Wine Review: Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2013

Wines from the Abruzzo region are perhaps not the most exciting to come out of Italy or perhaps it is just my rather limited knowledge of the wines that makes me feel like that. I was however at a restaurant serving regional food from Abruzzo so it seemed fitting (and the wine list sorted of forced me) to sample some wine from the region. I ended up sampling a wine from the winery Masciarelli. The winery was founded in 1981 by Gianni Masciarelli and it has several vineyards spanning over 300 acres in all provinces of Abruzzo. It is a fairly large operation these days and the produce around 2.5 million bottles spread over 18 different labels and five product lines (Classic Line, Gianni Masciarelli, Villa Gemma, Marina Cvetic, and Castello di Semivicoli).

The wine I tried was from the classic line and is called Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2013. This is one of their entry level wines and it is made from a 100% Montepulciano. The winery produces around 500 000 bottles each year, so not really something rare. The wine is deep ruby colored. The nose is full of dark berries, cherry as well as more subtle hints of tobacco and violets. The flavor is dominated by blackcurrant, plum but also with some pepper notes and tobacco in the finish. To me this is not a bad wine at all but it just does not excite me one bit. Too simple and slightly boring and a typical mass-market wine. It is non-offensive and works well with the regional foods, for example it went pretty well with the grilled lamb skewers. Quality wise it is only worth a 2.5 but value for money is pretty decent and deserves a 3.

The Road So Far and a New Selection

When I started this blog, it was meant to be about the business. The business of selling wine that is (Introduction to the journey here). Along the way I started writing more about other wines and restaurants. I like getting tips about new places, so it was mostly about sharing it with fellow foodies and the wine curious. There is not that much to write about the company to really fill a blog (yet). However, today I would like to move the focus back to the business and write about something exciting, our new selection.

Our business started around one excellent product, the Llagrima d’Or cava. We did our research on the Swedish market and came to the conclusion that this product would fill a gap. A premium cava was not unheard of, however the selection was (and is) weak. The selection may still satisfy the masses, but not the quality conscious consumer who does not want his/her cava pumped up with sugar to hide the compromises made with the production. Small producers are often artists, they make something that they can be proud of and want to have on their own table every weekday and the weekend (in Spain cava is an every day drink). These small producers however do not have the volumes to make it into the shelf’s of (one of) the worlds largest buyer (Systembolaget).

After two years of planning, sampling, paperwork and some personal investment, we have moved forward. Next week our updated web shop will feature five new and exciting producers from Spain and Portugal: Rimarts, Cellers Carol Valles, Antonio Madeira, Quinta do Escudial and Quinta da Pellada. All of our new partners are small, family owned vineyards with a vision and a passion for making honest wines. With honest we mean that the wines have a minimal amount (if any) added sugar, they are mostly produced without any oak (or at least without excessive use of it) and often with as natural processes as possible. The focus is on good ingredients and no compromises on the time or effort that it takes to make the wines. We have visited them all, roamed around their vineyards and spent hours studying their production. Not to mention all the hard work we have done with trying out their wines (*smirk*). So here are a few teasers on our upcoming selection and we will be writing more about each producer the coming weeks.

1. Rimarts is a company owned by two brothers, Richard and Ernest. They have learned the fine art of making cava by following in their father’s footsteps and are today using the same equipment for their production as he did back in the day. When touring the Rimarts cellars, Ernest was joking about all the other kids going out to play football while he and his brother had to sit in with their dad and bottle cava. The Rimarts wines are disgorged by hand and all except for the the 18 month cava (which has a very small dosage) have no sugar added. Our initial selection will feature three different bubblies from them, the Rimarts 18 month (Brut Reserva), 24 month (Reserva Brut Nature) and 40 month (Gran Reserva Brut Nature) cavas.

2. When we pulled into the drive way of Cellers Carol Valles, we felt like we were entering someones home. That’s because we were. Joan Carol greeted us with the family dog and a boy from the neighboring house to translate from Catalan to English. He had fit a very impressive production line in the cellar of his family home and greeted visitors in a small tasting house next to the living quarters. He told us that most of his cava is sold at that property with hundreds of locals stopping by every now and then to fill up their cellars. He houses an impressive selection where even the entry level wine is a Reserva Brut Nature. Our selection for the summer will include the Parellada i Faura (Reserva Brut Nature, the Guillem Carol Extra Brut and Brut Nature (Gran Reservas) and the Guillem Carol Gran Reserva Barrica (a cava with a light oaky flavor).

