Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Ahh, Portugal. The word itself, for me is wrapped in layers of vivid memories. Scholastic details from my time as a student in Political Science, poetic and aural representations from two weeks traveling within its borders, and sensory particulars that have built up over the years tasting wine. I have a small place in my heart for the wines and people of Portugal that traces back to some of my very first experiences in the wine industry; I interned for an importer during my final semesters of College and spent my weekend evenings behind a tasting bar educating people about unique Portuguese wines while my peers were out getting inebriated on god knows what.

Recently I welcomed Portugal back into my life in the form of the Portuguese Wine Invasion.
In short summary, A Midwest-born-wine-loving expat who now lives in Portugal wanted to spread the love of his new(ish) home and its wines in his former home. So, he gathered a few Portuguese cohorts and embarked on the ‘All American Roadtrip’ around the Midwest, a region that all too often gets left out when it comes to important wine events. Ryan Opaz, the aforementioned expat, curates a killer blog with his wife Gabriella called I’ve been a fan for years now. It’s quite possibly the first wine blog I started following and I’d be willing to bet it was one of the first comprehensive wine blogs in general.  Needless to say, I was pretty stoked to meet Ryan and amazed at how small the world, particularly the wine world can become.

They came prepared

The itinerary for their trip did not include a Madison event (where I now call home) but with a few tweets and email exchanges we were able to throw something together last minute. En route from Chicago to Minneapolis, Madison proved to be a perfect spot for a lunch and informal tasting at a friend's wine store, Square Wine Company.  The food from famed Madison deli Stalzy’s made for some interesting pairings, even inspiring a twitter hashtag #delimeetsduoro. Few foods represent American culture more for me than a greasy Reuben and potato chips so it was fun to share and see how the Portuguese wines stood up. 

Andrea Hillsey of SquareWineCo

I was humbled by the positive energy and kindness of the group who was on day 5 on the road in a cramped van. Julia, Pedro, Vitor, and Oscar, the four Portuguese natives, filled the wine shop with smiles and stories upon arrival. Almost with no introduction we found ourselves in a tasting that felt more like a gathering of old friends than a wine showcase by mere strangers. Each wine had a story, it wasn’t just juice in the glass; the history, innovation, family and tradition involved in each and every wine was shared by the very people responsible for producing it.

Pedro Poças Pintão and Ryan Opaz share a laugh

Besides the fact that it was an all around casual and fun event, I took a few important things away that I think are worth sharing:

In Portugal, Blends are King
There are hundreds of different indigenous grape varietals, most all of which are nearly impossible for a native English speaker to pronounce. Many winemakers are forgoing single varietal bottlings and instead focusing on blending unique wines that harness the different characteristics of the grapes in a particular region. The still wines of Poças were a fine representation.

Pedro Poças Pintão

Vinho Verde Can Age
A surprise that shouldn’t be, given the acid content and structure of the finest of these wines. Ryan spoke of a recent experience drinking a 15 year old Vinho Verde that tasted as if it was just coming into its prime. The young wines of Quinta de Gomariz were incredibly complex with stunning aromatics, worlds away from the $5 ‘Vinho Verde’ that most of us are used to from the bottom shelf in the grocery store. I’d surely love to taste some of them in ten years time.

Vitor Mendes of Quinta de Gomariz gets serious with
Madison's Ruben Mendez of L'Etoile

New World in the Old World
Not a single wine I tasted was flawed or ‘dirty’ and it seems a high standard has been set for ‘modern’ winemaking techniques across the board. Julia Kemper is lawyer by trade who took over her family’s estate because there was nobody else to do so. She was enthusiastic in describing the technology and investment that go into her winemaking, while preserving the heritage and tradition of the land that she has inherited. Julia deserves a nod for her wines of balance that don’t scream heavy oak, high alcohol, or obscene fruit concentration.

Julia Kemper

We Need More White Port
Somewhat of a rarity in the American market, white port is much like its red counterpart, only made with white grapes. When Oscar Quevedo presented his white port to the crowd, he needed relatively little explanation. Insanely sweet-herbal aromatics preceded a strikingly dry-ish finish. Need a summer cocktail? Mix it or any other white port 1:1 with tonic water on ice. It’s what the Portuguese drink on the regular, Portonic!

Oscar Quevedo shares his white port

The #PTWineInvasion extended a big-fat wide-open invite to anyone and everyone to visit and seemed more than willing to help out in making it happen. If there was one message they stressed more than any other, it was how much they wanted visitors to come experience Portugal and its people, wine, food, music, art, history, and culture.

Vitor was all smiles

Thank you to Ryan Opaz for taking the time to stop in Madison with your wonderful crew. Thank you Vitor, Oscar, Pedro and Julia for sharing your wines and your stories. I hope that you felt your time was well spent and that maybe this will turn into a (semi)annual event. Thank you to Andrea at SquareWineCo for hosting the gathering at her shop, Emily for hand washing all the stemware when it was over, Andre Darlington for wrangling the troops. Thank you also to Eric Baillies for capturing the smiles and intrigue in each and every photo.

Check out the website for a wealth of information and dispatches from their time on the road.

The aftermath

Cheers to Portugal!