Esporão wines show that Portugal offers a lot more than Port

When Portugal comes to mind most of us think of dessert wines, Port specifically. This is quite natural as Ports of all styles are the bread and butter of the Portuguese wine industry. However, as wine lovers are starting to learn, there are lots of terrific table wines coming from Portugal as well. There are white wines, some of them quite well known, but what impresses me are the reds, most often produced as blends. In many cases the grapes are indigenous to Portugal and while some of them are planted in other regions, many are not. Portugal has been very good about holding on to and promoting their local grapes, the ones that really flourish there. That lends itself to a unique drinking experience. You can taste things in Portuguese wines that simply aren’t available elsewhere, which prosper in their microclimates. Here’s a look at two reds and a Rosé from two wineries that are both part of Esporão, a sustainable winery located in the Alentejo region of Portugal.

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First up is the Herdade do Esporão 2011 Defesa Rosé. This wine was produced from grapes sourced in the Alentejo region of Portugal. It blends together two varietals — Syrah and Aragonés– in equal parts. The fruit was destemmed and then crushed. Skin contact and maceration was minimal. Fermentation took place in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. Approximately 120,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $14.99. A striking strawberry hue looks beautiful as you pour this into a glass. The nose of this Rosé brings to mind a bowl of fresh red fruits. Strawberry, cherry and subtle bits of raspberry are all present throughout the palate, along with a wisp of white pepper. Black cherry flavors emerge on the finish. This wine is crisp and remarkably refreshing. The alcohol here is nice and modest, making it easier to enjoy that second or third glass with a leisurely meal.

The Quinta Dos Murcas 2010 Assobio was produced using grapes sourced within the Douro appellation. This wine blends together Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca. The fruit was hand harvested and then underwent bunch selection as well as being destemmed. Fermentation took place in a temperature-controlled environment. Approximately 20 percent of the blended wine was aged in a combination of French and American oak for 6 months. Roughly 140,000 cases of this offering were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $12.99. Black plum and vanilla bean aromas emerge from the nose here. The palate is studded with dark, brooding fruits such as blueberry, black raspberry and continued plum. A treasure trove of spice characteristics are in evidence as well, adding depth and complexity. Sour black fruit flavors emerge on the finish which has nice length; they are joined by minerals and bits of espresso. This wine really shines if you decant it for an hour or so. Enjoy it with hard cheeses and roasted meats.

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Finally, we have the Quinta dos Murcas 2009 Reserva, which was produced from fruit sourced within the Douro. This offering blends together Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Miúda, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesca and Sousão. After being hand-picked, sorted, destemmed and crushed, fermentation took place in temperature-controlled granite lagares. The wine was aged for 12 months in a combination of French and American oak. Just about 30,000 cases of this wine were produced and it has a suggested retail price of $39.99. Plum and red raspberry aromas emerge from the exceptional nose of this 2009 blend. Purple, black and red fruits are interspersed on a deeply layered palate that is both dense with flavor and diverse. There is a depth and elegance from the first sip through the last note that makes this wine a knockout. Minerals, earth, spices and bits of dusty chocolate emerge on the finish, which has excellent length. Everything you’d want in a red blend in this price point is present in droves: structure, acidity, balance, grace and length. It’s delicious now, particularly after a couple of hours in a decanter, but it will improve over the next 5 years and drink well for at least five after that. It’s certainly suitable for pouring on a holiday or special occasion.

These three wines from Portugal’s Esporão are well made, delicious and provide solid quality for the respective price points. And while these wines are diverse, they are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what Portugal has to offer in table wines. It’s easy to see from tasting any of these that blending is a forte. The variety of indigenous grapes is huge and plays a starring role in shaping the myriad blends that are made. Portuguese wines are making inroads in the U.S. market. Look on your shelf for these and other exciting wines from the old-world country that is new for a lot of American wine drinkers, particularly when it comes to table wines.

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Vina Montes epitomizes Chilean quality

Viña Montes in Chile has been around for 25 years now. In that time, they’ve been a part of the Renaissance that has occurred in Chile, with quality and diversity rising dramatically year after year, and meeting with what was already a wine region that offered value. As with most Chilean brands, they offer a broad range of wines at numerous price points aimed at a varied consumer base with a multitude of needs. This vast range of wines is produced with a multitude of intents. All told, they make close to a million cases of wine, some in small lots and others in large quantities. Here’s a look at three current releases that are widely available across the country.

