In wine, as in other areas of journalism, we sometimes get our ideas – or germs of ideas -- from savvy PR and marketing folks who know when they have an interesting story to tell on behalf of their clients and have a good sense when writers might be interested. One of the more diligent and delightful of them is Jo Diaz, who runs her own communications company in Windsor, California in Sonoma County.
When Jo asked recently if I cared to meet a new client, a principle in a relatively new Portuguese wine company, I quickly took her up on her offer even though I don’t usually meet individually with winemakers or executives because I tend to shy away from being a captive audience of one. What happens if I don’t like the wines? In any event, I had a hunch that Jo was on to something unusual. And so we sat down for dinner last week at The Modern, one of my favorite New York restaurants, with her client (who picked up the bill, I will disclose right off the bat). But enough on the preliminaries.
The company is called Enoforum, and it is a partnership formed at the end of 2004 involving half a dozen wineries in Portugal’s Alentejo region in the hot south of the country. The general manager, Delfim Costa, explained that the company was created solely to produce wines, under a number of new labels, for export to the United States and, secondarily, to other markets around the world, including Poland, Holland, Russia and Canada as well as Brazil and Angola with their strong Portuguese connections.
Some 80,000 cases or so were exported last year and Enoforum draws on production from each of the six wineries to create its wines, all of them blends, under the direction of José Fonseca, the winemaker.
“Alentejo is a very dynamic region,” Costa explained. He noted that 30 years ago it accounted for just six percent of Portugal’s wine production. Today the share is 49 percent. Despite that growth, the Alentejo wine industry has focused mainly on the domestic market. “The big challenge was to create some brands that could become international,” Costa said. And not just for wine drinkers with ties to Portugal. “Our goal is not the ethnic market,” he said. “We want to be in America for the Americans.” But Portuguese wines have been a tough sell in the U.S., overshadowed in terms of quality and interest by the wines of neighboring Spain, among many other regions. “In a country where they only think of Port and Vinho Verde,” Costa said of the American market, “you’re at ground zero. You can only go up.”
Based on a tasting of three Enoforum wines at our dinner last week, I believe there is no reason Americans shouldn’t embrace them. In terms of quality, the wines exceeded my expectations and the prices are surprisingly attractive and competitive given that quality. The rest, of course, will depend on successful marketing and sales campaigns.
The first wine was the 2009 Finisterra White, which Delfim Costa described modestly as an “everyday wine” but which went beyond the description. With citrus and floral notes, a bit of spice and ample acidity, it is made for shellfish and simple fish dishes and became more interesting as it warmed up a bit. It’s a blend of four grapes, Antão Vaz, Síria, Rabo de Ovelha and Perrum. At $6.99, it’s also a true bargain.
Next was the first of two reds, the 2005 Alente Reserva, a blend of Alicante Bouschet, Aragonez (Tempranillo) and Trincadeira. This one reminded me at first of an uncomplicated Bordeaux with red fruit and exotic spice notes. Moderately tannic, it had an overall elegance that belied the $9.99 price and would pair well with white meats and duck. Finally, we tasted the 2005 Além, a blend of the native Touriga Nacional and Syrah. At $17.99, it showed more concentration, complexity and layering, with tobacco and coffee notes punctuating a deep blueberry-blackberry core. It almost screamed out for a grilled steak.
Stylistically, Delfim Costa said he thought the wines “are in the middle between New World and Old World wines.” Fortunately, they also have an authenticity that I think will be their real selling point, one captured well by Enoforum’s slogan: “Different Grapes, Distinctive Wines.” The importer is Value Vines (valuevines.com) of North Caldwell, N.J.