In my mind, Portuguese wines are wildly underrated. It is not straightforward as to why, however, I suspect it has something to do with how well the winemakers of the country have been at marketing their wines. In Portugal, it seems that many producers are small, and lack the language skills to market abroad. And why should you, if you can sell your whole production to your neighbors. It provides a decent life. I found Portuguese wines about five years ago, when we started importing them to Sweden, and a visit to Douro Valley rocked my world. It is one of the most beautiful wine regions I have ever visited. Additionally, there are some nice fresh trends in Portugal towards natural wines, so I thought I would share with you a little manual to finding good wines when you are in Lisbon. Continue reading “Winelover in Lisbon”
In the start of our journey towards being a reputable wine merchant, M and I made a product strategy. We would have wines in our selection that A. we liked to drink ourselves (who else would empty all the leftover stock) and B. would be affordable to a large group of people. Due to the high costs of logistics and taxes, we will never be a cheap shop, but we will offer wines from a reasonable (to our opinion) price range of 100-300 SEK a bottle. So Primus, though it was said to be excellent, was not on the initial list.
However, that was before we actually had the chance to enjoy a full bottle with some winecurious friends. The Primus is something unique and something that I would almost invest a small fortune in, and let me tell you why:
Alvaro Castro the winemaker at Quinta da Pellada has drawn a lot of his inspiration from Cardoso de Vilhena, who for a long time was the head enologist at the Centro de Estudos Vitivinícolas de Nelas (CEN) in the Dão region. Alvaro claims to have learned almost everything from him and the 1964 white wine from Vilhena is the finest wine Alvaro ever tasted. Primus is his attempt to copy that wine.
The wine is an old field blend from a wide range of grapes handpicked from 65 year old vines that have grown on granite soils. The wine has been slowly fermented in oak barrels for two months and then an additional 3 months in old oak barrels being stirred on the lees. Before it is relaesed it spends two years in the bottle.
The blend includes a variety of grapes among them, Cercial, Bical, Verdelho, Málvasia, Terrantez, Cachorrinho, Douradinha and many more. The main grape is, however, called Encruzado, which is undoubtedly the finest white grape variety in Portugal. It is grown maily in the granite hills of Dao in the center of the country and makes rich, full-bodies wines with aromas of lemon, woody herbs and melon (mmm).
The Primus is a rich wine with notes of melon and floral overtones. The taste is slightly oxidized, but in a fresh way, and has hints of dried tropical fruit, like pineapple, pleasant citrus and nice acidity. The mouth feel is full and slightly waxy making Primus an excellent partner with white meats (we ate lightly marinated chicken). Especially M is often not a huge fan of white wines, but the Primus and Encruzado-wines in general are amongst his favorites. This is a wine that will age well up to five or ten years if one can just be patient enough not to drink it.
And coming to the price, we are talking about an average of 35-45€ depending on the year. The quality is a 4.5, but what is the value for money? The price is a bit over my limit for what I have been prepared to pay for white wines before. But what I can see happening is an epiphany. A striking realization that I have not dug in deep enough with white wines to state a roof price. This already happened with bubblies three years back, when I stepped over my 20€ limit and started sinking in to the world of champagnes (and premium cava). Perhaps it is time for me to take that step with white wines.
What do you say? What would be your limit for prices on white wine, and do you believe that a pearl like the Primus would be interesting to the wider public? In Sweden, the price would climb from the levels of Portugal and I doubt we would be able to sell it (if we actually want to make some profit) for less than 400 SEK a bottle. Would you buy six bottles if you would really like it? Help me out! No, help Primus out! And let me know if this wine should make it to the Winecurious selection.
There is no doubt in my mind that Álvaro Castro is one of the top wine makers in Portugal. He makes an impressive range of wines in his different Quintas in the Dão region.
Alvaro de Castro is an engineer who inherited the vineyards in 1980. At that time he decided to dedicate himself fully to the wine business and restore the family tradition of producing wines. His first vintage was produced in 1989. Today he also works closely with his daughter Maria Castro.
