Portugal part 1: Visiting Luis Pato, the ‘rejuvinator’ of Bairrada as a wine region

One of the wineries that I was not sure if it was worth visiting or not was Luis Pato’s. I was not at all in doubt of the quality of the wines or that it would be interesting. My hesitation was more whether it would be of any interest from the perspective of it being a potential producer to add to our selection. Luis Pato is a star of the Portugese wine scene, granted perhaps not the same star quality as for example Niepoort but still a big name. I could however not resist when I was any way going to Bairrada so I contacted the winery. Luis himself would be traveling to London the same day as I was arriving but I was still most welcome and his youngest daughter Maria João would be happy to show me around.

Luis Pato started his wine making career when taking over his fathers winery in the 1980s but the Pato family have been making wine since the eighteen century. The more modern history started with Luis father, João Pato, who started to use his own vineyards to bottle wine in the 1970. He was one of the first winegrowers in the Bairrada region after its demarcation.

Luis Pato does to some extent have a reputation for being an innovator and modern winemaker. I do believe that it is to some extent true as he brought a lot of modern techniques in to the wine making process but he has also done a lot to bring attention to traditional grape varieties, most notably Baga.

The Baga has otherwise been a grape that has not been held in great respect and while Luis Pato, as well as his daughter Filipa, have done a lot to change that it is to some extent still true. The Baga grapes are somewhat difficult to grow but are fairly well suited for the Bairrada region. They ripen late and if too damp or cool they may not ripen fully at all. Best results can be achieved when planted in clay soil and with good exposition to sun. They are somewhat susceptible to rot but are on the other hand highly resistant to powdery mildew. It should be harvested late for best results but winemakers need to find the right moment as early picking will avoid rot but the resulting wine can then be too acidic and tannic. Late picking will allow the grapes the ripen but increases the risk of rot from rain and humidity.

When conditions are favorable Baga can however produce very good yields and to some extent that also influences the reputation. Some of the Baga on the market is more of bulk wine and not great quality. That does however have very little to do with the Baga wines produced by Luis Pato.

In 1990 Luis Pato participated as a judge at the International Wine Challenge and that experience he took as an education for tasting wines and he tried to use the influences in developing his wines. With the blend of taking in new influences and bringing forward traditional grape varieties Luis Pato is much more complex than just being a modern wine maker. What I see is more someone who is trying to make the best wines possible using the means he has at hand. Not surprisingly this attitude of focusing on the wine and the quality of the wine and not always respecting tradition has often ended up in conflict with region of Bairrada. That resulted in Luis giving up the DOC denomination in 1999 and instead labeling them Regional Beiras.

That is a bit about the history of the winery. On the day I arrived to meet Maria João it was a beautiful sunny day,  I was not at all missing the cold in Sweden as I stepped out of the car into the sun. Looking around it did however still to some extent remind me of home. There is an abundance of pine trees growing in the area and around many of the wineyards there are pine trees. As Maria João explained to me the pine trees are also important to the wine as some of the scents and flavors transfer to the grapes.

I got a really nice tour around the winery and most impressive was perhaps seeing Luis Pato’s private wine cellar. Every single wine he has made is saved there. For many of the wines there are a great number of bottles but for some of the 1980s vintages there are just a few left. I would have loved to taste some of the older vintages as I am intrigued to see how the some of the Baga wines have developed.

The new winery has a very nice tasting room and also an outside space for tasting. As it was a nice and sunny day so we did decide to do the tasting outside. It was an impressive range of wines that were presented in front of me, just regretted driving (not really a lot of other options) so no other option than tasting and spitting.

The wines tasted:
Vinhas Velhas White: Mix of Bical (50%) , Cerceal (25%) and Sercialinho (25%). Combination of both being full and fresh with citrus in the nose. Flavor apricot, lemon.
Rating: 3

Vinha Formal White: 100% Bical. Dark yellow, almost golden. Clear citrus, minera and some vanilla in the nose. Flavor has clear mineral, nice toasty notes and zesty lemon acidity. Lovey wine and can see that this is step-up from a price perspective. Should age nicely.
Rating: 4

Pato Rebel Red: 90% Baga, 9% Touriga Nacional (9%) and 1 % Bical. The aroma has a mix of berries (blackberry, raspberry) but also chocolate. Flavor of both red and dark fruits as well as black currant but maintaining elegance and low on tannins to be a Baga. A very pleasant wine.
Rating: 4

Vinha Pan Red: 100 % Baga. Dark ruby red. Offers a lot of complexity in the nose with mix of red fruits, cedar (is this perhaps the pine affecting to the wine). with a hint of rose petals There are tannins her but very soft compared to the average Baga but also nice acidity. Earthy and mineral with ripe cherries and dark fruit on the palate. Excellent wine but expected at this price level.
Rating: 4

Maria Gomes Bruto: Mix of 95% Maria Gomes (so Maria Gomes is a grape variety and not a person) and 5% Sercialinho Fresh aroma of peach and herbs. The flavor is light and fresh with a surprisingly long finish.
Rating: 3

Baga Rosé Sparkling Método Antigo: 100% Baga sparkling. Light pink in color. Mix of berries and fresh citrus. There is however a residual sweetness. Many will like this but not my favorite.
Rating: 3

Vinha Formal Sparkling: 70 % Touriga Nacional and 30% Bical (used to be 50-50 but Luis often changes the mix to get the best wine). Fresh with delicate bubbles. The nose has some herbal and marzipan notes. There is some sweetness in it but balanced by nice acidity of lemon and apple and hints of apricot. Very nice.
Rating: 4

AM Tinto (Abafado Molecular Red): 100% Baga. This is was first made in 2005 with Filipa under the FLP brand but since Filipa now have her own winery she has taken that with her and this is Luis ‘replacement’. It is made using the cryo-extraction method and produces a lower alcohol sweet wine. I was a bit skeptical before trying it but while sweet it was not overwhelming sweetness. Very soft and clean flavor, mix of fruit and red berries.
Rating: 3.5

A lot of good wines here but looking at price and value for money my favorites among the sampled ones would be the Luis Pato Rebel, the Vinha Formal Sparking and I also fond the AM Tinto was really interesting. Looking forward to sampling some more of Luis Pato’s selection going forward. Luckily we now also have some bottles at home.

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