Monday, November 7, 2016

Esporão - Delicious Wine on the Cheap from Indigenous Portuguese Varieties

When it comes to wines with high quality to price ratios, Portuguese wines are up there with the best in the world. And the producer Herdade Do Esporão churns out a wide array of delicious wines for insane value.

Esporao's grapes ripen under the warm Alentejo sun. Credit: Esporao
Herdade Do Esporão is an historic estate synonymous with the Portuguese region of Alentejo. This area of Southeastern Portugal, abutting Spain, is hot and dry and home to olive groves and indigenous Portuguese grape varieties, which are perfectly adapted to their home soils and climate. Esporão is rightfully credited with bringing wide attention to this region by crafting clean, modern, fruit-forward wines that maintain a distinctly Portuguese spice and flair. Hoerdade Do Esporão tends a massive estate: some 1,100 acres of vineyards planted to more than 190 grape varieties, about 40 of which constitute the bulk of production, according to Esporão’s 2015 report.

I taste a lot of Cabernets, Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from all over the world, and that’s fine. A lot of consumers want to see a familiar grape variety on the label. I get it. But I find it refreshing and exciting to taste wines that combine a dozen rare and almost surely unpronounceable grape varieties. Especially when the wines are killer. These indigenous grape varieties, combined with well-drained and diverse soils, a warm climate, and some traditional winemaking techniques form dynamic and unique wines. And most of them are cheap.

The original estate was delineated all the way back in 1267, and called Defesa do Esporão. José Roquette and Joaquim Bandeira purchased the estate in 1973. The first Esporão brand wine appeared in 1985, and today the wines are exported to more than 50 international markets.

Esporao's Chief Winemaker David Baverstock
In 1985, the first vintage saw the creation of the Esporão brand. The wine is now exported to more than 50 international markets. And Esporão has expanded into the Douro (home of Port and amazing dry Portuguese red blends) with the purchase of Quinta dos Murças in 2008.

I recently tasted through a large portion of Esporão’s portfolio at a trade tasting in DC with Chief Winemaker David Baverstock. David grew up in Australia’s Barossa Valley, where he and studied winemaking in the 1970s. Australian winemaking dates back to the 1800s, but in the 70s, David said, there was less than a thriving wine scene. So he looked to Europe and, eventually, to Portugal, which has become his family’s adopted home.
“Nicest people in the world,” he said. And they make damned nice wine.

Below are my notes on Esporão’s wines.

2012 Herdade do Esporão Método Classico Bruto - Portugal, Alentejano, Vinho Regional Alentejano
Tart and fresh but juicy, showing white peach and nectarine flavors with some sugar cane and floral tones. Easy-drinking, pleasant. Made from the Antao Vaz grape using the Champagne method (with nine months on the lees). (84 points)

2015 Herdade do Esporão Alandra Branco - Portugal
Aromas: super floral and perfumed. On the palate, juicy peaches and apricots blend with salty/floral tones. Simple and crowd-pleasingly tasty. A blend of white Portuguese varieties, Antao Vaz, Perrum, and Arinto. (85 points)

2015 Herdade do Esporão Monte Velho Branco - Portugal, Alentejano, Vinho Regional Alentejano
Attention: Insane value alert.
Aromas of sea salt, minerals, lemon curd and white flowers. Such pretty texture on the palate, vibrant acidity, there’s a creaminess but such brightness and minerality. Pears, honeysuckle, flowers, sea salt. This is an exciting white wine that would pair with endless styles of food. The fact that this wine is $7 is insane. Portuguese economies of scale, combined with indigenous varieties and relatively minimalist winemaking means that this exciting wine makes it to the U.S. for cheap as hell. I sipped this with five or six sommeliers, and it was everyone’s favorite white. A blend of regional white varieties, Antao Vaz, Roupeiro, and Perrum. (90 points)

