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Vinho Verde II – North

After the Simplesmente… Vinho fair I visited some producers in the Vinho Verde region, according to a schedule made by festival general João Roseira. On Tuesday following the fair I was in the northern subregion of Vinho Verde, called Monção e Melgaço. Constantino Ramos was one of the greatest revelations on the whole trip, making superb, stylish, natural white and red wines. Valados de Melgaço does not make fully organic wines, and some with cultured yeasts, but is also very much of interest.

Constantino Ramos

Constantino Ramos was born in Vouzela (Dão-Lafões). After his education in pharmaceutical sciences in Coimbra he went back to the countryside, and after a few harvests in nearby Dão and Douro and one at De Martino in Chile, he came to Melgaço in 2013 to work with Anselmo Mendes, one of the great personalities of the alvarinho world.

Old vineyard near Melgaço

In 2015 came the opportunity to work a small vineyard over 70 years old, in Vale do Mouro. He started to make Zafirah, a red wine made with minimal intervention. I put it in the category of great, low-extraction, saline wines with a clear Atlantic touch that you can find from lower Galicia (Rías Baixas and Ribeiro) to the northern coast of Portugal. Remember, the Rías Baixas subregion of Contado de Tea begins just over the nearest bridge, and the historically important Ribeiro is also very close. These regions share grape varieties, and soil and climate are also similar. So if you think of red Vinho Verde as dark and meaty, maybe somewhat spritzy (and made by the vinhão variety), you have by now understood that this one is different.

VInha da Candosa, a centennial vineyard

-Old vines is not a common concept in Vinho Verde country, says Constantino. Nevertheless, currently he is in the process of recovering old vineyards, again in his words, -to give more credit to the reds from Monção and Melgaço, which were in the past very famous and compared to the wines from Burgundy and the Bordeaux clarets.

What about alvarinho, the emblematic and “inevitable” grape of the subregion? He continues: -Of course because I was working with Anselmo Mendes [Mr. Alvarinho] it was difficult to resist also producing an alvarinho wine. But it had to be something that could clearly show my vision of the variety in this specific terroir. So, using a small vineyard planted at about 250m high, I created Afluente. The name means tributary, metaphorically something that leads to, something that pushed me a step further.

Constantino has since long had his personal projects, his own wines and wineries for whom he consults, in addition to his “day job” at Anselmo Mendes. In January this year he took the chance to dedicate all his time to his personal projects. Of his own wines he makes 8.000 bottles annually, but he wants to increase a little.

Brancelho grapes in the same vineyard

We arrive in Riba do Mouro, a high altitude hamlet belonging to Monção. It has a cooler climate than the rest of the subregion. Here in Vale do Mouro was formerly a glacier, and therefore there is a great complexity of soils, granite, quartz, feldspar etc. The topsoil is only 40 cm down to the mother rock. Constantino says he prefer not to buy fields: -As I want to give something back to the people I prefer to work with the people. It’s something of an ethnographic project, driven by passion. -I have always been fond of reading. It helps you understand, gives you context.

Constantino has always worked organic. -Even the old viticulturists have a habit only to spray with copper, he says.

Afluente with padrón peppers
and bacalhau in Tiro no Prato restaurant, Viana do Castelo

After a visit to the most important vineyards we appropriately enjoyed his wines in a local context, a meal of bacalhau and partridge in the Tiro no Prato restaurant near Viana do Castelo, where Constantino lives. The Afluente 2020, an alvarinho fermented and aged in used barrels, was perfect with the bacalhau with onion, garlic, black olives, flat potatoes and olive oil. The wine had a pale yellow colour; an aroma of apple, citrus, wet stone more mineral than perfumed, actually; glyceric in the mouth, energetic, and with a superb integrated acidity.

Zafirah we had with local partridge

Zafirah 2021 is a field-blend from five plots of more than 50 year old vines on granite, with varieties like brancelho, borraçal (caíño), espadeiro, vinhão and pedral. It was skin-macerated one day before alcoholic fermentation, then light filtering and a bit sulphur added. It clocks in at 10.5% alcohol. Red cherry colour; red and wild berries (raspberry, blackberry); fresh in the mouth, saline. Like the white wine it went well with the bacalhau, and was a perfect pairing to partridge with a rich rice.

Juca 2021 is a tribute to his wife’s grandfather, who has helped Constantino a lot. It originates in the centennial vineyard of vinhão, brancelho a.o. The skins are soaked in steel and it’s carefully pumped over. The alcohol is 10%. Dark blackish blue, slightly carbonic; dark fruits (blackberry, blueberry), some licorice; it’s juicy, not especially tannic, with a fruitiness all the way. We can maybe look upon it as a luxury version of the dark Vinho Verde style.

Valados de Melgaço

Artur Meleiro picked me up in the Sousa subregion, and as I still hadn’t received my luggage after arriving in Porto three days ago he kindly offered me a shopping trip to Braga city. Then we continued north, had lunch in a Melgaço roadside restaurant, before we finally arrived at Quinta de Golães. Then after some vineyard sightseeing we arrived at the winery by the bridge bordering Spain.

The fresh, lightly bubbly Q. de Golães 2019 at a restaurant O Adérito

Artur himself was born in Melgaço, one of the two villages that give name to the sub-region. He moved back from Lisboa in 2016 to concentrate fully on this project, after having also lived in Braga and Porto. The family vineyards count on 4 hectares (3,5 hectares alvarinho, the rest trajadura, loureiro and red varieties) Today the production is 30.000 bottles, while the ideal for the future he says is 50.000.

Valados at Quinta de Galães

Monção e Melgaço is warmer than the rest of the region during the day and colder in the night, he says. Because of the mountain ranges it’s leaning more to a continental climate. .

Ramadas are used for red varieties at Quinta de Galães

Valados de Melgaço is Artur’s project, associated with his cousin Pedro Kock. It encompasses Quinta de Golães, so today they offer two ranges, with those two names respectively.

