Portuguese wine is for the birds, or at least that’s what we think at the Wine Economist. The birds? Well, duck is the specific bird we are thinking of and duck rice is the pairing we have in mind. Here are some thoughts on the success of Portuguese wine in the U.S. market and a shortcut if you want to check out the duck rice pairing.
Jancis Robinson’s recent Financial Times column on the rise of Portuguese wine in the US and UK markets focuses on the importance of personal experience in shaping attitudes toward various wine regions. Portuguese table wines were for years pretty much undiscovered territory for most wine drinkers, except for bright, inexpensive Vinho Verde. Other wines and regions weren’t on the radar because of unfamiliar grape varieties, unfamiliar appellations, or pre-set notions (Douro Valley? You must be thinking of Port!).
Many wine enthusiasts didn’t even think about Portuguese table wines. But this changed in the last few years, Robinson argues, and many of us agree, with the rise of Lisbon and Porto as tourist destinations. Visitors try the local wines with the local cuisine and are delighted. A light goes on, a door is opened, and suddenly Portuguese wines, unfamiliar names and all, are on the radar.
One great memory that Sue and I have from a visit to Portugal a few years ago was sitting atop a hill overlooking the Douro and having lunch with George Sandeman. The meal featured duck rice (one taste and Sue was hooked) along with wines from Casa Ferreirinha, including the Papa Figos red and white wines shown here. Both wines are blends of native grapes from the Douro regions and both feature a bird, the Papa Figos, which migrates from Northern Africa just about in time for the grape harvest season in the Douro Valley. According to the label:
“Of all the birds found in the Douro, the Papa Figos is one of the rarest. It is a migratory bird with vivid, attractive colors and the female of the species, with its greenish coloring, perfectly symbolizes this unique Casa Ferreirinha wine.”
Voyage of Discovery
Sue and I have been trying Portuguese white wines this summer and having a great time exploring the many possibilities. There seems to be something for every taste and, with the many native grape varieties, it is kind of a voyage of discovery.
For example, the Quinta de Chocopalha Arinto Branco 2020 is made from Arinto grapes from a vineyard northwest of Lisbon. It spent 5 months on the lees before bottling. It was bright and flavorful and would pair well with seafood or your favorite bird.
We recently popped the cap off a bottle of Quinta da Raza Branco Pet Nat, a naturally sparkling wine made from the Trajadura grape variety, which is native to northwest Portugal, It was both fizzy and mellow, with flavors of peach, pear, and apple. A bit cloudy as Pet Nat wines are, it was just the thing to pair with a salad of grilled shrimp, English peas from the garden, and Israeli couscous.
The flying object on the Raza label is a lacewing, not a bird. A side note explains, “The lacewing represents our holistic approach to viticulture. Its efficiency in biological pest control is remarkable.” The wine was surprising and remarkable, too.
My Duck Rice Shortcut
Duck rice is delicious and pairs well with Portuguese wines. There are lots of recipes on the internet, but the basic idea is that you need duck meat, duck broth, and duck fat. And rice, of course. You sauté the rice in the duck fat, cook it in the duck broth, and combine it with the duck meat in a casserole. Duck. Duck. Duck. Rice.
The usual approach is to get a whole duck and cook it in a big pot of water, take off the meat, skim off the fat, and use the broth. For some reason, I find the idea of the whole raw duck and the big pot of water a bit intimidating.
My shortcut is to go to the local Asian market and buy a whole roast duck there (there are at least three places to buy whole or half of a roast duck in the international district of my town). I strip off the meat and the crispy skin, then make stock out of the bones and the fatty skin. The rest is according to the standard recipe. It is delicious. And great to serve with your favorite Portuguese wine!