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Lately at Chambers, we’ve been working hard at promoting the beautiful table wines of Portugal. This week, we’re focusing on the Bairrada DOC, a mid-size growing region of about 20,000 hectares of vines, situated between the mountainous Dão region and the Atlantic; bordered by the Vouga River in the north and the Mondego River in the south. The presence of the coastline gives this region its special touch: the maritime climate lends itself to heavy periods of rain, and a cooler season brings bright acidity to the grapes. With the ocean only 20 kilometers away, the region sees intense winds as well as a radical change in temperature between day and night. The Portuguese coastline is no stranger to heavy rains; Bairrada sees on average 45 inches of rain annually in the east. Summers tend to be warm, followed by a rainy harvest period and a mild winter. Soil types are diverse: loamy calcareous clay soil filled with ammonite fossils, schist soil towards the east near the Dão, sandy soil closer to the Atlantic coastline, and soils rich in alluvium and conglomerate on the shores of the two rivers.
The history of the region is just as alluring as the wines. Bairrada wine production began in the 10th century and carried on until 1756 when the vines were uprooted to make way for Port production. The region recovered in the 19th century, and a school of viticulture was established in Bairrada in 1887. Until 2003, red Bairrada wines were only made using the native varietal “Baga”. A thick-skinned grape with rich tannins and acidity, Baga shows great depth and structure in Bairrada wines. The wines are traditionally black fruited with a bouquet of red flowers, bell pepper and spice on the nose. Since 2003, Bairrada DOC reds can feature a number of grapes, and producers are using more native varieties, such as Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro-Preto and Castelão.
We’re excited to offer some exciting producers from an area rich in terroir, history, geography and of course, quality.
Filipa Pato is the eldest daughter of the legendary Portugese winemaker, Luis Pato. Having completed her engineering studies at the Coimbra University, Filipa went on to study winemaking in Montpellier. She began her project in 2001, with a mission to make "authentic wines without makeup." She has succeeded in doing just that, with whites, reds and sparkling wines that are pure, balanced, and unadorned. Her vineyard is nestled in the western coast of Bairrada, south of Porto, in the village of Ois do Bairro. She works with a terroir comprised of sand over clay-limestone. Her wines are their own individual characters, each representing their terroir and their place.
Duckman is a project of yet another Pato daughter, Maria. Like Filipa, Maria Pato is making wine to illustrate a sense of place and terroir, so much so that Duckman wines never specify Bairrada on their labels, wanting the wine to instead showcase its region in the characteristics within the bottle. Maria grows both red and white varieties in two vineyards. Her Espumante Bruto Branco is 100% Fernão Pires (a rare variety from the region, known for its aromatic and spicy profile) from 20-year-old vines on sandy soils, fermented in stainless steel and aged on the lees for a year.
Tiago Teles wasn’t born into a winemaking family. He began his career as a wine critic, travelling around his native Portugal, while yearning to be closer to the land. In 2012, Tiago and his father leased a vineyard in Bairrada, where his father is from, about 15 kilometers from the Atlantic. His project is not based on specific varieties, but a devotion towards crafting wines that reflect the influence of the ocean, and his sandy, clay-limestone terroir. He now has two vineyards producing fruit. His wine “Maria da Graça,” 100% Alfrocheiro from 19-year-old vines, is a delightful starting point for Tiago’s wines. The grapes are foot trodden and fermented with wild yeast, then aged for six months in stainless steel. A deliciously unique wine with notes of spice, tang, minerality, red fruit and smoke.
Sidónio de Sousa has been producing wine for generations. Now led by the young and dynamic winemaker Paulo da Sousa, the 12 hectares of vines are some of the oldest in Bairrada. His reserve bottling is 100% Baga from 90-year-old vines. Aged for 12 months in ancient Portugese oak, this helps create a wine of intense richness and a bold savory palate. Paulo is crafting wines in the traditional Bairrada style: juicy, dark-fruited and incredibly age-worthy.
John David Crosby
Sidónio de Sousa's Reserva Tinto is a savory, medium to full-bodied expression of Baga, from clay-limestone soils in the Ancas-Bairrada. Pressing and fermentation happens in traditional small cement lagars, with aging for a year in large 4000L barrels, and a further two years in bottle before release. Pepper, black currant, oregano, and fresh earth abound. For a wine under $20, this traditional Baga over-delivers, providing the leather and cedar notes of a fine Bordeaux mixed with the finesse of Nebbiolo. Perhaps an old fashioned wine in style, this is no fault! A great value. -EL
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, smoked fish or a party with a variety of hors d'oeuvres...
The name for this wine, Dnmc (or Dinamico), reflects the idea that expressions of the local Baga grape from different locations will produce a complex, and dynamic wine. It also could be seen as a nod to the bio-dynamic principles and treatments that Filipa Pato and William Wouters have introduced in their vineyards. They have been increasingly focused on organic and biodynamic viticulture as the years go by, much to our delight! 100% Baga, this medium-bodied red is fresh, and vibrant, with a touch of wild red fruit and dark berries, and subtle spice. Fermentation and aging is in tank with minimal extraction, but long maceration periods still provide good structure to the wine. Overall, it's a great introduction to the very enjoyable Baga grape, specifically here involving limestone terroir and the Atlantic influence of western Bairrada. -EL
Maria João Pato started a project called "Duckman," with a focus on making artisinal wines from only the local Bairrada grapes Baga, Bical, Cercial and Fernão Pires. This Bruto Branco comes from a tiny parcel of Fernão Pires on sandy soil, fermented in stainless steel, with wine from 1997 used as the 'liqueur de tirage.' The salinity and fresh herbs of the Fernão Pires are balanced with the texture and subtle richness of long lees aging. A unique sparkling wine, and a very affordable bubbly accompaniment to upcoming fall meals. -EL
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