Last week the Portuguese ambassador to Britain, who seems admirably keen on wine, hosted a tasting of 50 Great Portuguese Reds chosen by Portuguese specialist wine writer Richard Mayson. Twenty of the choices were from the Douro but since I have tasted and written about these so recently (see tasting notes) I restricted myself to the wines from elsewhere which were by and large a much more varied and intriguing selection than you would find from most wine producing countries.
The fact that only six of these producers existed 20 years ago, and only 12 existed 10 years ago is illustration enough of the recent Portuguese wine revolution. There was no shortage of dramatic, concentrated reds made in a thoroughly modern idiom from Portugal's fascinating arsenal of indigenous grape varieties, typically retailing for between £20 and £30 a bottle.
But two of the most impressive wines were priced at a fraction of this, well under £10 a bottle, and made from the lively Castelão grape in the Terras do Sado region near Lisbon where the famous old Muscat de Setubal comes from. Pegos Claros 1999 Companhia das Quintas looked wonderfully vibrant and ready, with great transparent bright cherry fruit but it is not desperately easy to find. For the moment it is available in the UK only by the case at £95.88 including VAT and delivery from Michael McCarthy, ABI Group, 98 Cranley Gardens, London N10 tel 020 8883 9672 email@example.com
More exceptional in many way was another Terras do Sado wine made from Castelão, Periquita Classico 1995 José Maria da Fonseca (the company that makes Setubal and Lancers rosé among many other wines). To find a fully mature 10 year-old wine at about £8 a bottle seems pretty miraculous to me – and this bottle of a wine made from grapes grown in the sandy soild of the Terras do Sado and originally aged in old wood was tasting wonderfully fresh and vital. For my taste it was very much better balanced and more delicious than the same producer's Hexagon 2000 at £35 for instance, a thicky oaky blend of Portuguese Tintas and Tourigas with Tannat and Syrah. For a wine with a great mature bouquet and real nerve, seek out that Periquita Classico 1995 from one of the following stockists, who generally charge between £7.99 and £8.99 for it, apart from Conran's Pont de la Tour which of course goes one pound better and demands £10 – although make sure you ask for the Classico rather than the regular bottling.
Touchstone Wines, Lichfield Street, Stone, Staffs 07966 551094
The Wine and Glass Company, Claxby Hall, Alford, Lincs 01507 462350
Ken Sheather Wines, Mead Road, Leckhampton, Cheltenham 01242 231231
Corks Out, Princess Road, Manchester 0161 881 9663
Eagle Wines, Lavender Hill, Battersea 0207 223 7209
Henderson Wines, 109 Comiston Road, Edinburgh 0131 447 8580
Le Pont de la Tour, Maguire Street, London SE1 0207 940 1840
This wine is available quite widely internationally according to www.winesearcher.com although not quite as cheaply as in the UK. Cheapest North American price is US$20-24 in Canada and $26.99 from Dotcom Wines & Spirits of West Hartford, CT.