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By Master of Wine, Christopher Burr

14/03/2022

Wine52 Portugal Case

The latest Wine Club comes from the hugely successful Beer52 Club, and is appropriately called Wine52.

I was a brewer, as well as having spent years in the wine business, and was fascinated with the growth in micro-breweries. I am a member of Beer52, and have found the diversity and selection excellent and a chance to discover new things.

But being essentially a "wine man", I was extremely keen to see what Wine52 had to offer in this months’ case, exploring the wines of Portugal.

My first thoughts were;- "great these guys are encouraging consumers to experiment, explore and discover new wines, regions and grapes". Bravo.

I find endless Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Merlot from around the world often eternally boring, and look for new and interesting wines.

You should also be aware that famous and well know regions generally offer the poorest value, and by leaps and bounds! The poorest value white in the market is Sancerre and red is Chateauneuf du Pape. That is not to say, as a caveat, that there are not some very great and good value wines from both regions, but almost 90% of these wines are overpriced because they carry a famous name, or appellation. Bravo to Wine52 for exploring some great, less well known and good value areas.

I find endless Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Merlot from around the world often eternally boring, and look for new and interesting wines.

Indeed, the Iberian peninsula, Spain and Portugal, produce a lot of wine from some little know local regions, and some are exceptional and great value. This month’s offering from Wine52 looks at the North of Portugal, although I hope they go on to explore further South, where there are also some most interesting wines and regions to explore.

I tasted the mixed case which included two red wines and one white. It’s worth noting that as well as the 3 wines, these cases come with complimentary snacks and a very carefully put together wine magazine called Glug.

The snacks are fine and don't "compete" with the wine. It is always good to have a nibble with a glass of wine in my opinion, and they are particularly good with the white wine.

The magazine is well worth reading, with wine notes that are written in an easy-to-read way, and on the whole informative without being "geeky", indeed almost the opposite.

Being a bit "geeky" myself, and having worked in the Portuguese wine industry, it would be strange if I didn't have a few comments.

The first Chapter welcoming everyone to Northern Portugal starts by explaining the importance of the use of local grapes (Indigenous grapes as we "wine geeks" call them). They explain well a few of the more than one hundred different varietals grown throughout Portugal, but some are quite obscure and in small production.

There are many very interesting tastes and flavours there which go right back to what the Ancient Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans were planting and drinking, and thank goodness they are still there to discover!

There are many very interesting tastes and flavours there which go right back to what the Ancient Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans were planting and drinking, and thank goodness they are still there to discover!

The next section of the Glug Magazine is devoted to the growers and that is very interesting and informative. It is always nice to learn about the people behind the wine.

Then a chapter is about Cork, it's history and it's recent problems. I should first say that most of the cork used around the World to seal wine bottles comes from Portugal. It is a historic, excellent and hugely environmentally friendly product. Biodegradable from the Mediterranean Oak, which grows back more bark (Cork is the oak's bark) after it has been harvested.

The old oaks you find in the forests of the Alentejo in the middle of Portugal are fantastic, as are the marble and granite quarries which have always been used to create the foot pressing open tanks, or "lagares" since Roman times.

The next chapter is about the fortified Port wine and Madeira, the Portuguese owned island near the Canaries in the Atlantic off north west Africa. This piece focuses mainly on the history of these wines.

Whilst the History is mostly correct, its focus on ruthless colonialism and "class", maybe enough to put many people off drinking both Port and Madeira. There are far worse tails of colonialism, profiteering, and class-ism to be told about Rum, Vodka, Gin, Bordeaux, Alsace, the Rhein and Mosel, North Africa, etc. etc.. over the last five hundred years. Indeed, even today there are some questionable activities in the industry in some places!

This is history and Port and Madeira are great wines, maybe not so fashionable these days, but, never the less however they were made through historical happenstance, and things in fashionability, they are great wines and should be recognised as such.

Indeed, as far as Port is concerned, there is compelling evidence that the lighter styles, slightly chilled aged Tawnies and Colhietas (an aged wine from a single vintage), are growing as fashion moves to lighter drinks, and there is evidence that younger drinkers are discovering these wines.

Moreover, Vintage Port is now highly fashionable in the USA, hence our decline in UK shipments, and most Port Houses are making less and better, Vintages and diversifying into Tawnies and table wines.

So, the dying art of Port wine article is, I think, just one side of a more complex story. Indeed, I admire and enjoy the wines from the Graham family's Churchill brand, but to ignore and fail to mention some of the greatest Houses who have braved the downturn, invested and are making superb wines is a mistake. Families like the Robertsons of Taylor Fladgate, owners of Taylor's, Fonseca, Croft and Delaforce, plus a number of Single Quinta wines, and also the Symington Family, owners of Graham's, Dow's, Warre's, and other smaller Houses and Single Quintas.

To name just one other of several who deserve mention, Quinta do Noval who's "National" occasional Vintage is one of the world's great wines, has to be fair, balanced, and I hope Wine52 will explore other wine producing Houses in the Douro in due course.

