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New Portuguese wines
from old estates – J.M. da Fonseca

by Simone Zarmati Diament

For years one thought of Portuguese red wines as acid plonk, much like the cheap bottles of wine from the Yugoslavia of yore or the Greek reds that tasted more like Turkish coffee mark than wine. Only the brave had a go at Portuguese Vinho Verde, the almost effervescent white with a bite which was an acquired taste like the Greek Retsina wine.

Who would have thought that progress would reach to the inhospitable cliffs of Portugal and that it would produce, besides incomparable Ports, wines from indigenous Portuguese grape varieties that would find their place on eye levels shelves.

But there they are: red table wines and deliciously fresh whites with grape varieties unfamiliar to the American consumer, albeit known to Port lovers: Touriga Franca, touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, or Castelao, Trincadeira or Trajadura.

The mission of Antonio Franco, Jr., the new generation of the Franco family at the helm of J.M. da Fonseca, and an MBA from Columbia University in New York, is to showcase the full potential of the Douro Valley’s grapes, and of other Portugal’s top viticultural regions.

Domini Douro DOC,Vouro Valley, Portugal 2004, $15.50</strong>
DOMINI is a joint venture between Domingos Soares Franco, head of winemaking at Jose Maria da Fonseca and winemaker Cristiano Van Zeller, a member of Portugal’s famed “Douro Boys,” an elite group of cutting-edge producers of ports and table wines from Portugal’s Douro Valley. The grapes: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz (the traditional grapes for Port) are grown on a 28-acre vineyard of old and younger vines in the Douro Superior region of northern Portugal on well-drained soil is composed chiefly of schist. The wine: Dark ruby red and full-bodied, the wine is elegant, packed with ripe, jammy plum, raisin and blackberry flavors with hints of vanilla from the three months in new American oak barrels and soft tannins. 13.5% Alcohol. Pairs well with grilled or roasted meats and vegetables.

Periquita, Terras do Sado, Portugal 2004 ($10.99)
The Villa Nogueira de Azetão estate, just a short distance from Lisbon, across the Tagus River on the Setúbal peninsula is home of Periquita, a wine created by José Maria da Fonseca in 1850.
The grapes: Castelão, Trincadeira and Aragonez, are indigenous varieties that thrive in the sand, clay and lime soil of Terras do Sado and the maritime climate of sun-drenched southern Portugal.
The wine: Deep ruby and medium-bodied, the wine is round with red berries, plums and figs and is balanced with a smooth earthy finish. 13.4% Alcohol. It is a nice table wine most enjoyable served at 65F to 70F with a variety of foods and can be kept for up to six years.

Twin Vines Vinho Verde DCO, Portugal 2007, $8.50
A great refreshing white summer wine from the Vinho Verde DOC in northwest Portugal, Twin Vines was named after twin baby girls, the newest members and 8th generation of the Soares Franco family owners of José Maria da Fonseca Wine co.
The grapes: Loureiro, Trajadura and Pederna come from Vinho Verde in northwest Portugal in the fertile region from Vale da Cambra, south of the Douro river, to the Minho river on the border with Spain. It gets very hot in summer and the temperatures drop a night; in winter it gets very cold and the soil is granitic allowing for good drainage. All this reflects in the wine.
The wine: Pale straw with greenish hues, it is lively and crisp to the point of being slightly effervescent, offers a vibrant acidity with flavors of lemon, melon and green apple . 9.8% Alcohol. It is a wonderful aperitif wine and pairs well with seafood, salads poultry and light dishes.

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