Some say you can never have too much of a good thing. However, that good thing often comes at a cost to other good things.
Take, for example, homemade vanilla ice cream laced with swirls of caramel. (OK, this is a personal example, so for the lactose intolerant among us, bear with me.) I’m pretty sure I could eat my weight in caramel-vanilla ice cream, but soon enough I wouldn’t have enough room for other good things, like crispy bacon. I guess you could sprinkle bacon bits over the ice cream, but we’ll save that discussion for another time.
Essentially, this column is about bacon. Or, rather, the intoxicating dry red wines of Portugal’s Douro River Valley. Now, if I say Portuguese wine, Porto or even the Douro River, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Bacon … no, I mean, Port wine, right?
Port wines, whether the tawny or ruby kind, are delightful dessert wines made in the gorgeous Douro River Valley of northern Portugal. You could say that this style of wine is the Douro’s “thing,” and you’d be right. There is a worldwide demand for this type of wine, and there has been for hundreds of years.
Most wine regions would be happy to have a “thing” they are famous for and forever associated with. But, the wineries (or quintas, as they’re called in Portugal) that stud the steep river banks of the Douro seemingly have had enough ice cream and want to save a little room for some bacon.
Over the past 10-plus years, there has been a concerted effort to include dry Douro wines in the nondessert parts of dinner. The Symington family, owners of Graham’s, Dow’s, Cockburn’s and Warre’s Port houses, made their intentions clear when they partnered with Bordeaux legend Bruno Prats in 2000 to create the Prats & Symington label and their highly regarded Chryseia wine.
Chryseia is a blend of touriga nacional and touriga franca, two very important grapes used to make Port wine. The Symingtons also make dry wines at Quinta do Vesuvio, which predates P&S, and Altano winery.
Others also are pushing markets around the world to try dry Douro wines, which use varying percentages of touriga nacional, touriga franca and tinta roriz, among other “Port” varieties.
Recently, I had the chance to taste several dry wines from Quinta do Portal. (Yes, of course, they make delicious, sweet, fortified dessert wines, but they really want you to know they make dry wines, too.) One of the tastiest wines I’ve had in a while (and the inspiration for this column on the merits of bacon vs. ice cream) was Portal’s Colheita Tinto. It was at once fresh and crisp, with ripe, dark berry flavors, but was also full-bodied and tannic without being overpowering.
That about sums it up for the terrific dry red wines coming out of the Douro. They’re as big as any cab from California, but they somehow manage to remain light on their feet and hey don’t get in the way of food. My initial introduction to Colheita Tinto was with a salmon dish. I didn’t just love the pairing, I bacon-loved it.
If there is a problem with bacon … er … I mean, dry red wines from the Douro, it might be finding them. If you’re lucky, you might discover them stacked along with wines from their Iberian neighbor, Spain. If not there, try the dreaded “other red wines” aisle.
They are, nonetheless, worthy of your search, if not for their bacon-like yumminess, then for their prices. A bottle of the Colheita won’t set you back more than $20. Too much? Colheita’s younger brother, Mural, goes for around $15.
I don’t plan to ever stop loving caramel-vanilla ice cream or Port wines (or caramel-vanilla ice cream with tawny Port), but I’ll always leave room for dry red wines from the Douro … and bacon.
Gil Kulers is a sommelier and maitre d’ for an Atlanta country club. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 2012 Quinta do Portal Colheita Tinto, Douro, Portugal
- Two Thumbs Way Up
- Aromas of dark berry fruit with notes of cinnamon and mocha. Full-bodied, with rich flavors of ripe blackberry and black cherry, it has notes of cloves, cola nut, black licorice and smoked meat. It has a long, pleasant finish that suggests root beer.
Note: Wines are rated on a scale ranging up from Thumbs Down, One Thumb Mostly Up, One Thumb Up, Two Thumbs Up and Two Thumbs Way Up to Golden Thumb Award. Prices are suggested retail prices as provided by the winery, one of its agents, a local distributor or retailer.