For the white wines the grape is almost exclusively alvarinho. 60% is in fact purchased, in addition to the grapes from the family vineyards. But the bought-in grapes come from farmers who share the same philosophy, soils/altitude etc. Artur tells, with this traditional viticulture one has to use pesticides. A neutral cultivated yeast is also used (except for the reds).

Alvarinho

The aim is to produce elegant and balanced wines, that is faithful to the alvarinho variety and the Monção and Melgaço terroir. I can say that I liked the Golães red and white, as simple and fruity everyday wines. The Valados range was true to what we think of as terroir. I chose three of these wines here.

Espigueiro, a traditional small house for storage of grain

Valados de Melgaço Reserva 2019 had a few months on the lees with batonnage during a short while. Light yellow colour; expressive concentrate aroma, yellow apples, some anise; quite full and structured in the mouth, with a slightly bitter grapefruity aftertaste. Valados de Melgaço Grande Reserva 2016 is a truly serious wine, but though it was three years older and even more concentrated it was lighter in colour than the reserva. It aged on lees in inox during 46 months, with batonnage in the first 12. Fresh fruit, yellow apples, melon, some balsamic notes; supple concentration and a long finish and good citrussy acidity all the way. Should I pick one favourite it would still be the Valados de Melgaço Natura (Vinificação Tradicional) 2019, a wine made with less sulphur, and nothing added until the end of fermentation. It had 8 months ageing on lees in steel, with batonnage. Yellow colour; aroma of pear, flowers, fennel and a touch of clementine peel; juicy and grapey in the mouth, good, integrated acidity.

Tasting in the cellar

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Vinho Verde I – South

After the Simplesmente… Vinho fair I took the opportunity to get an update on the nearby Vinho Verde region. I visited five producers in a program set up by festival general João Roseira and the growers. Here is a report from the three first wineries. These are found in the subregions Sousa and Amarante, only 40 and 60 kilometers respectively, from the city of Porto.

 Sem Igual 

Sem Igual (meaning something like unequalled, or unique) may be a new brand, and it was only in 2012 that João Camizão and his wife Leila Rocha made their first vintage. But João’s family has been grapegrowers in the Sousa and Amarante sub-regions of Vinho Verde since the 18th century. I visited together with an American importer. And from the fair in Porto they drove us in their car to Meinedo, in the municipality of Lousada. Meanwhile they told us the fascinating story about their international background and how they came back. João has for long long worked in telecommunications, and combined for a few years his employment in Nokia with a life as a farmer. It was only in 2016 that he decided to dedicate himself fully to wine, and the family took the chance to move to the village of his childhood.

Leila Rocha and João Camizão,
Sem Igual

Their office, storage cellar and guesthouse are located in Meinedo. Here in the Sousa area they have about 10 hectares of vineyards on granite soil with gravel. The vines have an age of up to 70 years, the oldest ones trained in the traditional ramadas.

Small-scale production. Here are their pneumatic press and their four barrels

They are a modern couple, with their international stories, and a busy life with three kids. But watching their vineyards and walking through their cellar it shows clearly that they also feel connected to history. Just look at all the stone and the wooden architecture in their premises, the concrete tanks and the lagares where the grapes are trodden by foot.

Their guesthouse has a swimming pool overlooking the vineyards

We tasted through their range of wines. Sem Igual makes first and foremost white wines, but also sparkling wines, rosés and light reds. Their whites are blends of the two local grapes arinto and azal. In general they are good bodied, non-carbonic, dry wines with a fresh acidity.

The Sem Igual (blue label) is made from 70% arinto and 30% azal, always with whole bunches and very soft pressing. It has virtually no contact with lees. The wine was served in five vintages between 2015 and 2019, to give an impression. All had splendid citrus fruit (lemon peel) with good body, a crisp acidity and no bubbles (sounds maybe strange, but this is opposed to a long tradition of gasification in the region), and a mineral aftertaste – in an overall elegant style. The 2019 and 2017 were for me a bit ahead of the rest, a bit more expressive and with a slight buttery feel. João says that in 2016 they cut down on SO2. This can explain that the latest wines, especially 2019 and 2017 were somewhat darker.

Next was a pair of Sem Igual Ramadas 2018. Dubbed Metal and Wood respectively this denotes that the latter had been in oak, the former not. The Metal came from 50 year old vines, the Wood more than 60, both trained in pergola (ramadas). 60% arinto, the rest azal, the Wood was a bit more buttery, full and with more rounded acidity.

Sem Mal may play with the expression “not bad”, I think, but also with the fact that it had not completed malolactic fermentation (“malo”) before it was bottled. Which makes it a sparkling wine. The 2019 was a fresh one, with small bubbles, citrussy acidity, yellow apples and some yeast. We also tasted the Bruto Natural, a fresh sparkler after 40 months on sediments. Among the rest of the wines we tasted the Pét Nat 2019 was truly fascinating. A half and half touriga nacinal and baga wine, this was their first pét nat and also their first experience with red grapes. Pale salmon-pink; peach and apples; smooth and off-dry, this is easy to drink on a hot summer’s day – and a story to be continued.

The four of us enjoying the versatility of the white wine
at a local restaurant

Quinta da Palmirinha

Quinta da Palmirinha and Fernando Paiva I have written about several times. Here is a short report following a visit three years ago.

Palmirinha is the family farm, barely 3 hectares located in Lixa, sub-region of Amarante. Fernando has a moderate and polite appearance, but is an undisputed authority in organic and biodynamic farming. A retired history professor, he will consult younger local talent about organic farming, without any pay. As he says while we walk up and down his quite steep vineyard, “if I give away my shirt I don’t have it any more, but knowledge is a thing you can share without losing it yourself.”

His vineyard is a total of almost 3 hectares with mostly 28 year old vines. Loureiro accounts for 2 hectares, the rest azal and arinto. All this is trained in simple cordon.

