ALENTEJO Part 2. / João Portugal Ramos - MY PORTUGUESE WINE DIARY.

EVORA CITY AND AN EVENING WITH JOÃO PORTUGAL RAMOS - November 2016

We, I arrived in Évora City (a Unesco World Heritage City), late in the afternoon, there would be only a few hours left of sunshine before the chill of the night would begin it's slow creep. I took a walk through the quiet yet busy city. Then suddenly realizing in my instant transformation into a tourist, that this historical city was alive with its inhabitants going about their lives. Children and Teenagers coming home from school, the elders sitting and sipping coffee in the town square, and offices closing up as the restaurants and taverns prepared for evening service. Dinner was to be at 8 at the charming Luar de Janeiro Restaurant with the wines of João Portugal Ramos. It would be a very comfortable dinner and a casual tasting with the wines and the son of João Portugal Ramos, João Maria Portugal Ramos. (pictured below) 

 João Maria Portugal Ramos, son of João Portugal Ramos. photo by Christopher Sealy iPhone using VSCO.

João Maria Portugal Ramos, son of João Portugal Ramos. photo by Christopher Sealy iPhone using VSCO.

THE WINES OF JOAO PORTUGAL RAMOS OF ESTREMOZ, ALENTEJO

2015 Alvarinho Vinho Verde :  a very fresh and clean wine with classic characteristics of apple and pear with bright fruit and mineral elements on the palate.  20% of the wine is raised in barrel, giving a soft and pleasing dimension to the wine and not overpowering the lovely fruit makes Alvarinho so pleasant as an aperitif wine. 

2015 Marquês de Borba White: this wine is composed of Arinto, Antâo Vaz and a touch of Viognier. What I can say about this wine is that aromatically the wine is quite direct in character, with lovely lemon, citrus and orchard fruit tone with a touch of sweet peach and pear due to the Viognier,  only to be balanced by a very pleasing palate with nice acidity and a lemon and mineral sandwich of flavour. Well made. 

2015 Marquês de Borba Red : this wine is lead by Alicante Bouchet, Aragonez with support from Trincadeira and Touriga Nacional. As an easy drinking red, with lovely dark berry, currant and a touch of cooked fruit on the nose, which then moves direclty to the palate with like and similar elements framed by freshness and gentle tannin. Freshness and pleasing fruit is the vital and necessary key to good Alentejo wines. A great everyday drinking wine. 

2013 Vila Santa Reserva Red : Grape Varieties in this gem are Aragonez, Touriga Nacional, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouschet. Now a 1/3 component of this wine will be foot trodden in classic marble lagares with the remainder fermented in large wooden vats with ageing in American and French oak. The result is rich and ripe fruit aroma of dark berry, cassis and a perfume that is floral and fruity with a hint of sweet vanilla. On the palate there is the same velvety richness with a touch of rock rose, spice and vanilla from the elevage in barrel. By no way is this an obtuse 'big' wine. It balanced and elegant showing the skill and hand of the maker. 

2014 Dourum Colheita Douro Red : here Touriga Franca leads the show with Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. We dig deep into the richness that only the Douro can provide with ripe and sweet berry over toasted vanilla and a touch of grains de café torréfié - roasted coffee. I would say and conclude later in my trip that the wine, and others wines of the Douro, had a Bordeaux like elegance and density, but with lift and clarity of pleasing fruit that allowed the wine to be enjoyed in youth. 

FACT FILE ON JOÃO PORTUGAL RAMOS 

The new generation (of young winemakers) can profit from the work of their parents. The big producers will maintain a consistency in quality and the small producers will add the diversity to an already growing market.
— João Maria Portugal Ramos
  • João is known as one of, if not the most famous oenologist/ wine consultants in Portugal and is constantly engaged in projects throughout the country. The Dourum label of wines in particular is a partnership with João Maria Soares Franco the famous and important past winemaker of Barca Velha. Barca Velha is the Portuguese equivalent to Vega Sicilia in Spain or Stag's Leap in Napa. 
  • In the 1990's João himself, after an illustrious career of making wines for others, purchased a property in Estremoz, Alentejo to make his own wines and then soon become one of the largest privately owned family wineries in the south.
  • Currently they have a team of 6 wine makers in the group overseeing projects in other regions of Portugal.   
  • João's son, João Maria has recently finished his Masters in Wine at the wine school of Montpellier and has studied at Bordeaux. He has been working with his father since 2014 and is part of the new vanguard of young wine makers in training. 
 A morning walk in the public gardens at the city of Évora.