Then we come to Madeira a fabulous wine, sadly now little seen in the UK. There used to be a wonderful market of old Vintage and Solera Madeira when I was younger. I went to Canada for Christmas in 1974, as I wished to ask my prospective Father-in Law for my Canadian wife's hand in marriage.

I decided to take a small Stilton Cheese, a Fortnum and Mason Christmas Pudding and a bottle of old Vintage Madeira. I was working for a company at the time who shipped Madeira from two of the best producers, Blandy, and Cossart Gordon. Madeira was not that fashionable even back in the 1970's, and much of the cheaper stuff was used in cooking for Madeira sauce!

In our cellars and shop in Regent Street, however, we had the Blandy's 1815 Waterloo Bual, bottled to celebrate the victory at the battle of Waterloo. It was rather expensive for me at the time, £50. I carried it carefully in my hand luggage on the flight to Toronto, and on Christmas morning decanted it, and served it with the Stilton. It was quite superb.

The only problem was that whilst my prospective new family loved it, and drank it up quite quickly, my Father-in Law never believed that it could possibly be from the 1815 vintage, and always thought I was lying!

But Madeira is made traditionally as described, not by now shipping backwards and forwards to India, but in warm cellars slowly baking in the sun under the roofs of the warehouses where it is made.

This highly oxidative wine making means the wines last almost for ever and never go off, they just get more intriguing as they age.

Indeed, Madeira continues to be highly fashionable in Scandanavia (it is quite warming!), and the aged wines are highly sought after in the USA. I await the British rediscovery of this great Portuguese wine.

I like the next article about White Port, there is a good recipe for a refreshing cocktail, but don't miss out on what the Port Shippers drink up the Douro for refreshment when it's hot, that is White Port and chilled Tonic water.

Then next a good piece on food pairing, and pleased to see there was a plug for tinned fish and tinned wine. The wine industry has to reduce dramatically it's carbon footprint, and glass bottles are the worst carbon generative packaging there is. There are now some excellent wines in Can.

Lastly a thoughtful piece about non-alcoholic drinks. I am very keen on the idea of lower alcohol. The last forty years has seen the average strength of beer, cider and wine increase quite markedly. As a wine merchant in the 1970's most top wines were 11% with a ripe vintage achieving 12-12.5%. I sold Mild Ale in the Midlands at 3-3.5%, delicious "session" beers, no one got drunk.

The reaction to rising alcohol levels and drunkenness, has been a move to non-alcoholic drinks. There are however some excellent non-alcoholic beers. The use of malty flavours and hops in beer makes it much easier to produce something with flavour than producing a zero-alcohol wine. All there is to play with in wine are fruit juice flavours, acidity and tannins. I have been working with some top producers for a long time to try to make something really good in zero alcohol wine. But I come back to recommending good Asti from Northern Italy, sweet fresh but only 5%.

Also German wines at 8-10%, which still have masses of flavour and don't miss the alcohol, remaining supremely balanced.

We now come on to the wines, what are they like?

The white Vinho Verde (which means green wine) called Atuar is a very young, bright, fresh wine which I really enjoyed as an aperitif, but also had with some dried ham, and various snacky cheesy nibbles. It is 2021, less than a year old, so very fruity and lemony, the Arinto grape showing its vibrant freshness.

A real crowd pleaser, so long as you like bright crispness and freshness, this is pleasantly moderate in alcohol at 11.5% alcohol by volume.

The two reds are more serious wines. I have to say I loved the Dao Cotta 700. From the 2020 vintage, it is still young but it has clearly seen some time in oak, and it is gentle and complex. It got better and better in the glass, so best to decant to get some air, and/or use nice big glasses.

Lovely, complex fruit, wild berries and a hint of old leather and cigar box. A nice gentle spiciness, soft tannins and good with white meat, and even grilled fish. I felt the perfect match for a Sunday Roast Chicken.

The Douro red has the structure and "grip" of the stylish Touriga National grape, the fruit of the Tinta Barroca, and I would guess, although not mentioned, a large slug of Tinta Roriz in the blend. A big gutsy wine, 13.5% alcohol but still nicely balanced. Again young at 2019, so best give it some air to let it develop. Dark berry fruit, spicy juicy finish, and will be great with red meat, grills and roasts.

Cases are usually £32 per month with free delivery after that. You have the freedom to cancel or skip a case at any time. If this were your FIRST case, WinesDirect have an exclusive voucher for you to use which means you pay the £5.95 delivery but the 3 Wines are completely free. Grab this voucher here.

I am seriously tempted to add Wine52 to my Beer52 membership, I really want to see where they go next in the wine world and what discoveries they will share next with members.


Christopher Burr, MW

Christopher Burr, MW

Christopher has been involved in the wine business for over 45 years. He is one of only 493 MW’s from 31 countries worldwide.

Read more articles by: Christopher Burr, MW


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Excellent wines! The accurate descriptions allow you to buy with confidence.

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