It is virtually impossible to escape Olympic theme in London even if you can’t be bothered about any sport.
So far it seems that official policy is “no thrills, no spills” in every field including the wines that are to be served to guests during the Olympics. You could see as a gallant gesture that 2008 Hush Heath Balfour Brut Rosé is going to be served instead of Champagne. Another vintage of this wine got Silver at Decanter World Wine Awards, and in this case the desire to be patriotic comes with pretty good results in the quality of the wine.
Among other wines to be served – classics from France and Italy, 2008 Meursault Cuvee Charles Maxime Domaine Latour-Giraud, 2006 Brunello di Montalcino Castello Banfi. I personally was pleased to see in the list of Olympic wines some names from Brazil and Portugal (to be precise, they were 2006 Quinta do Seival Castas Portuguesas, 2009 Quinta do Vallado). Why? Firstly, because wine lists that are carbon copies of each other and offer the same names from France and Italy are boring. Secondly, because Portugal is the place to look at if you’re after value for money.
Though for many customers Portugal might appear not a more user-friendly region than Burgundy and Bordeaux. You can find here more than 200 grape varieties, and many of them sound like magic spells from Harry Potter. The most knowledgeable people may know grapes used for making Port – though go and try to persuade customers that you can make great dry still wines from the same Port varieties. Even if Portugal grapes were a bit easier to pronounce or memorise, it would hardly help – cause, as their French, Italian and Spanish colleagues, Portuguese winemakers have an annoying habit to call their wines under the wine making regions, not the grapes used for the wine.
Frustration that many wine drinkers have about Portugal is a shame because so many of Portuguese wines – not only from Douro valley, but also from Alentejo, Ribatejo, Estremadura and Terras do Sado – are worth not less, but more than their shop prices.
It is especially true for not expensive wines under 15 pounds. My modest favourite is the wine called Brigando – a smooth and perfectly quaffable blend of Touriga Nacional, Shiraz and Tinta Roriz. I don’t know any other wine giving you the same level of quality for 5 quid. Well done to the winemaker José Neiva without whom, according to Tim Atkin MW, “the Portuguese wine revolution wouldn’t have happened”.
I am far from saying that Portugal is the land of cheap table wines. Try, for example, 2009 Dom Rafael Mouchão Vinho Regional Alentejano and 2008 Munda, Dão, that a wine writer and winemaker Richard Mayson included in his best 50 wines from Portugal. If you like white wine as much as I do, give a go also to an aromatic 2010 Dona Ermelinda Branco, Palmela DO, awarded at Decanter World Wine Awards and International Wine Challenge last year. But if you fancy something sweet towards the end of the evening, the same producer makes a liquid delight called Casa Ermelinda Freitas Moscatel de Setubal NV. Not cloying, with a hint of sea breeze saltiness and endless caramel finish, this Moscatel is my favourite for at least a year. Try it with blue cheeses or chocolate, especially salted chocolate caramels from Artisan du Chocolat (my favourites are N°1 Salted Caramels Original and N°15 Salted Caramels Sage and Thyme). It is a shame the guys won’t enjoy it during the Olympics. But it shouldn’t stop wine lovers from tasting it – even out of pure sporting interest.