As a former winner of the ‘Portuguese Wine Journalist of the Year’ award I have a special interest in the country’s wines, so was intrigued to learn of a small, specialist company based in Edinburgh importing and retailing a fascinating and diverse range of Portuguese wines. The Wine Line is owned by Fiona Lynch, a Brit whose time living in Portugal has fired her passion for the country’s food, culture and wine. That has resulted in her seeking out some truly interesting wines, including some from seldom-seen corners of Portugal like Tras-os-Montes, the land beyond the mountains, way up north against the Spanish border. It has also resulted in some unique wines being brought to the UK market, like a wonderful 2002 vintage red from the mountainous Dão region, or a beautifully poised sweet Semillon from the 2010 vintage in the Douro.
These wines are so unlike the standard supermarket’s Portuguese offering (if indeed you can find anything other than one Vinho Verde and one red Douro wine on the shelves in most), and it is wonderful that at least a small part of the huge diversity of regions and indigenous grape varieties is now available to UK drinkers. From the wines I tasted below I can put hand on heart and recommend trying a mixed case of these, for something not only a little bit different, but of extremely high quality too. Above, the team at Secret Spot, just one of The Wine Line’s producers.
(2017) Made from 100% Loureiro, this is in effect a sparkling Vinho Verde, coming from the same region of Minho that runs from the Douro to the Spanish border, and made from one of Vinho Verde's mainstay grape varieties. There's an attractive lemony zest to this, a crispness to the mousse, with plenty of pert apple fruit and a hint of straw and flowers. Nine months of secondary fermentation in bottle adds a little creaminess, but it stays fresh and zippily moreish.
(2017) What a lovely place this Vinho Verde is in, still fresh as a spring morning and bursting with vivacious sweet fruit and flavour, but with a little bottle age adding a subtle background depth. Crunchy, juicy sliced apple and a hint of something like peach or mango, there's the faintest trace of spritz to add extra spark and zip, and a lovely core of acidity that shimmers on the finish. A delight.
(2017) Rui Cunha is the ace winemaker behind the 'Secret Spot' project along with business partner Gonçalo Sousa Lopes, producing wines in the Douro Valley including those in the Vale da Poupa range. I really loved this expression of Muscat: so often aromatically fabulous in dry wines, but disappointing on the palate. Not here, where the the overflowing floral and lychee aromas, a touch of elderflower, burst onto the palate with vivid fruitiness and tingling acidity to cut through the creamy body.
(2017) Another fabulous and just nicely maturing wine in the wineline's rosta, this is 100% Semillon from the Douro, described as late harvest, but surely with some Botrytis given the lush barley sugar richness and intensity. Aged in barrel, it's very much a Sauternes-like recipe, and indeed the nose with notes of honey and leaf tea, a hint of tobacco and some fragrant floral nuances has that complexity. In the mouth it is silky-textured and mouth-filling, the fat apricot cut by Seville orange, with a long, creamy, but tantalisingly fresh finish.
(2017) A Port-method wine, but made from the aromatic Moscatel in the Douro by Rui Cunha. It's basically in the style of a 10-year-old tawny Port, the nose showing a touch of floral Muscat character, but more the mellow and walnutty notes of its long wood ageing, dried apricot, lemon and a touch of ginger spice. In the mouth the spirit gives heat, but there's some rich toast and marmalade character and that lovely sweetness lingers. A fine wine to match with blue cheeses, or to sip with some almonds perhaps. Price is for 50cl.
(2017) In this Vinho Regional (a bit like France's IGP/Vin de Pays) some Caberenet Sauvignon joins the local Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira. Black cherry with a touch of kirsch lift and cassis gloss on the nose, leads to a firm but fruity palate, the spine of tight, fine tannin and acidity underpinning fresh black fruits. Balanced, powerful and direct, it's a food wine, perfect with some rare roast beef perhaps.
(2017) It's nice to know that the wines of Pinalta are available in the UK, some time after I wrote about them when they had little UK distribution. This blend of Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barroca is unoaked and made using only ambient yeasts - the name 'Oçitsac' meaning 'unadulterated'. There's a soaring, fresh, vinous nose of cherry and kirsch, taut black berries and a touch ozoney, minerals and spice. In the mouth it is full and ripe, the dense sweetness of fruit set against creamy, plush tannins, and a framework of acidity that gives some agility and length.
(2017) A 15-year-old wine from the Dão doesn't come along every day, and the good news is this is an absolute beauty. A blend of the local Jaen (Spain's Mencia) and Rufete, it's a Burgundy-lover's dream, brimming with truffle and damp forest floor aromas, a touch of medicinal, herb and briar-wood, and a soft background of earthy, cedar-touched bramble fruit. In the mouth the creamy sweetness of the ripe berries is gorgeous, layered with spices and truffly, meat and herb notes, it is complex but at the same time deliciously moreish. What a treat. For more information watch my video review.