Rimarts Cava
Tasting wines at Rimarts
Rimarts Cava
Ernest showing us how to bottle cava
Cellers Carol Valles
Cellers Carol Valles

3. A Frenchman with a Portuguese descent Antonio Madeira is the rising star of Dão. He currently sells just one wine (more are coming) and he makes it well with natural techniques (no additives or pesticides). Antonio has a vision, he wants to bring out the terroir in his wine and he seeks out old vines to do this in the best manner. Our selection will feature, surprise surprise, his best (and only) wine, a light and sophisticated red made from old vine. As with many older vineyards in Portugal, there is an abundance of grape varieties growing in the field so the exact number of grape varieties is not easy to get to.

4. Feeling that there was something missing from the market, Quinta do Escudial is producer making solely no-oak wines. It is a family business to the core. The wine is made by the father of the family, the finances are handled by his wife and sales by their son. Our selection will be featuring their Branco (white), Tinto (red) and the Vinhas Velhas (old vine red). When we visited them we sampled the full range of wines and these are truly extraordinary wines that really proves that it is not necessary to use oak to make fine Portuguese wines. These wines are really nice in the way that they are all great on their own as well as with food.

5. Alvaro Castro, the owner of Quinta da Pellada is ‘The’ winemaker who brought Dão back on the wine-map. Originally a civil engineer he inherited his family’s vineyards in the 1980s and changed profession awakening a family tradition that had been dormant for a generation. Today his daughter Maria is also very much active in the business and she will ensure to carry the family tradition on. Our selection will be featuring wines from the vineyard the family lives on, Quinta de Saes. We will have the Saes Red, The Quinta de Saes Rose (for the summer) and the Encruzado White. They also have several other brands and we hope to expand our cooperation with them in the future as their high-end wines really deserve an audiance and once tasted it is difficult to not just want more of them.

All in all, we are increasing our selection from two excellent wines to 17: nine cavas, five reds, two whites and one rose. Some wines are available in very limited quantities (due to the small production) so orders will be processed in the order they come in.

All in all, I think we have managed to create a good selection. We have a working supply chain, a logo, website and enough samples. What you can really see is that this company has been put together by two procurement professionals, with a high emphasis on the back end of the supply chain, contracts and working partners; and an entertaining lack of focus on sales. So now we are really stepping out of our comfort zone and introducing to the world what we have done. We are hoping that good quality will sell it’s self, and in time our customers will learn to trust our judgement.

However, this will not come free and to give it a push we are arranging an open house tasting next week Saturday in Stockholm to introduce our wines. In case you are interested in joining, then send us a message to info@thewinecurious.com. This will be the best sales period (yet) for our company yet, and I am looking forward to all of the feedback people can give us about our new selection.

Vivant: Great foodie wine bar in Paris with a Swedish touch

Our recent trip to Paris, not surprisingly, entailed a lot of nice food and wine. We have already reviewed the excellent Frenchies Bar a Vin but we did also visit other places. On the day we arrived we wanted something close by the hotel so opted for Vivant Cave for dinner. It is a very narrow small space where the bar takes up a large part of the entire premises and behind it the chefs are working on creating the nice small or mid-sized plates. There is seating all along the bar as well as at a few tables that have been crammed in at strategic places. There are also several wine fridges lining the wall opposite the bar.

The restaurant used to be owned by Pierre Jancou but he has now moved on to new projects. I had not read up on the new chef before but being seated at the bar and having the chef take the orders for us I right away heard the unmistakable Swedish accent. The new chef is indeed Swedish, Svante Forstorp , but while relatively new at Vivant Cave he has plenty of experience from before for example from Aux Deux Amis. He makes some lovely small dishes behind the counter, the limited space does not seem to bother him at all. Not only is the food very good, it is also great to watch him at work. I am of course a bit of a sucker for the open kitchen but I am a firm believer that it keeps restaurants honest.

We opted for a selection of different dishes but among the highlights were the asparagus, the spicy pasta (chili and fresh lemon) as well as the smoked foie gras with cabbage. The place is known to have a good selection of, in Paris so trendy, natural wine and we were rather pleased with the wine recommendations. We tried an lovely Brut Nature champagne from Ruppert-Leroy  as well as an excellent Austrian sparkling from Strohmeier as well as some nice reds – the reds were very different, one extremely light while the other was much darker and fuller. I think the picture gives a pretty interesting comparison.

