Pairing Portuguese Wine with Food

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by Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein

When it comes to food, some wines and countries have traditional and time honored pairings - Argentinean empanadas and asado with Malbec, Spanish paella and tapas with Tempranillo, and even Greek dolmas and grilled octopus served with Assyrtiko. Yet for most epicures, citing “Portuguese food” probably doesn’t conjure up the traditional dishes of roast suckling pig from true pata negra (the black-hoofed pig that feeds on acorns) and bacalhau, the nationally beloved salt cod prepared supposedly over 1000 different ways. Since most diners don’t know these dishes or their intrinsic Portuguese quality, this Iberian country is at a slight epicurean disadvantage, right? Not so fast!

Portuguese food is superb and if you do venture to Portugal, be sure to stop at Lisbon-based culinary temples such as José Avillez’s venerable Belcanto Restaurant, Cantinho de Avillez  (also Avillez’s, of course) Vitor Sobral’s celebrated Tasca da Esquina, and, or make a reservation at Oporto’s very hip (and tasty) Sessenta/Setenta, which is overseen by one gifted Francisco Meirelles. Or grab a table the eminent and classic Fialho in Alentejo’s town of Évora, which also is the home of the lovely and low key Taberna Quarta Feira. As you can imagine, the culinary prowess of these establishments do a great job in showing off the local wines.

Most of us aren’t traveling through Portugal, however, and therefore are not able to make these local connections. But fear not: Portuguese food is not required to show off Portuguese wines!  Portuguese wines are balanced and structured in a way that makes them extremely food friendly, while possessing an array of delightfully unique flavors. Portuguese winemakers have an inherent understanding of pairing wine with food, and have not caved to modern day fads, or styles that may score well in third party publications but crash and burn at table.

It is commonly understood that a wine’s structure drives food and wine pairing more than grape varieties and geography. Wines that have bright acidity, moderate alcohol, judicious use of oak and balanced tannins (for the reds) are the most flexible at table and Portuguese wines have these attributes in spades. The grapes that are planted throughout the country make wines that exhibit these balanced structural qualities: from the white-based Arinto, Alvarinho, and Bical, to red-based Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, and Trincadeira.

The flavor profiles of Portuguese wines are unique, which is not surprising given the reality that most Portuguese grapes are not seen much outside of their native land. As such, they are exotic, mysterious, delicious and flavorful, and match well with the more adventurous fare of Southeast Asia, India, Latin America and North Africa, while still being accessible enough to marry with more traditional European and increasingly distinctive American regional fare. It’s easy to match up the lighter aromatic grapes like Alvarinho and Loureiro with Thai, Vietnamese and Asian fare, while the more exotic bottlings made from Antão Vaz, Encruzado, and riper versions of Bical pair nicely with the savory foods of Southern India, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Full flavored reds made from Aragonês and Trincadeira, like those you would find in Alentejo, match nicely with rich stews and braises from almost anywhere in Europe, while the bold reds of the Douro, made from Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, and Touriga Franca (among others) are as sublime with a grilled steak or lamb chop as any Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or red wine from the Médoc.

Paired with the classic Portuguese varietals below you will discover general food pairing advice along with a description of each grape’s taste profile and a selection of three global dishes that match to the specific grape’s personality. Finally you will find three specific dishes, coming from three different culinary traditions (one each Asian, non-Portuguese European, and American (North or South)) so you can engage, with precision, your gastronomic pleasure levels, all while leading to the discovery of new flavors and exciting combinations. As they say in Portugal, Bom apetite! 


About the author

Evan Goldstein, MS, is one of the nation's most prolific food and wine industry veterans. Goldstein is currently the President and Chief Education Officer of Full Circle Wine Solutions, Inc., a global wine and spirits education company based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Evan's food and wine career started in the renowned kitchens of Paris and California. In 1984 he joined his mother, Chef and Author Joyce Goldstein, in opening the celebrated San Francisco restaurant Square One. In 1987 he became the eighth American and youngest ever at the time to pass the prestigious Master Sommelier examination. Since 1990 Evan has created wine education programs and service hospitality schools with Seagram Chateau & Estates Wines Company, Diageo, Allied Domecq, and Beam Wine Estates. In addition, Evan continues to train and examine candidates for the Court of Master Sommeliers as a Founding Board member.

Evan is the author of Five Star Service: Your Guide to Hospitality Excellence (On Premise Communications Inc. publishers) and the critically acclaimed books, Perfect Pairings: A Master Sommelier's Practical Advice for Partnering Wine with Food and its sequel, Daring Pairings: A Master Sommelier Matches Distinctive Wines with Recipes from His Favorite Chefs, both published by the University of California Press. In addition, Goldstein co-authored numerous books with his mother Joyce Goldstein, including Wine and Food Pairing in the Williams Sonoma Lifestyles Series. His latest literary undertaking, an essential guide to the wines of South America (UC Press), will be out in 2014.

Evan is a regular editorial contributor to America's Sommelier Journal, a contributing editor for Wine & Dine and Indulgence magazines in Singapore, is the American wine correspondent for Wine Review, South Korea's leading wine and food magazine, and is a recurring guest wine expert on NBC's syndicated television show "In Wine Country." He also makes regular guest appearances on the top-rated "Ronn Owens' Show" on KGO Radio, and on Saturday morning television's KPIX "Eyewitness News", both in San Francisco, and on the nationally syndicated Martha Stewart Radio, hosted by Sirius.