Wineweek 73: The First Signs of Spring

There is light at the end of the tunnel. The tunnel being the long winter in the Nordic countries. Temperatures have risen close to +10 C, and we have had several days with clear blue skies. The best time of the year is approaching: Summer. Spring and summer mean an increased consumption of rose and crispy white wines. That is why this Saturday we arranges a rose tasting for some of our friends.  Continue reading “Wineweek 73: The First Signs of Spring”

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.

My week in Portugal, vol 1

As readers of this blog may already have noted I have spent almost the entire last week in the wonderful country of Portugal. While I was already before convinced that I would find a lot of good wine the trip to some extent blew me away. I did not only find wonderful wine but also met a lot of interesting people. There is both a new generation of wine makers (yes, I know it is a bit tired – every region/country talks about the new generation of wine makers) but also a great many experienced wine makers who still make great wines. The sheer variety of both grape varieties but also of philosophies and types of wines made me just want to already go back.

The primary reason for the visit was to meet with Luisa from Vieira de Sousa. I did however also want to meet with others when I was any way visiting Portugal. I had a very interesting list of wine producers and I managed to meet with most of them. The fac that I also got to see a lot of the country, visit beautiful sites and also enjoy good food and wine made it a great trip.

The trip started with my arriving in Porto meeting with Luis Robredo from Gravato wines and he had also been kind enough of to arrange for an additional producer to meet up with me. So in Porto I also meet with João Santos from Valle de Nideo in the Duoro Valley. We met at the beatiful ‘cheese’ castle, Castelo do Queijo (literally Castle of the cheese. Apparently from it looking like a piece of cheese from above) but unfortunately the weather did not show it from the best side as it was a bit grayish.

My trip continued to Bairrada where I was hoping to meet with Luis Pato and Filipa Pato. They were however both in London for a Portuguese wine event but I still managed to visit Luis Pato’s estate and meet with his youngest daughter Maria João. I also had the chance for an improvised visit at sparkling wine producer São Domingos. A brief stop at the regional wine musuem in Anadia was also on the agenda.

The journey then continued into Dao where meetings with Quinta do Escuidal, Quinta do Pellada and Antonio Madeira where truly exciting. There was even time for some additional touristing with a visit to the magnificent old village of Linhares da Beira. The views from the old fortress are splendid.

Before heading up to the Douro valley I also stopped by Almeida Garret wines in Beira Interior. The week was then wrapped up with Vieira de Sousa and Quinta do Pôpa in the Douro. we wrapped up the week in Porto with visit to the wine shop at El Corte Ingles as well as a great dinner and wine at Taberna do Largo (recommendation from Maria João). A fabulous week and in the coming week or so I will describe the wines and the visits in more detail in separate posts.

Wineweek 16: Portugal Edition

Amazing! That is the word to characterize this wineweek. I had some high hopes for Portugal as a wine country, but having experienced it, I was blown away. It’s also a big step for our business, as we met with several producers that have a philosophy to fit the Winecurious.

The week started of with M taking off ahead of me towards Portugal (and with me tasting some Portuguese wine). He flew to Porto, where he started working his way south through Bairrada to Dao via Beira Interior. By Thursday evening he had met with eight producers and collected an impressive amount of samples, thirty three bottles of them to be exact. I arrived to Porto Thursday night and the next morning we embarked for Douro.

In Douro we spent the Friday with Luisa Borges, the owner of Vieira de Sousa wines. She showed us around her new winery in Sabrosa, took us for a tour around her lovely vineyards and sampled some of her old family ports. Today Vieira de Sousa produce some pretty impressive entry level ports, but omg some of the old family reserves were wonderful. We tried some tawny port from the 70’s and Luisa told us that their oldest wines are closer to a hundred years old. We also did some thinking around how to best market her products and I think we have a great plan. More about that to come.