Service was in general very attentive and the staff were happy to explain the all-French menu to us. I also very much liked the pleasant atmosphere here, staff were relaxed and that made guests relaxed as well. We ended up chatting with people seated next to us at the bar and it did really seem very popular with foreigners visiting (we had Danes, Brits and Americans around us).The price level was rather decent as well, not exactly cheap but definitely value for money. Will be on my list for places to return to if in the area.

Wineweek 23: Reims Edition

If you don’t count Monday, this has been a pretty quiet wine-week, at least when it comes to drinking wine. Perhaps we overdosed, in terms of tasting not drinking, in Paris and Reims, and this weekend we have just had a few glasses. However, I still have a lot to share with you from last Sunday in Reims and also some news regarding our company.

As Paris seemed to quiet down for the Sunday, we headed to Reims a day before the Terres & Vins event. A few big champagne houses had their doors open and we decided to take a tour or two, just to see how a big producer is organized, and well, to taste a few glasses of champagne. We basically had three, decent ones, to choose from: G.H. Mumm, Tattinger and Vranken Pommery. As Pommery charged close to 70€ for their tours with any decent tasting options, we opted for Mumm, one of my old favorites. Luckily our hotel Mercure also had a nice discount for the tours, so we got a significant reduction for the Blanc & Noir experience which was a tour through the cellars and a tasting of two champagnes: the blanc de blancs and blanc de noirs (25€ per person). We were already familiar with Mumm de Cramant, the 100% Chardonnay champagne (review here), so our expectations were high.

TGV from Paris to Reims
TGV from Paris to Reims
Touring at the G.H.Mumm cellears
Touring at the G.H.Mumm cellears
The Blanc and Noir tasting at the end of the Mumm tour
The Blanc and Noir tasting at the end of the Mumm tour

After touring at Mumm, we walked around in Reims admiring all the beautiful champagne houses and headed for afternoon bubbly at Les Crayeres, a beautiful mansion hotel with supposedly a great champagne bar. We had heard some good things, but after the disappointment of the much hyped about Bar 8 (Wineweek 22) we were cautious with our expectation. However, Les Crayeres did not let us down. The bar was absolutely beautiful with a lot of light and plush sofas. We had our drinks in the garden, which was like a scene from a movie with an international and happy crowd sipping wine. Les Crayeres also has a two Michelin star restaurant, which was to our disappointment fully booked (we tried making reservations earlier in the week). To compensate, we had to go to the town three star instead.

Sunday evening we headed to L’Assiette Champenoise, the three star restaurant of Arnaud Lallement. We don’t go to such extravagant places that often, but I have visited a few three star restaurants before this one. It is always a small investment to eat in such a place, but you pay not only for great food, but an experience. I will write more about the the restaurant later, but to describe the evening with a few words, the service was not as impressive as I have seen at many other starred (especially three starred) restaurants. Perhaps it was speaking English that made some of the staff uncomfortable. However it was nothing to really complain about and the food was out of this world.

The Reims Cathedral
The Reims Cathedral
I wish we could have gotten in here
I wish we could have gotten in here
Les Crayeres
Les Crayeres
Aperatiffs at L'Asiette Champenoise
Aperatiffs at L’Asiette Champenoise
My dessert at L'Asiette
My dessert at L’Asiette

That is about it regarding Reims, and now to some good news regarding our company. We will be taking in at least four new producers this spring: Rimarts (Cava), Quinta do Escudial (red and white), Antonio Madeira (red) and Quinta da Pellada (red, rosé and white). Orders to our Danish warehouse have been made and we will open for orders of these in mid May. This is a perfect time to stock up on wines to enjoy over summer vacation. We are also waiting for order confirmation from a fifth producer, but more about that when we have some certainty. It feels wonderful to be able to extend our selection. Of course we will also continue to have our trusted Llagrima d’Or and Peret Fuster wines for sale.

Fabrica Moritz and Bar a Vins: Great Wine bar at a Brewery, Barcelona

I have never really been a fan of the local (Catalan) beer brand Moritz but I was still somehow convinced to visit their combined brewery, restaurant, shop, bar and wine bar called Fabrica Moritz. The place has been extensively renovated and I will happily admit that it does look really nice. They are also making some special beer (not available elsewhere) in this location so there are actually some much nicer beers here than what is normally available under the Moritz brand. It also means that it is not just a design and concept idea since they actually produce beer here as well. What however did surprise me immensely was first that the food was pretty decent and second, which is the main topic of this post, that they have an excellent wine bar called Bar a Vins.

