In Macau

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 May, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 May, 2005, 12:00am

Hugo Robarts Bandeira gets just a bit tetchy when you mention port. His eyes roll heavenwards. With extreme diplomacy, he says that it's unfortunate that vintage port has captured the imagination - and buying power - of wine consumers.

There is a lot more to Portuguese wine than the libation it is best known for, says the young academic and wine connoisseur. Top-end Portuguese table reds are brilliant and a fraction of the price of French and even many New World counterparts.

Mr Bandeira, a food and beverage manager and lecturer at Macau's Institute for Tourism Studies, is an acknowledged expert on Portuguese wine.

Born in Macau of Portuguese parents, he was brought up in the Iberian state but has returned to his roots.

Asked why Portuguese winemaking is so talked about right now, he says: 'Portugal has understood that it must catch up.'

It has seen the growth in styles, quality and popularity of New World wines. 'We also saw we were getting left behind.'

So Portugal has begun to meld modern technology and skills - an Australian is winemaker at one of the country's biggest quality producers, for instance - with ancient grapes and traditions. The result has been a delightful surprise for all who love the fermented grape. Over the past decade huge improvements have already been made, says Mr Bandeira.

The Portuguese wine industry now has export markets firmly in its sights. While Macau and Hong Kong remain relatively small outlets (Luxembourg, England and Germany are the biggest), they nonetheless attract high-quality bottles. And for Hong Kong people, the prices in Macau - where the landing tax of 15 per cent compares favourably with Hong Kong's current 80 per cent - are a bonus.

Portugal is divided into three wine regions - north, central and south. Of the indigenous grape varieties, the best-known most used is the touriga nacional, which is usually crushed for reds. Of strong tannin character, Mr Bandeira calls it 'our cabernet'.

As well as indigenous varieties, Portugal does well with cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay.

Portugal is making better reds than whites, said Mr Bandeira. So we should respect sweet white port and the 'vinho verde', or young wines made from grapes that are picked green that Portugal is famous for. But the reputation of Portugal's table reds is growing.

In Macau's restaurants, fine Portuguese table wines - both red and white - can be ordered from about $200 a bottle. At the restaurant of the Institute of Tourism Studies, where the same mark-ups do not apply, a great Portuguese red will cost between $140 and $150.

But for $100 and up in Macau's supermarkets, you can purchase a very good Portuguese bottle.