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|May 15-21, 2008
• Health class
The battle to teach kids nutrition
by Joe Miller
• Comfort food classics
14th Street outshines the homemade
by Clay Fong
When you think of Portugal, you think of port wine — sweet, rich, powerful, the aperitif and classic after-dinner drink. Just ask Winston Churchill. Or Thomas Jefferson.
Times change. Today we drink light. Port sales are declining. Sad as that is, there’s a bright side. People are paying more attention to Portugal’s other wines, and finding some nice surprises.
Leading the way is the Portuguese wine firm Jose Maria da Fonseca. Its owners for seven generations, the Soares Franco family,
are leaping into the 21st century, creating a thoroughly modern milieu with new wines that neatly fit America’s tastes.
Fonseca’s winemaker, Domingos Soares Franco, became the first Portuguese national to earn a degree from the top-rated wine school at the University of California’s Davis campus. Then his nephew Antonio Maria S. Franco Jr. got an MBA from Columbia University. And in 1999 the family opened a state-of-the-art winery.
“At UC-Davis my uncle learned about New World flavors and all the modern technology to make the wines less tannic and more approachable,” said Franco Jr.
The biggest change has been to create a modern white wine — a light, tart, crisp vinho verde. Franco, Fonseca’s marketing chief, says he did it for the simple and sound reason that vinho verde was the only Portuguese wine his Columbia classmates had ever heard of.
The winery also changed its flagship Periquita, which for 150 years has been Portugal’s bestselling red table wine, based on the castelao grape. Now they’ve added two grapes, trincadeira and aragonaz.
Americans like the new blend, Franco says, but its fresher, crisper style was off-putting to some Portuguese traditionalists. So — shades of Coca-Cola Classic — they’ve brought back Periquita’s old formula as Periquita Classico.
With all the changes, the Franco family has refused to abandon its country’s native grapes in favor of easier-to-sell chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, etc. That’s the case not only with Periquita but with Domini Plus, which is made from the traditional port grapes touriga franca, tinta roriz, touriga nacional and tinta barroca from the Douro Valley, home to Portugal’s port wine industry.
“We don’t feel any pressure to change that,” Franco says. “People like our wines.”
2007 Fonseca Twin Vines Vinho Verde, Portugal (loureiro, trajadura, pederna, alvarinho grapes): light and crisp and lively, almost spritzy, with tart lime and melon flavors; $8.
2004 Fonseca Domini Plus, Douro Valley, Portugal (touriga franca, tinta roriz, touriga nacional, tinta barroca grapes): oaky aromas, intense, concentrated flavors of black raspberries, black plums and mocha, firm tannins, long finish, age-worthy; $40.
2001 Fonseca Periquita Classico, Portugal (castelao grape): aromas and flavors of violets, black plums and black coffee, smooth, long finish; $30.
2004 Fonseca Periquita, Terras do Sado, Portugal (castelao, trincadeira, aragonez grapes): soft, tart red plum flavors, intensely fruity; $10.
2004 Fonseca Periquita Reserva, Terras do Sado (castelao, touiga nacional, touriga franca grapes): soft, intense red raspberry and cinnamon flavors, very smooth; $18.
2004 Fonseca Domini, Douro Valley, Portugal (touriga nacional, tinta roriz grapes): deep purple color, black cherry and espresso coffee flavors, full body, soft tannins; $16.
2005 Fonseca Domingos, Terros do Sado (touriga nacional and syrah grapes): rich, soft flavors of black raspberry jam, chocolate and figs, ripe tannins; $16.
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