Beauty scale

Portuguese wines illuminate the beauty of blends

Portuguese wines.Ellen Bhang

Give me a book on a screen every day. Infinitely more satisfying than anything delivered digitally, hardcovers are my jam. So imagine my joy when a friend reminded me of a book on Portuguese wine, published last fall. This book, “Foot Trodden: Portugal and the Wines That Time Forgot”, is written by Simon J. Woolf and Ryan Opaz. Amsterdam-based Woolf, founder of online magazine The Morning Claret and author of “Amber Revolution: How the World Learned to Love Orange Wine”, partners with Opaz, owner of Catavino Tours, which specializes in Portuguese food and wine tours . The cover image of bare feet stomping grapes in a lagar, the traditional shallow stone basin for treading fruit, invites you to dive in.

The book, which reads like a love letter to the winemakers of the country, serves as a starting point to approach the subject of red blends. Modern blending, you will recall, most often involves grapes grown in single-variety plots, picked at optimum ripeness levels, fermented in separate batches, and then blended with other varietal wines to create the finished product. Winemaker Luis Sottomayor, of Casa Ferreirinha, takes this approach to produce a polished and lovingly crafted red wine called “Papa Figos”, made from four indigenous grape varieties grown in high altitude vineyards in the Douro Superior. The wine brand is named after Dona Antónia Ferreira, a 19th-century matriarch of a family that made a name for itself in port, the iconic fortified wine of the Douro Valley.

But this approach is not the only way to create a mix. Independent-minded, Tiago Sampaio takes an approach that would be familiar to small-scale farmers of generations past who grew grapes for the local cooperative and made wine for their own tables. Sampaio, who earned a doctorate in viticulture and enology from Oregon State University before returning to his native Douro, is a strong proponent of terrain blending.

To make a light, spicy red called “Renegado,” Sampaio turns to an old family vineyard interspersed with more than two dozen indigenous grape varieties, some red and some white. He harvests all the grapes at the same time and ferments them together. The approach, also practiced in other parts of the wine world, draws on the talents of several grape varieties at once. While some bring acidity, others bring body, texture, or flavor to the blend. Field mixing can also serve as insurance. If one variety is not ripening as well as expected in a particular vintage, others can take over.

Uivo, Sampaio’s brand of wine, translates to “howl”. This meaning is reinforced by its light red front label, which bears an illustration of a wolf’s paw, poised in a resolute position. Sampaio wines, Woolf and Opaz note, are often rejected by the region’s official tasting panel because its pours do not conform to the typical profile of Douro wines. But in homage to an old-school style called usehis just as pleasant as a bottle bearing the seal of the appellation. It’s like a liquid form of time travel – a reminder that anything old can be new again.

Uivo “Renegado” Vinhas Velhas 2020 Fresh and appealing, this light red offers flavors of Bing cherry, violet petals and hints of warm spice, leading to a weighty, tart palate with red currants, cherries and a hint of salt. 11.5 percent ABV. Distributed by Oz Wine Co. $16-$18. At Wine Press, Brookline, 617-277-7020; Lucille Wine Shop & Tasting Room, Lynn, 781-584-4695.

Casa Ferreirinha “Papa Figos” Douro Vinho Tinto 2019 With aromas of cherry, dark plum, baking spice and a whisper of campfire, this red is rich and ample on the palate, full of dark berries, plush tannins and a hint of mouth-watering bitterness. 13.5ABV. Distributed by Ruby Wines. $15-$16. At the Boston Wine Exchange, Boston, 617-422-0100; Malden Center Fine Wines, Malden, 781-497-6900.


Ellen Bhang can be contacted at [email protected]