Wine: Portugal's Douro Reds
Without doubt, the most famous fortified red wine in the world is the sweet and spirity port from Portugal's Douro River Valley. Not surprising then that the Douro's vineyards of this international treasure are protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
However, the fiery ports sometimes overshadow the rich and dry food-friendly Douro red table wines from this majestic, mountainous and meandering river valley.
While port originated in 1675, it was as recently as the 1990s that the Douro red table wines gained any real recognition internationally following Portugal's entry to the European Union. The wines' quality and personality owes much to the soil and the grape varieties (castas). The granite-based schistous rock gives the red wines their foundation, adding a mineral character. Higher altitude vineyards (quintas) are much cooler, ensuring fresh blackfruit flavours with refreshing crisp acidity.
Portugal has a huge number of native grape varieties, mostly blended, producing wines with a distinctive multi-layered personality. Sixty red varietals are permitted for quality wine status (DOC) in the Douro.
Portuguese recipes can be an eclectic mix, ranging from the traditional salted fish made into an earthy rich stew to the exotic spicy influence from Portugal's former colonies in Asia and the Orient. The Douro's red wines are comfortable in the company of most ethnic dishes, salty or piquant, while the younger Douro reds will reward keeping for three to four years from their vintage.
1) Castelinho Reserva 2009 13.5pc
A rich and mature earthy bouquet. Leather and earth with stewed black prunes and berries, rustic and authentic. Mellow tannins smooth the way for a long finish.
€16.99 in Dublin at Donnybrook Fair; Redmond's, Ranelagh; Sweeney's, Glasnevin; The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; Fresh Outlets; The Wine Shop, Perrystown; Nectar, Sandyford and La Touche, Greystones
2) Tuella 2011 Symington Family Estates 13.5pc
Complex bouquet of cigar box and pencil shavings. Deep and brooding style and still evolving over the next two to three years. Firm tannins support the mineral and blackberry flavours.
€15.50 at tindalwine.com
3) Crasto 2011 Quinta do Crasto 14.5pc
A restrained mineral aroma echoes on the palate, joined by a core of blackberry fruits and a woody note hiding the alcohol.
€16 at winesdirect.ie and Wines Direct Shop, Mullingar
4) Callabriga Douro 2009 Sogrape Vinhos 13.5pc
Muted aromas of pencil shavings. Chewy stewed fruits, mellow and earthy finish dry with tannins.
€20 at Ardkeen Stores, Waterford. In Dublin at The Corkscrew, Chatham Street; Jus de Vine, Portmarnock; Martin's, Fairview; Drinkstore, Stoneybatter and Kelly's Wine Vault, Clontarf
5) Papa Figos 2010 Casa Ferrierinha 13pc
Delicious, juicy black fruits with a firm grip of tannins to hold interest. Charming with a long finish of blackberries.
€14.99 at Golden's of Kells, Cahersiveen; Matson's Winestore, Cork and Stack's, Listowel
6) Vale da Clara 2010, Quinta de la Rosa 13.5pc
Scented with spicy black pudding. Great depth of flavour with ripe blackberries and tarry black fruits with a mineral tang on the finish.
€14.99-€15.99 at Swans on the Green, Naas; Terroirs, Donnybrook, Dublin 4 and jnwine.com