A morning walk in the public gardens at the city of Évora.

 The outer wall of the city of Évora

The outer wall of the city of Évora

ALENTEJO / Herdade do Esporão - A PORTUGUESE WINE DIARY - Part 2

It is fall in Alentejo, the light of the morning sun is cool, vivid and blindingly bright. Causing one to squint as one looks over the horizon. A horizon divided by sky blue and the earth shades of olive green and vines.

 Alentejo photo by Christopher Sealy 

Alentejo photo by Christopher Sealy 

 Alentejo at Esporão. photo by Christopher Sealy

Alentejo at Esporão. photo by Christopher Sealy

We, I, am in Rueguengos a subregion of the Alentejo, not far from the historical city of Evora. The landscape is familiar, I've been here before, a few years back in time, exploring the wine regions of Vidiguera and to the far north Portalegre. It is beautiful here. Raw, earth, herbs, vines and sky for miles and miles. Today the 6 of us are visiting the Herdade do Esporão. Esporão is one of the pioneering wineries of the Alentejo, pioneers in the sense that the Herdade was a creative vision of the impresario José Roquette and Joaquim Bandeira. Roquette wanted to establish a 'chateau' in the Alentejo, a winery = Herdade, that would be known for quality. In 1972 the Esporão Tower and some 250 hectares of land were acquired. Yet there was still a significant hurdle to overcome as much of this area was occupied by farmers. Farmers who in a post dictatorship era were very much against the notion of surrendering land to raise vines, the idea was ludicrous. It was only in 1980's that a shift in mentality and direction was achieved, with a co-operative plan to rebuild vineyards and restore the land that the Herdade do Esporão project was now able to gather momentum. The vision included wine, olive groves and cork production. In 1985, the first winery was built, and it is here from which I gather my thoughts and memories. 

44826B62-E126-4463-A3B8-F4B09BB9E68F.jpg

Herdade do Esporão today produces about 15 million bottles of wine. Yes quite significant but key to understanding the potential and scale of what Alentejo and Portugal is capable of. The first brands to hit the market where the Esporão Reserve White and Red. The success of these wines was such that in the 1990's the company expanded into 3 tiers of production, which included the construction of 2 additional wineries. A second facility for white wines, a third for the top level wines and the expansion of the original home winery for the original reserve brands. The wines were present in 47 markets with 40% of consumption in Portugal and with the farmers included in the success grower contracts were re-established and Esporão was acclaimed a successful business model. The success is a combination of vision, quality and consistency which the Wines of Portugal needed in order to establish a foothold in the World Wine Market. You aren't going to find quirky, sommelier geek out wines here. You will find wines of benchmark production standards, precision that represent a necessary dimension of the Wines of Alentejo. 

 David Baverstock, Chief Wine Maker presiding over the tasting. 

David Baverstock, Chief Wine Maker presiding over the tasting. 

 Sandra Alves, Wine Maker.

Sandra Alves, Wine Maker.