Loureiro grapes in July

On his own initiative he has experimented with the use of chestnut flowers that covers the must, so that he can avoid using SO2. Time will show if this will be a revolutionary discovery for the whole sector. Anyway, Fernando has already shared his ideas with several producers.

Chestnut flowers

Outside the adega we also said hello to the chickens that are fertilizing his vineyards. The plant life he calls “spontaneous”. It is like it is, there is no need to adjust. But we see aromatic plants that attracts insects.

Biodynamic preparations

He was the first certified biodynamic producer in Portugal. This time he showed me his biodynamic toolcase, with preparations.

The grapes are harvested manually in the morning, gently pressed and the fermentation is spontaneous. The wine stays in stainless steel for 10 months, with batonage twice.

I have tasted his wines many times, in the winery and at fairs. In general they are citric, appley and flowery, mineral, always with a firm structure, but with an integrated acidity. The three wines I tasted this time were all from the 2021 vintage. The Loureiro had more yellow apples, and overall a lovely calmness and harmony, just like the vineyard and the man. The Azal was more to the green apple side, some anise, with a crisper acidity. The Curtimenta (orange wine) called Leviano (tank sample), had 75% loureiro, the rest azal, and 3 weeks skin-contact. The colour is yellow, and smells of clementine peel, ginger and flowers; full in the mouth with some structure. This is an absolutely outstanding trio of wines!

Loureiro grapes and chamomile flowers

Quinta de Lourosa

José Maia meets me at Quinta de Lourosa, in Sousela (Sousa valley). He has a varied background, and he is still working as a tour guide. The last few years he has been engaged at the winery, to do a little bit of everything. His experience in tourism is well at hand as they have a guesthouse with restaurant and provide guided tours. Their packages include regional gastronomy, handicrafts and day trips to sites of historical and cultural heritage, such as the area’s Romanesque route.

Rogério de Castro

Joanna de Castro is winemaker on the quinta, that now covers 27 hectares. She lives in Lisboa and couldn’t be present that day. But her father was there. Rogério de Castro is a legendary figure, retired oenology professor and acknowledged for having introduced the training system that has come to be called Lys. The idea behind it is to enable a better sun exposure. Now the professor is passionately working the vineyards at Quinta de Lourosa. He has also in the latest decades renewed the 17th century chapel and the eaves on the farm. As we were walking around the estate he showed me different examples of the Lys system. It’s maybe more a concept than a technique. The idea is to distribute the plants to give ventilation. Very commonly first the plant grows to the left and to the right, then it moves upwards. With this system the plant also grows much stronger.

The Lys training system

José tells me that the estate doesn’t produce organic wines as such. But they do care about the landscape and soil. -We use chemicals only when we have to, he says. -And the future is not to use. They are in fact planting peppermint between the rows to attract insects, only to mention one feature.

Tasting in the winery

The wines were in general fresh and quite light in style. To only mention a few the (Vinhas de) Lourosa 2021, a varietal loureiro, was light with a a little gas; citric with green apples on the nose; fresh in the mouth, with lemony acidity. The Quinta de Lourosa 2021 was maybe a bit more “serious”. Made from 40-45% arinto, 30% loureiro and the rest avesso (a blend that the authorities first didn’t approve, because they said it must be sauvignon blanc) the wine showed citric with yellow apples, also fresh with a little gas, but a little more full and concentrated than the previous. Among the sparkling wines I really liked the Lourosa Bruto Branco 2018, made from loureiro and brinto with no added sugar: Pale yellow with small bubbles; fresh aroma of green and yellow apple, some yeast (after 9 months on sediments); with an appley acidity in the finish.

We also did an interesting tasting of the Quinta de Lourosa Alvarinho. The 2019 (made with 7% arinto also), made in steel and new French oak, showed light yellow in colour; an aroma of yellow apple, spice/herbs; glyceric, hints of toast, flavourful. We had this and two more vintages for dinner in the restaurant. While the 2016 was more buttery and had only a slightly oaky aftertaste, the 2014 showed a fully integrated oak without losing the fruit.

Visiting Citânia de Sanfins, a pre-historic Celtic-Iberian settlement
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Simplesmente… Vinho 2022 – Updates

Here is my second article from this year’s Simplesmente fair, where I present updates from producers that I already knew well. I tasted everything they offered, but I will try to restrict myself to presenting only a few wines.

(Read the first article from this year’s fair here, about some re-discoveries of wineries I knew a little.)

Antonio Portela

Antonio Portela from the Morrazo península, Galicia, Spain was a special guest this year. Chance had it that I started my tasting experience by his barrel. The occasion is a sad one, he is not able to continue his work for economic reasons. That means, if not anything unexpected happens we will not be able to taste his wonderful, fresh, saline wines anymore. Antonio has other activities to fall back on, such as writing and teaching, so he refuses to call the situation dramatic. Okay, but to call it a pity is to put it in a very careful way. The white (Mar do) Namorado he offered in the 2020 and 2018 vintages. It is a 85% loureiro, the rest albariño, espadeiro a.o., grown in sand on the beach. The 2020 had a light colour; aroma of citrus, flowers and yellow fruits; wonderful acidity and concentration, long with a salty aftertaste. The 2018, in comparison, had a honeyed edge, but still with plenty of acidity and concentration. The red tinta femia Namorado 2019 was light with red fruits (raspberry), a touch anise, and with a saline finish. The Namorado Berobreo 2019 was in the same line, light in colour and with a super acidity. This one was made with whole bunches.

