SETÚBAL. / José Maria da Fonseca - A PORTUGUESE WINE DIARY

NOTES FROM A TRIP IN NOVEMBER 2016

It was soon time to leave the Alentejo and start the journey to the north of Portugal, though before going north there would be a visit to the house of José Maria da Fonseca. One of the longest standing wineries in all of Portugal and if it is not the first, it certainly is one of the very first wineries to export wines out of Portugal to International market.

Today the company has approximately 650 hectares under vine that can produce up to 6.9 million litres of wine. With 80% of their exports to Scandinavia, Canada, USA and Brazil and only 20% consumed domestically, da Fonseca is an example of a family run winery that has transformed itself into a well run company with deep roots in the Peninsula de Setúbal appellation. Under the wine guidance of Domingos Soares Franco, a graduate of the wine school at University of Davis in California, Domingos and da Fonseca are known as a leader in research, innovation and winery technology. On my first visit to Portugal in 2013 I had the opportunity to have lunch in the family garden with Domingos and his nephews. His nephews assist in the management of the company and it is their father António, whom I had lunch with on this recent visit, who is the CEO of the company. 

Back in 2013  I had the opportunity to taste single bottling of over 15 different Portuguese grape varieties to better understand their character and what they each bring to the blending of wines. Yes the blending of wines is an art in which the best winemakers succeed at. A mastery in the Art of Blending is the key to consistent quality for the wines of Portugal, combined with innovation and improvements in the vineyard the potential is exciting. It is certainly the case for house of da Fonseca

 2013 Tasting of Single Varietal Wines representing the Grapes of Portugal.

2013 Tasting of Single Varietal Wines representing the Grapes of Portugal.

We engaged in a rather quick fire tasting before sitting to lunch. Below are my notes on the wines tasted. 

2015 Perequita Branco. Sourced from the very first vineyard for the company, the Cova de Perequita. A blend of Verdelho, Viosinho, and Viognier. No oak, simply pure clean and fresh aroma of orchard fruit, pear with dried flowers. I would say that it was much less fruity and floral than I expected. This wine is direct, fresh and lean.

2015 Perequita Original. This wine is the original and first wine brand the first to be exported. Around 800,000 litres of this wine is made. Aged in 100 year old Mahogany barrels. Mahogany wood is preferred as it is neutral, and strong enough to be shaped into the barrel size the company prefers. The wine is a classic blend of Castelão, Trincadeira and Aragones blended producing an aroma of rather fresh ripe red berry, with gentle floral tones and on the palate moving to gentle tannin almost vegetal and earthy, leading into a soft mineral tone. The fruit on the palate is easy, fruit driven and tart. Good Value and Easy drinking. 

2014 Perequita Reserva. The Reserve is a wine that was created roughly 10 years ago, the blue print is Castelão with Touriga Nacional and Touriga France. Vines are roughly 30-40 years old. This wine was made with sheer drinking pleasure in mind, it shares the same structure profile as the 'Original' Perequita, though we go deeper and richer with black berry fruit, seemingly sweeter fruit over layers of vanilla from French oak, and certainly a fuller bodied wine. 

Tasting at José Maria da Fonseca 2017

2014 'Domini', Tinto Douro. It was only in 1990 that da Fonseca purchased vineyards in the Douro and started making the 'Domini'. A blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinto Barroca, Touriga Frances and Tinto Roriz. I found this wine as I have with the other Douro I would taste on this trip, to be quite subtle in aroma and persistence. I feel that the wines need a lot of time, like the wines of Bordeaux. The palate seemed to reveal the future of this wine in aroma and palate evolution with dry dark berry fruit, some spice, and earthy tannin and texture. Almost like waiting outside of the club in the line that stretches around the corner, you can feel the bass and sound emanating through the walls, you know what to expect once you get inside the doors, but you still have to wait and be patient. 

2014 José de Sousa Tinto Alentejano. The vineyards for this wine are in the heart of the Alentejo at a region called Requengos. The vineyards are cherished for their granitic soils, giving way to mineral and fresh wines despite the ripeness that vines can achieve in the heat of the growing season. So details on this wine, we stretch back to traditional methods with 10% of the wine raised in clay amphora with a grape blend of Grand Noir, Trincadeira and Aragonez. In the glass the wine displays ripe plum and berry aroma with violet floral perfume. Palate is rich and full ripe and baked dark fruit backed by firm tannin and crisp acidity. Despite all this the wine remains fresh and cool to the touch.

