As a token of optimism that April will turn out to be spring-like rather than springing yet more sub-zero surprises on us all I’m proposing a round-flavoured but crisp white wine from the sunny Terras do Sado in southern Portugal as my wine choice for the month. A perfect match both for white meats and for firmer-fleshed white fish.

I’ll admit I have always had a soft spot for the table wines of Portugal, the Portuguese themselves not having been slow to adopt the most up-to-date technology in both vineyard and winery practice, lifting the veil of age-old tradition that had allowed for occasionally inconsistent quality in the past.

In joining the EU back in 1986 one might have expected the Portuguese to have embarked on mass plantings of well accepted ‘international’ vines like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, allowing an eclipse of their own far less commercially familiar indigenous grape types. Fortunately for the continuing integrity of Portuguese wines as a whole they’ve concentrated more on a radical refurbishment of their status quo. This means that trusted ‘old Portuguese friends’ continue to come up shining as never before to provide a wealth of good value drinking, as typified in this month’s wine choice.

Even today Portuguese tradition dies hard. There was certainly a time when bottle-labeling of field blends had to leave out more than a few grape identifications as being unknown: a few ‘also-ran’ grapes in the mix being survivors from odd plots of old vines in vineyards planted by earlier generations of winemakers, varietal names and pack-drills now having been lost to memory. Grapes from gnarled deeply-rooted vines, no doubt, yet still able to strut their stuff in adding complexity to the whole in a blend.  Today I suspect state-of-the-art DNA testing is now increasingly rectifying the position in providing legally required complete information on the bottle labels.

The wine under consideration for April is a ‘VR’, i.e. a vinho regional – a winemaker’s white blend labeled simply as Colheita Seleccionata 2016 which features a ‘quintet’ of grape varieties from Portugal’s multi-award winning Adega de Pegões, south of Lisbon.

Pegoes-barrels

Specifically, the balance of the whole is made up by a quartet of four local white grape varieties, Arinto, Verdelho, Antão Vaz and Fernão Pires, aided by a little Chardonnay.  I see I’ve used the word ‘balance’ already, and there’s proof aplenty of this on the well-structured palate. Good fresh acidity too plus satisfying weight. Widely planted as top quality grapes in various parts of Portugal, both Arinto and Antão Vaz lend the acidity, Verdelho provides body and texture, Fernão Pires is the most aromatic of the bunch, and Chardonnay is endlessly adaptable – a creature perhaps of a winemaker’s whim.  Here the ensemble play very well together to produce a wine of real character, the creamy palate revealing an intriguing combination of the slightly exotic and the gently rustic. Tasted ‘blind’ I can’t be sure but I think I might even have been able to place it stylistically as ‘Portuguese’ – not a wine concept that is particularly easy to define. Do try its unique qualities not only as wine in its own right but as a working partner at table particularly with dishes of firm-fleshed fish and with white meats, or, indeed, with the recipe below.

COUNTRY OF ORIGIN Portugal (Terras do Sado)
NAME OF WINE Colheita Seleccionata 2016
STYLE Dry white
PRODUCER Adega de Pegões
ALCOHOL 13.0% Vol.
RETAILER The Wine Society
PRICE £7.25 a bottle

I was trying mentally to conjure up a possible ‘ideal’ partnership for this wine – is this it?   Let us know!

Recipe – Scallops With Lentils & Coriander Sauce

This is my own simplified version of one of Shaun Hill’s recipes, one he trialled and tested when executive chef at Gidleigh Park.  Essential to the dish are perfectly fresh scallops to echo the creamy texture of the wine, and a sauce incorporating the gentle earthy taste of lentils, together with the slightly exotic flavour backdrop of coriander and cardamom.

SERVES 4

INGREDIENTS

12   large fresh scallops with corals

2     tbs sunflower oil

50g brown lentils

1   crushed clove of garlic

1   small onion, chopped finely

1 inch ginger root, chopped finely

1tsp   cardamom seeds, finely ground

2tblsp Italian tomato passata, or 2 ripe tomatoes

seeded, skinned and chopped

250ml chicken stock

50g   unsalted butter

  1. small bunch fresh coriander leaves, chopped seasonings – salt, pepper
  2. squeeze of lemon juice

METHOD

  1. Thoroughly clean the scallops and remove the small muscle on the side, then slice the flesh transversally into three.   Reserve the pink roes.
  2. Season them well. Now pour a very little oil into a bowl or plastic food-wrapper bag, adding the scallops to coat them with the oil. Reserve.
  3. In a medium sized pan parboil the lentils, previously rinsed, for about 15 minutes or until they are just tender. Drain them and reserve.
  4. Fry the chopped onion, garlic and ginger gently in the remaining oil until golden, then add the ground cardamom seeds and the tomato passata and cook gently for a further minute.   Remove from the heat.
  5. Add all the stock to the pan together with half of the reserved lentils. Simmer gently for ten minutes and then process in a blender to liquidize.
  6. Return the liquidized lentils to the pan, add the remaining lentils together with the chopped fresh coriander leaves.   Reheat gently.
  7. Heat up a dry frying pan, add the reserved scallops and their roes, and fry them very quickly on both sides just sufficiently for them to lose their raw colour.

Finally spoon the sauce into warmed individual serving bowls and mount the cooked scallops on top.   Decorate each bowl with a sprig of coriander.