Miguel Alfonso, Pedralonga

Miguel Alfonso’s family has produced wine for generations in Val do Umia, in the Salnés part of Galicia. The current winery, Adega Pedralonga, was founded in 1997 by Miguel’s father Francisco, and biodynamic practises were implemented ten years later. Miguel says that the work is professionalized, but it follows the philosophy of the ancestors. This means they plough only when necessary, Also in the cellar they do as little as possible. Albariño is not de-stemmed, only natural yeasts are employed, malolactic fermentation is not blocked and all wines get an extended ageing on lees. The Pedralonga vineyards sit on granite soils and are influenced by an Atlantic climate, which very much shows in the wines.

Pedralonga 2021 is a classic, with its fresh aromas of citrus and flowers, wonderful texture, steely acidity, salt and a flinty mineral finish. One of the great whites of the fair. The same can be said of their Carolina 2021, made from caíño blanco, with a greenish hint, quince and herbs, unctuous with a grapefruity aftertaste. Tinto de Umia 2019 is light red with a bit of evolution, red fruits, a touch of smoke and a lovely acidity and a saline finish.

Alfredo Maestro

Alfredo Maestro operates in both his native Peñafiel (Ribera del Duero) and in Sierra de Gredos. Since 1998 he has vinifyed each plot according to its peculiarities, with native yeasts and without chemical products. The artisan practise continues in the cellar, where no machines are used. Wait a minute: Few machines are used. But I have seen on YouTube that Alfredo experiments with drones to do various work in the vineyard. A machine yes, but this is also to minimize the use of that sort.

Alfredo put his signature on the barrel, such as a drawing of the Peñafiel castle of his hometown

Rey del Glam 2021 is an elegant example of the carbonic maceration garnacha. A mix from both Ribera and Gredos, it shows fragrant red fruits with licorice; juicy in the mouth, also with some structure. Almate 2021 Is an un-oaked Ribera: Dark cherry; red and wild fruits (cherry, blackberry); full-flavoured, yet with fine tannins. The skin-contact albillo mayor Lovamor 2021 and the partly flor-aged albillo mayor Consuelo 2020 delivered as usual. So did the speciality La Cosa / The Thing 2020, a sweet moscatel de alejandría. It’s interesting that someone makes a Cigales these days. Alfredo has an interesting garnacha gris called La Badi 2021, made with three days skin-contact. Therefore it achieves a light red colour with greyish hints (“ceniza y cigarro”, ash and cigar, Alfredo calls it). It’s a juicy glou-glou, truely fascinating. I have a crush on Rosado Clásico de Valladolid, now in its 2019 vintage. It’s in fact a clarete (in Spain made of red and white grapes, the same as a Portuguese palhete). It’s made with direct press, half in botas de Jerez, half in chestnut. The colour is pale red with an orange tinge, aromas of red berries (raspberry, plum), dried fruit and leather; the acidity and the alcohol (13,5) are integrated, while the tannins, fine-grained though, struggles to see if they can break out.

António of Casa de Mouraz presenting
the Elfa and Bolinha wines

I visited Casa de Mouraz after 2017, the hot year with the devastating fires. (Read about the visit here.) They make fresh and inspiring Vinho Verde wines under António Lopes Ribeiro’s initials, alr. Here I choose a few Dão wines. Casa de Mouraz Encruzado 2020 is a perfumed varietal, with the extrovert fruit that the grape can offer, wonderfully balanced. Casa de Mouraz Palhete 2021, a field-blend of 80% red grapes, the rest whites, was light in colour, with concentrated raspberry and strawberry notes, an intense flavour and balanced acidity. Elfa 2017 made from 95 year old vines, with 30 different grape varieties co-planted. Worth mentioning is that there is no touriga nacional (not normal in Portugal, especially when there are that many varieties employed) and no oak. A red fruits- (cherry, raspberry) fruity wine with an underlying pine character; it has a fine structure and good balance. António also presented three wines without DOC, under the umbrella Planet Mouraz. The fact that they come without a DOC would most often mean that they are unfiltered. I tasted two vintages of the white Bolinha, namely 2021 and 2017. This is also a field-blend, fermented in stone lagar and stayed with skins for one week. The 2021 was clearly unfiltered; light golden, turbid; with an intense aroma of yellow fruits and herbs; grapey and full. The 2017 had a bit more colour; intense, with apricot and honey; quite big and full-flavoured, long and balanced. Bolinha is the name of the dog on the label, by the way.

Meeting up with José Perdigão

It’s always a pleasure to meet José Perdigão, architect and vinegrower of Silgueiros, Dão, and taste his wines with labels by his wife Vanessa. A long-time favourite among his wines is the Quinta do Perdigão Rosé, now in its 2021 edition. It’s a rosé with some colour (José can maybe “arrest” me, but I would say somewhat less colour than before). It’s a full-flavoured rosé with aromas of raspberry and currant, and fresh acidity. Another classic from the house is the Alfrocheiro 2013: Dark cherry red with dark fruit aromas (blackberry, blueberry), pine; structured in the mouth, elegant, and very much alive after almost ten years. One that I don’t remember to have tasted is Noël 2015 (named after his youngest son). This is another wine that has kept well: Dark cherry; ripe red fruits (cherry, prunes); smooth, full of flavours. Still potential for ageing.

Lastly a trio from the Lisboa region. André Gomes Pereira and his Quinta do Montalto are actually found in the municipality of Ourém, in the Santarém district. But the wines are launched under neighbouring Lisboa’s regional.wines, if not DOC Encostas d’Aire (Medieval de Ourém). Pioneers in Portugal, since 1997, all crops at Quinta do Montalto are organic.

His medieval wine, a red and white blend, must be mentioned. This year I was in a hurry and skipped it though. I tasted his amphora wines for the first time. The vessels are made locally. Originally the manufacturer used epoxy. André said that this is “cheating” and against tradition. He said to André, why don’t you do it yourself? Then, as a statement, André decided that he would himself coat the amphoras with resin. Ánfora de Baco 2021 white is a varietal fernão pires, made 30% with skins and 3 months ageing with skins and on lees. Golden colour; flowers, resin and yellow fruits; full on the palate, fresh and Atlantic. The red equivalent with the same name is made from equal quantities trincadeira and aragonêz. Garnet red; red fruits (cherry), stonefruit (plums); super acidity and salinity. Cluricun Skin 2021 from grape varieties siria and fernão pires, 3 months on skins, was a peculiar wine. Pale amber colour; aroma of clementine and nuts; medium-bodied, with a light tannic grip.