2015 Herdade do Esporão Verdelho V - Portugal, Alentejano, Vinho Regional Alentejano
Aromas of sea breeze, cucumber, white flowers and pears. Juicy peaches, melons mix with sea salt, flowers, minerals, such a pretty wine. Per usual with this producer, so impressive for the price. An impressive introduction to this lovely Portuguese variety (which is known for its use in Madeira). (87 points)

2015 Herdade do Esporão Alandra - Portugal
Smells of spicy red berries and herbs. Tart and spicy on the palate with juicy red currants and cherries, some pepper and earth tones. A real wine for $6? They do exist. A blend of red Portuguese grapes, including Moreto, Castelao, and Trincadeira. (85 points)

2015 Herdade do Esporão Monte Velho - Portugal, Alentejano, Vinho Regional Alentejano
Darker, juicier aromas than the Alandra. Berry compote, savory spices and earth. On the palate, juicy, fleshy, fun but showing some tannic structure and fresh acidity. Spicy dark fruit with a smoky finish – delicious with some charcuterie. Crazy value. (87 points)

2015 Herdade do Esporão Trincadeira T - Portugal, Alentejano, Vinho Regional Alentejano
Smells like juicy black cherries and dark soil. Smoky, juicy black cherries and plums with flavors of charcoal and earth. Easy-drinking, soft, approachable style. Made from the Trincadeira grape. (86 points)

2013 Herdade do Esporão Assobio Quinta dos Murças - Portugal, Douro
Aromas: more currant, darker fruit, with anise and pepper notes. I love the balance on the palate, dusty tannins and fresh acidity, plus you get all this juicy red berry fruit and some sweet, herbal, spice flavors. Delicious and absurdly friendly with food. Open six bottles of this at a party and see how fast it goes. Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca. (87 points)

2014 Herdade do Esporão Defesa - Portugal, Alentejano, Vinho Regional Alentejano
Aromas of dark and juicy plums and currants, along with menthol and sweet green herbs. Good structure on the palate with moderate acidity for freshness. Juicy dark currants, smoky herbs and spices. Structure is impressive for the price, this seems built enough for a few years in the cellar. A blend of Touriga Nacional and Syrah. (87+ points)

2013 Herdade do Esporão Reserva - Portugal, Alentejano, Alentejo
Lovely aromas of tart currants, juicy berries, earth and smoke. Dusty tannic structure, moderate acidity, pretty red and black fruit laced with cedar, coffee. Near-term aging could be a good idea. A blend of Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 12 months in French and American oak. A very serious wine for a not-so-serious price. (88 points)

2010 Herdade do Esporão Douro Reserva Quinta dos Murças - Portugal, Douro
In contrast to the rest of the lineup, this is a dark purple colored wine. Smells deep and rich with complex black cherries and plums, mixed with mint, eucalyptus, pepper and violets. On the palate, this is smooth from age but still structured nicely with good balance between tannins and acidity. Plums, currants, violets, dusty earth, wet soil, leaves. Long, spicy finish. This spends 12 months in 15% new oak. A red Douro grape blend from vines planted in the 1940s, this will improve nicely over the next three to five years. (89 points)

2011 Herdade do Esporão Alentejo Private Selection - Portugal, Alentejano, Alentejo
Dark plum color. Concentrated on the nose, dark plums and currants, pepper and mint – lots going on here. Awesome balance on the palate with dry tannins and vibrant acidity. Dark currants, saucy plums, the fruit is mixed with spiced tea, pepper, eucalyptus, mint. Cedar and coffee are woven in well, this is bold but elegant. 12 months in all new French oak and 18 months in bottle before release. It’s a big, New World-style but there’s a lot of freshness, which makes this wine really attractive. A blend of red grapes including Arogonez, Alicante Bouschet and Cabernet Sauvignon. (90 points)

N.V. Herdade do Esporão Porto 10 Year Tawny Quinta dos Murças - Portugal, Douro, Porto$21
Aromas of raisins, caramels, quince paste and roasted nuts. A spicy ginger note on the palate, along with quince and apricot jam. Rich texture but very lively, elegant, even, and freshness balances out the sweetness quite nicely. (89 points)

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