mmm Portugal…

(by peter & susie)

Susie and I will always remember the meal we had at the Fat Duck a few years ago – and not just for the sensational, inventive food.

Although we were celebrating, we were aware that the meal was already costing an arm and a leg, so didn’t want to splash out too much on the wine. But we still wanted something – both red and white – that was a bit special.

‘Ah,’ said our wise and patient sommelier. ‘I have a few things from Portugal that might interest you…’

And boy was he right. The white and red were both outstanding wines – beautifully characterful but utterly food-friendly. What’s more, they were comparative bargains on the list, most likely because they came with unfamiliar names of obscure grape varieties, unpronounceable regions and little known producers.

Since then, we’ve always thought of Portuguese wine as food wine – and this impression was more than cemented recently when we did a fun exercise with Wines of Portugal.

They sent us over 40 Portuguese wines to taste and we put them up against the 10 classic British dishes we used for the first edition of our What Food What Wine competition.

The result was a fun and often fascinating exploration of a selection of modern Portuguese wines, with some excellent food pairings at the end of it.

The results of our tasting are detailed below, listed by dish. It was interesting to note the way that modern whites from northern Portugal, including Vinho Verde, really can and do pack a punch these days, with lots of gutsy flavour which stands up to the likes of smoked salmon and mushroom risotto.

It was also great to pair some lovely modern Alentejo, Douro and Dão reds to the meatier dishes – these regions are making some fantastic food-friendly wines in a notably approachable style.

And of course from Portugal we should never forget the Ports and Madeiras – often under-rated, frequently great value for money for such venerable, intense wines – and even some characterful fizz, all of which can and do partner well with food.

We look forward to having some good Portuguese wines to try at What Food What Wine 2012, for which we’ve included more dishes (including festive ones like roast turkey and Christmas pud, plus an expanded Indian section). Click on this link for more details of this year’s bigger and better competition – the ultimate food-and-wine matching contest on these shores.

Smoked salmon

Quinta de Paços Morgado do Perdigão Alvarinho & Loureriro 2010, Vinho Regional Minho, 12.5% (£11.70, Casa Leal). A subtle, stylish wine, if a bit traditional in style. Very good weight, quite broad-shouldered, which means it more than holds its own with the oily, pungent smoked salmon. A surprise match!

Mushroom risotto

Planalto Douro Vinho Branco Seco Reserva 2010, 12.5% (from £6.99, Majestic) – nothing shouty, just very decent, very moreish white – which is why it makes a great match for the subtle umami weight of the mushroom risotto. Seamless.

Fish and chips

Morgadio da Torre Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2010, 13% (Stevens Garnier) – another white from the Sogrape stable, along with the Planalto, this is a reticent but richly textured white, really foodie and stoney, the kind of wine that does better with food than without. It’s good with smoked salmon but really comes into its own with the earthy fish and chips

Runner up: Marquês de Marialva Baga Reserva Bruto 2008, Bairrada, 12.5% (Enotria) – a rich, fruity fizz with smoky, anis hints and a yeasty froth. Just as in the first What Food What Wine, fizz more than holds its own with fish and chips, adding a lovely decadence to the experience. Hence this special recognition.

Chicken tikka massala

Quinta de Lagoalva rosé 2010, Vinho Regional Tejo, 12.5% (£9, Casa Leal) – a traditional style of rosé made from Syrah and Touriga Nacional, which would work even better if it were fresher, but still the soft red fruits work well with the tangy spiciness of the dish. Incidentally, this wine also worked well with the smoked salmon.


Porta da Ravessa Alentejo 2010, 13% – an unassuming everyday red, pretty rustic when drunk on its own, but works well with the lasagne, comfortably complimenting the tangy tomato, creamy textures and rich meatiness of the dish.

Roast lamb

Crasto Douro 2010 – a gluggable, cherry-scented red with just the kind of herbal, redcurrant kick you need for a lovely piece of lamb. Joyous.

Bangers and mash

São Domingo Dão 2009, 13.5% – a wine with a beautiful, floral nose and refreshing bittersweet fruit on the palate. It’s not hte most ambitious but very quaffable – and so it proves alongside the sausages, refreshing between mouthfuls and very uplifting. Delicious!

Apple crumble with custard

Bacalhoa Moscatel de Setuabl 2005 (E I Wines) – lovely sweet fruity mess. What’s not to like..?

Rich chocolate mousse

Sandeman 20-year-old tawny port, 20% – with chocolate mousse you need something a bit special. Tawny port, with its nutty, raisiny and fiery flavours, works a treat, almost acting like another ingredient in the dish, as if you’ve added tons of amazing dried fruit soaked in brandy…


Cottas Reserva Douro Branco 2009, 13% (Patriarche) – an extrovert white, with plenty of toasty, nutty and appley character, which is exactly why it partners well with the cheddar’s acidity and creamy flavours.