 The core brands of Esporão. Each vintage the label of Esporão Reserve White and Red is commissioned to a noted Portuguese artist/painter. Here the work of Pedro A.H. Paixão

The core brands of Esporão. Each vintage the label of Esporão Reserve White and Red is commissioned to a noted Portuguese artist/painter. Here the work of Pedro A.H. Paixão

FACT FILE 

  • Herdade = large winery/farm 
  • Monte = small winery/farm 
  • Quinta (a term used in the north and primarily the Douro = the classic term for a winery that was obliged to surrender 1/5, a Quinta, of the production to the monarchy. 
  • Herdade do Esporão sources grapes from the entire Alentejo. Particularly from the high altitude north sub region of Portalegre down to Reguengos. 
  • 7 different soil types contribute to the complexity of the wines. 
  • Production is 70% Red wine and 30% White wine. 
  • Red Grapes farmed : Aragonês (aka Tempranillo, Tinto Roriz as it is called in the North), Touriga Nacional, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Trincadeira
  • White Grapes farmed : Antão Vaz, Verdelho, Semillon (imported by David who happens to be Australian) 
  • David Baverstock, Chief Wine Maker has been with Esporão since 1982. He had come to Portugal to work with Symington's in the Douro in 1980. Prior that that he had spent time in France with LaPierre in Morgon, Beaujolais and some time in Germany.   

IN THE TASTING ROOM

WHITEs

2015 Monte Velho White : a wine comprised of Antão Vaz, Roupeiro and Perrum offering up initial aromas of apple, pear with white orchard blossom perfume that borders on sweet yet remains bright and fresh. To taste the Branco it is rich yet tense, with green apple to dry peach and other stone fruit flavours. This is a wine with nice balance full and texture. 

2015 Verdelho : at it's origin this Verdelho comes from the island of Madeira and it exists for the simple reason that the grape was isolated on the island during the era of the vine disease Phylloxera that devastated the mainland vineyards of Europe. At present we see more frequent use, though it is quite low yielding. It was in 2001 that Esporão started to plant the Verdelho. I would say that the wine is quite unique and interesting with an aromatic intensity that is of waxy green and gold apple, fresh pear combined with citrus moving to herbal light celery and anise like tones. On the palate the wine is quite dry, very dry with some clean and crisp apple, citrus and spiced flavours, think white pepper to jasmine. Quite direct and subtle in complexity.

2015 Esporão Reserve White : the blend here is mainly Antão Vaz, Roupeiro with Arinto and several other white varieties in the mix. The wine is fermented in 60% tank and 40% new oak with a further 6 months on fine lees. The resulting wine is full, with fruity citrus to white tropical fruit aroma over subtle wood spice and vanilla. I'm finding a familiar savoury and herbed aroma. The palate gives way to richer flavours on the palate, with a touch of texture. The wine is warm with big fruit and gentle spice with a pleasant finish.    

REDs

2015 Monte Velho Red : to make the 5million bottles of this wine, 20 different farmers contribute to the blend of Aragonês, Trincadeira, Touriga Nacional and Syrah. The result is quite clear, with a simple wine of cherry and red berry aroma and flavour, the fruit is fresh and not jammy better yet it is bright and clean. A very easy going wine with little cosmetics and no fuss. 

2013 Esporão Reserve Red : the perennial classic from the Herdade based on the grapes Aragonês, Trincadeira, Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouchet. This wine is a cuvée with each grape fermented separately in tank, blended then matured 12 month in barrel - some new and some used. Here we have rich fruit aroma, dark berry, black currant with spice re: saffron, vanilla, the nose remains fresh and does not move into the cooked fruit territory as one would think with the heat of Alentejo and the 'use' of barrel. The palate deepens with more dark blue and black fruit and gentle herbed tones. This wine is upfront and firm in tannin. A solid example of the craft at Esporão. 

A few other wines that are of real interest which I enjoyed over lunch are pictured below. 

 The Trincadeira to which I never say never was vibrant and fresh / the Moreto is the Amphora raised wines from vessels dating back to 1848, a new project for Esporão / AB - Alicante Bouchet was a big full bodied pleasing wines, call it Grenache on steroids. 

The Trincadeira to which I never say never was vibrant and fresh / the Moreto is the Amphora raised wines from vessels dating back to 1848, a new project for Esporão / AB - Alicante Bouchet was a big full bodied pleasing wines, call it Grenache on steroids. 

