A Celebration of Portugal with Esporão

Did you know June 10 is Portugal Day? I didn’t until receiving an invitation to gather with a group of wine writers and wine industry professionals to celebrate the Portuguese holiday with Esporão wines. Portugal Day is a public holiday celebrated in Portugal that commemorates Porgugal’s beloved poet Luís de Camões who died on June 10, 1580 in Lisboa. In 1572 his epic poem, Os Lusíadas, was published describing Vasco da Gama’s discovery of an ocean passage to India.

The celebration took place in the San Francisco restaurant, Uma Casa. David Glancy, Master Sommelier and founder and CEO of San Francisco Wine School, introduced us to Esporão with a brief presentation before leading us in a tasting of wines from Esporão and Quinta dos Murças. The most difficult task we had for the afternoon was to decide which wines we thought paired best with the delicious luncheon prepared by Uma Casa founder and executive chef, Telmo Faria.

Our celebration began with with a cold beer, which was unexpected, but most welcome on an unusually warm day in San Francisco. Sovina is a craft beer, the first produced in Portugal, made in Oporto. The Sovina Helles is mild in taste with pleasant bitterness. It paired nicely with an assortment of chouriço, São Miguel cheese, olives and house pickles. Oh, that cheese took me back to the Azores Islands where we have vacationed several times. I discovered Chef Faria has family roots in the Azores, just as I do.

Getting to Know Esporão

  • Esporão was established in 1973 by José Roquette and Joaquim Bandeira in Reguengos de Monsaraz, in the Alentejo, southeast of Lisboa.
  • The property is home to historic monuments, which include Esporão Tower, Esporão Arch and Nossa Senhora dos Remédios (Our Lady of Remedies) Chapel.
  • Today Esporão farms 1700 acres of vineyards, olive groves and vegetables organically. The vineyards are focused on indigenous grape varieties with more than 40 varieties in the vineyards.
  • The winery uses a combination of old and new techniques including traditional clay amphorae (talhas in Portuguese) and lagares alongside modern stainless steel tanks and new oak barrels, both American and French.
  • Australian winemaker, David Baverstock, became chief winemaker for Esporão in 1996 and is credited with lifting the quality of  Esporão wines. In 2014 Portuguese winemaker, Sandra Alves, joined Esporão as white wine and rosé winemaker before transitioning to overseeing the winery’s red wine production.
  • In 2008 Esporão purchased Quinta dos Murças, which straddles the Baixo and Cima-Corgo sub-regions of the Douro. Winemaking dates back to 1714 on this estate perched on some of the steepest slopes in the Douro region.
  • Quinta dos Murças is comprised of 300 acres and is planted to 118 indigenous grape varieties in some 50 plots. Rather than the traditional horizontally terraced vineyards, which predominate in the Douro, vertical vineyard rows are favored here as a means to reduce erosion on the steep hillsides.
  • David Baverstock established the direction of winemaking here beginning in 2008 before handing over winemaking to José Luís a native of Oporto.
  • Esporão makes a range of olive oils sourced from their own olive groves, some of which are certified organic, as well as local family-owned olive groves in the Alentejo. Olive oil production is supervised by Ana Carrilho, a specialist in olive oil, in Esporão’s own mill.
  • Esporão had developed agrotourism in the Alentejo and at Quinta dos Murças in the Douro.

A Taste of Esporão

We began the tasting with a group of white wines made using different grape varieties in different styles. The contrast was interesting and provided a wine for every palate. As you might expect there wasn’t unanimous agreement on which wines paired best with the first course.

Esporão white wines

2018 Assobio Branco, Douro — comprised of Viosinho, Verdelho, Rabigato, Gouveio and Códega do Larinho varieties matured in stainless steel on fine lees. Aromas and flavors of stone fruit with minerality and juicy acidity. Assobio means whistling in Portuguese and describes the windy conditions in this Quinta dos Murças vineyard.

2018 Monte Velho Branco, Alentejo — comprised of Antão Vaz, Perrum and Roupeiro varieties. This wine has a bit more body and weight with melon, citrus pith and nice acidity. This is a very large production wine and it’s delicious.

2017 Esporão Verdelho Branco, Alentejo — comprised of 100% Verdelho, which David Baverstock introduced to Alentejo in 2004 with cuttings from Madeira. This wine is complex and honeyed, less fruity, but citrusy and with herbaceous components and gravelly minerality. Interesting wine.

2018 Esporão Colheita Branco, Alentejo — comprised of Antão Vaz, Viosinho, Alvarinho & other varieties. Lighter in color but with complex flavors of citrus and orange blossom carried by brilliant acidity. Winery notes say this wine peaks in 3 – 4 years. Certified organic.

