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Portugal, not the man nor the band, but the country, flanking the western border of Spain, a nation with too much history to only be mentioned in passing—once thus far on my countdown to five hundred wines–is a place that I really need to pay more attention to. Aside from Port wines, which I drink with frequency, I generally pass over the red (and white) wines alike, for the neighboring Spanish wines when I am looking to drink hearty earthy offerings. However, on a whim, I decided it would be best to shake it up and grab a seven-fifty from Central Portugal as a warm-up to a Port.

In my mind there was nothing special about the “Saes” wine from Quinta de Pellada (#167). For about eleven dollars I had a bottle of unassuming red with simple packaging, nothing declarative, and I was certainly unaware of the contents. I opened the bottle quickly, once home, pouring a little into my stemware to encourage a transformation to take place—a kind gesture to any wine. While preparing dinner I would give the nose a sniff, intermittently, detecting a mixture of red berries, worn leather and polish. Not bad and certainly not funky like I had imagined. It seemed slightly more “old world” based on nasal impressions because the fruit was present but not overly expressive. When it came time to taste it, I was relieved; the wine was medium-bodied, with an oily texture as I swooshed the liquid in my mouth to parse out the particulars. I detected a bit of dusty fruit, a little earth and some slight wood and the wine left a surprisingly long finish with smoother tannins. The blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen and Alfrocheiro was new to me yet agreeable. It was like meeting someone that you know you would be forging a relationship with down the line. I got my money’s worth and then some with the Saes, and it was onto the Port.

The Smith Woodhouse “Lodge Reserve” Port (#166) was another effort representing good value–roughly twenty dollars for a bottle of fortified wine. I poured a miniscule amount of the wine to get the gist. The viscosity was mild and the nose was moderately powerful of fruit, raisins, nuts and caramel. The usual fragrances but on the palate it was a changeup, lighter and less goopy in style. The wine was medium body with persistent fruit that stayed with me long after putting the glass down. The delicious factor was way up, not too sweet or viscous, this Smith Woodhouse Lodge Reserve Port was unique.

I was pleased with my excursion via the bottle to Portugal; the value was there in two extremely different wines, one savory and one sensibly sweet. I am positive my Portugal awareness will increase exponentially since this was just the jumping off point.

On Saturday night I headed out to North Hills in the Valley to see off some great friends, Erik and Marie Aalto (husband and wife) who are relocating to North Carolina because Marie had very recently accepted a lucrative job offer as a food scientist out on the east coast. Before they flew out, a barbecue was held to honor and enjoy them before they left. I brought a bottle of Port to help make the night a little sweeter.

Hot dogs and hamburgers were being grilled, poolside as the weather was permitting and people were reciting stories, feeling chipper and euphoric. The food was simple and definitely not the star, even though they had Dodger dogs, instead the main attraction was the couple. After a lot of eating and reminiscing, people seemed in a hurry to open the bottle of Port I brought and continue the night’s enthusiasm with a little bit of dessert, keeping the mood sweet. A generous father (Erik’s dad) stood in the way of this, he would not have just one bottle being passed around, and instead he favored a larger smattering to compliment the night. He began to showcase a lot of his ports that lay in the cellar to help supplement the wine. Diversifying.

Suddenly it was “the Great Port Showcase” four bottles were dusted off and uncorked, manifesting enough glasses seemed to be a new challenge. Luckily, there were plenty of glasses sitting dormant in a high-up-and-out-of-the-way cupboard. The spigots were opened and a taste of each morphed into a liberal helping as the sweet liquid found the bottom of the tiny glasses of everyone in attendance.

Small chat ensued as people casually sipped their fortified wines and the topic of music came up, with a heavy concentration on tone poems. I was about to hear, embark rather, on the power of McIntosh speakers and an introduction to Respighi as Erik’s father took me aside to listen to “the best recorded performance of the Pines of Rome,” Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony played at ear shattering intensity.

Maybe it was the mind-numbing power of the speakers at three-quarters volume or the intense theatrical qualities inherent in the music but the wine seemed to demonstrate its own magical prowess. I was buzzed.

My critical faculties were stunned. This is not to say that I was intoxicated but as far as this blog is concerned I could not really give you a proper evaluation of the Ports that I tasted. I know that I dutifully sampled all four of them, remaining sharp and trading quips with others in attendance, preferring this one to that one for “x” reason but no specifics stand out. When it came time to choose one for the duration of the evening it was Graham’s Six Grapes that I elected. I enjoyed my tasting so much that I finished my glass and was poured another promptly. By way of the third hearty pour my palate was obliterated but my ears remained perked. Respighi’s music was enthralling.

Erik and Marie’s barbecue wound down and then people started leaving, hugging and extending a promised visit to North Carolina (probably to be left unfulfilled). The night, though mostly wonderful was bittersweet; I parted with friends that I have known for a little over half a decade but in the process I was introduced to Respighi and unfortunately to the loss of discernment that comes with downing too much Port in too little time.

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