I am sometimes struggling to grasp the range of wines that Alvaro produces. He has two main brands and that are Quinta da Saes and Quinta da Pellada but also a large variety of special projects like Carousel, Primus, PAPE, Doda (in cooperation with Dirk Niepoort) as well as his entry level wines under the Saes name. Wine production has ancient roots at Quinta de Saes. There are even records from 1527 of tax paid in wine from the Quinta and the Quinta as such dates back at least to 1258 when the earliest references of it can be found.
The vines at the different vineyards range in age from a few years up to 65 years old. As it is in Dão there is no surprise that it is planted in the hills, the average altitude is around 550 meters. The area is close to highest mountain range of Portugal and the national park of Serra d’Estrela and it also means that the vineyards are not planted in the regular pine tree surrounded clearings. The total area amounts to more than 60 hectares. The soil is granite with rows of sand and clay. They have more than 30 varietals planted but some of the bigger ones are Alfrocheiro, Cercial, Encruzado, Jaen , Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional
I struggled a bit to find the place as there are no real signs for it once reaching the approximate location given by the GPS. I did however by chance see something that looked like some wine barrels and decided to turn into the yard there and luckily it was enough. I was greeted by Álvaro’s daughter Maria (and the three friendly dogs following her) so I knew I was in the right place. She informed me that most people need to ask for directions in the little village close by.
Maria told me to leave my little Citroen behind as it would not be able to easily drive where we were going. We were heading up to the Quinta da Pellada and for that we need the 4-wheel drive of the old Toyota Jeep. So we all, the dogs included, jumped in and headed up in the hills. In addition to producing great grapes Quinta da Pellada also has some wonderful views and a grand old building that they are in the process of restoring. It was partially destroyed during the civil war but is now looking very nice. It is not entirely restored but already looks fantastic.
We also drove down to Saes and had a look at some of the newer vines that they are planting. I am certain that there are many more exciting things coming in the future this producer.
We then returned to the winery to sample some wines. I also had the pleasure of meeting Antonio Madeira, another wine maker, more on him and his wines to come in future posts. It was lovely to sit down inside by the fire place, protected from the slightly cold winds, and sample some of these great wines.
The wines we sampled were:
Quinta de Saes white 2014: Citrus and melon aromas. The palate is fresh and crisp with mineral and a hint of spice. Rating 3.
Quinta de Saes rosé 2014: Fresh with notes red fruit. On the palate is fresh with hints of fruit and a nice acidity. Not a bad wine but just not a great one. Rating 2.5
Quinta de Saes red 2012: A blend of Tinta Roriz, Jaen, Alfrocheiro and Touriga Nacional. It is a young wine, dark ruby colored. Nice earthy aroma mixed with ripe berries. Balanced with a lot of fruit. At this price level an excellent wine. Rating 3.5.
Quinta de Saes Reserva Encruzado 2013: This a 100% Encruzado wine. Very nice touch of spice and fresh fruits, green melon and apple. Very nice and crisp acidity. Rating 3.5.
Quinta de Saes Reserva red 2012: Blend of old vines (up to 40 varieties) Dark and sweet fruits in the nose. The flavor has a mix of spiciness and sweet fruits. Nice balance and structure, long finish. Very nice wine. Rating 4
Quinta da Pellada white Primus 2012: Made from old vines so the percentages of grapes are not certain but there is Encruzada, Bical, Terrantez, Verdelho and more in there (I believe Maria mentioned it was 35-40 varieties). The nose has lovely mineral, melon and citrus and it has a lovely creamy mouth feel, crispy and mineral on the palate. It somehow remains light while being concentrated in flavor. Lovely now but should age very well. This could very well be one of my favorite whites ever. Rating 5.
Quinta da Pellada Red 2003: Deep red color. The aroma is a mix of dark cherries and plum with some ripe fruits. Herbal and black cherries gives the wine a wonderfully concentrated mouth feel. Rating: 4.5
I also later sampled the Carroucel but will be a separate review on that. All in all a lovely visit and I do hope we can find someway to work together as they produce some excellent wines.