The Daily Sip: Esporão, from Portugal’s Alentejo, hits the mark with its distinct and delicious wines

Another Portuguese wine company is starting to make its mark in this country and, based on a tasting the other night, it is not hard to see why. The company is Esporão, located in the Alantejo region in Portugal’s south. At a dinner for wine media and trade professioEsporao 2nals, I tasted 10 of Esporão’s wines and came away impressed by their quality and scope.

The evening began with a sampling of several limited production, single varietal wines. This was an interesting exercise in that blends are the norm in Portugal, in the wines as in the Ports. Among the standouts were the 2007 Alicante Bouschet and the 2007 Touriga Naçional, cleverly and simply called AB and TN on their labels.

Both grapes do well in the arid conditions of Alantejo. The Alicante Bouschet is a muscular wine packed with red and black fruit and black pepper, meat and leather notes. David Baverstock, an Australian who has been Esporão’s winemaker for 18 years, maintained that it needs years in the bottle to reach its peak, though I found it quite accessible.

The Touriga Naçional is a delicious example of Portugal’s flagship variety with dark cherry and violet notes, good supporting acidity and well-integrated oak. When I asked Baverstock about the need for acidification of the wines, given the region’s hot climate, he conceded that there was “a little bit of touch up, for sure.” Production of the wines is about 550 cases each and the suggested price is $35. Production is about 550 cases of each wine.

As we moved on to dinner at the restaurant Craft in lower Manhattan, it was time to taste Esporão’s two flagship Reserva wines, which should be competitive with many similarly priced wines in the American market. The 2007 Reserva White, $20, is made from the Roupeiro, Arinto and Antão Vaz grapes. This elegant, aromatic wine is marked by citrus and floral notes. Partial barrel fermentation imparts a bit of creaminess. It went particularly well with monkfish wrapped in pancetta.

The 2007 Reserva Red, $25, which I have tasted several times now, has become a favorite. It’s a blend of Aragonês (Tempranillo), Cabernet Sauvignon and Trincadeira, which combine seamlessly in a wine of beautiful complexity and approachability. Lots of layers here, including blackberry and red berry notes, black pepper, and touches of meat and herbs, earth, chocolate and coffee. It was superb with roasted beef sirloin.

This is the second group of wines from Alentejo I have sampled in recent months (see my review of Enoforum’s wines), with both showing impressive fruit and and winemaking and whetting my appetite for more from a country that has long languished in the American market. Esporão’s wines are imported by Aidil Wines & Liquors, Newark, New Jersey.

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