Pedro Marques of Vale da Capucha (Turcifal, Torres Vedras) is a top producer, right there up with the very best. I could have mentioned all his wines. I will not, but I can say that they are focused, elegant and shaped by the terroir. The vineyards are planted on kimmeridgian limestone with clay. The white Fossil 2017 sums it all up. The name tells the story of a winery only 8 kilometers from the coast, in earlier times under water. Fossil has a light golden colour; aroma of citrus, white flowers, wax, chalk; a mineral taste, quite full and with a super integrated acidity. A lovely wine at a very nice price. Vale da Capucha Arinto 2019 is for me a star among his varietal wines. It’s light yellow; concentrated aromas of citrus (lemon and peel), yellow pepper, chalk; medium full in the mouth, mineral, with a lovely integrated acidity. Vale da Capucha Palhete 2019 is a blend of the white arinto and the red castelinho, made by “inking” a white wine with the red castelinho, then co-fermented in steel before bottling. Light red; red fruits (raspberry), salt; juicy, carefully structured.

Daniel (Baías e Enseadas, left) and Pedro (Vale da Capucha)

Baías e Enseadas is located in Codiceira, Colares country, west of Lisboa capital. They have a more mature style. Daniel Afonso says, “I want to extract all I can from the skins”. The white Fernão Pires 2020 had stayed 6 months in barrel, with a lot of batonnage. -I always have acidity, says Daniel, now I want to work on the creaminess. And yes, a creamy texture together with a good acidity was achieved here. The Escolha Pessoal 2020 could be found along the same path, though a bit more concentrated and also elegant. Castelão 2020 showed mature fruits, alongside flowers and a hint licorice; juicy and quite complex, and a fruity finish.

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Wine of the Week

Heading for Portugal: Niepoort’s Poeirinho

I was on my way to Portugal and Porto’s Simplesmente… Vinho fair. But “in these troubled times”, as festival general João Roseira wrote in my invitation, one of the flights were, yes exactly! – cancelled. Therefore I decided that I would go to my local shop and buy a wine from a producer I knew would participate, to get in the best possible Portuguese mood as soon as possible.

Quinta de Baixo at my 2017 visit

The choice fell on Poeirinho, from producer Niepoort, whom I know well and is a prime example of where Portugal is heading. Poeiriho is a modern, fresh, elegant, lightly extracted baga from Bairrada, a region otherwise known for hearty, hefty, tannic wines. The pictures are from my visit to Quinta de Baixo in 2017, that Niepoort had bought some time before. Here you can read more about this cellar and a review of an earlier vintage of the same wine.

The soil here is calcareous clay. The grape is obviously baga, in this case 100 years old. The grapes were hand-picked. The fermentation was carried out in lagar and stainless steel.

Poeirinho 2018 (Niepoort)

Bright, light red. Aroma of red fruits (raspberry), red currant, balsamic hints (anise) and also a leathery note. A light, elegant structure and fresh acidity.

Price: Medium

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Vella Terra 6th edition II

Here is the second part of the report from this year’s Vella Terra. We leave Spain, crosses over to Portugal, then from France and to the east, then to the north of Europe.

João Goucha and Fernando Paiva, Quinta da Palmirinha

Fernando Paiva came with his grandson João Goucha, who studies enology in Vila Real. Fernando’s estate Quinta da Palmirinha is in Lixa, south in the Vinho Verde. He is a pioneer in biodynamic farming in Portugal, uses chamomile flowers to avoid the use of sulphur in his natural wines – and is well covered in this blog. (Read about a visit to the estate here.) His Azal and Loureiro varitals were typical and up to standard. Leviano was made for the first time in 2020, that I tasted in Porto last summer. It’s a loureiro, now in the 2021 vintage, made with 3 months skin-contact. This makes it an orange wine, or “curtimento” in Portugal. Golden to orange; aroma of ginger and flowers; full in the mouth with some structure, and a super, integrated acidity.

João Tavares da Pina

João Tavares da Pina is found in Penalva do Castelo in Dão. (Read here about a visit to his estate.) The family’s Quinta da Boavista dates back to 1650 and is found at an altitude of 550 meters on deep granite, quartz, clay and shale soils. These vineyards are ideal for grapes like touriga nacional, alfrocheiro and rufete. And not least for the variety jaén (mencía), a speciality of the quinta.

I love his series Rufia (meaning punk), young, fresh wines. Among those tasted this time, why not mention the Rosé 2020, from rufete, touriga and jaen. Salmon-coloured, with raspberry and wild berries, rounded with a very careful tannin. Very interesting was his Tretas 2020, a jaen and touriga nacional. It was macerated on the skins for 4 days and kept in inox for 6 months before bottling (unfiltered, unfined). Tretas means bullshit in local slang. The wine is serious fun: A quaffable glou-glou, but with depth; cherry red, ripe red fruits and with some structure.

Rodrigo Melo, Quinta da Ermegeira
Rodrigo Melo interviewed

I hadn’t met Rodrigo Melo before, but I understand that this is a producer to watch. Rodrigo is from Brazil, but worked for many years in natural wine distribution in London. In 2018 he started his own project and came to Portugal, where he already knew its terroirs and grapes. He bought 4 hectares of land with 30-year-old vines with organic certification in northern Lisboa, that is Quinta da Ermegeira. He also works with biodynamic techniques, and the winemaking is with very low intervention.

