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”
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.
Continuing on the Portugal theme but this time not connected to my recent trip there but still about Portuguese wine. I visited one of my favorite wine bars, not only in Barcelona but in the world, Monvinic. They always have an interesting selection of wines as it rotates as soon as a bottle is finished. In Spain it is not common to find Portuguese wine so I was glad to find this one from Quinta do Perdigao.
The vineyard was planted in 1997 at an altitude of 365 meters, in the area around Viseu and covers 7 hectares. The soil is granite based and the vine density is close to 5 000 per acre, they mainly have Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen, and Alfrocheiro as well as some Encruzado. Production is largely done sustainably and pesticidies are avoided. Not sure if they are organically certified as I have heard differing stories, but they are trying to produce in a sustianble and ecological manner. It is a small family winery so no huge volumes produced here so perhaps something for my list to visit next time around.
The wine I sampled was the Quinta do Perdigão Colheita from 2009. It has 20% Touriga-Nacional, 35% Tinta-Roriz (Tempranillo) 35% Jaen (Tinta Mencia) and 10% Alfrocheiro.
I am not that familiar with Alfrocheiro. Wines made from it are often rich in colour with firm but ripe tannins and a good balance of alcohol, tannins and acidity. Flavor is often ripe with berry fruit, particularly oblackberries and ripe stawberries. They are somehwat prone to attack by oidium and botrytis and require a lot of attention. Origin is somewhat debated as it originally was thought to be related to Pinot Noir but now the consensus appears to be that it is an indigenous Portugese variety. This specific wine only has 10% of Alfrocheiro but I will try to seek out some wines where it is more dominant.
The wine has been aged in French oak barrels (225 litres) for 12 months. The color was deep ruby red. The nose has a nice touch of red fruits and herbs. The Aromas include a touch of smoke, dried and fresh herbs, and savory fruits. The wine has a nice acidity but with some tannins. There are clear falvors of red and dark fruit. For the price range I think it is a good wine (available for around €8-10 in many places), the quality is not exceptional but still good so rating it a 3 for quality and a 3.5 for value for money.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The past month or so, our blog has been going a steady path. We have been writing a lot about shops, restaurant and reviewing some wines. We have shared experiences from along our travels and extended our focus to coffee and cocktails. We have shared all that we have enjoyed along the way and will continue to do so.
However, we are now back in Sweden and focus will inevitably shift back to Europe and more into our business. This is why today I would like to share with you something about our next adventure, which will be discovering Portugal as a wine region and a potential for extending our business. On Monday, M will be heading to Porto to meet up with some exciting new producers and I will join him for next weekend to meet our friends at Vieira de Sousa and drive around the beautiful Douro valley. But before we set out to travel, we thought we would do some studying to not sound like completely amateurs when talking to our new acquaintance.
Five things I read today about Portuguese wine:
- Wine laws today are based on the French Appelation d’Origine. There are three basic categories of Portuguese wine: Vinho de Mesa, Niho Regional, and Denominação de Origem Controlada. The lowest level is Vinho de Mesa, Table wine where grapes can come from anywhere in Portugal and the winery does not need to include a vintage. Above Vinho de Mesa is Vinho Regional, Regional wine. In a regional wine, 85 percent of grapes must come from the region on the label. Regional wines, however, are not subject to the strict requirements of a Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) wine. Each DOC must follow specific guidelines and the grapes in these wines must come entirely from the region on the label.
- Portugal has eleven major wine regions. The Douro is by far the most significant to fine wine production. Other regions of international recognition include Dão, Vinho Verde and Alentejo.
- Portugal has the very large number of (up to 500) indigenous grape varieties. Some of the most commonly used both by traditional and modern winemakers are Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. Older vineyards are planted with multiple grape varieties and as a result, sometimes these field blends are so varied that identifying all of the grapes isn’t possible. When new vineyards are created, single planting is now the norm.
- The country has clear climatic divisions. In the northern part of the Portugal, the climate is maritime with warm summers and cool, wet winters. In some areas rainfall can reach 100 inches a year. Towards the south its a different story, as rainfall is lower and summer temperatures are much higher.
- Equally dramatic as France and Spain, Portugal suffered from the phylloxeira epidemic (wine plaque) of the early 19th century and lost a significant number of its old vines. After the plaque, many abandoned the wine-business and the ones who didn’t planted new, larger yield varieties resulting to overall lower quality. Today, we are seeing a rise of small boutique wineries, quintas, focusing on better wine making techniques and using grapes from a single region to create cleaner and softer wines that are better received by the international wine market.
I think I need to do some more studying before next week, but this is a good start for discovering wine in Portugal. I can’t wait to share pictures and stories about the actual trip. If you are up for Portuguese wine-talk, you can check out the post we did on Port a few months back (link here). Have a great weekend!