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Portugese wines are on the rise and we want to highlight some our favorites from this dynamic country! With young people returning to the country, and grandparents passing on their traditions to a new generation, there is really something of a renaissance brewing. Though most of the grape growers and farmers in the country have longstanding contracts with Port houses, or sell their grapes to cooperatives, many of them are finding new clients, who will pay more than the co-op for organically farmed grapes, or obscure local varieties that would have historically been torn out. Producers all around Portugal are becoming more conscious of regional styles and are starting projects to preserve local grapes and regional winemaking traditions. All in all, it's an exciting time for Portugese wines and we are happy to offer some new arrivals and tried-and-true classics.
Aphros is an estate in Casal do Paço, in the Vinho Verde region. The estate covers a total of 20 hectares, including four hectares of vines and another four of chestnut orchards. A firm believer in Biodynamics, owner Vasco Croft immediately began converting the estate after he arrived, and the ecosystem is now thriving, with wild horses, sheep, and bees (the vineyard manager, Alberto Araújo, tends to the beehives). There have been small additions of parcels over the years, as production has slowly increased, and all the vineyards are farmed Biodynamically.
Folias de Baco is an estate that was started in 2007 by Douro native, Tiago Sampaio. The vineyards are located in the Alto Douro, on soils of schist and granite. He is reviving old traditions by making fascinating field blends from indigenous varieties, and at the same time exploring his love for Pinot Noir, which he developed while studying winemaking in Oregon.
Mateus Nicolai de Almeida is from a winemaking family with a long and deep history in the Douro. He recently started a project called "Trans Douro Express,"with the goal of producing wines from each of the 3 sub-regions of the Douro: Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo, and Douro Superior. Each sub-region is unique, due to the presence (or absence) of Atlantic and Mediterranean influences, soils, grape varieties and micro-climates, so the project is indeed ambitious!
Antonio Madeira is a young winemaker situated in the Dao, in the foothills of the Serra da Estrela mountain range (the highest mountain range in Portugal). He has spent a considerable amount of time hunting down old vineyards and works all of his parcels organically, with minimal additives in the cellar. His wines are all field blends, and usually cofermented, as each parcel has multiple varieties and Antonio feels that they were planted this way for a reason.
António Lopes Ribeiro and Sara Dionisio are the team behind the Casa de Mouraz, which is based in their native Dão region. Theirs was the first estate in the Dão to receive organic certification (in 2000), and the estate converted to biodynamic agriculture in 2006. I'll be writing more about them later this year, but with summer arriving, it seems appropriate to highlight a mineral white wine they make from organic vineyards in the Vinho Verde region, north of Dão.
Tiago Teles is a soft-spoken (and at times completely crazy) winemaker from Bairrada, where he has been pushing for less intervention in winemaking for many years now. His wines are typically field blends, and most vineyards are located about 15km from the Atlantic Ocean. Bairrada is one of the smaller wine regions in Portugal for quantity and reknown, but Tiago is helping to put them on the map!
Filipa Pato is the eldest daughter of the legendary Portugese winemaker, Luis Pato. Her mission is to make "authentic wines without makeup," and she has suceeded, with whites, reds and sparkling wines that are pure, balanced, and unadorned. Hailing from Bairrada, she focuses on local grapes like Baga and Bical, and has done a lot to promote them at home and abroad. Farming is organic, though not always certified.
Maria Joao Pato (aka Duckman) is the youngest daughter of Luis Pato, and though she works with Luis and will likely be involved in the future of the estate, she recently started a project called "Duckman," with a focus on making artisinal wines from only the local Bairrada grapes Baga, Bical, Cercial and Fernão Pires.
Bairrada, with its cooler maritime climate, has a long history of producing fresh and distinctive sparkling wines of quality from the native grapes of the region. Filipa Pato admirably keeps the tradition alive with her delicious and unpretentious brut rosé made from a blend of Bairrada’s signature noble red variety Baga and the tangy high acid white grape, Bical. Spicy and zesty with notes of bright citrus and red berries, this is a great (and affordable!) pairing for baked fish with paprika and Iberian olive oil or smoked fish brunch.
From the lovely couple at Casa de Mouraz, Biotite is mostly Loureiro from certified organic vineyards in the Vinho Verde region, grown on granitic soils in the valley of the Lima River. This is a lovely mineral driven white, and a real eyeopener to the potential of the Vinho Verde wines. Most people just know the spritzy low alcohol whites (from early harvested usually under-ripe grapes), but this is a real wine, made from mature fruit and allowed to ferment naturally for a different kind of expression. Enjoy on its own on a sunny afternoon or with seafood, chicken, vegetables, sushi, salads, and cheeses.