Rodrigo showed interesting samples under the label Selva. Noiva 2021 was a different chardonnay, with botrytis and with some residual sugar. Here we chose Cristovan 2020. It is an orange wine (in Portuguese curtimenta) made from arinto, in a cement tank of 1.700 liters. The colour is light orange after 10 days fermentation on skins, the fruit is lovely and the acidity is refreshing. Only 11% alcohol.

Celine Peyre and Alexandre Gressent
of Domain Balansa, Corbières

Domaine Balansa is a 15-hectare estate in Corbières, established in 2015. This family project has an organic approach to farming and also runs tourism activities in the most sustainable way possible. I tasted the whole portfolio, various styles from southern French grapes. This time we could maybe focus on one of the more “serious” wines, Can del Rey 2020 from Fitou. It’s made from carignan and grenache, from 100 year old vines on hillsides, made with some carbonic maceration and matured some months in oak. It’s dark in colour, with youngish blue; aroma of wild berries, some balsamic, and slight hint of toffee too; good weight, fine tannins and with a balancing acidity.

Rémi Ségura and Alicia Mérimé
of Vins Les Pirouettes, Alsace

The Les Vins Pirouettes label covers seventeen independent Alsatian winegrowers committed to organic and biodynamic farming. Each viticulturist grows the grapes on his own land and makes the wine in his own cellar. It’s an initiative by Christian Binner, and the idea was to give the growers a helping hand so that they didn’t need to sell their grapes to cooperatives.

Many times I have been impressed by the energy and creativity behind the wines and the dedication behind the labels. In spite of this, it can be (for me) many new wines each time. As a general rule, we can say that they are affordable natural wines.

Among the most rewarding wines this time was Saveurs 2018 from producer Rafaël, a fruity, citrussy and juicy silvaner (this label also covers a blend). More slender, but equally energetic was David‘s Riesling Glou-Glous 2018, a fresh appley, citrussy wine. There was also a delicious orange gewürztraminer from Franck, L’Étalon 2019. After 10 days of skin-contact it was only light orange, with apples, pears and a (pleasant) vinegary bitterness towards the end.

Elisabetta Foradori

Foradori of Trentino has been covered many times on this blog, so feel free to search for it all. (Here is a recent post.) Elisabetta Foradori. Earlier I have met her sons, but this was the first time that I have met the beautiful Elisabetta Foradori herself. At a young age she did remarkable work in cultivating organically, later implementing biodynamic methods, and caring for the native varieties of her area, especially the near-extinct teroldego.

I didn’t taste many wines this time, only some whites, like the all-time favourite Nosiola. I also got the chance to be reminded how good was the Fuoripista Pinot Grigio, now in its 2016 vintage. Grown in sandy limestone, it’s fermented 8 months on skins and further aged in Spanish tinajas (amphoras) for 5 month. It has a reddish hue, is flowery with red berries and herbs, and has a concentrated yet smooth appearance in the mouth.

Luca Carussin Garberoglio

About Carussin of Piemonte I could say the reverse (than Foradori), earlier I have only met the mother Bruna Ferro Carussin. This time I got the opportunity to greet her son Luca Carussin Garberoglio. It’s a winery that I know well from the Norwegian market, and their economic barbera Asinoi has been a house wine in my house for a long time now. Here I tasted a few wines, among them Tra L’Altro 2020, an inspiring, flowery, dry moscato/cortese. Lia Ví 2017, is a superb wine, a single parcel barbera harvested later than others. It’s made from a 35-year-old vineyard planted by Luca’s grandfather, on the sandy soil just in front of the winery. It’s a concentrated wine that shows that barbera also can do with some structure. Elegant aroma, cool fruits (cherry), herbs and flowers, and a concentrate taste with fine tannins and lovely integrated acidity. And it’s not expensive.

Joana Foster, Stella Crinita

Over to Argentina: Stella Crinita is the natural wine project of Joana Foster and Ernesto Catena in Vista Flores de Tunuyán, Valle de Uco. The Catena family is indeed an important one in the history of Argentine wine, having been responsible for bringing the malbec variety to America, as the story goes.

All fermentations are spontaneous, no SO2 added at any stage, nothing fined nor filtered. These are some keywords. The vineyard has been biodynamic certified since 2012. The soils are sandy and clayey and located at 1,100 meters above sea level.

I tasted interesting pét nats and reds from a.o. malbec, syrah, cabernet sauvignon, and a varietal barbera. Petit verdot can be one-dimensional and dull. Their Petit Verdot 2020 was not. On the contrary this single-vineyard biodynamic wine was a linear, long and quite elegant wine from this somewhat difficult grape. Cherry red, plums and blackberries with spice (nutmeg), fine tannins, fresh fruit (cherry) and also a touch of wood and leathertones.

Martin Bech-Ravn of Solhøi, Norway

It was also here I had to travel to meet Martin Bech-Ravn, a Danish cider producer, home brewer and artist based in Ekeberg, a neighbourhood in Oslo, Norway. This is a wine blog visiting a wine fair. But when Bech-Ravn in Solhøi Cider talks, then the analogue to wine is striking. For example, he uses one variety of apples to give fullness, another to give acidity. He operates naturally, without additives. He makes Floating Sunshine, Flytende Solskinn 2020, a dry, fresh, flowery, lightly spicy cider bottled unfiltered – in Oslo.

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Simplesmente… Vinho 2021 – Part 2

In the first part from this year’s Simplesmente Vinho we highlighted some producers from outside the famous regions. (Read here.) In this long overdue second part two I would like to focus on producers from well-known wine districts that I didn’t know from before or wanted to re-taste.

From Douro, where the fair is located, I tasted several, like Quinta de Zimbro and Conceito, and also Luís Seabra, who is a little in and out of the Douro valley. Add to this one of few port wines, the lovely organic ruby from organizer João Roseira and his Quinta do Infantado, and the picture is a bit more complete, at least for me – this time.