When I was browsing their standard wine list I did find some pretty decent wines and what I really liked was that it was possible to also have really small sips of the wine. I then started asking a bit about the wines and was then brought the full wine list and they asked if I also wanted to have a chat with the sommelier. Really appreciate that it was possible to order the full range of wines while seated in the restaurant and the good service attitude.

The set-up of the wines are a bit different than in some other places I have been. It is possible to order in three different ways: by weight, by the glass or by the bottle. Most of you are probably familiar with by the glass and by the bottle but the ‘by weight’ is perhaps a bit new. They are using a system with argon gas canisters on the bottle allowing to take small amounts out without damaging the remaining wine. It is very much similar to the Coravin system but this was from what I could see a different brand or producer. This does allow one to order either a specific number of grams of wine or if that is the preference order for an amount of money (and you will then be poured as much as that amount will buy you).

There are around 40 wines available by the glass (and by weight) and in addition to that more than 400 by the bottle. Spanish wines are very well represented here but there are international wines available. I did to my surprise find the excellent Carousel from Alvaro Castro (of Quinta da Pellada) by the glass here. The slight disappointment is perhaps that the selection of Catalan wines was not as good as I would have expected but it is still one of the better ranges of Catalan wines around. I was however happy to see four sparkling wines available by the glass. We sampled nice Cavas here and they also had some Champagne by the glass. A nice touch is also that all the wines served come with a little label around the foot of the glass with information on the wine.

The service is very good, friendly, knowledgeable and attentive. It does seem that the fact that it is in beer brewery makes it a bit more relaxed than some other wine bars. The possibility to order wines by weight also makes more high-end wines available to a wider audience so I think they are doing some really good things for the wine scene in Barcelona. The food is also very nice, and while perhaps not the cheapest meal it is still decent value for money.

The design of the place is pretty neat and I do encourage a visit to the toilets as they are pretty nicely designed as well. One objection I have is that it tends to get fairly loud as many people who go to the beer bar seem to be there more to drink a lot of beer than to sample different things so I do in general prefer to sit in the smaller space at the Bar a Vins than in the actual restaurant.

Wine bar review: Monvinic, Barcelona

Monvinic is a lovely wine bar located in the Eixample neighborhood in Barcelona. It looks really sleek and classy from the outside and the feeling is the same when entering. The entire place is designed by interior designer Alfons Tost and it does feel like it is a fitting design for an upscale wine bar. I must however say that while it looks nice the chairs at the tables are not very comfortable so I always prefer squeezing together in the sofa instead.

There is an extensive wine library along one of the walls and it is from what I understand fine to browse the books. I have never really found a reason to do it as I have most of the wine books I want at home. While the books are impressive the reason to come here is the wine list. The wine list by the glass is constantly changing. Most of the time there are around 30 wines available by the glass and several hundred more by the bottle.

The list by the glass is a nice mix of both Spanish and International wines. There is usually three different sparkling wines, around 10-15 reds and whites respectively and then some sweet wines as well. The wine list is presented on tablets (not iPads but some other brand) and that is of course nice but I do wish they would have made better use of the technology. There is very limited information on the wines and the producers and it would be so easy to have something more there when they have the tablets. The use of tablets does however make it very easy to change and update the wine list and that means that they sometimes change the wine list by the glass during the evening.

All the waiters serving are also trained sommeliers so it is always possible to get knowledgeable service. Or I would rather say that it should be. At times Monvinic gets very busy and it is then sometimes not possible to really get the attention of the staff. It did not really use to be like that but since the Wall Street Journal piece on Monvinic it does seem like the place also draws in more people (and to some extent more the people that want to appear to be interested in wine). I would recommend coming either a bit earlier (before 19) or a bit later (after 21.30) to get the best service. The wines are usually interesting and the prices by the glass are decent. What i really like is that it is possible to order half-glasses. It gives a good chance to sample more wines and since many of the half-glasses are around €3 it does not have to be very expensive.

Recently I sampled some interesting wines from South African Mullineux (the white Kloof Street as well as the red Mullineux) as well as some great sparklings. Amongst them an Italian sparkling, Faccoli from Francacortia (if this was a blind tasting I would have picked it as a Champagne) alongside some, while not bad, more disappointing champagne from Pehu Simonet and cava from Albet i Noya. The international selection is pretty impressive but I would actually have expected more from the Spanish wines. There are however some interesting local wines there and I have on previous visits sampled lovely wines from Castell D’Encus (they make some lovely unusual Spanish wines in the Pyreenes, their Acusp is 100% Pinot Noir and the Ekam is a 100% Riseling).

