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Azores Wine Company – first releases

Is the Azores the Santorini of Portugal?  Time will tell but what I can tell you is that my post on the topic is the most popular on my site.  More popular, even, than my reports on 2011 Vintage Ports & Douro DOC wines.  Interesting! So here’s an update on a new label, Azores Wine Company, which capitalises on the allure of this Atlantic archipelago and showcases it in the bottle.

Azores Wine Company

Founded in 2014, Azores Wine Company is co-owned by António Maçanita of Fita Preta, Filipe Rocha (Head of the School of Tourism and Hospitality Training) and Paulo Machado of Insula Vinhos, which is now incorporated in Azores Wine Conpany.  It was Maçanita’s wines (originally made under Fita Preta’s “test new directions” Signature label) which first alerted me to the Azores’ startling potential for highly individual, high quality, terroir-driven wines, so it’s exciting to know that the Alentejo winemaker is no longer just testing the waters.

And that there is investment behind the brand.  I reckon it must be at least as expensive to make wine in the Azores as in the Douro.  Highly parcelated vineyards must similarly be hand tended, the climate is challenging and the “soil” super-lean.  In 2014 yields averaged a measly 12 hl/ha.  Then there is the matter of building profile and sales outside the traditional local market – a costly business.

Focused on the island of Pico, The Azores Wine Company is managing 12ha of existing vineyards, some over 100 years old, which include as yet unidentified grape varieties (currently under analysis).  It is also recovering 42.4ha of vineyard.

The wines – first releases in 2014 – are being made at Insula Vinhos’ winery.  It has been modernised with the addition of cooling equipment, a sorting table, more tanks and a laboratory. A new winery is planned for the 2017 harvest.

The trio of releases bring very different things to the table.  I reckon the Arinto do Acores has most finesse versus the Verdelho’s generosity and power, while the Terrantez do Pico is the most individual.  All share an impressive backbone of acidity and salty minerality.   Trademark Azores.

Azores Wine Company Arinto do Acores Sur Lies 2014

Yellow gold with a ripe, zesty nose and palate with rich, deep, honey hints.  Though less austere than the previous vintage (under Fita Preta’s Signature label) the attack is assertive with spicy, pithy orange peel and preserved lemons.  The lies add body and depth and, on day two, it even shows a little peach. But the Azores’ signature salty finish and firm underpinning of acidity leave you in no doubt of its origins. 13%

Azores Wine Company Terrantez do Pico 2014

This grape is as far removed from tutti frutti as it comes.  Challenging even, with an unusual flavour spectrum and phenolic quality.  It sprang to mind as soon as I tasted Real Companhia Velha’s Series Samarrinho 2013 – another idiosyncratic Portuguese white grape/wine, this time from the Douro.   The Terrantez do Pico reveals soapy lavender notes on the nose and attack and sapid star fruit and yellow plum to the mid-palate.  A third wave of flavour builds on the back palate, which smacks of brine, earth and spicy, pithy, very textural phenolics. It’s a marmite wine but there’s no denying the interest factor. 12.5%

Azores Wine Company Verdelho 2014

Another wine, another gear change.  Verdelho seems to attain exceptional potency in the Azores and Madeira, both for table wines and licoroso/fortified wines.  This muscular wine is no exception.  It’s powerfully fruity, with impressive girth and hipsway to its honeyed lime and tropical citrus mid-palate.  Flecks of rock salt and citrus pith lend animation and interest.  In a word, bold (no abv was provided but I reckon it would be higher than the other two).

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