Palhete is the local name for a wine that is made in a farmer's style, by blending red and white grapes to create a low-alcohol wine to drink during the day. As founder Vasco Croft explained to me, there was no soda or beer back in medieval times, and water was not reliable, so the Palhete wines provided the only trustworthy hydration at the time. This particular blend is 80% Loureiro and 20% Vinhão. Alcohol is 12%, admittedly not as low as the medieval version (these were usually between 4-6% alc.), but extremely drinkable nonetheless! Drink chilled. Eben Lillie
The Phaunus "orange" is all Loureiro, with 8 weeks of skin contact and lees aging in 1,300L clay Talha amphorae from southern Portugal. The wine has nice lift from the natural acidity of the Loureiro grapes, while the maceration and lees aging give it texture and structure. As winemaker Miguel Viseu says, it's a wine "made in silence," with harvest by hand in the early morning, and no electricity used at any point in the process. A truly curious approach with a delicious result. Drink chilled, but not too cold. Eben Lillie
Folias de Baco was started in 2007 by Douro native, Tiago Sampaio. The vineyards are located in the Alto Douro, on soils of schist and granite. He is reviving old traditions by making fascinating field blends from indigenous varieties, and at the same time exploring his love for Pinot Noir, which he developed while studying winemaking in Oregon. This wine is 100% Tinta Francisca, a native, but almost forgotten grape. Grown in granite and schist soils at 600 meters of altitude, it's dark in the glass, elegant and chalky on the palate. A beautiful wine with some crunchy red fruit and great acidity. In 2016, Tiago had to buy one new barrel, which he aged a small part of the Tinta Francisca in. This lends some subtle notes of oak, that have integrated nicely in the bottle. Lovely now, this is a great wine to keep in mind for fall feasts. -EL
Mateus Nicolai de Almeida is from a winemaking family with a long and deep history in the Douro. He recently started a project called "Trans Douro Express,"with the goal of producing wines from each of the 3 sub-regions of the Douro: Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo, and Douro Superior. Baixo Corgo has the most coastal Atlantic influence, with perhaps more freshness than the sub-regions that are more interior. This red is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Roriz, and Tinta Barroca, from schiste soils. Fermentation is in schist containers, and then the wine is aged in concrete. Fresh, with great mineral length, pretty acidity and dark fruit on the palate.
This is a fantastic field blend from Antonio Madeira in the Serra da Estrela sub-region in the Dão. Primarily Alfrocheiro and Touriga Nacional, with several other indigenous varieties that are co-planted on rugged granitic soils. Aging is for 18 months, in old French barrels and 3 months in stainless steel before bottling. The wine is vibrant and balanced, and very easy to drink while offering notable complexity and mineral length. Eben Lillie
The Antonio Madeira Branco is typically a blend of several local varieties, including: Siria, Fernao Pires, Bical, and Arinto. Indigenous yeast fermentation and aging in French barrels. This white is perhaps the most rich and soft of the whites in our Portugese section, but still offers fresh acidity and a sturdy mineral backbone. A beautiful, fuller-bodied style white. Eben Lillie
A delicious and curious white blend of Encruzado, Malvasia-Fina, Bical, Cerceal-Branco, Rabo-de-Ovelha, Fernão-Pires, Uva-Cão, Síria e outras... and probably a few other un-confirmed varieties. The idea for Sara and Dionisio, is to present a white that has all the character of the Dao: a field blend that can transport us to their home. It's textured, with almost a touch of almond skin, herbs and white flowers. Fermentation is in stainless steel after 1 day of skin contact. Aging on the lees for 8 months before bottling.Eben Lillie
70% Castelão Frances, 25% Alfrochiero, and 5% Merlot from the unforgettable Tiago Teles, in the Bairrada DO of Portugal. Tiago is in spirit and practice aligned with what some call the "natural wine" movement. Fermentation is always with indigenous yeast, with minimal addition of sulfur, and very little extraction, new oak, or any other modern techniques. He's enthusiastic about Portugal's history and the future of winemaking in this small but important country. The Gilda is medium bodied, with great energy and acidity to keep it fresh. An exciting addition to our Portugese section! Total SO2 17mg/l (that's low!) Eben Lillie
This is 90% Alfrocheiro from young vines, and 10% Bical (a white grape), from clay-limestone soils. Grapes are foot stomped in 6000L lagars for about 10 days and then aging is for about a year, until the wine is bottled without fining or filtration. I tasted this wine several times in the last year or so, and I kept finding it a bit closed and tight. Not too tannic, but nonetheless structured and tough. Just yesterday (April 4th), Tiago came by to pour a few wines and say hello, and the Maria de Graça was singing! Now it was almost Burgundian in its elegance and finesse. The fruit was pronounced and more open, and the tannins were soft and integrated. Now that it's really opening up, it should be a great pleasure to drink for many years to come. Eben Lillie
100% Vital, an indigenous Portuguese grape variety, from 50 year old vines on limestone soils in the Serra de Montejunto outside Lisbon. Directly after harvest the grapes were exposed to the skins for one day, then pressed and fermented in stainless steel. This wine shows gentle white flowers on the nose with a palate of pear and citrus before a delicately saline finish. Pair with 'Gambas al Ajillo' (shrimp fried with garlic), other well flavored shellfish dishes, or soft cheeses. Ben Fletcher
This is a really interesting and simultaneosly very drinkable white from Maria Joao Pato aka Duckman! 100% Bical, from young vines on sandy soils. There's a short maceration on the skins, but not to arrive at an orange wine, but more for some texture and grip. Fermentation is in oak and stainless steel, and aging is in French oak for about 6 months before bottling. We're definitely happy to have this white in our Portugese roster, and have received some great feedback already about Maria Joao's wines, which are new to the US. Eben Lillie
This is a long aged Bruto from Maria Joao Pato. 50% Bical, 50% Cercial, from 25 year old vines. Fermentation is in barrel for 3 weeks, and then the wine is aged for 7 years. Malo-lactic fermentation does not occur here, but the aging on the lees gives such delicate texture and subtle richness, it's not sharp or malic at all. Disgorged December 2018, with small dosage of 2g. This wine is has fresh green herbs and, a kind of briny nutty note as well. Really fun! Eben Lillie