Joao Barrote's Take on Wines from Portugal
Hello, I am Joao Barrote. I was born in Portugal’s Azores islands, and my family hails from all over Portugal. I came to Canada at the age of 7.
Alcohol has been a passion of mine since I can remember…not as a consumer of course, but because wine is an integral part of Portuguese culture. The famous Fado singer Amália Rodrigues sings “Numa casa portuguesa fica bem, Pão e vinho sobre a mesa”: in a Portuguese home, there is always wine and bread on the table. My passion turned into almost 20 years of experience in the alcohol industry, with sommelier and whisky certifications.
I joined the Opimian Wine Club a year ago, as Member Service advisor. My job is to maintain the link between the Club and its members. I am the one who answers your questions and comments through your calls and emails.
Portugal originated in the Norte (north) almost one thousand years ago, and traditions are very much alive there. The South is more driven by love of life and freedom. In the North, the people are more expressive and hardworking. The South is more relaxed and open. I would even say that people in the North live to work, whereas in the South we work to live. Family is also more important in the North, while the South is more individualistic.
Appellations and Grape Varieties
Portugal and Italy are very much alike in this area. Portugal’s grape varieties are diverse and indigenous. Our grapes have not travelled extensively, and just like the Portuguese people, they like their homeland. There are about 365 different varieties. Despite the fact that Portugal is a smaller country, communication between different regions happened rather late, and viticulture followed this trend. Bigger regions only use limited grape varieties and are very strict about change. In fact, the laws on Port wine date back to 1756! In terms of appellations, there are 26 DOC of which the most popular are Porto, Douro, Dão and Vinho Verde.
Our climate is quite particular. It is an oceanic climate with temperatures changing along different latitudes. The North is humid with very rich and diverse soils. The South is very hot, almost arid, and the soils are poor. Touriga Nacional does well in the Norte because of the humidity and rich soils. The South is more suited to fleshy and bold wines. Grape varieties such as Trincadeira, Aragonêz (Tempranillo), or Castelão favour a hot and dry climate.
Touriga Nacional is the national grape variety, as its name suggests. It is one of the four great grape varieties blended in Port wines, and the one that represents Portugal at its best. It is planted form North to South and is often the backbone of many blends.
Why are Portuguese reds on the rise?
Portuguese wines are a great find because of their price, their value and their diversity. For a very long time, Portugal was known only for Port wine, but now our dry wines are gaining in popularity. It is impressive that such a small country has the capacity to produce wines with so much diversity and contrast.
What is your favourite Portuguese dish?
Like any Portuguese person, I have several favourites, but notable ones are Carne de porco Alentejana (a typical pork-based dish), Bacalhau a Brás (one of the national dishes with cod) and a soup made with green cabbage (Caldo verde). Typically in Portugal we drink red wine with cod. It is a rich and oily fish that calls for a wine with similar characters.
What kind of wine lover would like Portuguese wines?
Anyone who likes dry, medium bodied wines with lots of character will appreciate Lusitanic wines. Our wines are very diverse and versatile. The variety that our little country manages to put out is impressive, and whether one likes the slightly sweet and effervescent wines of Vinho Verde or the fleshy and dry wines from Alentejo, I think that wines from Portugal have something for every palate.
What are Portuguese wines or grape varieties do you suggest buying?
In the current Cellar (C275), I loved lot 1832, Encosta do Sobral, a wine from the Tejo. This is a very complex wine that is a bit reserved, therefore it needs to breathe for at least two hours in a carafe in order to open up and really reveal all its complexity. I am very curious about lot 1833, Quinta da Giest DOC Dao Boas Quinta, 2017 from Dão, which often expresses the spiciness of Touriga Nacional. The last one I’m very interested in is lot 1827, Vindimeiro Branco DOC Douro Carvalho Lima Wines, 2019, a white wine from the Douro, with tropical notes and citrus notes giving it a nice fresh character. This wine reminds me of hot summers back in Portugal, during which we would have a nice glass of refreshing white wine