Hugo Mateus

While I missed Ana Maria Hespanol this time, her partner Hugo Mateus was there. He showed an impressive line of wines.

Traditionally Ana’s father Manuel had a good grip on the heady Douro reds. I think they have lifted the quality a couple of flats, especially with the other side of the assortment, or to bring it more in line with the times is maybe more fair to say. Anyway the whites are now often very good. Their Branco 2017, from mostly viosinho, and bottled in 2020, was harvested early to retain the acidity. Lots of primary fruits, like apples and pears. In the mouth it’s quite full, rich and long. It’s part of their often innovative, or modern, Grau Baumé line.

They have a serious orange wine, Undo Curtimenta 2020, a blend of usual Douro grapes like viosinho, rabigato, and gouveia, with 31 days of skin-contact. It’s quite textured, but yet with some feeling of lightness, aromas of white flowers, herbs and peel.

Rita and Miguel, winemakers from Conceito in the Teja Valley, showed again their impressive range, with very good prices too. Their selection falls mainly into two categories, Conceito and Contraste. Conceito is meant to be the flagship range, but I must admit that I not always understand where the dividing line is, as they both contain quality wines that sit somewhere between the classic and the modern. A wine that has not been highlighted (by me) is their Contraste Rosé, now in its 2020 vintage. It’s from higher (more than 600 meters) granite soils: Very light in colour, with raspberry and whitecurrent aromas. On the palate it’s both mellow and easy, but with a nice acidity and a serious charm. Legítimo is now in its 2018 vintage. This one is made with stems of touriga nacional, tinta roriz and touriga franca, with no sulphur. It’s dark cherry, dark fruits on the nose (blackberry) and also plums, with lactic notes (yoghurt?), and elegant tannins in the mouth. The Bastardo 2019 is, as always, superelegant, uplifting, truly inspiring. It comes from a 50 year old vineyard and ripes earlier than the others, end of august. It’s made with stems, and just a little SO2 before bottling. It’s “surprisingly” (well, not anymore) light, with a lot of raspberry and flowers, evident but light tannins.

Manuel Sapage and Rita Ferreira Marques

Like many of the other producers here, to present a short report about Luís Seabra, doesn’t give him justice. He excels both in red and white, and both “xisto” and “granito” soils that are often presented on the labels. Everything is good to outstanding, from the entry-level white and red Xisto Ilimitado, via the monovarietals to the cru wines. All right, let me chose one of each. The red Xisto Ilimitado 2019 is made from a blend of touriga franca 30%, tinta roriz 20%, tinta amarela 20% and 10 each of rufete and tinta barroca. It’s clear red; aromas of fresh red berries, some balsamic and herbs; fruity and dry, with a light structure. Mono C 2019 is a castelão (that is in fact authorized in the Douro): Cherry red; red fruits (cherry), stone fruits (plum), with some herbs; lightly structured with fresh acidity. For me this wine is delicious, and ready to drink now (I have the previous vintage at home, maybe at its peak now). There are several wines with the same name. This one is from Vinho Verde: Granito Cru 2019 from alvarinho grapes is from near the river Minho in the Melgaço municipality. It’s light yellow; citric with elements of honey, lightly spicy and a touch of vanilla (after one year in barrel); good concentration in the mouth, dry, a stony minerality and great lenght. Wait two years, and it’s perfect! OK, an extra speciality for you my friend: Véu de Xisto 2015! Véu denotes that it has spent two years under flor in a barrel from Jura, France. It’s golden, but also lightly greenish; smells of yeasts, flowers, iodine; full in the mouth, rounded. By the way, the grapes are rabigato 70%, côdega do larinho 15% and the rest gouveio.

Luís Seabra with his Natalie
An impressive range from Luís Seabra

From nearby Amarante of Minho we have Quinta de Palmirinha. Fernando Paiva, biodynamic pioneer in the Vinho Verde region, never stop to impress, with both azal and arinto. But his loureiros are the stars. Really interesting from his current selection is the Leviano 2020, a “curtimento” (orange wine). Leviano denotes in Portuguese a person that doesn’t care about anything, says Fernando. But he cares about the most, from vineyard to table. Noteworthy is his use of chestnut flowers to avoid use of SO2. The Leviano spent two weeks on skins, that gives a golden hue, an aroma of ginger and white flowers. In the mouth it’s in a way gentle and mellow, but it has the unmistakable acidity from the loureiro grape.

Fernando Paiva

South to Dão I had the opportunity to try the wines of Casa de Darei, that I hadn’t tasted since the opening of their “lodging” facilities (that I also used), some 20 years ago. Then José Ruivo was “chief”. Now it’s his son Carlos who is in charge. Their reds are lovely, not least the entry level Lagar de Darei 2015 from the “usual suspects” touriga nacional, tinta roriz, jaen and alfrocheiro, with its red fruit and balsamic pinewood nuances, and its luscious mouthfeel. All reds came in the 2015 vintage. New launches that “old” is quite unusual these days. I also like their rosé 2020, easy-to-drink, with its lovely raspberry character and low alcohol.

Carlos Ruivo

I also tried a couple of the fantastic and diverse wines of João Tavares da Pina, kindly offered by him and his wife Luisa at a lunch. Read more about one of these wines here.

José Vivas

Quinta do Olival da Murta is located in the Cadaval area of the Lisboa region, near the mountain range Serra de Montejunto. It’s here that Joana Vivas, who is in charge of the family business, got the inspiration for the label Serra Oca. It’s only 15 kilometers to the Atlantic ocean, which is noted in the wines, that are always made in a simple way. They have an interesting moscatel graúdo called simply Serra Oca 2019, fermented in 1000 liters oak vats, with all the lovely moscatel virtues: Golden, floral, honeyed, and with a very good acidity. More ususal local grapes, like arinto, fernão pires, were used together with the moscatel in another Serra Oca 2019 wine. This one had three days of skin-contact, partly fermented in barriques and inox. This had an interesting mix of developed and fresh aromas and taste, as if it played with oxidation; golden/brownish colour, aromatic, citric and flowery, in the mouth full with lovely acidity. If my memory doesn’t fail me it was one months before its bottling. I have not forgot their reds, that they began with in 2013 (three years before the whites), but let’s save them for a later occasion.