2010 'Alambre' Moscatel de Setúbal. Moscatel for me is by far the best value and one of the highest quality dessert wines out there. From a producer focused on quality and precision these wines never cease to please, even the most avid Sauterne or Tokaji connoisseur. Mind you that Moscatel is still very different. José Maria da Fonseca are specialist with Moscatel, the original Muscat of Alexandria. The Setubal displays an intense aroma of bergamot and orange, to rose petal and other floral tones, the palate remains light and elegant in its sweetness with balance. The wine is made from the free run juice from a first press and rests 5 yeas in very old oak barrel. Gentle yet sweet and one of the most balanced dessert wines I have come across. 

We then sat down to lunch with António Sr. and we had a very lively conversation that ranged from politics, to world travel and to the history and future José Maria da Fonseca as a family run company. 

 

 

 

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. 

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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. 

VIETTI - TRADITION OF INNOVATION

PRIMA

It was not long ago that I knew absolutely nothing about Nebbiolo and the wines of Barolo e Barbaresco.  As a matter of fact, I still know very little as I learn that there is so much to learn.  I had read somewhere that Barolo was the King of wines and Barbaresco was the Queen. Wines with lasting depth like that of Aglianico in the south but with a more haunting finish than that of Brunello of Tuscany. 
My first trip to Barolo was for a wine -trade event called Nebbiolo Prima, the vernissage of the years upcoming release to market of all wines Nebbiolo including Roero, Barbaresco and Barolo! My invitation was as a Sommelier/Buyer versus that of Media/Journalist. Choose your program was the initial email - vineyard visits, regional tours and choice of restaurants for the evening wine dinners. By the time I researched every single producer and restaurant for their worth, all options I wanted were booked. I was stuck with an initial tour of Roero…WoW!….It was great, it was amazing, what best way to warm up to the great wines of Piemonte than by tasting and learning about the gentle and playful wines of Roero. 
I did manage to make but 3 rather crucial and important vineyard visits, really without knowing. The first was to Elvio Cogno in Novello. Walter (son-in-law and wine maker) and Nadia (daughter to Elvio) I had met a few years before and fell in love with their wines. The other 2 wineries were Bartelomeo Mascarello and Vietti. I really knew nothing about them, imagine! Well wasn't I a lucky bugger. 5 years later and 3 trips all in total - each time included a visit to Mascarello and Vietti. Recently I wrote a piece which included a few words about Mascarello (see www.goodfoodrevolution.com 'boy-oh-boy' Barolo) and I think now is an opportune time to share a few words about the house of Vietti and the current winemaker Luca Currado. 

First I will reference Jamie Goode once again regarding an article about wine journalism and the subject of favouritism when writing and reviewing wines/wineries. Favouritism certainly and undoubtedly exists but what happens when you get to know the character of the wine and it's maker, after subsequent visits, research and tasting. I do find myself consistently noting that the wines of Vietti, like many others, stand out for their character and impact. Listen, I'm not talking about being the best wine, I'm talking about continually being a reference for erroir, technique and balance. Il est clair ce qu'on trouve tous qu'il faut dans tous les vins de Vietti!

Vietti represents innovation and tradition. I was in a trade seminar focusing on the region of Franciacorta hosted by Ricardo Curbastro and I will never forget him saying that 'a Tradition is the lasting result of an innovation that worked!' 

 My tasting notes from a session not long ago.  

My tasting notes from a session not long ago.  

NO BERLUSCONI, NO CRU SINGLE VINEYARDS!

Real Talk! Circa 1961 - Luca's father Alfredo Currado, the patriarch for the current rendition of Vietti along with Beppi Colla, then of Prunotto, asked the question, 'wouldn't it be interesting and innovative to identify and bottle single vineyard expressions from the whole of Barolo'. Up until this point the rule of thumb was that Barolo was a cuvée or rather a blend of the best vineyards and the best of different areas into one wine. That was the true way to make a balanced wine. What one vineyard couldn't give another would provide, producing a uniform and coherent wine year in and year out. Every wine of Barolo would represent a portrait of the region painted by the hand of the wine maker. But what of vineyards that almost had it all. Alfredo wanted a closer look at the region, at the communes and why and how each hill produced a different wine. Alfredo wanted to find greater value, greater depth and character of Barolo, and this new way of thinking would prove to be a great way to differentiate his wines from the others. 
How would he achieve this and which vineyard to define this idea? The vineyard would be the heart of the Vietti family, the Le Rocche Vineyards in the commune of Castiglione Falletto. This was going to be the Barolo equivalent to the Burgundy 'Grand Cru'. La Rocche is the most challenging vineyard to manage, with aspect and slope so steep that everything must be done by horse and by hand. It is a vineyard that is the most challenging to interpret, making wines that need time. The results are enchanting, distinct and pure Nebbiolo. The second vineyard would be Brunate in the commune of La Morra  with wines that reveals its colours from the beginning with elegance, ripe fruit and 'softer' tannin. 
The third would would be Lazzarito of the commune of Serralunga d'Alba.  Lazzarito a bonafide 'grand cru' with wines tanninc, spiced and rich with depth of flavour like that of Southern Rhône. 

