The new generation of Portuguese wines deserves greater attention from consumers and restaurant buyers alike. While successive waves of wine commentators have celebrated the broad spectrum of original flavours and styles the country’s renascent industry is producing, they remain too little explored. What’s more, compared to the big, clunking fist of much Australian Shiraz, or the twacky, juicy-fruit quality of many a New Zealand Sauvignon, they are demonstrably food-friendly wines.
Some of the issues that bedevil international wine are present in Portugal too, even in the quality sector. There are wines with top-heavy oak, and wines with drop-dead alcohol levels, as there are elsewhere. International consultants include some of the crme-de-la-crme of Bordeaux (not them again!) such as Bruno Prats of Cos d’Estournel and Jean-Michel Cazes of Lynch-Bages, but by and large, they have worked with the grain of the wines, rather than cutting across it.
I once asked Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm whether he had ever thought of working with Spanish varieties such as Tempranillo, and his response suggested that he saw more excitement in the southwestern edge of the Iberian peninsula. ‘Right now,’ he told me, ‘I’m lusting after some Loureiro.’ Tasting a range of new-wave Portuguese wines in all three colours at a recent lunch, the thought struck me again that Portugal is possibly the only advanced wine country in the world where premium winemaking is still not predominantly about varietalism. Which is perhaps why, to return to my first point, consumers haven’t got their heads around them yet.
The Meadow restaurant in Hove is a new venture from Will Murgatroyd, who previously worked under Marcus Wareing of Ptrus in London. His premises are the proverbial converted bank, but for once the conversion has been hearteningly thorough, and the result is a wide, bright room looking on to the Palmeira Clock Gardens in Hove.
We began with an opener that combined an ash-coated Sussex goat’s cheese with beetroot, watercress and other saladings in the lightest vinaigrette. The pair of alternatives with this course was the much-trumpeted Pink Elephant ros 2006, a blend created by a committee of international wine geeks, and Herdade Grande Colheita Seleccionada 2006, an Alentejo white made in a generous, ripely pineappley style with perhaps just a whisper of fattening oak.
The match between the goat’s cheese and the white wine got better as the two flavours became acclimatised to each other, the cheese bringing out the underlying creaminess of the wine. I’m not a fan of Pink Elephant, distrusting the high-residual style that seems to take no cognisance of the fact that tastes in ultra-fashionable ros are rather more sophisticated than the old Ros d’Anjou thinking of yore. That said, there was one moment of perfect serendipity, when a clump of dill in the salad met it head on, and a world of explosive aniseed was created by the combination of that most forthright of herbs and the sugar in the wine.
For main course, there was a generously proportioned leg of duck confit, served on vigorously browned dauphinoise with a portion of creamed Savoy cabbage. Two sharply contrasting reds were offered with this. Quinta da Falorca Reserva 2001 was made in the ancestral DOC of Do, while its tablemate was an ultra-modern Trincadeira 2005 from the Alentejo, made by the visionary house of Joo Portugal Ramos.
The Trincadeira is a good, savoury, raisiny red, full of proud national identity, its fine balance of fruit and tannins enhanced by aromatic herbal notes. I thought it a sympathetic match with the duck, but the award had to go, for me, to the Do, which – despite its greater bottle-age – still had a deal of assertive tannin on it, but also a wave of beautifully composed damsony fruit. Its cutting-edge of fine-grained tannin echoed the firmly shreddy texture of the meat, and nor was it fazed by the green pungency of the cabbage.
We finished in old-school style with a glass of lush Moscatel de Setbal Superior 1997 from Bacalha, a burnished, aged-tawny style of fortified dessert wine, awash with astringent orange peel and walnuts. It was paired with what was billed as Trinity Burnt Cream, the distant Cambridge cousin of crme brle, a distinctly more liquid version of the French dessert, but with the same crisply caramelised top. The match was great, not least because there was a tantalising balance of dryness at the centre of the wine with the sweetness and strong vanilla of the dish, while the big alcohol effortlessly coped with the onslaught of dairy fat.
The Meadow, 64 Western Road, Hove BN3 2JQ, tel: 01273 721182
Other top Brighton and Hove addresses:
Gingerman at Drake’s, 44 Marine Parade, Brighton BN2 1PE, tel: 01273 696934
Ben McKellar sets the pace in this stylish, airy basement venue in the last-word-in-chic Drakes Hotel
Pintxo People, 95-99 Western Road, Brighton BN1 2LB, tel: 01273 732323
Miguel Jessen’s invigorating take on Catalan tapas, served in a cool, first-floor dining-room opposite Waitrose
Terre Terre, 71 East Steeet, Brighton BN1 1HQ, tel: 01273 729051
Dynamic, creative, meat-free cooking in a big, chilled-out, fun-filled room. One of the best vegetarian restaurants in the UK
*For those of you who are not London-based Brighton is a very hip and happening seaside resort about 1 hour south of London - often referred to as London-on-sea. If you’re visiting the UK and are looking for a weekend break out of town it’s perfect as it has some stylish boutique hotels too. FB