Let me start by making a suggestion of something not to drink. Last week I wrote about some very good Portuguese bubblies and I could have made many more recommendations for non-Champagne sparklers from other countries that hit far above their price tags when compared to mainstream big-brand Champagnes.
The same cannot be said about the Champagne offered by Aldi here in Portugal. On Saturday, I decided to buy a bottle of Champagne Veuve Durand Réserve Brut costing around €15 and took it home with an open mind. I had read that another brand of Champagne offered by Aldi in the UK was very good considering the price so gave them the benefit of the doubt assuming that the Aldi buyers would take the same care when sourcing such products for their shops here in Portugal as they do in the UK – sadly not. This Champagne has very little going on in terms of bouquet or flavour and is quite simply nothing more than boring fizz.
If you are looking for good bubbly for €20 or less, there is a huge choice on offer at Apolónia and amongst my personal favourites are the Graham Becks bubbles from South Africa. The Vintage Rosé is superb (€19.95), as is the Blanc de Blancs (€17.95), but don’t just take my word for it – Graham Becks was the sparkling wine chosen by the Obamas for their celebration back in November 2012 when Barack was voted into office.
So that’s bubbles out of the way. Next we need a white to serve with starters and what better than a good Alvarinho. As I mentioned in an article a few months ago, 2015 was a top year for the Minho region and especially for the Alvarinho grape, but I found that when the wines were launched onto the market at the beginning of this year, they were not yet ready for drinking, but they are now.
The main label Soalheiro Alvarinho, priced at €9.99 in Apolónia, is an excellent example and has enough structure to pair well with starter dishes such as smoked salmon. It’s well worth buying a few bottles now before it all flies off the shelves and is replaced by the 2016 which has just been released, and no doubt will need some time.
When it comes to a wine to pair with roast turkey, I am a big fan of a fruity but light-bodied New World Pinot Noir. In this column last Christmas, I named Valdivieso Single Valley Lot Pinot Noir from Chile (around €16) as my turkey wine but a good Portuguese alternative is Quinta de Sant’Ana Pinot Noir from the Mafra hills near Lisbon for around a euro less.
For something a little richer but without being full bodied, I would opt for a nice Baga from the Bairrada region.
Raising the bar a little, one of the premium labels from Luís Pato such as Vinha Pan would be a great match, but this is a wine costing around €30. More affordable and also very good is Lagar de Baixo Baga made by Dirk Niepoort (€14.95 in Apolónia).
But not everyone wants to drink red with their turkey and indeed a full-bodied, lightly-oaked and complex white can pair every bit as well. Back to Alvarinho, a top choice for me would be Soalheiro Reserva. This is a great wine and the 2014 now on sale at €29.99 in Apolónia, whilst still young, is drinking superbly (92 points Robert Parker).
At around half the price, another good choice is Chocapalha Reserva, made from Chardonnay with a touch of Arinto.
The question now is what to serve with the cheeses, Christmas pudding, Christmas cake and mince pies. As a good all rounder, I find an aged Tawny Port works well and few producers can match the quality of Quinta do Vallado when it comes to Tawny. Their 10-year-old is better than the 20 from most other producers and the 20 better than other 30s, and so on. Vallado Tawnies are more expensive than others for good reason. If you can stretch to nearly €50 for a 500ml bottle of the 20-year-old you will understand what I mean, but even the 10-year-old is wonderful.
An alternative all rounder for this final hurdle of Christmas dinner would be a good Madeira, such as the Barbeito 2000 Single Cask Malvasia, at just under €40, which I featured here a few weeks ago.
To accompany a cheese board specifically, I would personally opt for a nice full-bodied white wine along the lines of the two mentioned above, but if pairing with Port my choice would be vintage, budget permitting, or a nice LBV such as the 2011 Quinta do Crasto priced at €15.99 in Apolónia.
But when it comes to my pudding and mince pie wine, it has to be my old favourite, the 20-year-old Alambre Moscatel from José Maria da Fonseca. For me, as I wrote here a couple of years ago, this wine really is Christmas in a bottle and, priced at €24.95, it represents outstanding value for money.
By PATRICK STUART [email protected]