This week was a twofer. I found myself clinking glasses with two world-class winemakers– the first was the illustrious Patrizia Felluga owner of Zuani Wine in Italy and the second was the award-winning ‘antipodean flying winemaker’ David Baverstock of Esporão and Quinta dos Murças wines in Portugal. The earlier event was an elegant luncheon held in one of LA’s finest dining establishments, and the most recent was a relaxed evening under the stars with stars of LA’s food scene. Our host, chef, author, Guinness World Record holder and The Food Network’s Surreal Gourmet Bob Blumer (phew) welcomed us to his art-filled home high in the Hollywood Hills. Throughout the evening Bob treated us to his inventive culinary creations crafted to compliment the Portuguese wine being poured.
Portugal has the largest number of indigenous grape varietals in the world. Period. Portions of the country somehow escaped the scourge of phylloxera ravaging Europe in the late 19th century. More than 250 different varieties allow Portuguese wine to embody many distinct expressions of “somewhereness” or terroir. Although the country’s most well known wine (Port) is fortified, there is plenty of complex and balanced, dry Portuguese wine to enjoy besides the popular easy-drinking Vinho Verde.
Esporão (pronounced esh-prow) means ‘spur’ in Portuguese, and refers to a line of defense against the Moors. The 4,446 acre Herdade do Esporão estate goes way back as well, to 1267. David Baverstock’s work with the estate is somewhat more recent, dating back to 1992. His tenure has led to an appreciable increase in quality and popularity– his Monte Velho is Portugal’s best selling wine. Plus, David was named Portuguese Winemaker of the Year in 2012…even though he’s Australian. As David walked me through his line up, I was impressed by the balance of fruit and structure in the Esporão whites: the fresh Monte Velho is an excellent value at $9.99 SRP and the rich, lightly-oaked Reserva with the potential to develop further. Both worked well with Bob’s Cod Cupcakes.
When we moved on to the Duck Sno-Cones, the light red Monte Velho more than held its own. I mean, what do you pair with a Duck Sno-Cone? After a few (well quite a few) more sips and snippets of conversation with a Canadian hotelier, a pizza-chain magnate and a well-known celebrity executive chef, we proceeded to devour Bob’s succulent caramelized onion and steak pizza. Enhanced by a 2010 Quinta dos Murças Reserva DOC Douro red– lush, deep red, juicy yet structured, smoky elegance.
A rich custardy traditional Portuguese dessert followed, but by this point I didn’t grasp the Portuguese name, let alone write it down. I imagine that it would have been quite nice with the Murças 10 Year Tawny Port, which wasn’t on the roster for the evening. But believe me, I’m not complaining. Imaginative food, expressive Portuguese wine and stimulating conversation all make for a fabulous staycation trip to Europe. KEN