Considering Portugal: Encruzado

I just returned from leading a small group through Portugal, via our little side-business travel company, The Flying Grape. You can catch photos via The Flying Grape Facebook page (website coming soon).

When thinking about new and shiny, and categories of wines that your competition does not have, Portugal should come to mind first. There is more bang for the buck here than you can possibly imagine.

Considering Portugal, Part One: the untapped potential of Encruzado

During the trip we tasted dry white wines from many of the key regions. The dominant thread that was present in all the dry whites of these key regions was acidity. Not just a simple citric acid show ala most New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs, but a deeper and complex acidity normally carried with a medium bodied style. The resinous nature of the acid and fruit balance was like nothing I’ve ever had before. Many of the wines were somewhere between the best Soave Classico you can possibly imagine, a fantastic white Bordeaux, and a top level Chablis. Yet different.

All in a wine that would be totally affordable in America, and age gracefully for over ten years.

Our visit to the Dão, home of cooler weather patterns, granite soils, and snappy red wines (think Cru Beaujolais in a way) was highlighted by a long visit, lunch, and spellbinding presentation at Quinta do Roques by owner and winemaker Luís Lourenço. It was here that we learned in great detail about the Encruzado grape and the ageworthiness of the resulting wines.

Enjoying the 2014 while learning about the growing and ripening patterns of the variety, our group showed clear love of the wine and the style it presented. Without hesitation, Luís popped a bottle of the same wine but ten years older, a 2004. There was zero color shift, only deeper and more complex aromas, and equally dynamic mouthfeel. Age worthy high acid white wine, folks.

Ryan Opaz of Catavino and Luís Lourenço of Quinta do Roques

2004 Quinta do Roques Encruzado … one of the most interesting wines I’ve had this year

Why you should learn about, seek out, try, and buy some Encruzado

  1. Americans can pronounce it. It’s not like Garganega or Viognier or Gewurztraminer. Saying en-cru-ZAH-doh brings a certain attention to a table. It just sounds cool.
  2. It’s food friendly to the extreme. With solid acidity but decent body, it hits the mark in ways the Pinot Grigio can’t touch. One taste and I’m sure consumers will flock to it.
  3. It’s shiny and new. There is little to no Encruzado out there. If you want to make a category that you as a wholesaler, retailer, or restaurant can control, seek this stuff out.
  4. It can take oak in just the right way. Usually when talking about higher acid wines, oak is a bad word. The examples we had proved otherwise. They were not shy on their oak usage, but it came across as the perfect spice blend, balanced and harmonious.
  5. You needn’t worry about wines getting too old. If anything, intentionally stash away some of your stock and bring it out years later (how many New Zealand Sauv Blancs can say this?). Of course, it has to be good wine from a good producer first and foremost.

From the Wines of Portugal website:

Encruzado is a flexible wine possessing, all at once, characteristics of fleshier and textured styles with the delicate aromatics of lighter more fragrant bottlings. Avoid super bold flavors with this grape as its nuances can be easily lost. The wine pairs well with creamy risottos, simple scallops, shrimp, and textured fish like Chilean sea bass or angler (monkfish). Roasted root vegetables, a simple pasta al fredo, or a classic French blanquette de veau would also be very successful matches. And don’t overlook cheese; Encruzado is delightful with a range of semi soft and milder washed rind styles.

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