Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Adriano" Red by Ramos Pinto

Portuguese non-fortified red and white wines are off the radar for most folks.  For almost everyone, Port is the only wine associated with a country that is rich and varied in its offerings for the œnophile.  For that very reason, you can find some pretty amazing bargains when it comes to the $10 and under category if you know what you're looking for.  I don't know about you, but I'm very pleased if I can find a wine that is good enough for everyday consumption that comes in at a price that I can afford to drink a couple of times a week.  That's why I was so excited to discover "Adriano" Red made by the venerable Port house, Ramos Pinto on my last wine shopping excursion.

I have a feeling that part of the reason Portuguese reds are so misunderstood and under appreciated is because they are made from grapes that we Americans have a hard time pronouncing.  Because of our country's labeling laws, we tend to order wine in restaurants and shop for it in stores by looking for our favorite varietal: Merlot, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, etc.  You won't see these varietals in Portuguese wines at all.  Instead you'll see difficult to pronounce and spell regions like Duoro, Alentenjo, and Estramadura and obscure varietals like Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Roriz.  Indeed, the "Adriano" red is made from a blend of these three grapes, and it's named for the region it comes from, the Duoro.  These factors work against the consumer as obstacles between them and the cash register in an unassisted sales environment.

What the Portuguese and their wines do have going for them is a lot of farming know-how, a rich wine-making culture, relatively cheap labor, and a new interest from foreign investment.  In the case of Ramos Pinto's "Adriano" Red, the folks in sales make things a lot more appealing to the consumer by designing beautiful, even sexy, packaging and creating an easy name that just about anyone can comfortably pronounce.  The price certainly doesn't hurt either.  I snatched up 6 bottles on sale at my favorite wine shop for $6 each!  In all honesty, it would be a bargain at twice the price, but I'm not telling my friends at the liquor store.

From my perspective, the "Adriano" Red delivers on many levels after tasting - and drinking with great enjoyment.  For starters, it has an appealing and intensely dark color that for many is a sign of quality.  I'm not one to judge a book by its cover, but I have to say that it is impressive that the wine has such a beautiful dark ruby core.  It truly looks like wine, and is not the usual purple "mess" of a cheap wine that tends to stain teeth so unattractively.  The nose likewise, while not terribly complex, exhibits some lovely simple and straightforward fruit aromas of blackberry and blueberry followed by modest chocolate, cinnamon, and even a little cherry cola.

The "Adriano" Red feels as smooth as silk on the palete and while dry, it has a plump juicy quality.  I like that its juiciness is not masked by too much oak.  In fact, only 20% of it sees any oak at all and what little bit is aged in oak is done so in real French oak barrels.  The rest is completely matured in stainless steel vats.  The lack of using expensive oak barrels helps to keep the price down.  I have to admire the purity and simplicity of this wine.  It doesn't pretend to be anything that it isn't.  Quite clearly it's something for easy drinking and made to go with your take out Chinese or pizza delivery.  I win with a delicious cheap everyday red, and Ramos Pinto wins by unloading some of their quality "overflow" grapes not being used to make Port.

If you can find the "Adriano" Red, it's certainly worth trying.  Even if you decide that you don't like it after one glass, you're only out a small sum of money.  If you can't find it, look for other inexpensive Portuguese red wines.  They are rare, but they are out there.  From what I understand, quality has significantly improved in these types of wines over the last twenty years, and I expect with Portugal's continuing efforts to catch up to the rest of the EU, we will see more improvement and consistency in the already delicious non-fortified wine category.

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