Ameal & Soalheiro: Old Masters, new Vinho Verdes
If a symbol were needed about how much Vinho Verde has changed in the last decade, the left hand bottle – Quinta de Soalheiro Oppaco Tinto 2013 – would be it. It is this top Alvarinho Vinho Verde producer’s first ever red wine – in 37 years! And, judging by the bottle weight, it’s going to be a good deal more expensive than fellow top Vinho Verde/Alvarinho producer Anselmo Mendes’ Pardusco – itself, a revolutionary wine in the (red) Vinho Verde stakes, the first made in 2012.
I liked the Oppaco, but Soalheiro’s newest Alvarinho cuvée -Terramatter – really blew me away, as did Solo from leading Loureiro proucer Quinta do Ameal. Apparently, they (Ameal) made this wine “that makes itself alone” in 2011 too.
Below are my notes on this trio, alongside Soalheiro’s and Ameal’s “regular” top cuvées which, for the whites, made for an interesting contrast. Whilst they are in the frame it’s worth noting that both producers have really ramped up their oeno-tourism offer in the last year. Within easy reach of Oporto, they (and this picturesque, very traditional region) are definitely worth a visit. Check their websites – Quinta do Ameal & Quinta de Soalheiro – for details.
Quinta do Ameal Solo Loureiro 2014 (Vinho Verde)
If you thought, as one might, that Solo was a reference to this wine making itself you’d be wrong. In fact Solo means soil. Although I’m pretty damn sure that Quinta do Ameal has no silex or flint (soils are granitic), this wine took me to Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé with its hint of flint and curry leaf to the nose. In the mouth it’s not so far apart from a really (sorbet) pure, crisp Sancerre either, with its blackcurrant bud, steely grapefruit and wonderful linearity – an almost piercing, lip-smacking acidity. On day two it retained its purity, precision, length and minerality beautifully. The only thing that was missing was some oysters!!!!!! Outstanding. 11%
Quinta do Ameal Loureiro 2014 (Vinho Verde)
Intense, mineral and salty on nose and palate with a twist of lime and snappy green apple. Going through, it is more textural, rounder and spicier than Solo, with pithy grapefruit and a stony minerality to the back palate. Excellent. 11%
Quinta do Ameal Loureiro 2005 (Vinho Verde)
Though the 2007 (or at least the sample I received) lacked purity, 10 years on this Loureiro shows development but race and pace too. A dancing, complex palate shows layers of crisp and sweet baked apple – nice tension – satiny ripe brown, nutty apple seeds and rounder, honeyed golden raisins. An undertow of spicy, pithy grapefruit anchors a long, involving finish. Ditto on day two – impressed! 11.5%
Quinta do Ameal Escolha 2014 (Vinho Regional Minho)
This top cuvée is designated Vinho Regional Minho because, atypically, it is fermented and aged with bâtonnage for 6 months in seasoned French oak barrels. There’s a touch of Bordeaux smoky citrus oil – lime oil – on the nose and palate but otherwise, the oak is worn lightly, indeed chimes very well with the minerality of this wine. In the mouth it has the grapefruit and apple sorbet-like clarity of its siblings, even a hint of blackcurrant bud. On day two it remains in sprightly form, with the fruity purity, poise, focus and energy which oak can bring to a wine when deftly used. Terrific. Ameal’s incisive, intense Loureiros (all three) suggest that 2014 is a stand out vintage for this grape.
