Photos by Zach Carey
Looking for delicious, unique and fantastically affordable wine? Portugal is often overlooked by wine lovers, and that’s a real (or should I say Royal) shame!
An Isolated History
Portugal has largely remained a mystery to the American market, for a few reasons. First, at just 350 miles “tall,” and 130 wide, it’s relatively isolated – at the tip of the Iberian Peninsula, with Spain to the east, and the Atlantic ocean to the west. Second, since the 1600s, Portugal has had a strong maritime trade with England, and much of its produce, including the celebrated Port wine, went there. Third, many years of political oppression (36 years under dictator Antonio Salazar) and economic depression set the country back during the 20th century. (click on the map to enlarge)
The Douro (Marked in green on the map)
Portugal is best known for its sweet, fortified Port wines, made in the breathtaking Douro region, a UNESCO World Heritage Site named after the river that runs east to west, across the top quadrant of the country.
Most Douro vineyards straddle the river itself, perched on steep, terraced cliffsides that must be managed and harvested by hand. The terrace walls are made of manually-stacked rocks that, in some cases, are centuries old. The climate is extreme, marked by cold, wet winters and hot, dry summers: So hot, that oftentimes grapes need to be harvested at night so they don’t spoil. The grapes are still tread by foot in giant concrete pools, called Lagares, just as they have been since the beginning. By default, and by necessity, sustainable production is a way of life in this environment.
Over eighty different types of indigenous grapes are grown in the Douro, ones with names that will tie your tongue in knots: Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cão, Viosinho, Souzao, and Rabigato, to name a few. Many of them go into the finest port wines. But those same grapes can, and do, make fantastic dry wines too.
Real Companhia Velha
For over 250 years, Real (pronounced REY-al, meaning, Royal) Companhia Velha has quietly survived, even thrived, in this challenging region. Founded in 1756 by the Royal Charter of King D. Jose 1, it’s the oldest family-owned wine company in the country.
The winery has quite a history, from shipping its Port wines to Catherine of Russia, to rationing Napolean Bonaparte’s troops in the famous French invasions. In the 1990’s, the Company restructured it operations, bringing its production up to par with the modern wine industry.
Consisting of five separate Quintas, essentially, farms, the winery occupies Over 1,300 acres on the Douro. They make everything from sweet Port wines (under the Royal Oporto label) to olive oils and of course, premium dry wines.
You would think, with all of this history, time and care that goes into these wines, you would be paying a premium, but the reality is that because Portuguese wine is still relatively unknown in the world, the prices can often belie the quality inside the bottle. Descheres is proud to bring Pennsylvania residents two exceptional RCV wines, both award-winning reds:
#43463: Porca de Murca Red Blend 2013 – $10.99
Rated 90 Points by Wine Spectator, ranked #39 on their, “Top 100 of 2015” List.
Porca de Murça is the Douro’s leading brand, and with 90 years of history, one of Portugal’s oldest wines. The name originates from a folktale about a mighty female boar (a Porca) that once terrorized the village of Murça.
Porca de Murça is a blend of four Portuguese grapes: Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barroca. It’s a fresh and intense wine, full of ripe red berry and cherry flavors. Velvety and well-balanced, this wine would be a great partner for roasted poultry and pork.
#17635: Evel Red Blend 2014 – $13.99
Rated 90 Points by Wine Spectator, ranked #50 on their, “Top 100 of 2016” List.
Evel is also one of the oldest wine brands in Portugal (104 years old). With no specific meaning, the word Evel is an anagram for the Spanish word, leve (light).
Much like its name, Evel is an elegant, smooth and enjoyable wine. Made from three indigenous grapes – Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca & Tinto Roriz – the wine is fresh and acidic, full of red berry and plum flavors, with a hint of black pepper and mineral on the finish. Although you certainly can (and should) enjoy it now, it could age at least another five years!
This is an easy drinking and juicy red that would be a great compliment to grilled meats, especially beef.
Want to learn a little more? Check out our video: