A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Castelão (Periquita) - Palmela, Portugal

Pop quiz time again.  What's the most widely planted red grape in Portugal?  Touriga Nacional would be a good guess, as would Tempranillo, but both would be wrong.  The most planted red grape (and possibly the most planted grape period) is a little grape called Castelão.  Some might argue that the most widely planted grape in any country is hardly a fitting topic for Fringe Wine, and they'd normally be right, but Portugal is different.

As mentioned in my post about Baga, it can be maddeningly difficult to find a Portuguese wine made from a single grape variety.  Portugal is a land of blended wines and while I don't have anything against blended wines, for the most part, my focus here is on unusual grapes.  Also, one of the unwritten rules I have on this site is that I'll write about a wine if I have a really hard time finding a bottle at any of my usual haunts.  To date, the wine I'm writing about today has been the only varietally bottled Castelão that I've come across, and that's good enough for me.

Castelão is widely grown across southern Portugal, accounting for about 50,000 acres of land under vine throughout the entire country.  It's a grower's dream in that it loves poor, sandy soils and hot temperatures but is adaptable enough to be grown in a variety of different areas.  It has several synonyms, the most common of which is Periquita, which comes from the Portuguese word for parakeet.  Why it's named after the word for parakeet, I have no idea.  It seems that around 1850, José Maria da Fonseca, the oldest table wine company in Portugal, began bottling bottling Castelão under the name Periquita and I guess people liked it.  I think that the José Maria da Fonseca bottling became so widespread and popular that the fantasy name "Periquita" that they were using came to be synonymous with the grape itself.  You can still buy their Periquita wine today, though it looks like only the Periquita Classico is 100% Castelão.

The vine produces small clusters of tiny berries which means that there's a fairly high skin to pulp ratio.  This means that the wine produced from these grapes can be pretty tough and high in tannins, which is why many producers decide to use Castelão in so many blends.  It gives very good color and structure while the other grapes in the blend soften its rougher edges and make it more approachable in its youth.  As mentioned above, it's a bit of a masochist of a grape in that it really seems to prefer sandy, infertile soils and tends to show its best in those conditions.  It is sometimes used in Port production, but most of its successes are in the southern regions of Portugal.

I was able to find a bottle of the 2007 Dona Ermelinda Castelão for about $10 from my friends at Curtis Liquors.  The wine is from the Palmela DOC which on the Setubal peninsula in the southwestern area of Portugal.  In the glass, the wine had a medium ruby core that faded to a crimson colored rim.  The nose was fairly aromatic with dusky raspberry and tart cherry fruit.  On the palate the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity and low tannins.  There were flavors of juicy raspberry and red cherry fruit as well as some stewed berry flavors.  There was a nice earthiness to the wine that helped to balance it out a bit.  Overall, it was a fairly simple wine with nice red fruit flavors, but it was a little thin and had a distinct bitterness to the finish.  For the price, though, it was a nice wine that would complement a wide variety of foods thanks to the acid level.

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