We keep hoping that articles in the mainstream media like this New York Times column or this San Francisco Chronicle recommendation will spur the popularity and boost the selection of Portuguese wines at local wine shops. But no such luck. If your local wine shop has a small slice of its Spanish aisle devoted to Portugal table wines, it probably has only one or two reds and a few more whites – mostly vinho verde, the light, slightly effervescent wine in a green bottle that’s popular as a summer sipper.
We’re no longer holding our breath waiting for Portuguese reds to become the next big thing. As the Wall Street Journal has repeatedly noted in “The Puzzle of Portuguese Wine” and “Navigating Portugal's Unfamiliar Grape Varieties,” these red blends rely on too many obscure native grapes only planted in Portugal for American wine drinkers to grow warm and fuzzy with them. Wine drinkers in the U.S. are most familiar with the international grape varieties—cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot noir, grenache or syrah/shiraz (and more recently malbec). Casual wine drinkers wouldn’t know moreto from castelao and couldn’t distinguish trincadeira or aragonez from tinta barroca or touriga nacional. (And who’s to blame them; none of these grapes are listed on Wine Spectator’s Varietal Characteristics page.)
One that you may encounter that we’ve recommended in the past is J. Portugal Ramos Loios Red, a light, almost Beaujolais-style red that’s a great summer picnic wine. A blend of 35 percent each of aragonez and trincadeira, with the remaining 30 percent castelao, Loios is an uncomplicated, fruit-forward red perfect for serving slightly chilled on a sticky summer afternoon or evening. It costs between $9 and $12 a bottle in the District at Cleveland Park Wines and Paul’s Wine & Spirits in Chevy Chase. But it’s a rare bargain in selected Montgomery County Liquor stores, where it costs $7.69 a bottle, the lowest price in the country.
[Find J. Ramos Loios Tinto online or at a wine shop near you.]
“An easy, fruity wine, this is full of blackberry and red currant flavors,” wrote Wine Enthusiast's Roger Voss in the August 1, 2012 issue, scoring the 2011 Loios 87 points. “Its fruitiness is tempered with a firm tannic core that gives a light structure.”
“Soft, fruity wine, a perfect foil for grilled meats with its light tannin structure,” is how Voss described the 2010. “Ripe and very fruity, generous and juicy.”
A similar bargain that’s also been recommended here (nearly four years ago) is Borges Lello Tinto , a blend of touriga nacional, touriga franca, tinta roriz and tinta barroca. Like the the Loios, Lello has earned solid, 85-point scores from Wine Enthusiast in the successive releases since the 2007 vintage that the Washington Post’s Dave McIntyre described as, “A delicious red for casual summer grill fare, with classic port flavors of the Douro and a juicy sweet-ripe finish.”
He called Lello a “great value” at $9 per bottle, which is what the 2009 costs at Arrowine in Arlington and the 2010 costs at Rodman’s on Wisconsin Ave., NW in the District or at Finewine.com in Gaithersburg. But it’s a better bargain if you can find it at select Montgomery County Liquor stores (Fallsgrove or Milestone) for just $7.85 a bottle, also about the lowest price in the country.
[Find Lello Douro online or at a wine shop near you.]
So if you shop for Portuguese reds in Montgomery County, you might not find a great selection, but your odds of finding a good one at a rock-bottom price are much better than you think.
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