GRAPEVINE with LIZ SAGUES: Impressed by Portugese showcase

PUBLISHED: 12:41 10 March 2008 | UPDATED: 14:51 07 September 2010

All of a sudden, good things are happening for Portugal. First, publication of a splendid wine-led guide to the country, second a showcase tasting of some of its very best bottles and finally – and here s the bit which should bring out the credit card – t

All of a sudden, good things are happening for Portugal. First, publication of a splendid wine-led guide to the country, second a showcase tasting of some of its very best bottles and finally - and here's the bit which should bring out the credit card - tempting special offers at two of Ham&High Series readers' favourite multiple wine shops.

Let's start with the tasting. Every year, Wines of Portugal asks a well-known British wine writer to recommend 50 great Portuguese wines. This time, the choosing was done by Simon Woods, who has the knack of identifying intriguing and enjoyable wines and an infectious enthusiasm for sharing them. The results were poured at the ambassador's residence - home is too modest a word for the Belgrave Square mansion - last month.

First up was a rose (don't worry, I'm not going to describe every wine), Carm 2006 from the Douro, which sang out with ripe yet crisp fruit. Lovely. The nine whites which followed were an even bigger surprise from a land whose reds are much better known. Adjectives I used in my notes included zippy, delicate, classy.

The trouble is that most are hard to find, and likely to remain so - one supermarket buyer there was clearly enjoying them but dubious that, at £8 upwards, they'd find places on the shelves. Those prices are very fair, though, given the excellent quality of the wines.

But you can buy one I particularly liked, the complex, unusual and very enjoyable Covela Escolha 2006, a blend of avesso, chardonnay and gewurtztraminer, at Corney & Barrow (www.corneyand barrow.com). Waitrose has the 2005 (both £10).

The reds delivered, too - hugely varied styles and flavours, and a lot of memorable experiences, but again distribution is limited. Just keep your eyes open, and be prepared to experiment

One of the greatest pleasures of his job, Woods says, is "introducing new wine experiences to jaded palates" and to ensure Portuguese candidates tempted at all price levels he included 10 "great value" wines, mostly below £7.50. Even those aren't all readily available, however.

But Oddbins has three of them, all very decent reds, perfumed and warm: Quinta das Setancostas 2005, £6.30 (also at Sainsbury's, £6), Portal da Aguia 2005, £6, and Chamine 2006, £7.50 (also at Majestic, down to £6, see below).

And this is the moment to mention that Portugal is country of the month at Waitrose and Majestic. From next Wednesday (March 12) until April 1, the former has at least 20 per cent off selected bottles. Be tempted by Tagus Creek Grande Vinho 2006, down to £6.

From tomorrow until Sunday Majestic is popping Portuguese corks at free in-store tastings, and if you like what you try there is 20 per cent off any two bottles (minimum total purchase 12) until April 7. Quinta dos Carvalhais Colheita 2002, down to £6.40, will be a good buy.

Both outlets have Sogrape's excellent vinho verde Quinta de Azevedo (£4.40, Waitrose, £4.80 Majestic) and Dao red Duque de Viseu (£4.40 in both).

But nothing is as good as drinking the wine in sight of the vineyards, so let Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter be your perfect hosts.

Their Wine and Food Lover's Guide to Portugal (Inn House Publishing, £16.95) is the hugely detailed, attractive and practically presented result of lengthy on-the-spot research.

It's arranged by wine regions, but recommended visits and producers apart there is sound advice also on where to eat and sleep well, sights to see and cultural highlights.

Excellent maps and evocative photographs complete a fine book.

If there's no column next week, you'll know where to find me...

Liz Sagues


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