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Hand sells they might be, but the winners here showed good fruit, local character and restraint at highly list-friendly prices


Just about no customer walks into a restaurant and requests ‘something Portuguese’ to go with their food. But for sommeliers, this part of the competition has often proved an interesting place to explore.

‘Portugal appeals to people looking for a mix of good value, interesting and less usual grape varieties,’ said Galvin La Chapelle’s Andrea Briccarello. ‘A place to experiment with new flavours and styles.’

A quick look at the prices of the medal winners here also shows that Portugal remains one of the few places on the planet that is able to produce wines of craft and character at a level that is still going to be affordable once heavily marked-up.

‘The wines were good. But the problem for me is that it’s so, so hard to sell a Portuguese wine for anything over £30,’ sighed the Hide Bar’s Paolo Tonellotto.

The whites have, historically, been a real mixed bag, with Golds in the past going to everything from ‘big, expensive and oaky’ to ‘light and floral’. This year, the majority of submissions were in the ‘lighter and unoaked’ canon, though the two Golds (even though they came from the same producer) were very different.

In fact, while Esporao was the star of the white section, Sogrape’s Callabriga wines did a similar job for the reds. Lady CallabriGaga perhaps? Their wines put in a terrific performance two years ago, and it was back to business as usual again here, with one of the two red Golds (the other going to the youthful Quinta da Romaneira venture) and a Silver.

What these winners had, crucially, was balance. Not all the wines sent in had it, with too many bottles so full of fruit that you felt a ‘wafer thin mint’ would cause them to explode.

‘Some are just too rich – full of acidity and oak and tannin,’ grumbled China Tang’s Julien Sahut. ‘You can’t put them with food.’ It’s one of the reasons, perhaps, why the cheaper wines did well – they were just less concentrated.

The Silver-medal-winning Callabriga Douro, for instance, was described as ‘having all that you would want from a Touriga without blowing your brains out’ by one tannin-thrashed taster, while the Romaneira was praised by consultant Peter McCombie MW for ‘showing some restraint with good red and black fruit, finesse with the tannins, purity and expressing local character’.

All of these are, perhaps, a hand sell, but they are also wines that customers will come back to once tried.

‘In the reds we didn’t mind a bit of rusticity so long as it was a meaningful wine. The cheaper wines tended to fail because of a lack of character rather than through any real faults.’ Gergely Barsi Szabó, Borough Wines

‘The whites aren’t suffering from being too big and overpowering any more. There was a freshness and lightness to them.’ Paolo Tonellotto, Hide Bar

‘There is an amazing array of grape varieties in Portugal and this, coupled with great value, can make for a great point of difference. Wines like the Callabriga Alentejo offer something different from the run of the mill.’ Marco Feraldi, Galvin La Chapelle