LISBON / Fita Preta Wines - A PORTUGUESE WINE DIARY - Part 1

NOVEMBER 6TH 2016

It was a moderately warm day as I got off the overnight flight from Toronto to Lisboa aka Lisbon. I flew on Açores Airlines, a flight that was efficient and direct as well as a throwback to circa 1986 a memory of the first time I ever flew on an 'aeroplane'. A time when overnight flights meant lights out, no movies, no room to stretch your knees and getting up to the washroom meant walking to the very very back of the plane. What the flight did afford me was the chance to sleep in-flight, for the very first time ever, which meant arriving in Lisbon with enough energy to walk and explore the city before dinner!

I was to be hosted by Andrea Guimarães of ViniPortugal on a wine tour of Portugal. A number of us would arrive in Lisbon to explore Alentejo and Setubal then move north to Porto and the Douro and Vinho Verde regions. The group would be 6 in total, 3 from Toronto and 3 from Montreal. My Toronto colleagues, Josh Correa of Archive and Alessandro Pietropaolo of Bar Isabel, had arrived 4 days earlier to enjoy the many food and wine delights of Lisbon and I would later catch up with them for an apero before going to dinner. I did have the luck of meeting 2 of the 3 Montreal companions whilst waiting for our transfer to the hotel. We had been on the same flight but had not met until now. They were Simone Chévalot of famed Montreal wine bar called La Buvette chez Simone and more recently Furco and Parvis and Sommelier Philippe Boisvert of Le Club Chasse et Pêche and the recently opened Le Serpent. Our Journalist for the trip Patrick Désy from Le Journal de Montréal would join us at dinner. So with a couple of hours to spare I set off with my two new French Friends in Wine, Simone and Philippe for a walk of Lisbon. 

DINNER WITH ANTONIO MAÇANITA AND HIS WINES FROM AÇORES AND ALENTEJO 

That evening we would dine with winemaker Antonio Maçanita of Fita Preta (Alentejo) at the restaurant Cantina do Avillez-Lisbon, a casual dining environment created by Michelin starred chef José Avillez. Antonio Macanita is considered as one of the best wine makers of his current generation with projects in Alentejo, Açores and most recently in the Douro.  His projects embrace the history of viticulture and grapes of each region. It should be noted that Antonio is very much linked to each region by family relations, his father is from the Açores, his mother is from Alentejo and his sister recently joined forces to start a winery in the Douro.  Antonio is of the new generation of makers that push towards precise and clean wines, with loads of character, in a era when the wines of Portugal are appearing more frequently on the wine lists of the many fine restaurant establishments in North America. I had the opportunity of meeting Antonio on a visit to Toronto last winter and he is very much an energetic and enthusiastic character. His wines reflect his personality. On this second meeting on his home turf in Lisbon, he was even more jovial as we had grand tasting of his wines with dinner and then proceeded to visit some of his favourite wine bars post dinner and late into the night. He was assisted by his right hand man David Marques and we began an epic first night of tasting. 

THE AÇOREAN WINES OF THE AZORES WINE COMPANY by ANTONIO MAÇANITA : the Rare Grapes Series

The two main projects on offer at the moment are the Fita Preta wines of Alentejo and the Azores Wine Company of Pico Island, Açores. We started the tasting with the Azores Wines and appropriately with the 2014 and 2013 Arinto dos Açores. Arinto being a lovely and engaging white grape, this a particular clone indigenous to the Açores. The mainland Arinto is a different clone all together. I currently list the 2013 at alo Restaurant in Toronto, so it was a treat to have the 2014 side by side.

2014 Arinto dos Açores DO Pico : clean and crisp with intense and zesty lemon, apple and subtle floral notes over a briny and salt tartness with a gently herb note. This wine was still very young and taught. 

2013 Arinto dos Açores DO Pico : apple to lemons and bright bitter citrus aroma with a pronounced florality. There are subtle lactic and creamy notes indicative of the lees work in the wine but certainly pronounced and evolved after a few years in bottle. The palate translates to golden and green apple balanced with tart acidity.  

