Archive | March, 2013

Portugal’s Esporão: Beyond Vinho Verde

27 Mar

By Sharon Kapnick

Americans are always on the lookout for something new and intriguing. While Portugal is best known for its light white Vinho Verdes, its hearty red wines  and–of course–its Ports, it has more to offer for those seeking new tastes from unfamiliar indigenous grapes. If you happen to be looking for something different, you’d do well to try Herdade do Esporão’s white wines. (If you’re just a few varieties short of the 100 needed to join the Wine Century Club, for adventurous wine drinkers who’ve tried 100 wine grape varieties or more, these wines will quickly boost your numbers.)

I recently met Sandra Alves, who makes Esporão’s white wines, and tried several of them. I learned that Esporão’s boundaries were drawn in 1267, making it one of the oldest estates in Europe. It’s located in the Alentejo, Portugal’s southernmost, hottest and driest wine region. The traditional local grape varieties that Esporão grows date back to Roman times.

Esporão is proud of preserving a significant number of Portugal’s indigenous grape varieties. Its vineyards comprise more than 40 varieties and most are native to Portugal. The most important in the region is Antão Vaz, the local star; the best wines of the Alentejo are often based on it. Antão Vaz offers elegant aromas, tropical fruit flavors and mineral and spicy hints. It produces firm, full-bodied, well-structured wines. It’s often blended with Arinto and Roupeiro. In her book Vines, Grapes and Wines, Jancis Robinson describes Arinto as being “remarkable for its capacity to hang on to its acidity however hot the prevailing climate.” Arinto is often added to other lower-acid white grapes to improve blends–especially in the hot Alentejo. It adds freshness and vivacity. Roupeiro contributes strong floral and citric aromas.


Duas Castas, or two varietals, is made of a changing cast of two white grapes. The 2011 blends Viosinho and Semillon. Viosinho makes fresh, fragrant, full-bodied, well-balanced wines. It’s commonly found in Douro whites but also does well in hot, sunny climates like that of Alentejo. While Semillon is a varietal more commonly associated with Bordeaux and Australia, it thrives at Esporão. Chief winemaker David Baverstock hales from Australia and is responsible for its appearance in Esporão’s wines. Alves likes its rich, honeyed viscosity. The 2011 Duas Castas has aromas and flavors of orange blossom, white plum and grapefruit. It’s creamy with a long finish (SRP* $12.99).

Esporão’s Reserva Branco 2011, its classic signature wine, combines Antão Vaz, Arinto, Roupeiro and Semillon. Aromas and flavors of tangerine and apricot, with subtle hints of toast and smoke. Complex, with mineral notes; creamy;  well balanced (SRP $19.99).

The Private Selection 2011 is a blend of Antão Vaz and Semillon. It’s creamy, rich, elegant and complex. Its full fruit flavors, mineral notes and toasty oak combine to make a delicious wine (SRP $24.99).

*Wines can usually be found for less–sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price). Check out to get an idea of actual prices.

Traditional Riojas from Bodegas Franco-Españolas

8 Mar

By Sharon Kapnick

I love silver linings. It’s somewhat comforting to know that something good can result from  a disaster. When French vineyards were ravaged, for example, in the middle of the 19th century by phylloxera–insects that eat the roots and leaves of grapevines–a silver lining of that plague was that many French winemakers moved to Spain and settled in La Rioja. One wine merchant who relocated was Frederick Anglade Saurat of Bordeaux’s negoçiant Anglade family. In 1890 he founded Bodegas Franco-Españolas along with Spanish partners. The wines they made in their new vineyards logically started out as French-style wines using Spanish varieties. To reflect this, they named one of their brands Rioja Bordeaux (the name was eventually changed to Rioja Bordón to appease  the French).

Today the winery is owned by the Spanish Eguizábal family, and over the years the style of the wines has evolved. Franco-Españolas currently produces traditional-style Riojas, usually medium-bodied wines aged in American oak (which imparts sweet tannins), distinguished by flavors of dried fruit and spices.

In addition to having great flavors, these Riojas, which I recently tasted with importer Mark Tucker and export manager John Perry, offer terrific value and great versatility. Like other Riojas, they’re held at the winery until they’re ready to serve, ensuring that you will drink no Rioja before its time.


Party Wine, House Wine  (SRP*: $10)
Royal 2010 (80% Tempranillo, Spain’s outstanding indigenous red wine grape; 20% Garnacha, which adds fruit and body): 25% of the grapes undergo carbonic maceration–the process used to make Beaujolais–which allows the fruit to shine. Fresh and, yes, fruity; oak and spicy notes. Serve with fish, pasta, cured meats and red meats.

Everyday Wine, House Wine (SRP: $13)
2008 Rioja Bordón Crianza (80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha): Aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry, plum and berries. Mild oak; elegant, well balanced, long finish. Serve with hearty fish, tomato-sauced pasta, pork and poultry. One of the best sellers in restaurants in Spain.

To Take to or Serve at a Dinner Party (SRP: $15)
2007 Rioja Bordón Reserva  (80% Tempranillo, 15% Garnacha, 5% Mazuelo, which adds acidity): Aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry, plum and vanilla; balsamic and spicy notes. Full bodied, soft and elegant. Serve with risotto, meat-sauced pastas, steak, lamb and game.

Special Occasion Wine (SRP: $25)
2004 Rioja Bordón Gran Reserva (80% Tempranillo, 10% Garnacha, 5% Mazuelo, 5% Graciano, which adds structure and aging potential): The Gran Reservas are made only in excellent vintages, like 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2010. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry, plum, pomegranate, roasted peppers, mushroom, tomato, black pepper and other spices. Complex; earthy. Serve with meats, especially grilled veal chops with mushrooms, braised meats and stews.

*Wines can usually be found for less–sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price). Check out to get an idea of actual prices.