Wed 16 Dec 2009
Except for vintage port, the wines of Portugal have languished in relative obscurity. That has not been a bad situation, because it has kept international trends and the pressures of the marketplace from the doors of small producers. Circumstances have changed in Portugal, as indeed everywhere, since the middle of the 1990s, bringing more Portuguese wines to our shores as well as opening producers to global marketing and ideas. This process is certainly occurring in an off-the-beaten-track region like Alentejo, nestled against the Spanish border southeast of Lisbon. Here the kings of the vineyards are tempranillo, which goes by the local name aragonês, and the alicante bouschet grape, which doesn’t get a whole hell of a lot of respect elsewhere in the world.
The unusual wine I’m urging on you today — as a great gift for a wine person or for yourself because you were so good this year — is Malhadinha Tinto 2004, made in the Alentejo region by the small producer, Herdade da Malhadinha Nova. The simple winery and the vineyards occupy an abandoned farm purchased by the Soares family in 1996. Winemaker is Luis Duarte. This is the first vintage of the wine brought into the U.S.
Composed of 45 percent aragonês grapes, 40 percent alicante bouschet and 15 percent cabernet sauvignon, Malhadinha Tinto 2004 is drop-dead gorgeous. Yes, I actually wrote those words, and I’m not sorry. You could stop at the Penelope Cruz-like bouquet of cassis, hot stones, smoke, coffee, mocha and tar, but then you would miss the wine’s lovely shape and tone, its robust and vigorous nature, its ripe black currant and plum flavors infused with baking spices and sweet oak, all tempered by supple, chewy tannins and a background of crushed gravel. Malhadinha 2004 aged 14 months in new French oak barrels, but the wood influence is beautifully integrated into the texture and dimension of the wine, so there’s no taint of new oak toastiness or creaminess; instead, vibrant acidity gets the last word. Production was 1,433 cases. Excellent. About $90.
More accessible, at one-third the price, is this wine’s cousin, the Monte da Peceguina Tinto 2007, composed of 50 percent aragonês grapes, 25 percent alicante bouschet, 9 percent touriga nacional and 8 percent each cabernet sauvignon and tinta caiada, a grape that apparently grows only in Alentejo. The wine is solid and resonant, stalwart but with a sense of light-boned delicacy, a prime example of the marriage of power and elegance. The color is dark ruby-purple, the flavors are dark, too, in the black currant, blackberry and black plum range, and the spicy character carries a tinge of dark exoticism. Aged seven months in new French oak, the wine is sleek and polished but not superficially sophisticated; the finish is an amalgam of finely ground wood, dried flowers, granite-like tannins and slate. When it comes to a rib-eye smack-down, this wine would be all over a piece of rare beef. 7,083 cases. Excellent. About $30.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Cal., which provided these samples for review.