March 8, 2011

Sampling Vinho Verde in Mesa Restaurante, Porto

By In Food and Wine, Wine Notes
wine maker from Quinta SoalheiroA touch tricky to match a dessert dish to a Vinho Verde wine. Next best, seeing as they don’t ‘do’ sweet wines would be a sparkler, but for me the match of Fondant de abóbora com mousse de requeijão e amêndoas tostadas (Fondant Pumpkin Mousse with cream cheese and toasted almonds) with a dry sparkling didn’t work at all.
It was the final flourish of a superb food/wine matching meal at Mesa Restaurante in Porto, Portugal. Basically a small, runny pumpkin purée encased in a pastry and served on a bed of ‘soured’ cream. Using a fork to break the pastry resulted in the unctuous puree flowing like the yolk of a deeply coloured duck egg. Not overly sweet and highly palatable at that hour (it was after midnight by the time our table was served dessert) the scrumptious pud simply didn’t work with the dry Espumante Arinto Bruto 2002 from Ameal.

Earlier, much earlier, the canapés had been served with another sparkling wine, also from Ameal. It was further proof, I felt, that Vinho Verde just cannot do sparkling wine. Not that one could say so with the dapper winemaker seated on the adjacent table for this regional showcase dinner.

The tri-variety Quinta de Simaenes 2009 was far more palatable cutting through the (rather over) salty 4th course of Parco preto estufado com grelos à Brás (stewed pork) perfectly. The wine, so clean and precise, with a ripeness of fruit that changed my view of Vinho Verde totally. Prior to this ‘revelation’ those highly acidic, spritzy, tart but sugar-laden, thin wines were my sum experience.

Going in reverse with this five course extravagance Soalheiro’s first vine pressing, Primeiras Vinhas 2009, was another eye-opener. Using a play on the old vines message the first vine comes from vines planted in the 1970’s and an absolute stunning showing against Arroz cremoso de bacalhau com espargos verdes e tomate seco (a cod and asparagus risotto with dried tomatoes). Freshness and weight combined beautifully with the dish.


For me the previous course was the standout of the meal. A fatty round of suckling pork and apple topped with a crumbly, cumin laced, black pudding (Entrecosto de leitão com morcels da beira e maçã). The red wine, Casa do Valle Homenagem Reserva Tinto 2009 was overly chilled when initially poured but opened up wonderful as it warmed in the packed restaurant. First reaction? A Loire Cabernet Franc – the acidity, key in cutting through the richness, and the colour headed the similarities. But this is a blend, an experimental homage to the present winemakers father who planted the grapes – Merlot, Touriga Nacional and Vinhão. The latter is rather interesting, it is the main red grape of Vinho Verde (so should have expected to see it at a Vinho Verde session!) but it also red fleshed, one of the few in the wine world, so gives red juice.

The five course Mesa meal began as it ended with a wine from Quinta do Ameal. This still white was much more palatable than the finales sparkler. Quinta do Ameal 2009, is 100% Loueiro and combines, as with all top Vinho Verde’s made from the variety, a mix of grapey, apply freshness with citrus crispness and a floral edge. Plus a distinctive minerality. Winemaker Pedro Araújo is firmly committed to organic production methods and has worked diligently with his Loueiro grapes to extract the most aromatic laced juice that he can. The accompanying dish was a delight, lightly dressed crab with mango (Caranguejo Rei do Alasca com manga e misuna).

crab dish at mesa

Even if the meal seemingly lasted forever, the matching of differing styles of wine from Vinho Verde was certainly a eye-opening delight into the modern styles of the regions wines but also demonstrated that the Portuguese, in all manner of ways across their culture in general and in the wine sphere specifically, are using tradition with a modern, forward thinking slant.

[Sorry for the poor photographs – a combination of a long day, poor light and an idiot holding the camera]

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