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DWWA 2014: Portugal insights

Hear from our Portugal Regional Chair Sarah Ahmed on which wines to buy, which wines to leave on the shelf and what to keep an eye on from this year's Decanter World Wine Awards....

Portugal’s DWWA entries , together with the Trophy and Gold tally, have risen annually since 2004, and with more than 700 wines this year, hopes were high. Sadly, Golds were like gold dust, and Silvers and Bronzes were down too. We know Portugal can do so much better, so frustration within our panel was palpable. This year 65% of entries won a medal (compared with 80% in 2012 and 2013) and we awarded just three Golds, of which only one took home a Trophy.

What should we buy from here?

Our Trophy winner was a flamboyantly aromatic fortified Moscatel de Setúbal that stood head and shoulders above its peers. With an impressively high awards’ quota, the Douro reds – especially the stand-out 2011 vintage – showed remarkable consistency across affordable price points. The Alentejano reds fielded a solid performance, from both traditional Trincadeira or Alicante Bouschet-led styles as well as modern blends (with intelligent use of Touriga Nacional, Syrah, Bordeaux red grapes and, for whites, Albariño, Verdelho and Viognier). Although the number of entries was relatively low for Dão and Bairrada (and the reds less consistent), both regions picked up a good handful of Silvers, Bairrada for its traditional Baga variety (including a rare fortified example).

What should we leave on the shelf?

Lisboa’s performance was dire – far too many faulty reds (brettanomyces), harsh tannins and tired whites. Where was the fruit? While the region is large and varied, so is neighbouring Tejo which, while not especially exciting, performed much better. As one judge remarked: ‘Perhaps Tejo is more open to the outside world so that cellar hygiene and fruit expression is better?’ Despite a glimmer of hope on the rosé front last year, it was back in the firing line thanks to clumsy residual sugar – an issue that also made for some rather lacklustre Vinho Verdes.

What should we keep an eye on?

No whites made the cut for Gold, but those that performed well served as salutary reminders of what is exciting about Portugal – its unique varietal and regional expressions. In particular, two Dão Encruzado-based Silvers offered Burgundian complexity and class. A touch more acidity would have elevated them to Gold. While single-varietal whites are rare in the Douro, a rather pricey Arinto from Secretum brilliantly combined the raciness of the variety with the minerality of the region. And herein lies a lesson. At times it seemed a scattergun approach to varieties was being adopted (why Sangiovese or Chenin Blanc?) yet, when the right variety is planted in the right place, Portugal is on to a winner.

Written by Decanter

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