Quinta de Soalheiro Terramatter Alvarinho 2014 (Vinho Verde)
A yellow, gold burnish is something of a clue. Terramatter has an uncommon, very intriguing roundness and savouriness to the nose (for Alvarinho), which follows through in the mouth. It reveals attractive bay leaf spice, a butteriness – most definitely salted butter – not Lurpak or the like, but the piquant hand-churned variety with local sea salt à la Sportsman at Seasalter, Kent. It’s a function of partial malo and fermenting in chesnut oak (apparently a Minho tradition), which techniques add weight and palate presence. Yet there’s still a Vinho Verde lightness of touch – more so in fact than many an ambitious chest-beating Alvarinho. Terramater is a beautifully balanced, complex, unfiltered Alvarinho which, on day two, shows a little more of the minerals and fruit – waxy apricots – at its core; they build on a lingering, almost slow mo., finish. This is truly an Alvarinho to savour and one which launches into new waters in terms of food matches. Waters is perhaps the wrong word because I guess what I mean is white meats, small game and not just the fish which is typically matched to Vinho Verde/Alvarinho. 11.5%
Quinta de Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas Alvarinho 2014 (Vinho Verde)
Quite closed on day one, this cuvée from the estate’s oldest vines seemed only to start to unravel on day two, when it revealed zingy nectarine fruit- very juicy, close to skin and stone. In other respects it’s much more hurried than the Terramater which seems to have taken a leaf out of Grolsch’s book. But I reckon you should bide your time with this youthfully tight, still compact and tightly coiled wine and wait for it to unfurl. For now, it’s certainly more fruit driven and tauter – more citrussy – than Terramatter. Promising. 13%
Quinta de Soalheiro Reserva Alvarinho 2014 (Vinho Verde)
Intense with great concentration of ripe apricots, exotic lychee, mandarin and flambéd pineapple fruit. The oak lends support – structure and depth – without detracting from the freshness, purity and persistence of this muscular Alvarinho. Honeysuckle lift to the finish reinforces the subtlety of the oak. Though (perhaps with the exception of Anselmo Mendes’ top cuvées), oaked Alvarinhos are not generally my bag, this is very well made. If you are a Viognier fan, give it a go. 13%
Quinta de Soalheiro Oppaco Tinto Vinhão and Alvarinho 2013 (Vinho Regional Minho)
Red wines dominated Vinho Verde production until the 1970s. They are receiving a little more attention from the region’s top producers – take Aphros, who make super serious still and sparkling Vinhão (a red, high acid/tannin teinturer grape) and, more recently, Anselmo Mendes. The latter’s Alvarelhão-led red Pardusco is deliberately made in a softer, rounder (but fresh) vin de soif style and has been very well received. Mendes is planting more Alvarelhão and, I just discovered, made a yet-to-be-released Pardusco Private, a barrel-aged blend of 70% Alvarelhão and 30% Alvarinho, in 2012. As for fellow Alvarinho specialists Soalheiro, there is much to admire about Oppaco, their recently launched highly innovative red/white blend, comprised of and Alvarinho. For brother and sister team António Luís and Maria João Cerdeira, “our goal is to create an alternative path to the region’s red wines, usually drunk young. We believe that Soalheiro Oppaco has the same ability to evolve in the bottle as our whites.” To that end, about a third of Oppaco is aged for one year in new barrels (the balance in stainless steel). Where the aim is for elegance, as well as longevity, the oak (lightly worn vis a vis flavour profile) combined with the Alvarinho certainly tames Vinhão’s rustic tannins. Perhaps a little too well? Remarking on its smoothness and acid-driven style, my partner wondered if, served blind, you would know it was a red. It may be a function of its youth but, tasted over two days, I found the palate so smooth as to be almost slippery, so while I enjoyed glimmers of Vinhão’s wild, sour cherry fruit, violets and sooty (incipient iodine) minerality, the Alvarinho – which brings body to the wine – tended to bounce you off the main game. Though I can well understand why Soalheiro are not going for the traditional velcro tannin style, I missed a bit of grip to anchor this wine’s Vinhão-ness! Maybe said Vinhão-ness will come out more with age? Or perhaps it would benefit from a little less Alvarinho or some Alvarinho skin contact/whole bunch (if this wasn’t already used) – Alvarinho is itself quite tannic. All of which speculation puts me in mind of lively debates about Australian Shiraz Viognier blends several years ago. Just 2000 bottles were produced. I’ll be really interested to see how Oppaco evolves, both this vintage and its successors. 12.5%