2014 Arinto dos Açores 'Sure Lie' DO Pico : This wine was composed of like elements from the previous Arinto but now with a complexity that was deeper and decidedly more focused. The apple and floral to chamomile tones are pure, quiet, yet persistent, with a lovely backbone of acid flanked by a crisp mineral flavours of orchard and citrus, and also combined with a touch of 'salt' and brine, all was in balance. In two words this wine was focused and pure. 

2010 Terrantez de Pico IG Açores from the Sao Miguel Vineyard site.
Terrantez is an indigenous white variety which is a crossing between Verdelho and Bastardo. Originally planted from a massal selected vineyard, Antonio and his team are in the midst of recovering 47 hectares of the grape for which 27 hectares are currently farmed. As per the tasting of this wine, it was waxy, lemon and lime to green apple on the nose with a fresh butter tone. The palate gave way to a pleasant earthiness layered with sweet apple and pear, viscous round and rich. 

2015 Terrantez de Pico IG Açores : The recent vintage of this wine was a clean and lean contrast to the evolved 2010. It was bright and bitter citrus on the nose with the briny to saline aroma. The palate was a mirror image of the nose with added layers of fresh citrus with savory herbal aroma. A profile I find quite often with maritime/mediterranean wines with high acid structure and tone. Only after a couple of hours do the hard edges soften to a smooth if not creamy citrus palate. 

There are two Red wines from the Açores that Antonio also included in the tasting. Both of which have been available in Toronto through the agent Le Sommelier by Bernard Stramwasser. I have worked with both wines and have actually cellared one in particular for about 7 months now. That wine is the 2014 Isabella ai Proibida  and will introduce it on our wine pairing menu in the coming days/weeks. 

2015 Isabella a Proibida is indeed the name of the red grape involved in this wine, a Vinho di Chiero ( a scented wine) which I am quite taken to. It is a grape that is actually not fully recognized and permitted to make quality wine hence the scribble over Isabella (the forbidden) in the photo slide above. The aroma is of ripe and rich plum and currant but not jammed or wooded, with floral and pretty highlights supported by a gentle smokey herbal tint. To taste the wine dials all that back to hit you with lean and bright acid structure with some reference to toffee and toasted coffee, though only 20% of the wine sees oak on this wine. Insert garden herb and savouries. Overall an elegant and evolved wine. A highlight of the tasting and as I have recently revisited the 2014 this wine has a lot of promise for the Açores concept of Antonio's vision and wine program. 

2015 Tinto Vulcanico IG a blend of unknown indigenous varieties. At this time of the tasting we were knee deep in wine and food and it was hard to get over the din of the busy and boisterous restaurant. Nonetheless my tasting notes continue with this fresh and ripe berry red with some tobacco, toasted coffee bean, then a herbal savoury edge. The palate could be considered 'brash' for the lack of sweet or pleasurable fruit. The wine overall was tart fresh, herbal and certainly a 'sensorial experience'.

THE ALENTEJANO WINES OF FITA PRETA Vinhos

The next series of wines takes us to Alentejo with the wines from the Fita Preta Vinhos. A project that began in 2004 with his then partner David Booth (1965-2012). Antonio's philosophy with all of his wines is to 'embrace history, knowing full well that one is in the present and needing to move forward, but not without understanding the past' 

NOTE: all wines fall under the denomination of Vinho Regional Alentejano

BRANCO / WHITE

2015 Branca de Telha : is the amphora raised white wine made from the grapes of Roupeiro and Antâo Vaz. The grapes are whole bunch pressed, then filtered into 1000litre amphora, fermentation begins, and the wine continues in amphora for 28 days before being moved to stainless steel tanks. This process offers up a wine of floral to waxy fruit and earthy complexity on the nose, primarily peach and apple aroma of a semi-aromatic intensity giving way to a palate of waxy green and russet apple, with a touch of sweet stone fruit. I would call it a very approachable and user friendly amphora wine, not funky but fun enough as a primer. 

