Wine's best kept secret emerges from its slumber

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 June, 2009, 12:00am

A Portuguese wine took third place in Wine Spectator's list of the top-100 most exciting wines of 2008. It was the only non-French wine to make the top five. Three other Portuguese vintages were included in the prestigious list.

Coming in third, Quinta do Crasto Douro Reserva Old Vines 2005 was described as 'at the crest of the new wave of high-quality table wines issuing from the historic heartland of Oporto'. Better known overseas for port, which takes its name from Oporto, Portugal's second largest city, the region of Douro also produces some of the country's finest wines.

Other Portuguese wines to make the list include Sogrape Dao Callabriga 2005 at 57th place, Churchill Douro Churchill Estates 2006 at 90th place and Niepoort Douro Vertente 2005 at 98th place. Only France, the United States, Italy, Spain and Australia had more wines on the list. Portugal is the world's 10th largest producer of wine.

'The reputation of Portuguese wine started to improve about 10 years, ago,' Tomas Pimenta, who heads the Agencia Comercial Vino Veritas in Macau, said. 'It is improving because of improved technology and less pressure on journalists. They used to be herded from vineyard to vineyard, visiting seven or eight in one day. Now they are given time to relax and explore the vineyards at their leisure.'

Macau has the highest per capita rate of wine consumption in Asia. Up until a few years ago, Portuguese wines had a practical stranglehold on the city. That changed when the decades-old gambling monopoly was scrapped in 2002. The resulting new casinos and resorts that were built once the market was opened up started attracting large numbers of high rollers, and they tended to prefer French vintages. But while the market share of Portuguese wines has fallen, the amount of Portuguese wine sold in Macau has more than doubled over the past decade. Re-exports to Hong Kong are growing at an even faster clip.

'Only now are people in Hong Kong starting to discover Portuguese wine,' Mr Pimenta said. 'You are now finding more and more Portuguese wines in the markets and in an increasing number of restaurants. Our re-exports to Hong Kong have doubled since the duty on wine was scrapped.'

Marc-Paul Pennaneach, food and beverage director at the Sofitel Macau at Ponte 16, spent 24 years in Hong Kong before relocating to Macau four years ago. He thinks that Portuguese wines are one of the wine world's best kept secrets.

'In Hong Kong, we seldom listed Portuguese wines,' the French native said. 'It was only after I started working in Macau that I opened my eyes to them. There are some fantastic Portuguese wines out there, and they are 40 to 50 per cent cheaper than wines of comparable quality from Italy or France.'

Mr Pennaneach agreed that Portuguese wines have improved greatly in recent years. He thinks that they are now where Chilean and Argentinian wines were 10 years ago - or where Australian wines were 25 years ago.

'I think that it is going to be the next boom,' he said. 'Everyone is waiting for the next big thing, and I think that it is going to be Portuguese wine.'