Luisa also took us to visit a friend of hers, Stéphane Ferreira at Quinta do Popa wines. M had actually eyed that winery before he left, but we had assumed we did not have time for it. So it was a wonderful surprise that Luisa took us there for a visit. Quinta do Popa makes some great “table wines” (regular reds and whites). They have some wonderful reds with 100% Tinta Roriz and blends from their old vines. Many of the old Portuguese vineyards can grow up to 40 or 50 different grape varieties. Stéphanes ‘only’ had a mix of 21, but nevertheless the wines were great. As a speciality Quinta do Popa also makes a “sweet”, low alcohol fermented wine. It is not a Port, but it has some of the same characteristics but with a freshnes coming from the low (11%) alcohol level. I was very surprised how much I liked it and could imagine it being very popular in Sweden as a summer drink. I think we might need to contact Stéphane again for some samples.

After the wine-heavy week, we spent the night in a cabin at Luisas vineyards in Quinta do Roncao. In the evening, we sipped on some wonderful 10 year old White Port, one of Luisas most popular wines, and in the morning we woke up to an amazing view of the Douro river. The only downside was the heart stopping drive there. I don’t think I have ever been so afraid in my life in a car, and this time it was not due to M’s driving (he did a good job) but the narrow and steep roads without any fences. Really, that is the only downside of Douro as a wine-destination, you need a good car (don’t even think about cheaping out by going for a compact).

Saturday was spent in Porto wine-shopping (as if we didn’t have enough bottles to pack already) and dining out. We had received a great tip from one of the vineyards on a small restaurant called Taberna do Largo serving Portuguese tapas from around the country and small producer wines by the glass. We stuffed ourselves with some local meats, cheeses and sauteed mushrooms. They had so much interesting wines for sale also, but thank God we were able to leave them on the shelf.

I could spend all afternoon writing about the greatness of Portugal, but I will save some for the next few weeks. Have a great week, and when you next think of wine, think of Portugal. It has wonderful wines and to make things better it is exceptional value for money!

Wineweek 14: Back to Business

This week the scenery ha changed. Colorful and tropical Singapore has changed to good old grey Sweden. I tried to take some pics from outside, but they where all too depressing. Not that I don’t like Stockholm, I love it, but this time of the year is always a bit colorless (like Helsinki, where I am from). Soon February will change to March and the anticipation of spring (with all it’s disappointing cold fronts) will lighten up the town. I expect we will be facing some cold setbacks up until the end of June, it is almost a national sport to put away your winter clothes too early, but at least there will be more light. But one thing I can say makes me extremely happy to be back, is our wonderful wine collection. After five and a half weeks of mostly disappointing (bad or too expensive) wine, I am ecstatic about all the lovely bottles at hands reach. Unfortunately M caught a cold on the flight back, so we did not really have any sparkling this weekend.

Looking back at the week, we started off well with a nice and anticipated dinner at Burnt Ends, a much talked about restaurant in Chinatown (Singapore). The service was very disappointing, and that was really a shame as the food was wonderful and that good food does not at all deserve to be paired with such sub-standard service.  A review will follow. We also continued our cocktail-tour at the Black Swan and 28 Hong Kong Street. Even though it was a Monday both places were full of life.

On our way back to Sweden we checked out the duty free selection at Frankfurt airport. The Champagne selection was a bit boring, but we picked up a few German sparkling wines to try out. Germany as a wine-country is developing in an interesting direction with a new generation of winemakers taking over the reins. We visited a wonderful shop, the Winery (review here), in London around New Year focusing mainly on German wines, and found ourselves drooling after Pinot Noirs and Sparklings alike.

After resting off the mild jet lag, we sat down on the couch, opened a bottle of red (Kloof Street Vintage 2012 from South Africa), and started looking into the future. It is time to get our business up and running. It’s not like we have been procrastinating, but our Cavas have now been sitting in the warehouse for enough time. It is time to get the sales going. So next week will be all about finalizing the paperwork. Also, it is only a week until M leaves for Portugal to meet some new producers (I will follow later for the weekend), so there is a lot to plan. After several months of communicating by email, we will finally be meeting our friends at Vieira de Sousa. They have a lovely range of Port wines we would love to add to our selection. Also, I am getting a bit hyped up after reading about some Portuguese sparkling wine producers. The grapes are new to me (Baga, Bical and Bairrada), but the production good old method Champenoise.