December Wines of the Month: a Ramisco Rosé & old field blend Alentejo red
It may have been short and sweet, but last month’s super-focused visit to Portugal – my first since February 2020 – spoiled me for choice for this post. As always, I’ve run with coups de coeur wines that profoundly excited me and have stayed etched in my mind.
Yes, my selection is fine and rare, but what’s just as exciting to me is that both Ramilo and Herdade do Rocim make terrific wines across the price spectrum. They are well worth seeking out, indeed, include former Wines of the Month (see here and here).
Returning to my December Wines of the Month, Ramilo’s rosé is not only the finest Portuguese rosé to cross my lips, but surely the rarest. Made from Colares’ signature red grape Ramisco, it comes from Quinta do Cameijo – the two-hectare vineyard planted by Ramilo in 2015 in this tiny DOC’s deep sandy soil.
I visited the vineyard with Nuno Ramilo and assistant winemaker Jorge Mata during November’s trip. It is surrounded by pine forest – handy protection from the ocean breezes. Protection from the wind partly explains why the vines are grown close to the ground; the Ramisco additionally benefits from the heat retained and radiated by the sand in this marginal climate.
Going old school, the vines – roughly 50% Ramisco and 50% Malvasia de Colares- were planted on own roots (i.e. un-grafted) in the clay sub-strata, 1.5 to 2 metres below the sand. Nuno explained that you must wait for the vines to grow before you can replace the sand. All in all, it’s quite the endeavour!
Drawing on his civil engineering background, Nuno used a large plough pulled by a bulldozer to excavate the rows, rather than an excavator. He reckons the latter would have taken 30 days (as opposed to a couple of days). Building on the good success rate of the vines and stunning success of the wines, next year, Ramilo plans to extend Colares’ largest privately owned vineyard, planting the remaining hectare of Quinta do Cameijo to vines.
It’s great news for lovers of Colares because the first harvests of Ramisco produced just 300kg and 300 bottles from one hectare. In 2020, when production swelled to all of 2,000kg, Ramilo celebrated making a rosé from 300kg of his Ramisco bounty. It cannot be labelled DOC Colares, because the classification applies only to white or red wines but, said Nuno, I wanted to make a statement. Pushing the boundaries yet further, in 2021 he has made a sparkling wine. Watch this space!
As for the old field blend red from Herdade do Rocim, it is sourced from the titular 0.36ha (3,600m sq) vineyard, Vinha de Micaela, which Rocim acquired in 2015. Ironically given the superlative quality of Vinha Micaela 2018 and a certain £1,000/bottle talha wine this vineyard produced following Rocim’s first harvest in 2015, neither Catarina Vieira nor Pedro Ribeiro had sought out the grapes. Rather, the vineyard fell into Rocim’s hands after the elderly owner retired and sold up, because Portuguese law gives neighbours pre-emption rights.
Said £1,000 wine – Jupiter Herdade do Rocim Jupiter Code 01 2015 – was a best of three talha selection. Vinha Micaela 2018 – an 1,800 bottle release – was sourced from the entirety of the vineyard and, though fermented and aged in talhas on skins for six months, then spent time in French oak. As the old school label and green bottle suggest, it is an ‘old fashioned wine. In the best sense, I should add! With Alentejo’s ripe tannins, it is already smooth and, thanks to the native grapes and terroir, medium-bodied, mineral and cedar-laced. I could have nursed my glass for a long time….
Ramilo Ramisco Rosé 2020 (Lisboa VR)
As you can imagine, I was insanely excited to taste this salmon blush-hued rosé’; it actually exceeded my expectations. Ticking all the Ramisco/Colares’ boxes, it is intensely mineral, saline and fresh with great delicacy to the wild red berry and fresh fig fruit. Naturally fermented, unfiltered and unfined, its subtlest of textures put me in mind of waxy apple skin bloom. Tensile, all tension and tang, it is a stunning debut; beautiful on its own and perfect with fruits de mer. Picked on the same day as the Ramisco for the red wine, it was foot-trodden, then pressed directly to one old barrel for fermentation. Having clarified (settled) naturally, it was decanted to another seasoned barrel where it aged for 8 months. 12% £85.30 at Vinha; Ramilo is imported into the UK by Raymond Reynolds.
Herdade do Rocim Vinha Micaela Tinto 2018 (DOC Alentejo Vidigueira)
This exceptionally elegant foot-trodden red is the product of 70-year-old field blend vines planted primarily to Moreto, Trincadeira, Tinta Grossa, Alicante Bouschet with a score more varieties. Is it the bottle or the predominantly granite soils that put me in mind of classic Dão reds? It is medium-bodied like them, with restrained fruit. And beautifully composed, with harmonious, utterly seamless tannins and acidity. It is all this already at three years old, which makes it quite different. Classic Dão reds of old require a decade or two to mellow. The relative warmth of Alentejo and perhaps the varieties set it apart? Then there’s the lengthy polymerisation on skins and uber-classy oak. Having spent 6 months on skins in talha, it spent 24 months 500l French oak. Top notch, it introduces lead pencil, cedar and graphite scents and flavours, with melt-in-the-mouth fine ground couverture chocolate. Whilst beautiful now, I am sure this ultra-balanced red will age gracefully for a decade or more. 14% RRP £195.00/bottle; imported into the UK by Hallgarten & Novum