2017 Esporão Reserva Branco, Alentejo — comprised of Antão Vaz, Arinto and Roupeiro varieties from estate vineyards. Oak aromas lead with spice, then citrusy fruit flavors and minerals with nice body. This is the first wine made by Esporão in 1985. Barrel fermented and aged in new French oak.

2016 Esporão Private Selection Branco, Alentejo — comprised of 95% Semillon, 5% field blend reminding us of David Baverstock’s Australian roots. Medium yellow with rich, honeyed flavors, spice, nice acidity and plenty of body. This is an opulent wine that reflects its barrel fermentation in new French oak. Not what you would expect in a Portuguese wine.

Vieiras Salteadas

First Course Pairing: Vieiras Salteadas. Seared scallops, creamed corn, pea shoots, nectarine molho cru.

My favorite wines from this group were the Verdelho Branco and the Colheita Branco. Both paired beautifully with the rich scallop. The brilliant acidity, especially in the Colheita Branco, provided a counterpoint to the richness of the scallops. Some in the group, however, preferred the oaked wines because they matched the richness of the scallops. The scallops were divine.

No matter your preference, these wines are so drinkable both on their own and with food. Average prices on Wine-Searcher reveals affordable wines priced in the mid-teens and below. The average price for the Private Selection Branco rises to a modest $22. That spells bargain to me.

The red wine flight included four wines.

Esporão red wines

2017 Esporão Colheita Tinto, Alentejo — comprised of Cabernet Sauvignon, Touriga Franca and Aragonez co-fermented in lagars with foot trending and aging in concrete tanks. No oak is used in the winemaking in order to represent the pure fruit flavors of the grapes. Vineyards are all estate and farmed organically. Red and dark fruit flavors combine with dried herbs in the background and smooth tannins. Very youthful and a nice red wine for warmer weather.

2017 Quinta dos Murças Minas Tinto, Douro — comprised of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Roriz and Tinto Cão vines planted in a variety of schist soil types in the estate vineyards. Red and dark fruit flavors combine with brilliant acidity and nice tannins for a lively, balanced red wine.

2012 Quinta dos Murças Reserva Tinto, Douro — comprised of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Sousão, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz sourced from 40-year-old vines planted in the Quinta’s vertically-oriented vineyard. The wine spends one year in barrel and four in bottle before release. This lovely wine leads with cedar, red and dark fruit, dill and other savory flavors along with grippy tannins. Just delicious!

2011 Esporão Reserva Tinto, Alentejo — comprised of Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez, Trincadeira and Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from estate vineyards. Each variety is vinified separately and aged 12 months in 70% American oak and 30% French oak barrels followed by one year in bottle before release. Dark fruit flavors with earth, gravel and grippy tannins. This one is dark and brooding and so delicious.

Lombinho de Porco Recheado

Second Course Pairing: Lombinho de Porco Recheado. Dried fig & pistachio stuffed pork tenderloin, fava puree, cherry & red wine reduction, radish.

Frankly, all of these wines were delicious with the stuffed pork tenderloin, but the standout pairing, and my favorite wine of the group, was the Quinta dos Murças Reserva Tinto.

Once again the price of these wines is modest for the quality with average prices in this group beginning at about $13 for the first two wines then to $28 and $24, respectively, for the final two wines.

Bolo de Azeite

Dessert: Bolo de Azeite. Esporão biologico olive oil cake, local strawberries, ruby port whipped cream.

We finished this delicious lunch with a Portuguese version of strawberry shortcake. Chef Faria used Esporão Olival dos Arrifes Organic olive oil in the preparation of this dish and it was a brilliant ending to a most memorable lunch.

Esporão Olival dos Arrifes Organic Olive Oil

Esporão Olival dos Arrifes Organic Olive Oil is made using Cobrançosa and Arbequina olives grown in the Esporão organic Arrifes olive grove. The oil has intense olive flavors with a kick of black pepper that builds with time. It is substantial and viscous in the mouth. Delicious for dipping crusty bread into.

The Take Aways

  • Esporão is committed to sustainable and organic farming on a vary large scale in both the Alentejo and Douro regions of Portugal.
  • That same care is reflected in winemaking and ultimately the wines of Esporão and Quinta dos Murças.
  • Blending is the name of the game in Portuguese winemaking.
  • Esporão and Quinta dos Murças winemakers use a combination of traditional and modern winemaking techniques.
  • Esporão and Quinta dos Murças wines offer excellent quality and are so reasonably priced.
  • These are wines for friends and food.
  • Speaking of food, the food at Chef Telmo Faria’s Uma Casa is outstanding.

Many thanks to Jane Kettlewell at Creative Palate Communications for inviting me to experience the delicious wines of Esporão. Please look for these wines to share with your family and friends over a meal.

Cheers!

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