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First up is the Montes Alpha 2011 Chardonnay. The fruit for this offering was sourced in the Casablanca Valley. This Chardonnay is a 100 percent varietal wine. Aging took place over 12 months with 40 percent of the wine seeing time in French oak, the balance in stainless steel. This wine has a suggested retail price of $25. The Montes Alpha Tier of wines was on the forefront of Chile’s entry and innovation into to premium wine space. Pineapple aromas light up the nose of this Chardonnay, with pear and apple characteristics as the dominant fruits on the palate. Toward the back end, the apple quality picks up a bit of lovely green tartness. This is accompanied by baker’s spices, star anise and a gentle kiss of crème fraiche. Here’s an example of Chardonnay that is absolutely studded with lively fruit and true varietal character. The barrel treatment enhances those flavors, adds complexity and never detracts. This is an elegant Chardonnay for the money. I recommend serving a few degrees warmer than the typical white wine as it shows off more of its charms that way.

The Montes Alpha 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon was produced from fruit sourced in Colchagua Valley, one of Chile’s best Cab regions. This wine blends together Cabernet Sauvignon (90 percent) and Merlot (10 percent), one of its most natural partners. After fermentation this wine was aged in a combination of new and used French oak barrels over a period of 12 months. About 100,000 cases of this wine were bottled and it has a suggested retail price of $25. Plum and bramble aromas leap from the nose of this Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark fruits rule the day here and blackberry, black raspberry and more fill out the palate, while little wisps of red fruit do pop through every now and then, adding to the depth. Espresso and black pepper spice are both prominent on the finish, which has good length. Firm tannins and solid acidity lend to the overall well-proportioned nature and structure of this wine. For $25 or less this is very good value in Cabernet Sauvignon. Some lesser examples from other regions often sell for close to twice the price. Grab up a case of this wine and drink it over the next five years and enjoy its evolution.

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007 One by One: “Diamonds are Forever”

Bullz-Eye continues its look back at every James Bond film, 007 One by One, as part of our James Bond Fan Hub that we’ve created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Bond film.

It’s Vegas, baby, for James Bond, and he’s played by Sean Connery for the last time (until 1983). The jokiest and the most violent of the Bond films up to that point, it’s no one’s favorite 007 entry – and it’s a lot of people’s least favorite – but we still think it’s got way more panache than many of the films that followed. It’s…

“Diamonds are Forever” (1971)

The Plot

Diamond smuggling turns out to be, naturally, only the tip of the iceberg as a graying Bond (Sean Connery) unravels a chain of deception that leads him to a Las Vegas-based ultra-reclusive mega-tycoon (Jimmy Dean), and then onto 007′s not-actually-dead arch nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Charles Gray). It turns out that killing Bond’s wife simply isn’t enough for the social climbing super-villain; he’s once again making 007′s life hellish while also having the bad manners to peddle thermonuclear supremacy on the world market. Bond, meanwhile, is nearly wearing out his license to kill.

The Backstory

Though it’s an underrated film and beloved of many serious Bond fans, 1969′s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” with George Lazenby was deemed insufficient as a blockbuster. It did well enough abroad, but it’s all-important American grosses was about half that of earlier Bond entries. By 1970, Lazenby was already one for the “where are they now?” columns.

A replacement was needed, and so was a big hit. Stolid American heartthrob John Gavin (“Psycho“) had been contracted as a fall-back Bond, but moguls Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman set their sights on the one actor alive least interested in stepping into the very big shoes of Sean Connery – Sean Connery. While the Scottish unknown-turned-superstar has always insisted he was very grateful for his Bond stardom, to all appearances, Connery was over James Bond — now and forever.

On the other hand, we all have our price. Connery’s was £1.2 million – quite a lot of money in 1970 and enough cash for the actor to start his own charity, the Scottish International Education Trust. To sweeten the deal, United Artists also allowed Connery the chance to take the creative lead on two of his own movies. The understanding was, however, very clear that Connery would never again play Bond…for the Broccoli and Saltzman’s EON team, at least, that turned out to be true.

