Note from the author: There are 1,368 varieties covered in Wine Grapes by MW Jancis Robinson, MW Julia Harding, and Dr. Jose Vouillamoz. Bet you can't try them all.
Personally, I've never been one for Port. By the end of the meal, I've probably consumed too much already and would rather be served a cup of peppermint tea and a pillow, then left alone to curl up on the banquette for a quick nap. So I've tended to overlook the Douro region, which is where both red and white Port grapes are grown: high up on hot terraces peering over the Douro River as it flows from Spain through Portugal out to the Atlantic.
But lately the Douro has been getting credit for not just Port but also its dry, unfortified red and white table wines. It used to be that table wines made here were an afterthought, basically crafted from subpar grapes that weren't good enough to go into a quinta's Port. However, the last few decades have seen big progress in what Hugh Johnson and my pal Jancis Robinson (co-author of the Wine Grapes book I base all my "weird" adventures off of) call "winemaking niceties such as temperature control" in The World Atlas of Wine.
You'll remember I mentioned that it's HOT in the Douro. So temperature control in wineries and the wine tanks themselves makes a huge difference here: cool, fresh grapes are much more capable of making cool, fresh wines. Farmers are also starting to plant grapes that are better suited to dry table wines, rather than just using Port leftovers. Some of these grapes have wonderful acidity that keeps them bright and perky even when summer days soar over 100 degrees.
So while I've never been Port's biggest fan, I can definitely get behind the Douro's big-bodied but high-acid Rabigato. The wine in my glass is called Mux Branco (Branco means "white" in Portuguese), made from almost all Rabigato by winemaker Mateus Nicolau de Almeia. Mateus comes from a family of top-pedigree Douro winemakers, and he studied in Bordeaux before coming back home to launch his own label of table wines. I like his style, focused on very careful vineyard management (he practices both organic and biodynamic agriculture) and supporting local grape varieties and traditions.
His 2010 Mux Branco smells almost like white Burgundy when I first touch my nose into the glass. There are similar pithy lemon rind notes and a cool stoniness, a little bit of white peach. The wine is cold though, fogging the outside of the glass considerably, and as I cook (crab ravioli with chive butter!), it warms into a creamier texture with pretty orange blossom, ripe yellow peach and tangy lemon custard flavors that fit its rounder body and smooth over its stony center. I check my notes against Jancis, Julia and José's for the grape: "Such wines tend to be fresh, vibrant, fairly high in alcohol and very high in acidity with aromas of lemon and orange blossom as well as having vegetal or mineral notes." Spot on. It's going to be killer with my crab ravioli... and then, since I'm at home, I'll finish my dinner happily, with peppermint tea and a pillow.
2010 Muxagat Mux Branco
The Grape(s): Rabigato, Códega do Larinho, Verdelho
The Region: Douro, Portugal
Retail Price: $21
The Importer: Winebow