Justin O’Hanlon, newest recruit to the AlgarvePLUS magazine team, is an experienced sommelier and, together with his business partner chef Jonnie Pratt, he runs No Contact Catering. In the first of his regular wine columns, he chooses a theme that is entirely appropriate to today’s climate.
These are most uncertain times: direction, destination undefined, the end far from sight. All we crave is contact and a little joy back in our lives. Needs must. In wine we trust!
In these reflective times, I have been thinking about my childhood – the endless miles covered in my mother’s beat up Datsun, charging from school, to practice, to friends and back around again. BBC Radio 4 doles out the latest installment of The Archers or some radio play.
One broadcast in particular stays with me: Desert Island Disks – a regular serving of survivalist techniques, cultural life rafts and musical flotsam, the brainchild of broadcaster Roy Plomley. In this imagined world, castaways are marooned on a tiny island with only eight records to remind them of their inspirations and life choices: a place with no human contact (imagine), social distancing (on an exaggerated scale): exactly where we find ourselves now.
So, using Roy Plomley’s theme and stranded on our respective desert islands, with only a gramophone horn to guzzle from, and eight bottomless bottles of wine to get through, what would I drink and why would I drink it?
Record 1 – Saline Lisbon Whites. Salty, mineral-driven, with incredible oceanic influence. Unlike their southern Portuguese counterparts, where some less meticulous productions have resulted in high alcohol, prominent aromatic profiles and over-ripened fruit, these maritime climate whites offer freshness and acidity, minerality, and ageing potential. Quinta do Varzea de Pedra
Record 2 – Dáo Encrezado. If ever there was a bottled piece of music that could survive the sands of time, this is it. Encrezado is often seen as Portugal’s indigenous answer to Chardonnay, while the Dáo is viewed as its Burgundian counterpart. Dao whites offer all the same ageing potential, depth and complexity of many of their opposite numbers in France, but at a fraction of the price. Soito Encrezado Reserva
Record 3 – Beira Interior, unsung hero of Portuguese wine production, offers more distinctive altitude-driven wines than many other region on the mainland. Hot and dry in the summer, cold in the winter with frequent snows, and a more pronounced continental climate than the Dáo. This formative diurnal range, with hot days and cold nights, makes for wines that are ripe and fruit driven bur maintain acidity, freshness and complexity. Best in show for me Quinta do Cardo Siria Reserva
Record 4 – Modern day Vinho Verde. Gone are the days when Vinho Verde was just the low alcohol, effervescent, penny-cleaning afterthought of old. Bob Dylan sung The Times They Are A-changin’. No truer word for our northern wine-producing friends in Minho and Moncao. A new wave of lees-ageing, barrel-fermenting dynamos is on the march and their progressive and modern wine making techniques should be noted. Vinho Verde is no longer just a green wine but is now a classified DOC and the industrious northern winemakers are taking local varieties to dizzying new heights. Casa do Valle Grand Eschola
Record 5 – Paint the town red (Alentejo). Alicante Bouchet is to the sun baked interior of Portugal what Cabernet is to Bordeaux, or Syrah to the Rhone. A nation of blenders, the Portuguese traditionally never focused on single varietal expressions, laying more emphasis on the harmony and marriage of varietal characteristics. In one of the most iconic wine producing regions in Portugal, for me one reoccurring factor raises its delightful head above all palate-made parapets…..Alicante Bouchet. Maladihnia Nova MM Series 2008 Alicante Bouchet
Record 6 – Southern wonders. The Algarve, an area once teeming with vineyards, has a history of viticulture dating back to the time of The Tartessians, an ancient civilation from 2000 BC. Latterly impoverished locals, desperate rural and farming communities, succumbed to the city- slicking, money- waving, construction companies bulldozing their way into the future. A once rich history of wine production fell almost into extinction as local varietals all but disappeared in the face of modern infrastructure. Thankfully brought back from the brink and once again producing world worthy wines, our almost extinguished Algarvian flame is burning bright again. Joáo Clara Negra Mole
Record 7 – Dáo. A little elegance goes a long way but it can sometimes be hard to find, among the heavy hitting, rambunctious reds so typical of Portuguese productions. The Dáo, among the first Portuguese appellations to be accredited with DOC demarcation in 1990, was once responsible for some of the most sought after wines in the country. New ideas, innovative winemakers, and a changing of the guard has resulted in recent resurgence in the region. Land locked and sheltered in its mountainous microclimate Dáo wines tend toward a more refined profile. These terroir driven wines and their more complex elegant end product make them an often over- looked gem in a whole host of national treasures. Quinta do Perdigao Alfrocheiro 2011
Record 8 – 2011 Douro! If you can get your hands on it, buy it, grab it, drink it. Forget the desert island. Let’s say Death-Row Vinho, 2011 Douro is what you should be drinking. One last sip on the slippery slope. Very little of this historic wine is still commercially available, most is already consumed or collected. This is the great iconic vintage of our time in the Douro. Whatever else you do, if you find it, buy it, love it, drink it! Last orders! Quinta do Basilia Super Premium 2011
On your desert island you are permitted one luxury. Mine is my corkscrew Bear Grylls never taught us to survive inside, never prepared us for the introspective weeks now upon us. Instead of whittling sticks, we’re whittling the wheel of time. What better way to do that, than in the company of wine. Dust off the best of what you’ve left, take this sluggish chapter in our lives and put the world to rights, one glass at a time. Great wines are made to be savoured, not saved. With so little left in this cloistered new world order, cast away to a distant place, feel the sand between your toes, the aromas on your nose and take the opportunity to enjoy some desert Island wines.
To find out about Justin’s choices, speak to No Contact Catering.