Portugal’s Bairrada Region: Wines of the Atlantic Ocean

10/30/19 -

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

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