2019 Quinta de São Sebastião Forte do Cego Vinho Regional Lisboa

I’ve quietly despaired over the quality of Dan Murphy’s Portuguese direct imports which have largely been from one industrial scale producer. Shame, as Portugal has a wealth of indigenous varieties often turned into great value bottles of real interest. This had just appeared on the shelves as I made my weekly pilgrimage to the local duopoly booze provider. So recent it hadn’t been price stickered. A look at the back label confirmed it’s not from the usual avoided producer and despite containing Shiraz it does have the much underrated Castelão and stalwart Touriga Nacional within. It seems the extremely tough Castelão is perhaps the most widely planted variety in Portugal and almost out machos Touriga in its ability to thrive in poor soil and relentless dry heat. Like a Mourinho back four one nil up with an hour to go. Delighted to find the experiment was only going to cost $8 when I arrived at the checkout. Furthermore it seems our supermarket paradigm shifter in the form of Aldi, hooray for some competition, also imports from the very big Quinta de S. Sebastião conglomerate. Visions of huge stainless steel tank farms. Anyway a lot of words for a simple bottle. Cracking the screw cap, things were reticent to say the least but with time and air some ripe sweet red fruit emerged on a lift of spice, violets and strawberries. Perhaps so fruit sweet it seemed like a bit of residual sugar lurked but it did settle to a more savoury whole. Good shape in the mouth too, that robust freshness and grip I remember from Castelão and a lick of grainy tannin. Enjoyed it a lot more than the oaky, green and lean Gimblett Gravels Kiwi blend which cost four times as much. As things hot up, these tough old Portuguese grapes look a viable alternative to throwing precious water on uncomfortable French grapes struggling to gain flavour in forty degrees. You don’t need to be a member of Mensa to realise wine prices don’t always equate to authenticity or quality.

13% alcohol. Screw cap. $8.

89 points.

2019 Heredade Rocim Mariana Vinho Regional Alentejano

The back label tells the story of a lovelorn nun called Mariana, not sure about the relevance to a secular drinker, perhaps marketing to the devout. Personally more impressed by those interesting Portuguese varieties, in this case 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Aragonez or Tempranillo, 20% Alicante Bouschet and 10% Trincadeira or Tinta Amarela. Not sure just how indigenous are the middle two but they do like a bit of warmth which the Alentejo can provide. This was one of those bottles which failed to inspire initially and had me grumbling about over ripe, contrived wine making, only to prove me entirely wrong after twenty four hours. Started off with leathery, dried grape skin, lacking a bit of freshness and bounce. Lots of chewy dry skin tannin and a wide clunk of acid. Considerable surprise the next day to find loads of bright spiced plums, dark blackberry, sweet dark quality chocolate mixed with dried fruit and nuts. A twist of baked earth and a bloody, iron tang. Touriga comes good again. Tannin and ripe acidity in place. Another lesson in not jumping too quickly to judge. Wine’s so much fun. Books and covers.

14% alcohol. Diam. $29.

89 completely misjudged points to start, 92/93 thereafter.

2017 Casa da Passarella A Descoberta Dão Tinto

Memory is a curious thing. On holiday in Lisbon a few years ago, the encyclopaedic wine shop the Garrafeira Nacional recommended a red or tinto from the high hills of Dão. It was a beacon shone bright, lighting up the flavours of grape and place. Forgetful, I left my notebook of wine ramblings on a meal table somewhere, never to be seen again. All that was left was a memory of a really good wine but no name. When an email from a favourite importer appeared offering this, it provoked an odd stirring in the cobwebbed recesses of recognition. Double checking the Garrafeira website, it could indeed be that forgotten label. There’s certainly the purity of flavour and aroma I remember. A blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz aka Tempranillo, Alfrocheiro and Jaen aka Mencia, so very Portuguese. There’s a spicy aroma and flavour I associate with Northern Portugal. It’s here wrapped up in rich plum and red berries, a little clove, aniseed and cinnamon, maybe a contribution from some clean oak and Touriga’s dark blackberry jam. No lack of backbone, a shining blade of bright acid and really firm tannin push austerely against the sweet spice and fruit. Warm but granite mountain fresh. Very much for the table and something meaty. Nearly forgot, it’s delicious.

13.5% alcohol. Cork. $30 rrp.

93 points and muito bom.

August 2021 and another pandemic lockdown, cool grey days and another bottle to cheer the patient resignation. Perhaps not quite as fruit laden as the first but does have that quartz like sparkle of austerity and curranty warmth that brings thoughts of that rugged country up those Portuguese rivers. Oddly like old school Clare Valley firmness with Portuguese spice replacing bush scents of mint and gum trees. The coffee oak touch often common to both too.

92 points.

2017 Aldi S and R Douro

It’s not all Grand Cru Burgundy around here, sadly. This $10 from Portugal was about the only thing to tweak some interest on Aldi’s shelves. From the very ambitious Duorum project investment, this is a blend of Tourigas, both Franca and Nacional, and Tinta Roriz aka Tempranillo. A spectacular train journey up the rugged Douro from old Porto in 2017 reinforced the idea that some grape varieties are well suited to their traditional homes. By the 20th September it hadn’t rained for three months said the locals and the temperature was still 30 degrees. Nonetheless the vines, especially Touriga Nacional, were still green and the grapes coming in had a reasonable amount of juice. Incredible resilience. The season shows even in this humble offering. Opening reduction clears to thick blackberry jam fruit, dark licorice, dry dusty roads and a touch of blue steel, no, not Zoolander but like hot rail lines and ballast on a warm afternoon. Over time the dense dry grape skin tannins start to take over, saved by a tug of nicely tucked in acidity. More than a hint of the dry extract scaffolding that makes Vintage Port so long lived, though with this cheapie the frame will be there long after the fruit has faded. Nonetheless, well made and a real sense of place for not much. Carry on up the Douro.

13.5% alcohol. Screw cap. $9.99.

88 points.