When it comes to Portuguese wine, sweet and delicious Port naturally comes to mind but what about their dry red wines? Portugal is a treasure trove of indigenous varietals that are rarely found outside of the country. The grapes are often difficult to pronounce but the reward is in the wines as they can be pretty darn tasty and best of all - shockingly affordable.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet with Joao Nicolau de Almeida, the head winemaker of Ramos Pinto. I've always been a huge fan of their tawny Ports - especially the 30 year selection but I had never tried their dry red wines which Joao had brought along for me to try. I was most impressed with the Adriano which is made from the same grapes as Port wine ( 30 % Touriga Francesa, 30% Tinta Roriz 30%, Tinta Barroca, 10% Touriga Nacional - I told you they were tongue twisters) but the juice is allowed to ferment all the way through and it is not fortified creating a sturdy wine that tastes a bit like a cross between a fruity California Cabernet Sauvignon and an earthy, cedary Bordeaux. The French connection is not out of the blue as Joao's mentor was the famed French oenologist Emile Peynaud who is often credited as the father of modern winemaking. Emily Peynaud also authored one of my all time favorite wine books - The Taste of Wine: The Art Science of Wine Appreciation (which unfortunately is out of print).
Joao confessed to me that wines like Adriano have been a tough sell in the States since US consumers tend to equate Portuguese wines with something sweet. The Adriano retails for around $13 a bottle but I would put it up against wines three times the price. This is a great bargain and a potential game changer for the Portuguese market in general. Once consumers get their hands on something this tasty and affordable, there may come a day when we will be surprised to learn that Portugal makes dessert wines as well. OK, perhaps this is a huge exaggeration but you get the idea.