Quirky Portuguese wines have a great story to tell

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EACH year since 2005 a different wine journalist has been asked to nominate his or her Fifty Great Portuguese Wines. This year the wines were chosen by TV personality Olly Smith who adopted as his theme something Portugal does well – value.

There is still room for the quirky and individualistic, however, as illustrated by the inclusion of 2010 Arenae, Malvasia de Colares (£18.54 for 50cl, www.nickdobsonwines.co.uk). This originates from a windy, sandy, coastal area where vines have to be planted in deep trenches. The wine itself has the salty and nutty flavours of sherry (but with a mere 12 per cent alcohol) along with a savoury backdrop rather like soda bread. Those characteristics, however, are wrapped in unexpectedly fresh and smooth layers of apple and lemon.

2010 Vinhas do Lasso (£12.76, www.vinoteca.co.uk) is another distinctive Portuguese white. It uses indigenous grape varieties (fernao pires and arinto) but supplements them with chardonnay and sauvignon blanc too. Behind the wine’s slightly peppery nose, you find smoothly textured, flowery, greengage, apple and lemon sorbet flavours that all gradually work into a vaguely herbal and minty finish without diminishing the overall zingyness.

The final white to catch my eye was 2011 Esporao Reserva Branco (£8.50 for the previous vintage, The Wine Society) from Alentejo. Here, local grapes are given an international twist by Australian winemaker David Baverstock to create a complex, smooth and slightly smoky wine with opening flavours of ripe peach and other tropical fruits. However, those touches are slowly embellished with, first, green apple and then lemon-centred acidity. Barrel fermentation for a proportion of the wine provides richness, texture and, possibly, adds that attractive spicy finish.

Switching to reds but staying in Alentejo, I was taken with 2011 Duas Pedras (£8.95, The Wine Society) which adopts the Rhone technique of adding a touch of the white grape viognier to the blend of shiraz and the country’s signature grape – touriga nacional. The net result is a distinctive and very food-friendly wine with nice acidity and blackcurrant fruit to lighten the customary (and delightfully delivered) warm, cherry, liquorice and mocha flavours.

Next we move north to the Duoro and to 2009 Vertente Duoro, Niepoort (£18.95, www.tanners-wines.co.uk). The Niepoort family are acclaimed port producers but, here, they have used fruit from some of their top vineyards to create a hearty but polished red table wine. Note, in particular, the depth behind the smooth plum and bramble fruit and the appealing suggestions of vanilla and nutmeg that accompany it. Yet, despite all the wine’s vigour and intensity, there remains a little prickle of enlivening acidity along with tannins that are pleasingly soft – rather than chewy and assertive.

This year, the eligibility rules also admitted port itself and Olly Smith used the opportunity to include the intense blaeberry and spice flavours of 2001 Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim Vintage Port (£21, Asda). It is good to see single quinta versions like this gaining prominence because they offer many of the characteristics of traditional vintage port but – without all that blending – are simpler, ready sooner and significantly less expensive.

Conventional wines from Portugal are securing increasing traction in the UK market but, as projects like this re-affirm, the unconventional ones also have a great story to tell.

2012 Marlborough Sun Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand, 13 per cent

Anyone seeking a slightly unusual Kiwi sauvignon should try this. The gooseberry influences are reduced to a mere background role and replaced by intense grapefruit-centred acidity but that is supplemented by a suggestion of tangerine and reinforced by a hint of minerality.

£9, Asda

2011 Naturae Cabernet Sauvignon Gerard Bertrand, Languedoc, France, 15 per cent

The success of natural wines like this, that eschew additives, can vary – but this is a cracking example. It is rich and smooth with a plum pudding nose, blackcurrant fruit supercharged with an earthy substance and a vibrant sense of purity.

£7.99 (down from £9.99 until 31 July), M&S