From down in Alentejo I found Argilla, and tasted the wines while the local student choir was singing a wide selection of songs, many of them medieaval. The winery is located at the foot of the Montargil mountains in Alto Alentejo (northwest of Évora and Estremoz). They put a lot of effort in talha wines, made in the Alentejo style of clay vessel, and also smaller amphorae. But first: I really liked their Rosa d’Argilla 2019, some kind of a clarete, made from alicante bouschet with only 20% skin-contact. It’s clear ruby; aroma of red fruits (raspberry); only slightly structured, juicy and delicious. From the Talha Argilla range I tasted 2019 white (appley, with some earthiness from the clay), and the red 2018 (red fruits and licorice, with tannins from petite verdot), both from a selection of grapes. Then came a varietal, Alfrocheiro em Talha de Argilla 2017. This was a relatively young wine, dark with a blueish hint. The flavours were very balanced; red fruits, flowers, some earthiness, – and rounded in the mouth. Rita offered more wines, that I tasted, and they were all interesting. Sorry, but this was at the very end, and I had to concentrate on the music for a while. This time it was Transmontuna, a student choir from Vila Real.

Rita Tenreiro

Thanks to João Roseira and the other organizers who managed to set up a magnificent fair in “times of trouble”. And the band played on…!

And that was that, folks!
(João Roseira pictured)
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Wine of the Week

Drink me Nat Cool

Dirk Niepoort is a driving force in Portuguese wine. Born into a Dutch port wine company, now he is “everywhere” with one more interesting project than the other. Various producers contribute to the Nat Cool series, that features light-bodied easy-to-drink wines from several regions. All of them in 1 liter bottles.

The Bairrada version comes mainly from their own Quinta de Baixo, in calcareous clay, vines between 40 and 100 years old, all baga, all handpicked, only stainless steel – with some malolactic fermentation. Unfitered.

Drink Me Nat Cool 2020 (Niepoort)

Light cherry colour. Fresh and fruity character, quite flowery, with raspberry, herbs and a touch licorice. Fresh and juicy in the mouth, low alcohol and just enough acidity. Nat and cool!

Price: Low

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Wine of the Week

Phaunus pét nat

Vasco Croft is a pioneer in biodynamic wine farming since he established his Aphros wine series in 2003. He disposes of some 20 hectares in the Lima Valley, in mostly granitic soil.

The Phaunus line is vinified in the historic medieval cellar, foot-trodden in lagares, then vinified in old amphorae from Alentejo. When I visited a couple of years ago he showed how all work was carried out without electricity, but with water, for instance.

Vasco and his water installation

This wine is based on loureio 85% and arinto 15%. It’s made according to the ancestral method. In this case it means pressing and decanting in inox vats, fermentation between 16 to 18ºC, first in inox vats, then finished in bottle, and dégorgement after 5 months. No added sugar nor yeast, unfiltered.

Here with a Lebanese salad

Phaunus Pét Nat 2020 (Aphros Wine/ Vasco Croft)

Light yellow with a green tinge, good mousse. Aromatic with apples, citrus, white flowers and some yeast. Fruity and stony with good concentration, very good acidity (from the varieties), that makes it last long.

Price: Medium

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Wine of the Week

Tavares de Pina’s Rufete

As I this year concentrated on new Portuguese discoveries at the Simplesmente… Vinho fair, there were several great producers that I didn’t manage to visit. João Tavares de Pina was one (as were Aphros, Folias de Baco, Quinta da Carolina, Dirk Niepoort, Álvaro Castro, Quinta do Mouro…)

I visited their Quinta da Boavista in 2018, so you can read here for more background. But in short, this is a producer in Penalva do Castelo, northern Dão, who makes both delicious and fresh young wines to the natural side and wines with a long life.

João uses chamomile a.o. as protectors of the vines

This wine was kindly offered by João and his wife Luisa at the first outdoor lunch at the Faculty of Architecture (University of Porto), where the tastings were held this year. It’s based on the variety rufete, well suited for the local terroir, where it produces grapes with good acidity.

Torre de Tavares Rufete 2019 (João Tavares de Pina)

Dark cherry. Smells of quite mature berries (blackberry), and is balanced by a nice balsamic note (pine/resin). Medium bodied, with a smooth structure, lots of fruit and a fresh acidity.

Price: Medium

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Wine of the Week

Humus true to its roots

Back from the Simplesmente… Vinho 2021 I continue to enjoy Portuguese wine and its endless variations. Here is one that has been something of a house wine through the winter. As explained earlier, the fair was a bit more limited this year. One of the producers I missed was Rodrigo Filipe. I visited his farm in Alvorninha in the northern part of Lisboa wine region before the fair in 2018. The visit you can read about here.

Rodrigo working the vineyard with his employee Luís Gil, also winemaker

This is both a light, fresh and yet serious red, and I don’t understand those who don’t love this.

The grapes are castelão and touriga nacional (in almost equal parts), cultivated organically, destemmed, co-fermented with native yeast with 5 days in contact with the skins. Then the wine was on lees for 10 months in steel tanks. There are no additions, not even SO2, and the wine is unfined and unfiltered.

Humus Tosco Tinto 2018 (Encosta da Quinta)

Cherry red. Aromas of stony and red fruits (plum, cherry, cranberry), flowers and with a hint of spice. Fresh, juicy with a nerve and a light structure that keeps it from being merely a glou-glou. Long taste with a sublime acidity all the way.

Price: Medium

Food: Light meat, charcuterie, bacalhau, vegetarian, vegan…

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