Portuguese Wines Grow in Quality and Availability

Colossal Reserva
Colossal Reserva, 2015
14 percent alcohol content
Lisbon, Portugal, $13.99/$10.99

Colossal Reserva is an award-winning red wine that’s full of plum and blackberry flavors, making it an excellent cool-weather choice with grilled meats, flavorful cheeses and the diverse fare of a holiday meal.

Made by one of Portugal’s top young winemakers Diogo Sepulveda, a former bullfighter, Colossal Reserva is produced by a family-owned winery that has a proven commitment to quality.

Casa Santos Lima is a multi-generation family winery that is the largest producer in the hilly, coastal Lisboa wine region to the north and west of Lisbon. Until 2008, the wine region was known as Estremadura, but the name was changed in favor of the internationally-known capital city and to avoid confusion with the Extremadura region of Spain.

The bulk of the winery’s Lisboa vineyards are near the town of Alenquer. The vines in the Alenquer subregion are protected from raw Atlantic Ocean winds by the chalky hills of the Serra de Montejunto. In the mild climate, grapes are allowed to ripen at leisure and can produce very good, concentrated red and white wines, according to the Wines of Portugal website.

It wasn’t too long ago — within the last decade or so — that it was difficult to find an affordable Portuguese red wine on the market in the U.S., much less in New England.

Back then, I understood that the affordable Portugese reds available in this country were rough, country wines. The idea of drinking such a wine of the people was appealing to me, pulling on fond memories of my youthful, student months in Europe, hedonistically drinking cheap table wine as if we were members of the Lost Generation in desperate search of joie de vivre.

I never found a bottle of the rustic wine then, which was probably just as well, but in recent months I’ve discovered a number of well-made, smooth-drinking Portuguese reds, including Colossal.

Once a world leader in maritime commerce and trade, Portugal and its wine production suffered until recent years, devastated first by phylloxera, a late-19th-century blight that plagued Europe’s vineyards for more than 30 years, and then by isolationist politics. For more than a half century, Portugal became better known in the wine world for its corks than its wine, Jancis Robinson writes in The Oxford Companion to Wine.

For much of the 20th century, Portugal eschewed the outside world. Following 20 years of political turmoil and economic depression, Antonio de Oliveria Salazar became prime minister in 1932, and 40 years of poor quality wine, produced by central government-organized cooperatives, ensued.

In 1974, a military-led revolution sparked two years of unrest, but it also led to the restoration of democracy and Portugal returning to the European mainstream. The wine industry still languished under the yoke of the cooperatives until the country joined the European Communities, the forerunner of the European Union, in 1986, which led to the dismantling of the old system and provided funds to update Portugal’s winemaking infrastructure. The country has been making very good wine ever since, albeit not widely available in the U.S. until the last decade.

Colossal is a blend of equal amounts of Touriga Nacional, a now-fashionable, dark-skinned grape that’s considered by many to be Portugal’s finest red variety; Syrah; Tinta Roriz, aka Tempranillo; and 10 percent Alicante Bouschet, a thick-skinned grape popular during Prohibition among illicit winemakers on the East Coast.

Both Touriga Nacional and Alicante Bouschet were originally considered best used for blending, especially with Port. But in recent years, young, skilled winemakers have been developing both grapes as highly praised varietal wines, as well as using them in such award-winning blends as the 2015 vintage of Colossal, which was ranked 60th by Wine Spectator in the world’s top 100 wines in 2017.

After fermentation, winemaker Sepulveda allows the blend for Colossal to remain in vats with the skins for 15 days before aging the wine for eight months in French and American oak barrels.

The result is a dark ruby wine with aromas of ripe red fruit and spices and rich black fruit flavors, the tasting notes say.

Well-made, flavorful Portuguese wines are now widely available in the U.S., often at bargain prices. Colossal is one of the best reasonably-priced Portuguese reds on the market. Portugal and Italy apparently have escaped the 25 percent tariffs imposed by the U.S. on European wines last month, which means the wines from those countries will continue to be great bargains. Check out Colossal. You won’t be disappointed.

Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at raiseyourglassofwine@gmail.com.

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