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Spain’s Ribera Del Duero Region makes a strong impression

I recently attended an excellent tasting that featured wines from the Ribera Del Duero region of Spain. It’s always fascinating to taste a broad array of wines in one room from a specific part of the world. It allows side-by-side comparisons, and showcases how many excellent wines a region has. In the case of Ribera Del Duero the array of terrific wines I tasted in one day was a bit head-spinning, actually. While I’d had wines from this area before, I’d never sampled nearly as many at one time. A couple of producers kept reverberating in my mind days after the event, thus I decided to revisit a few of their wines so I could share my thoughts about them. Tempranillo has long been one of my favorite red varieties and this grape flourishes as well in Ribera Del Duero as anywhere.

The Bodegas Peñalba Lopez S.L. 2009 Los Cantos was produced from a blend of Tempranillo (95 percent) and Merlot (5 percent). The vineyards sourced were planted an average of 20 years prior to the vintage. Fermentation took place over nine days in stainless steel vats with native yeast. Barrel aging followed in French oak. This wine has a suggested retail price of $23. Lovely herb and floral aromas fill the nose of Los Cantos. The palate here is studded with layer upon layer of fresh, dark fruit flavors. This wine is marked by crisp acidity and refreshing flavors that beckon you back to the glass for sip after sip. Bits of French Roast coffee and sour black fruit flavors mark the finish; cherry and blackberry are of particular note and accompanied by minerals and copious spices. Los Cantos is a tremendous value in its price range. It’s the kind of wine you may want to buy a case of, to keep around for everyday drinking.

The Bodegas Peñalba Lopez S.L. 2006 Torremilanos was produced using Tempranillo (90 percent) and White Tempranillo (10 percent). White Tempranillo is a genetic mutation of the original Tempranillo grape and a relatively recent one. The vineyards sourced have more than 90 years of age on them. Fermentation took place in concrete tanks. Aging followed in a combination of French oak (80 percent), and concrete tanks (20 percent) over a period of 24 months. This selection has a suggested retail price of $30. Ripe black cherry aromas and bits of toast mark the nose of this wine. Spices such as cardamom and clove are present on the palate and support oodles of dark fruit flavors which are impressive in their combination of intensity and precision. Black tea, minerals and continued fruit flavors such as cherry are in evidence on the finish, which has excellent length and persistence. This wine will work wonderfully both on its own and paired with full-flavored foods, and is a real knockout.

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Mumm Napa offers a window into new world sparkling wine

Several times a year, I head out to California to taste wine. Often, I spend the bulk of my time there in Napa Valley and Sonoma County. One of my personal goals each time out is to spend most of my tasting time at producers I haven’t visited, or at least haven’t been to in a long time. Sometimes the properties I haven’t been to yet surprise even me! So on my most recent trip, when I was compiling a list of potential appointments, Mumm Napa was on the short list. Amazingly, even though I’ve tasted in Napa for about 20 years, I never stopped here before.

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Since it was my first time, I arranged a tour and tasting so I could see the facility and then sample the wines. The tour was very consumer-friendly and took us through the winemaking facility with stops along the way to check out videos of their processes. If you’ve toured a winery, but not one that makes sparkling wine, you should do so to note the number of differences and unique steps involved. I’ve been on a number of tours at sparkling wine houses and I‘m still fascinated. Along the way we sampled three of their widely available offerings. The tour was conducted at a nice pace, leaving plenty of time for questions from the group. Once the tour was over I broke off from the group and sat down on their tasting deck with a friend who joined me that day, to do a more comprehensive tasting. They offer lots of different options for tastings at Mumm Napa and it’s a highly recommended stop for those who love California sparkling wine. There were a number of wines that I really enjoyed. Here’s a look at a trio of my favorites.

The Mumm Napa Brut Prestige was made from a combination of Pinot Noir (51 percent), Chardonnay (46 percent), Pinot Meunier (2 percent), and Pinot Gris (1 percent). The first three grapes are the classic triumvirate most often associated with sparkling wine; The Pinot Gris is something out of the standard realm that they have added. Fermentation took place primarily in stainless steel, and 18 months of aging on yeast followed. This widely available Brut style wine has a suggested retail price of $22. Bits of citrus and white stone fruits fill the nose this wine. This is an entry level selection in the Mumm portfolio, and it’s a classic Brut. The palate is dry and loaded with fruit and spice. Yeast and biscuit characteristics emerge on the finish, which has nice length. While the friendly price makes it an obvious choice for holiday celebrations, this wine will go very well with food whether it’s paired with a first course during dinner or alongside brunch. You’ll be pleased with the results.

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