Cheers to Portugal! Portuguese wines are on the rise and Macau is one of the best places to find them
Step aside Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Napa Valley, aficionados have singled out Portugal’s Douro Valley as the next great wine region, and Macau’s colonial heritage make it an ideal spot to find out why the Old Country’s products are suddenly so trendy.
If you’re struggling to pick a wine while dining out, chances are the choice is between one of the big brands from France, Italy or Spain. The world’s largest wine producers dominate the international scene. However, Portugal’s wines are fast becoming trendy, even beating out French wines for some top awards - and Macau is one of the best places to find them.
“With the push of the Macau government together with the wine people here, Portuguese wines are becoming more popular,” says Paul Lo, director of food and beverage at Hotel Lisboa. “As prices are more competitive, sales and reputation have increased dramatically. But it’s mostly thanks to some of the exquisite wines made by those hard-working winemakers.”
David Higgins, president of MacauSoul, a cosy wine bar yards away from the Ruins of St. Paul’s in the historic centre, shares that sentiment.
“Sadly, Portuguese wines around the world are not fully appreciated for their complexity, their diversity and their tremendous value,” he says. “But, here at MacauSoul, our wine list is exclusively Portuguese.”
When Higgins and his wife, Jacky, opened in 2008 they wanted to give customers a sense of being in a Portuguese place, but their focus on an exclusively Portuguese wine list comes from their own passion.
“With Portuguese wine you can have a tremendous variety of experience – full flavours, delicate flavours, fruity, dry – they’re tremendous wines, much heavier than French wines,” David says.
“My wife and I have been drinking Portuguese wines exclusively now for more than 10 years and if we drink French wines after drinking Portuguese wines, the French wines are very light, very watery and no character – even the good ones.”
The Portuguese like to blend their wines heavily, sometimes using as many as 40 different grape varieties in one bottle. This gives the wine tremendous complexity.
“In France, there are several distinct areas famous for producing wine,” David says, “but in Portugal every area is a major wine producer - the whole country is covered with them - it’s a massive industry.”
With this comes great variety and MacauSoul offers more than 600 different labels. “We’re really educating people about Portuguese wine here. People visit us to find out our latest acquisitions. Tourists come to learn a little bit about Portuguese wines on the spur of the moment,” David says.
Awareness and popularity of Portuguese wine is at an all-time high. Last year, six Portuguese wines and ports were placed in Wine Spectator’s top 100 list. The world’s most powerful wine magazine awarded Portuguese wines three of the four most coveted places — including the No 1 spot for Dow's 2011 Vintage Port.
Focus on Bordeaux, Burgundy and Napa Valley as the world’s greatest wine regions is shifting towards Portugal's Douro Valley, which many consider the most beautiful wine growing area in the world.
“Douro is the region in Portugal with the river and cliffs either side which are terraced with vines all the way up about 300 to 400 feet and it’s absolutely spectacular,” David says. “There are five major producers there and instead of competing they promote Douro wines collectively and call themselves the Douro Boys.”
The Douro is best known for ports such as Dow and Fonseca - wines fortified with brandy traditionally served before or after a meal - it’s also home to Portugal’s most prestigious grape, the Touriga Nacional, which plays a big part in the blends used for ports.
Portugal is better known for its ports and red wines than white wines, but it still has a considerable diversity. The Vinho Verde wine region is famous for producing young white wines. The name literally means “green wine” but translates as “young wine”.
“We have a list of 30 to 40 whites,” David says. “Some of them are very refreshing using Albarino grapes and Rabigato grape which make you feel happy – they just sparkle inside your mouth – they’re gorgeous.” And you’re in luck if you’re a fan of dessert wines too, “there are sweet white wines from Setubal – they make a lot of really nice juicy, fruity dessert wines”.
With popularity comes competition, especially in Macau where numerous new resorts have sprung up with restaurants all of them serving wine.
“When we first opened there must have been five wine importers in town. Now there must be 90,” David says. “There are far too many not-very-good wines on the market here. I have to work pretty hard to weed out the bad ones.”
David and his wife specialise in ports and magnums (equivalent to two standard 750ml bottles) and they adhere to the practice which has become their slogan: “We only drink what we sell and only sell what we drink.”
Macau still has a laid-back Mediterranean charm which fits in well with the dominant wine culture. “Because of the history of Macau it’s not just a trend to drink Portuguese wine here,” says Just Wong, wine sommelier at The Ritz-Carlton Macau. “We have a portion of people living here who are Portuguese and drinking wine is a daily habit for most Portuguese people. So, it’s not just a trend, but also a local culture.”
Given that culture, Macau is a great place to try award-winning Portuguese wines and ports. A place such as MacaulSoul, with its affable owners and relaxed atmosphere, is an attractive option. There’s a Portuguese wine for every occasion, and as MacauSoul’s other slogan reads, “drink wine, feel fine”. We’ll raise our glasses to that.
Toast to Macau
Portuguese wines recommended by Macau’s top sommeliers
Quinta de Chocapalha
This red wine contains very little tannic acid. Tannic acid is the reason your mouth is a bit dry after you’ve had a glass of wine. So with this wine you get a beautiful, silky drink and no dryness afterwards.
Recommended by David Higgins, president of MacauSoul
Quinta do Crasto Douro Red Reserva Old Vines 2011
The wine is very good in quality. It’s 70 years old. Lovely flavours such as mocha, tobacco, a very fine spice of cinnamon and licorice. It’s very well balanced with great concentration.
Recommended by Just Wong, wine sommelier at The Ritz-Carlton
Quinta Vale, D. Maria, Vinha do Rio 2009
Elegant, beautifully crafted, full-bodied and limited edition.
Recommended by Paul Lo, food and beverage director at Hotel Lisboa