Working on some books is rigorous and pleasurable in equal measure. 100 Great Portuguese Wines by well-known wine expert and journalist Maria João de Almeida is one such book. My original brief was to revise the translation from Portuguese into English. It was immediately apparent that it would require extensive revision and—dare I say it—retranslation, for the most part, to bring out the best of each wine featured in this volume.
Editing a work of this nature goes far beyond exercising good linguistic judgement. That is all many people think editors do, even if the text itself is translated. Much, much more is involved. To grasp the essence of this book, one first needs to understand that Portugal is blessed with countless autochthonous (indigenous) grapevine varieties and an equally dizzying variety of microclimates, or terroirs.
Aside from vinification techniques, terroir brings enormous influence to bear on each and every variety. That is why, for example, a Touriga Nacional from the Alentejo will taste quite different from a Touriga Nacional grown in the Douro, a testament to the adaptability of this variety grown throughout Portugal. And that is before any imaginative blending with other varieties might take place in the winery. A general statement such as this belies the manifold and great diversity inherent in Portuguese viticulture, but it will have to do in the interests of brevity.
Doing justice to the translation and editing of a book on Portuguese wines requires a good knowledge of the many varieties and wine regions, an appreciation of history, the quirks of traditional and modern cultivation methods, and a sound understanding of how things work in the winery and the cellar. And then there is the delicate matter of science and innovation that so many talented, adventuresome and dedicated Portuguese oenologists apply to the pursuit of excellence and equilibrium that is their fine art. Fortunately, these things fall within my wheelhouse. I say fortunately, because readers of the English version of 100 Great Portuguese Wines can now catch a rare glimpse of gratifying detail that so often passes them by because it seldom ever makes it into print.
I am more than grateful that one of the Forewords to this book was written by Master of Wine Julia Harding, right-hand person to the famous Jancis Robinson and co-editor of the fourth edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine. After I had slashed my way through the undergrowth of this book, she applied an unsolicited but welcome fine-tooth comb to the text. It was evident from several of her queries that despite her obvious hawkeye and expertise in the world of wine, the realm of Portuguese viticulture and viniculture contains hidden peculiarities that its French, German and Italian cousins do not share.
That Maria João de Almeida captured these gems of information in the vignette-like stories of each wine featured in the book makes perfect sense to me. Each wine she writes about is exquisite in its own right (I know; I tasted several of them at the book launch) precisely because it is a product of the enchanting and complex tapestry of much that is unique and highly valued in this fascinating country that reveals all its rigorous hard work in truly world-class quality wines.
Frederico Falcão, current President of ViniPortugal – Wines of Portugal, wrote the other Foreword to this excellent addition to your coffee table. The Portuguese perspective stands in perfect balance with the international one Julia Harding provides, and if you have not yet been convinced that this book is worth having, then his stamp of approval surely will.
Often, texts such as this that demand excellence at least on a par with the quality of wines they describe can only come into being because of the understanding, patience and perseverance of the publishers in coordinating all the creative souls who come together to produce a book like this. These were the qualities that Nuno Seabra Lopes of Zest Books demonstrated in abundance. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him on this project so deserving of his talent. For that reason alone, you should buy the book—and a few of the other interesting artistic offerings on Zest’s website.
Other fond memories of the time I spent translating and editing this book include a couple of telephone conversations with the author, Maria João de Almeida, and a spontaneous call I made to one winery to discover precisely what the five different types of wood used in the 3,000-litre ageing casks were. As luck would have it, the oenologist himself picked up the phone and rattled off the answer in a heartbeat. He might have been the only person in the world who knew that. But now you will too, if you read the book.
©2022 Allison Wright