J.P Ramos, Smart Dog Syrah 2013, Portugal
Portugal has made enormous strides as a wine producing nation in recent decades, and the wonderful array of indigenous grapes that still thrive across the country offers something truly different - Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot are rarely seen. Yet despite that, and some solid inroads being made into the UK market thanks to coordinated action by the country's producers, it seems the wines are still a little anonymous and few and far between on the shelves - certainly compared to their neighbours in Spain, or indeed in Italy or France. All too often the 'Portuguese section' of a supermarket's wine shelves will be non existent, with just one or two Portuguese wines lumped in as 'Iberian', alongside dozens of others from their large neighbour to the east.
One tool for unlocking the UK wine scene could be to establish really strong Portuguese brands, and this wine is a great example of that: created especially for a buying group of around 30 independent wine merchants from across the UK, its a fun and distinctive package, but behind it lies a thoroughly modern Portuguese wine of excellent quality.
A little of the native Trincadeira variety features here, but the wines is mostly made up of the more familiar Syrah (or Shiraz as it is known in Australia). It comes from the Alentejo, a very modern and progressive wine region of Portugal, to the east of Lisbon, and it just bursts with a floral-scented, cherry-bright fragrance, and delivers a satisfyingly juicy, smooth and mouth-filling palate of cocoa-dusted berries. A solidly commercial but beautifully crafted Syrah, and the sort of wine that really should help to put Portugal on the map for so many more wine drinkers.
Please do watch the video for much more information and food-matching suggestions. I scored this wine 87/100, and the best price for it at time of writing is £7.99 from House of Townend, but there are a few dozen stockists mostly at around £8.99. See wine-searcher for a list of other retailers carrying this wine.
Portuguese grape varieties to look out for:
Alvarinho - the same as Spain's Albarino, making ultra fresh and crisp wines from the cool Atlantic coast of northern Portugal.
Loureiro - another fresh and often most fragrant variety, also making fresh and balanced wines.
Fernão pires - a versatile grape, sometimes blended with Chardonnay too, and making medium-bodied and fruity wines.
Arinto - a versatile grape, quite often used to make Vinho Verde, but an important, refreshing component in many blends.
Touriga Nacional - the great grape of Port wine, but now making some superb, age-worthy and full-bodied reds especially in the Douro Valley
Aragonez - the same grape as Spain's Tempranillo, the mainstay of Rioja, and can make quite similar, velvety reds.
Alicante Bouschet - one of an unusual class of red wine grapes where the juice is a deep red colour, leading to violet-hued, dark and smoky wines.
Baga - from the Bairrada region, some people have likened this grape variety to the Pinot Noir of France or Nebbiolo of Italy. Look out for fresh and lighter-coloured reds.