2003 Mouchao Vinho Regional Alentejano

Hello friends. Confusion breeds value. It’s an old saw in the wine trade, and it’s true. To wit:
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SOMMELIER: Can I help you with the wine list?

DINER: Yes, we were looking for a nice white wine to start with, under $50.

SOMMELIER: Well, we have some lovely Rieslings from the Mosel. Do you understand the Pradikat system? No? Well, lots of people think it’s based on the sweetness of the wine, but it’s actually based on the Oechsle scale, which in fact refers to must weight, and so when we’re looking at the difference between a Kabinett and a Spatlese…

DINER [interrupting]: You know, I think we’ll just go with the Layer Cake Chardonnay.
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What I’m getting at: the more complicated a wine category is, the harder it is to sell. And when wines are hard to sell, prices tend to drop, and those complicated categories become exceptional values for those of us willing to muddle through the confusion.

Shall we muddle together today?

Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate (Mark Squires): “($45); [REVIEW TEXT WITHHELD]. 93pts.”

No, this is not German Riesling. It’s an equally confusing category: dry Portuguese red wine.

Portugal has the Oregon problem: it is known for one thing, and one thing only: Port. Tawny, ruby, vintage, LBV; everyone knows Port, lots of people love Port (myself included, and you can expect some wild Port offerings as we get closer to the end of the year).

When you move away from Port into dry wines, confusion abounds, as Portugal is littered with lovely, utterly inscrutable indigenous varietals. Everyone who visits Portugal raves about the dry reds they taste there. I visited Portugal. I raved.

But then we get back home, and we’re standing in the store, and we’re saying “wait a minute; did I like the one with lots of Trincadeira, or the one with Alicante Bouschet?” And we consider that question for about five seconds before reaching for the Cabernet Sauvignon. But not today!

The region: We’re in the Alentejo, #20 on this map of Portugal’s wine regions (to get oriented, the Douro Valley, capital of Port production, is #16). This is southern Portugal: a warm, continental climate that can ripen all manner of red varietals.

The grapes: A blend (approximately 70/30) of Alicante Bouschet and Trincadeira.

The producer: Mouchao is among the oldest and most prominent estates in Alentejo. The Reynolds family moved to the region in the 1800s to get into the cork business, and it wasn’t until a few generations later, in 1901, that John Reynolds purchased the site for the vineyard and winery. Since then, the winery has been owned by the same family, with one decade-long interruption following the winery’s expropriation during the 1974 revolution.

This wine, simply called “Mouchao” is the top wine for the estate, representing about 30% of total production (much like in Bordeaux, they have a second wine and a third wine, but we’re focusing on the top wine today). It gets two years in barrel and two years in bottle before release, but this now has well more than two years in bottle, at almost a decade past vintage.

The first thing you notice when you pour Mouchao is the crazy color density for a ten-year-old wine: deep ruby turning brick-red. The aromatics possess instant appeal: cherry, orange peel, golden raisin, brown sugar. Richly-fruited, this is a bridge wine between old-world and new, with ravishing, complex layers of fruit: cherry, berry, plum, and even venturing into stone fruits, with dried peaches and apricots. The fine-grained tannins are integrating beautifully, adding kisses of high-cacao chocolate and espresso bean.

We’ll offer plenty of austere old-world wines, but this is not one of them. Generous, open, and broadly appealing, this buckled my knees with its sheer deliciousness. First come first served up to 12 bottles, and the wine should arrive in about a week, at which point it will be available for pickup or shipping during the autumn shipping window.

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