a premium espumante.

What we are looking for is something easy-drinking and I think in this case pink. My suggestion is Soalheiro Rosé Brut (€14.95), salmon pink in colour, quite lush and fruity on the nose whilst still dry in the mouth. This is also a very decent bubbly to serve with Christmas canapés but, for something more special and refined, one of my favourites is Hibernus – the Vintage 2014 (€24.95) is excellent.

And for those who appreciate aged vintage Champagne and may still need to be convinced of the quality and ageing potential of Portuguese espumante, I recommend Vértice Gouveio 2008 (€24.95 in Apolónia), a blanc de blanc from the Gouveio grape – straw yellow in colour, full bodied and complex, showing its age but still fresh in the mouth.

Whites

Thinking of the Christmas table now, both for pairing with starters and then something else capable of working with the turkey roast for those who don’t want to drink red.

Assuming that starters are fairly light, maybe something seafood-based, we want a clean and fresh wine, certainly not oaked.

In the lower price range, I find that Douro whites these days are amongst the best buys. Even something as humble as good old Planalto is a very decent wine, but this is Christmas dinner after all, so we don’t want to be drinking an everyday wine. There are various good options around the €10 mark, and one of my favourites is Crasto Branco, the entry-level white from a great Douro producer that ticks all the boxes. A little more special is Terras do Grifo Reserva Branco (€11.95).

As good an alternative as any is a nice unoaked Alvarinho with many excellent options from today’s two main players, Soalheiro and Anselmo Mendes. But my choice for Christmas would be one of the old classic labels, Palácio da Brejoeira (€14.95).

As for a white to drink with the turkey, I could well stick with Alvarinho and one of the premium oaked wines such as Soalheiro Reserva, costing close to €30 – a wine of great depth and complexity.

Less expensive but always reliable when looking for a good oaked white is the venerable Esporão Reserva (€14.99).

But my best find to pair with roast turkey this year is O Fugitivo Garrafeira Branco from one of my favourite Dão producers Casa da Passarella. This is, in fact, an orange wine rather than a white in the normal sense, in that it was fermented (in cement vats) with the skins. It was then aged for one year in used oak and a further year in the bottle before release.

This wine is made only in exceptional years, from a field blend of old vines and although the 2013 vintage currently on the market is already drinking well, this is a wine that has been designed for cellaring. It is best decanted and served only very slightly chilled. This will allow the many layers of aromas and flavours to develop with rich white fruit and floral notes on the nose; the firm tannic structure in the mouth and dry finish make this a white that truly can replace a red at the table (€29.95).

Reds

For the Christmas table, assuming that we are serving turkey or perhaps duck, the perfect wine for me is usually a Pinot Noir or perhaps an aged Baga from the Bairrada region. Or even one of the more elegant wines from Dão or Douro.
In the lower price range, a good choice would be M.O.B. Lote 3, the entry level version of the premium Dão wine M.O.B.

The 2014 currently on sale (€9.95) is drinking very well – medium to full bodied, fresh and elegant, it is great value for money.

As for Pinot Noir and moving up a notch or two in terms of price, one of the best made in Portugal is Quinta do Rol and the 2009 vintage is excellent (€29.95).

Up in the Douro, one of the Portuguese wines that has most impressed me this year was Pôpa TR (Tinta Roriz) 2011, which I reviewed just two weeks ago in this newspaper, also costing €29.95, an excellent wine from a great vintage. This is a lighter style of Douro made from the grape that goes by the name of Aragonez elsewhere in Portugal and Tempranillo in Spain.

Fortified wines

Christmas would not be Christmas for me without what I consider to be the best value-for-money fortified wine on the market: Alambre 20-year-old moscatel from José Maria da Fonseca in Setúbal. This wine is literally Christmas in a bottle and without spending a great deal more money, I can think of nothing better to enjoy with mince pies, Christmas cake or Christmas pudding – around €25 for a 50cl bottle and widely available.

There are so many Ports out there these days that the choice is quite daunting. Personally, I like to drink aged tawny ports with something sweet. A good 20-year-old tawny is almost as good a match for mince pies as the moscatel mentioned above, but costs considerably more. At a more affordable €19.95, the 10-year-old from Vallado is extremely good value for money whilst their 20-year-old costing close to €40 is superb.

Vintage and late bottled vintage (LBV) ports are, of course, the perfect partners for Stilton cheese. But unless we are dropping serious money on a decent vintage that is ready to drink, the best bet is an LBV. However, it pays to take care when choosing an LBV.

Anyone who knows a little about the Douro and about vintage port knows that 2011 was the best vintage year in recent memory. It is almost impossible to find 2011 vintage port now, as most of it has been snapped up by collectors and investors. But there is plenty of 2011 LBV in the market and, for the purpose of researching this article, I tried quite a few of them. And I was generally very disappointed.

The fact is that in the best vintage years, the harvest might have been better, but the best grapes will not have made it into the LBV. Look for a good Douro year that was not declared a port vintage, 2009 or 2012 for instance, and you will be drinking a far superior port probably for less money. As good as any is Niepoort LBV 2012 (€17.99).

And then of course we have Madeira, and one of the best producers these days is Barbeito. There is a good selection of the wines in Apolónia, including the premium range of “Frasqueira” wines, costing as much as €160 for a 50cl bottle.

At a more affordable price, I would go for one of the dated single cask wines such as Tinta Negra 2004, €27.95 for a 50cl bottle, also excellent with Christmas cake or mince pies and perhaps a better choice than a moscatel or a tawny port for those who prefer something not quite so sweet.

Brandy

And so we have got to the end of Christmas dinner and it’s time for a nice brandy. Portugal has some truly outstanding old brandies, known as “aguardentes velhas”. The most famous in the premium range would be Adega Velha and Ferreirinha, the latter made by the great house of Casa Ferreira, responsible for Portugal’s most expensive wine Barca Velha.

But a little more affordable and no less special is the Extra Reserva from CRF (Carvalho, Ribeiro & Ferreira), costing just under €40. Elegant, with only a touch of sweetness and extremely smooth with great persistence, a better buy than many a Cognac at a similar price.

The mainstream CRF, costing around €15, is also a very good brandy and great value for money.

Exact prices where quoted are from Apolónia Supermarkets.

By Patrick Stuart

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