by Jenny Benzie, Advanced Sommelier of Épernay
The diversity of wines, from different regions and grape varieties, is what makes them all special and unique. Each wine has its own story and history of where it came from, how it was made, and about the land and people who helped to shape it into what it becomes. Much like a community of people, it takes a village to raise these wines to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment.
Consuming wine can also be translated as a sense of place and time as to where you were when you had that wine, who did you share it with, and also the influence of where the wine came from. The Iberian Peninsula of Portugal and Spain offers delicious wines of character from some lesser known winemaking regions to enjoy as we slide into summer and all the pleasures that Nantucket has to offer.
Our wine travels begin with an artisanal discovery from Portugal that is a beautiful example of what an indigenous grape has to offer. The best expression of the white Alvarinho grape comes from the extreme north of this country, right on the border with Spain, which is divided here by the Minho River. Nortico Alvarinho is hence named Nortico, in reference to being in the North. This wine is produced on the south bank of this river in sustainably-grown vines on granite soil in plots so small they are called “jardins,” which translates to gardens in Portuguese. This is a young, fresh wine. It has fresh citrus, peach, and tropical aromas paired with clean, juicy fruit and vibrant minerality. The bright acidity makes a lovely summer wine to drink on its own as an aperitif or with a noon-day meal of fish tacos or oysters on the half shell.
The beautiful, picturesque label is in homage to the small tile ateliers who historically produce the 14 cm x 14 cm tiles shaped by scratch and painted by hand. These tiles can be found on all types of buildings while walking the streets of Oporto, where the famous Port wine in made, or Lisbon, the country’s capital city. Not only are they a durable building material, they are also considered an early form of storytelling and graphic design, much like the examples of scrimshaw from Nantucket’s whaling days. Both of these capture the spirit of the peop le and the local aesthetics from which they come.
THE OTHER R
When thinking of wine travel in Spain during Nantucket’s off-season, the most well-known and visited region is Rioja. However, there is another “R” region worthy of your attention.
Produced in a very small town in the north central area of the Ribera del Duero wine region in Spain, is Torremoron Tempranillo. This famous red grape and the winemaking that revolves around it is the lifeblood of this region. The majority of the townsfolk work at the winery, the rest work at the only restaurant/ bar in the area – talk about the sense of community! What makes this region so unique in its grape growing success is the high desert climate with enormous diurnal temperature shifts from day to night, along with its lack of annual rainfall and the high elevation of where this particular vineyard in the region.
The extremely old-vine vineyard (on average over 100 years) of Tempranillo, also known as Tinto Fino in the region, is planted on limestone soils and this youthful, pure wine is produced only in stainless steel, combining to produce an unadulterated version of what this grape and region have to offer. The wine has aromas of red berries and a rugged mineral character. There is a slight spiciness on the palate that follows with a chewy, juicy finish. The wine is middle-of-the road, not being to light in flavors and aromas, or too heavily burdened with texture by oak. It would be the ultimate pairing for your festive summer bbq of grilled meats and sausages, or as a red option for those who enjoy a not so bold red with their Nantucket fresh catch of the day.
Taking us back to Portugal is the FitaPreta Touriga Vai Nua “Unoaked” red wine. Vai Nua literally translates to “going naked,” hence the name of this wine as it sees no oak.
This wine comes from the Alentejo region, located in the southeastern central part of the country closer to the Spanish border than the Portuguese coast. It is made from 100% Touriga Nacional from sustainably grown vines on average of 30 years old, tended in schist rocky soil, and a true expression of Portugal’s King of grapes.
The wine has warm, lush, ripe fruit, yet is fresh and light on its feet due to a partial carbonic maceration. This is a winemaking technique in which the initial fermentation is not started by the addition of yeast as in traditional winemaking, but rather by filling a sealed vessel with carbon dioxide and then adding whole, intact bunches of grapes to begin the fermentation from the inside of the grape out on its own. The result is a fruitier style red wine with softer tannins, that makes this wine extremely versatile.
Dark purple in color, don’t be deceived by the ultra-fruity bubble-gum aroma with fresh notes of boysenberry, blackberry, plum and blueberry. On the palate, you will find savage notes of iron, beef blood, anise and rose petals. The complexity of this simple wine, along with the moderate level of alcohol and lack of tannin, make it a perfect accompaniment for a more serious charcuterie and cheese platter.
Our wine travels take us back to one of the oldest established wine regions of Portugal. The temperate Dao region is located in mountainous Northern Central Portugal. It is the origin of the red grape Touriga Nacional, which is the principal component of fortified Port wines. Historically, this Port wine was favored by the British. It made its way to America on British ship, as the barrels were used as ballast for the Trans-Atlantic crossing. It was also favored because fortified wines would hold well enough to be consumed along the way on these long sea voyages.
In recent years, we have seen the rise in production of still wines from the region that still use the same traditional grape varieties found in Port, however just not fortified in strength. Quinta do Saes Tinto is one such wine. This wine is a field field blend, drawing on the tradition of interplanting different grape varietals in a place to give a more cohesive and complete picture of the terroir. The sustainably grown vines are on a granite-based soil in a temperate climate. The winemaking here is “old school,” in that the wine is made in the vineyard as a reflection of the soil, and there is little intervention in the winery. After fermentation with wild yeasts, the wine is aged in used large format French oak to create some roundness and cohesiveness in the wines.
The wine is bright ruby-garnet in color. The nose is bright fresh cherry, pomegranate, rose petal and flint. The palate is elegant and fresh, with spice notes wrapped around a core of fresh cherry fruit. The finish is long, with juicy acidity and a touch of minerality. The fresh red fruit and delicate aromatics of this wine would be delicious with poultry, wild game, and a combination of exotic mushrooms.
These wines are being featured this month as Epernay’s Cheers to Charities program, where 10% of the sales for the month of June will be donated to PASCON
– Palliative and Supportive Care of Nantucket.