people know Portugal as a producer of sweet red dessert wines called Port
and maybe a few other folks know Portugal produces some really good red
wines. It seems hardly anybody knows Portugal as a source of
exceptional white wine.
People who have visited Portugal on vacation seem to know the simply Vinho
Verde wines...and we sell a modest amount of Casal Garcia's because it's
well-made, low in alcohol, lightly fizzy and it provides a measure of
nostalgia to vacationers who are back home, thousands of miles away from
being a tourist.
We first discovered the wine of Soalheiro while visiting Portugal. A
restaurant which was highly-regarded for its fresh seafood had been
suggested to us and we reserved a table.
The wine list featured a number of interesting wines, but we had to order
a bottle of Casal Garcia since a friend works for the winery (he's a
family member). The Vinho Verde was 7 Euros on the wine list.
We ordered all sorts of seafood. And, having drained the Casal
Garcia bottle, we asked the waiter if he could suggest something a bit
more interesting and still friendly enough to pair with the mass/mess of
prawns, barnacles, oysters, etc.
He didn't hesitate and pointed to the Soalheiro entry on their wine list
and it was a bit under 20 Euros...and what a delight this turned out to
Back home we were able to track down Soalheiro...and we thoroughly
enjoyed the 2009 and now the 2013 is in stock. And it's delightful!
The name of the winery and its brand, Soalheiro, is a reference to the
sunny locale in the very northernmost point of Portugal. They're in
the town of Melgaço. Much farther north and you'll need to speak
In the 1970s João António Cerdeira planted some Alvarinho
just outside downtown Melgaço. He had done
his military service in Africa and returned home, working as some sort of
tax inspector. After the 1974 April Revolution, Cerdeira decided to
throw caution to the wind and he planted, against the law at the time,
In his early years he'd visited Burgundy and became familiar with the
'foreign' winemaking practices in France. Today he and his son Luis
produce a top Alvarinho and their Soalheiro brand is highly-regarded in
The wine comes from mature vines which are now about 35 years of
age. Granite soils. Hand harvested grapes. Indigenous
yeasts. No oak.
The resulting wine is marvelously minerally and yet wonderfully fruity.
There's a steely aspect to the wine which might remind you of some Chablis
and yet there's a fruit and floral note which might recall a Riesling from
Germany, but with a bit more austerity.
I brought a bottle of this to a dinner in San Francisco of judges at the
SF International Wine Competition. It "wowed" the folks at
my table and was refreshingly dry and crisp. Dining in Sonoma at the
famous Portuguese restaurant La Salette, we ordered a bottle of the 2010
(some years ago now) to pair with our meal. Another grand bottle!
Even a bit more special is their Primeiras Vinhas
It's from their first plantings/oldest vines of Alvarihno. The
grapes are hand-harvested and the juice is settled in a tank before they
initiate the fermentation. Perhaps 15% of the wine sees a wood
barrel, but more for giving an additional note of complexity than it is
for providing a note of oak.
And it's slightly more complex than the regular bottling and as thoroughly
Currently in stock: 2014 SOALHEIRO Alvarinho
$24.99 2014 SOALHEIRO Alvarinho "Primeiras Vinhas" SALE $29.99
the history books have many chapters covering this estate, the most
important paragraphs have been written rather recently.
The property is located in Reguengos de Monsaraz, a little more than a
hundred miles south of Lisbon in the Alentejo region. It's a huge
estate and quite historical. It's so big, they have two winemaking
facilities, one for red wines and one for white! The current owners
have had the place since 1973 but it's only since 1989 that they've been
actively bottling and selling their wines.
Under the guidance of Australian winemaker David Baverstock, this winery has
some delightful wines.
We've often found good wines here.
2013 Reserva White is dynamite!
It's a blend of Antão Vaz, Arinto, Roupeiro and, this
vintage, Semillon! Some of the juice is fermented in stainless steel and another portion sees
barrel fermentation. They use both French and American oak and the
wood is beautifully integrated into the wine.
There's a stony, minerally character in the 2013 and the oak is just right,
adding complexity to the wine.
We had a previous vintage with that bowl of clams & garbanzo beans (on the left)
and this was a great match...the wine overshadowed a top Pecorino
(white wine from the Abruzzo region) from Italy at a dinner fest.
The red is a 2012 and it's a blend of Aragonês, Trincadeira,
Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouschet. This vintage seems to show
more dark fruit notes and not as much oak as the wines we'd tasted a few
years ago...Ellen is especially pleased with this wine.
Currently in stock: 2012 ESPORÃO Reserva $26.99
2013 ESPORÃO Reserva White $19.99
2011 Esporão White...This was Delicious!
A barrel cellar at Esporão...Lots of small oak, some American, some
French and some Hungarian...
The cellars also have ample storage for bottle aging their wines...
The Reserva wines have a different label each vintage...here's a shot of the
first vintage bottles...
The wine was due to hit the market in 2001 or 2002, so they ended up having to
change the label following the 9-11 catastrophe.
wine is the work of the famous Douro winemaker Dirk Niepoort.
His ancestors were well-regarded for their Port wines and we still offer
some terrific fortified wines from Niepoort, but he seems to be devoting
increasing attention to making table wines.
We've tasted a number of good Niepoort table wines, but admit we're
confused by some of the labels and the hierarchy of his wines. You
really do need a program to figure out the players!
Redoma, Vertente, Batuta, Converso, Dialogo, Surf, Hunter, Drink Me, Drink
Me Kali, Drink Me Swimming, Fabelaktig, Fabelhaft, Fantasi, Gestolen Fiets,
Lacplesa, Melusina...some labels aimed directly at a target market in the
home language of a particular country and others being Niepoort
Well, he changed his "recipe" for Dócil over the years.
This wine started out as something reminiscent of German Riesling,
relatively low in alcohol and keeping a bit of unfermented
The current incarnation sees a wine of slightly higher alcohol (this is a
mere 11%) and it's quite dry.
If you taste this wine "blind," you'll most like peg it as
something French, possibly a Chablis or some nicely austere, minerally
white. Dócil comes from the Vinho Verde appellation and it's made
of the Loureiro grape. Granitic soils may contribute to the
character of the wine, of course. But vinifying it in stainless
steel and not exposing it to oak seems like a good idea.
The 2014 vintage hits the nail right on the head. Delicious.
Pair it with some seafood...filet of sole, sand dabs, rock shrimp (the
sweetness of the shrimp is a counterpoint to the austerity of this wine),
crab, etc. Shellfish will be a good accompaniment with this, too.
Currently in stock: 2014 DÓCIL
"Loureiro" Vinho Verde $14.99
QUINTA DO CARMO
Quinta do Carmo property is actually owned by Julio Bastos who makes the
Dona Maria wine near the town of Estremoz. Bastos had sold his share
of the property and the owners then built another winemaking facility not
far from the Carmo "home base."
One of the partners in the Quinta do Carmo property were the Rothschilds of
Chateau Lafite. They, too, found the Portuguese wine business to be a
daunting challenge and the Rothskids sold the place to the Bacalhoa
Group...and it seems the place is in good hands. Maybe better than
The 2007 Quinta do Carmo is quite good. The blend includes Tempranillo,
Alicante Bouschet, Trincadeira and Cabernet Sauvignon...and the wine spent
about a year in small French oak cooperage.
There's a nice dark fruit character here and we like the mildly cedary notes
from the oak. It's showing quite nicely now and we think it's close to
Pair this with grilled or roasted meats...it can take the place of a bootle
of Bordeaux or Cabernet on tonight's dinner table.