50 years on and these 'cru' are pillars of the Vietti Family of wines. They represent the first single vineyard expressions of and for Barolo. At the time it was an innovation that today has resulted in a widespread and now accepted and necessary 'tradition' of producers presenting an 'ultimate cru' expression of their vineyards. 

A FEW MORE WORDS ON VIETTI

This is not the end of it. If you have not already you must taste the single vineyard expression of their Barbera from both Asti and from Alba with some vines surpassing 85years of age. Now, If you choose to continue reading you will not find tasting notes, but background information on a few of the the Vietti wines. 

ARNEIS OF ROERO 

Luca Currado is the current character behind the the wines of Vietti, along with his wive Elena they make a formidable and jovial pair. He from a family of winemakers and she from a family of restaurateurs.

Another important wine in the family is the Arneis from their Santo Stafano vineyards in Roero. Arneis being a white variety. 

Roero is more than just the 'other' appellation for quality wines of the region of Alba. We seldom see the wines in the Ontario market due to the dominion of Barolo and Barbaresco. Though I will say, that on my first visit to Piemonte a few years back I toured the region and I was so pleased and enchanted by the approachability yet complex nature of the wines. The relatively sandy soils, various elevations make for more perfumed and softer wines. Don't drink 'under-age young vine' Nebbiolo from the B&B (Barolo&Barbaresco), drink Roero for a truer elegant and 'ready to drink' expressions of the grape.

But I digress I want to speak of Arnies, the grape once called Nebbiolo Bianco, As it was the blending partner to Nebbiolo in Barolo wines to create a softer and more complex profile to the wines of B&B in much the same way Viognier is used with Syrah in the Northern Rhône. This practice is no longer. Today Arneis stands on it's own and it was thanks to Luca's father Alfredo - the father of Arneis. At a time when the wine world of Italy was planting Chardonnay. Alfredo said No! We need a white wine that is not Chardonnay, and as an indigenous grape variety with character and moderate ageing potential Vietti in 1968 re-planted the Arneis in Roero, and rescued the grape from extinction. 

PERBACCO - LANGHE NEBBIOLO

Perbacco - the Langhe Nebbiolo of Vietti is in fact a regular Barolo. It is a blend of several of the Vietti Barolo vineyards that include for the most part wines from Castiglione Falletto vineyards and in particular with the 2012 vintage some components of Barbaresco sites in Rabaja and Pajé. The process is that from the year 2000 they now raise the wines in barrel for 2 years as per minimum 'Barolo' specifications, they then taste the wines blind. Certain barrels that do not make the cut for the 'cru' they originate from then get declassified and go into the Langhe. When Luca's grandmother tasted the first wines of this new method she exclaimed 'Perbacco!' which means goodness or by jove!.

BAROLO - CASTIGLIONE 

Castiglione is the Vietti signature house Barolo, comprised of several cru inside of the commune of Castiglione Falletto some of it occasionally be self-declassified Stock from any of the 15 cru estate vineyards around the appellation of Barolo. It is always a consistent wine and a benchmark for understanding their vision. 

A few of the CRU

  1. Lazzarito of Serralunga - was once the site of a famous hospice, or hospital of the region. A quote from the 1600's says that if the hill was good for the people, it should be good for wine'. This wine can take up to 28 days of fermentation. 
  2. Rocche di Castiglione - the first single vineyard 'cru' for Vietti. The emblem and heart of the Vietti family of wines.  
  3. Villero Riserva of Castiglione Falleto - a very special wine that has only been made 10 times in the last 40 years. It is seen only in years of exceptional vintages for the single vineyard Villero in Castiglione Falletto. An international artist is commissioned to make the label for that vintage and the wine is only released 6 years after harvest.
  4. Ravera of Novello - this vineyard is shared by only a few producers. For Vietti this wine presents a very 'polishedstyle that they would every produces. The rule is that 2/3 of the production is dedicated the the Castiglione blend and 1/3 to be released as 'Ravera' Cru. He initially released the wines to much high critical acclaim but personally Luca did not like the wines. They were too slick. As of 2010 he recommenced single vineyard releases of the wine with limited bottles approx 14,000. 
  5. Barbaresco 'Masseria' - is the Barbaresco made with the 'intelligence' of a Barolo wine maker, thus this wine has the same release as Barolo and has the same minimum specifications for barrel ageing, resulting in a deeper and richer style Barbaresco. 

Well. That's it. I hope you may find these in your market pick a few and enjoy!