San Francisco and Lisbon are similar. They are both on the ocean, they have similar climate, they are both hilly (both 7 hills both to be exact), and both San Francisco and Lisbon have a Golden Gate Bridge, in fact almost identical looking and near identical size (SF: 2,737 m, Lisbon: 2,277 meters). Is this not freaky? To add to the freakiness, I discovered that in downtown Lisbon there is a wine bar called Nectar Wine Bar. Now this is freaky because I spent half of my life at the counter (the customer’s side) in a wine bar called Nectar Wine Lounge in San Francisco. Even their logos are similar.

So needless to say I like Lisbon and I like their wine culture. Wine is everywhere in Lisbon and it comes in all kinds of varieties. Unlike Spain, where with some exceptions basically Tempranillo rules, Portugal has all kinds of wines. Think fizzy Vinho Verde, the sweet Madeira, the reds and whites from Dão, Alentejano and Duoro, and of course Port. And it does not stop there, wine comes in light body, full body, old world, modern style, any kind of shape or form. I do not like them all, but I love the variety. This is a country to discover in terms of wine.

And discover we did at the Nectar Wine bar. We had fantastic food and several tastes of wine, three of which I will try to summarize now. The first one is Quinta dos Roques, Encruzado, a white from the Dão. Rui Reguinga, the wine maker, makes the Encruzado, the white varietal indigenous Dão, in a modern style. The nose immediately hit me as caramelized apple, then you taste tropical fruit, rich minerality and a long finish. Good stuff, I would buy it any day.

The second wine is a light bodied red from Quinta dos Cozinheiros. This house is in the Beiras region, halfway between Porto and Lisbon, very near, a mere 8 kilometers from the Atlantic Coast. Because of the proximity to the ocean, the climate is cool, steady without heat waves and summer sleet, which is almost normal in continental climates, such as France and Germany. The steady cool weather helps maintain the acidity level in the grapes , and as a result these wines age quite well. This red was the Poeirinho 2000, which is made of the grape of the same name or otherwise referred to as Baga. Baga is a red grape with a very thick skin, which tends to rot quickly. They harvest these grapes before they fully ripen and ferment them in their skin, if I am not mistaken, sort of like Beaujolais Nouveau. One difference is that they leave Poeirinho in French oak for 12 months. It is kind of strange, because these wines age very well, yet they have quite a bit of commonality with Beaujolais Nouveau, which is usually consumed within the first year. In fact when I tasted this Poeirinho 2000, I thought it was sort of a cross between Beaujolais Nouveau and a Lambrusco as it is light, simple, and a tiny bit sparkling. Go figure! I was not a huge fan of this wine, but it was interesting.

The last one of the Nectar Wine Bar batch is the Passadouro 2005 from Quinta do Passadouro. This estate is owned by a Belgian businessman Dieter Bohrmann who moved down to Portugal twenty years ago to break with the Port tradition (for which Douro is famous) and try to make dry red wines. For the first 15 or so years he had been working with famed Port maker, Dirk Niepoort, but over the last few years Passadouro has been more and more independent. This 2005 vintage is one of the first fruits of this independence. The wine is super dark color, very high in tannins, a bit tarty, heavy on minerals sort of that old fashioned Dão style, and has a disappointingly short finish. It is way too tight at the moment, and I think this wine needs to age quite a bit before it becomes more enjoyable. That said, it has potential, and I can tell that it will taste quite different in a few years, but it is a shame to put this wine on the shelves now. The winery also acts as a guesthouse and next time I am Douro I will be sure to knock on their door and perhaps spend a night.

Name: Quinta dos Roques, Encruzado, 2006

Rating: 8 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 3.50 euros per glass, ~10 euros retail

Got it at: Nectar Wine Bar in Lisbon, Portugal

Quinta dos Roques, Encruzado, 2006

Name: Quinta dos Cozinheiros, Poeirinho, 2000

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Body: Light to Medium

Price: 5.50 euros per glass, ~14 euros retail

Got it at: Nectar Wine Bar in Lisbon, Portugal

Quinta dos Cozinheiros, Poeirinho, 2000

Name: Passadouro, 2005 from Quinta do Passadouro

Rating: 7 out of 10 (with quite a bit of potential)

Body: Medium

Price: 5.80 euros per glass, ~12 euros retail

Got it at: Nectar Wine Bar in Lisbon, Portugal

Passadouro, 2005 from Quinta do Passadouro

Prior to visiting Portugal I had tasted wines from Douro, Dão (entry on Frei João Reserva) , and the northern Portuguese Minho region where they produce Vinho Verde. Last week I had the chance to visit Lisbon and taste some fantastic wines from Alentejo, which promptly became my favorite Portuguese region. This happens all the time. If you have an open mind and are willing to taste a wide variety of wines, you will discover amazing jewels that for one reason or another never made it to the mainstream outside of their locales.

While I would say wines from the Dão require an acquired taste, and to some extent even Douros, Alentejo wines, both reds and whites, are very approachable. I will start with a white, Herdade do Rocim‘s beautiful Olho De Mocho Reserva 2005, I tasted at the Nectar Wine Bar in Lisbon. My first impression of this wine was that it tastes like Arneis, from the Italian region of Piemonte. It is fruity, has quite a bit of pears, almonds, and an upfront hint of petrol, though very different from Rieslings. The varietal, Antão Vaz, is typical for whites in Alentejo. The body is medium to full and the acidity level holds up quite nicely to the fruit. You can easily drink this standalone and it is also very flexible for pairing with food.

One of the impressive reds I tried from Alentejo was the José de Sousa Mayor 2000 by José Maria de Fonseca (JMF). It is plush, very velvety (almost Napa Cab style soft tannins), very well structured and explodes with dark fruit, tobacco and dark chocolate. It is a heavy, best paired with beef or perhaps game dishes. If there is something I took home from this wine is that it is the closest to modern International taste that I have found in Portugal. It is extremely approachable for even the non-adventurous mind. The one strange thing about it is that the wine is made in a traditional Alentejo style, in that they ferment the grapes in clay pots/tanks called lagares (if you’ve seen people stomping on grapes, this is similar), yet it has such a modern taste. It is made from 55% Trincadeira, 33% Aragonez (called Tempranillo in Spain) and 12% Grand Noir (Tinta Fina) from old vines planted in the 1950s, spends about 10 months in American oak and is bottled unfiltered. If you can get your hands on this wine, you have to try it.

Name: Olho De Mocho Reserva 2005 from Herdade do Rocim

Rating: 8 out of 10

Body: Medium to Full

Price: 4.50 euros per glass, 12 euros retail

Got it at: Nectar Wine Bar in Lisbon

Olho De Mocho Reserva 2005 from Herdade do Rocim
Name: José de Sousa Mayor 2000 by José Maria de Fonseca

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Body: Full

Price: 6.50 euros per glass, 18 euros retail

Got it at: Alfaia Wine Bar, Bairro Alto district, Lisbon, Portugal

José de Sousa Mayor 2000 by José Maria de Fonseca