Monvinic also serves food and while the quality is pretty good I must say that prices are rather steep for it. The food is a mix of set tapas menus and some larger dishes. I often struggle to find any set menus I like (as they usually contain something I do not want/like) and as I have come with the purpose to sample some wine I do not want a full main course so prefer to eat elsewhere. All in all I do however love popping into Monvinic for a few half-glasses, some wine talk with the sommeliers and then head elsewhere for dinner. It is without a doubt one of the best wine bars in Barcelona. I may not agree with the Wall Street Journal that it is the best in the world but it is clearly a good place for a glass or two.

Portugal Part 3: Visiting the premier wine maker in Dão

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.

Portugal Part 2: The excellence of no oak wines at Quinta do Escudial

In my travels in the beautiful country of Portugal I ventured to Dão, located the edge of the highest mountain range in Portugal Serra de Estrela. I went there to meet with the owners of Quinta do Escudial. Arriving in the town close by Seia I did however start encountering some issues. My lovely GPS from Garmin (we were not really the best of friends on this trip) kept telling me to take a one-way street the wrong way so I was stuck. No other options suggested from it, Miguel at Quinta fo Escudial was however extremely helpful and asked me to describe what I saw and then right away knew where I was and came and got me.

Miguel and his parents, who run the winery, had kindly invited me for lunch. What a treat that was, traditional Portugese fare served in their home in the middle of the vineyards.  The lamb casserole was especially good as well as the pudding for dessert (somewhat reminiscent of a creme brulee but better). Miguel speaks excellent English but his parents not so much but on the other hand my Portugese is non existent and we still managed to communicate with Miguel sometimes explaining things. With the food we also sampled their full range of wines.

The name of the winery is meant to evoke memories of the floral games of city fidalgos, the traditional battles on Midsummer’s Eve and other festivals in honour of great figures from Portuguese history. On a specific occasion a great storm blew down the Great Cedar at Qunta do Escudial. This tree with its great spreading branches  had been much appreciated by the crowds on feast days. When the gigantic tree fell down, Alfredo Augusto de Frias de Eça Ribeiro, the owner of Quinta do Escudial, was walking right past it. And as he suffered no injury, he immediately decided to build a chapel in recognition of what he considered a miracle. This chapel is today pictured on the wines and is also present on the winery premises. Quinta do Escudial started out with 3.5 hectares of old vines but have in 2003 expanded with another 3 hectares that are planted with traditional Dão varieties (Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Jaen and Tinta Roriz).

The reason I decided to visit this winery was both great feedback from friends but also that this is a winery that has a clear idea behind what they do. They believe that no oak wines is both fitting the consumer taste and the taste of the owner so the wines never touch oak during the production (so it is in stainless steel vats and then in glass bottles).  For me it was soon also clear that they at least in my view have succeeded really well with this.

We toured the vineyards and the winery, beautiful surroundings on an excellent day. Interestingly there was a lot of rosemary growing around the vineyards and some claim that part of that can be tasted in the wine. The wines we sampled were:

Quinta  do Escudial Branco: a lovely fresh wine made with a blend of grapes. The nose has nice mineral and citrus notes. Nice balance and acidity. Pleasant mouthfeel with notes of citrus.  Rating 3.5

Quinta do Escudial Red Harvest 2009: Deep ruby in color, nose full of red berries. In the mouth it has a nice mix of soft tannins and berrylike flavors. Rating 3.5

Quinta do Escudial Red Reserve 2009: Deep ruby red Color. The nose is full of ripe red fruit and violets, hint of spices. Wonderful body yet elegant. Packed with dark and red berry flavors and long finish.  Rating 4.5.

Quinta do Escudial Touriga Nacional 2012: So dark that is more purple than red. Nose of violets, forest fruits but also chocolate  and I had the feeling there was rosemary in there (but I had seen the rosemary growing  around the vineyards so maybe my mind played a trick on me). Full flavor, dark fruits and berries. Clear tannins and long finish. Many will love this wine, for me it is not a clear favorite but still good. Rating 4.

Really love the wines they produce here and I look forward  to exploring being able to sell them to our customers.  

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.