2015 Fita Preta White : a combination of Antâo Vaz, Roupeiro and Arinto producing a rich and plush white wine. A wine displaying aroma of lemon and orange accented by white flowers. The palate is defined by a bright citrus, with pleasant mouthfeel and texture, almost a slight hint of tannin for a white wine that is entirely void of oak. A fun and sexy wine of good complexity. 

2015 Palpite Branco : The term Palpite stems from Portuguese expression for a 'hunch' or a gut feeling, which is applied to the best grapes from separate blocks of Arinto, Antâo Vaz that will be chosen for this top wine. The red carpet treatment for this wine is 100% barrel ferment and ageing with battonage. The 2015 version of Palpite was initiated with a combination of controlled yeast and some natural, in 1/3 new oak with more than 1 year in barrel before bottling and future release. The hunch I get is that this wine offers the 'big' white wine drinker the opportunity to experience Portugal in a 'flavour comfort moment' with a unique and different set of varieties from the Portuguese south, that isn't chardonnay. in fact I don't think I've ever had a Chardonnay from Portugal! The 2015 Branco is rich, with honeyed apple, with of course the classic vanilla like aroma that only oak provides, though a combination of peach and apricot pastry flavours is very pleasing. This wine needs time for all that power to come into balance. Otherwise it is a well made wine, though not my style.  

TINTO / RED 

2014 Fita Preta Red : a combination of Aragonez (aka Tempranillo, aka Tinto Roriz), plus Trincadeira, and Alicante Bouschet presented as the classic wine for the Fita Preta brand. Initial aroma of black and blue fruit, with ripe currant, moving to mineral toned yet modern floral and rich vanilla tones. Almost Christmas candy like with orange rind and dark cherry though remaining fresh. The palate offers up ripe black and blue fruit, nice toasted vanilla and coffee with a tell tale streak of acidity produced by the vibrant grape Trincadeira. Chill!

2015 Touriga vai Nua : a conceptual expression of Touriga Nacional with no oak influence at all. Touriga 'Nude'. The wine is fleshy and bright with red berry to apple skin - breakdown to strawberry and cotton candy, with sweet coffee cream. The palate continues this theme with lean fresh and tart structure that skips to some plum and rich red fruit and then switches back to orange, bergamot and white pepper. As you can read by the notes the pleasure factor is high on this wine and would satisfy a wide spectrum of wine lovers. 

2014 Tinto Castellão : now, Castellâo is a red grape primarily found in the Setubal and Tejo regions. Castellâo has been used to make light and fresh wines though it can be made into a full bodied and age worthy red. A close comparison might be the way the new world public looks at Merlot?!? So what Fita Preta has produces is a wine of pleasure with candy raspberry and bramble fruit dominating, with a little smoked hickory, coconut and vanilla added. It would classify this as a light to medium bodied wine with savoury notes and sour cherry and raspberry on the palate. The wine is made with 30 days of maceration / 12 month in barrel / 12 month in bottle. So yes, Antonio is taking his time to make a precise expression of this once thought of as a simple grape Castellão.

2014 Palpite Tinto : consists of the mighty Aragonez, Alicante Bouchet and Touriga Nacional. This wine aromatically is all black cherry and rich red berry fruit, layered with rich and full aroma of vanilla and spice. The beauty of full bodied reds from Alentejo when done right is that instead of going jam- jammy, the wines kick in with some great structure and acid, call it freshness. This wine will hit all the pleasure spots flavour-wise with rich ripe fruit, dark red and forest berry then slap you in the face with some food friendly acid to balance everything out. This wine is certainly the Rolls Royce of the portfolio.

Yes and that was not all we tasted that evening, though I do feel that sums up the key elements of the Antonio Maçanita Azores/Fita Preta arsenal of wines. Dinner and tasting with this energetic personality was certainly the best way to break the ice on what would be my third tour of Portugal. 

NEXT: ALENTEJO - A PORTUGUESE WINE DIARY - PART 2 WILL TAKE ME INTO THE HEART OF ALENTEJO WITH THE WINES OF ESPORÃO AND JOÃO PORTUGAL RAMOS.