March Wines of the Month from Porto Santo & Bairrada

Porto Santo island & vineyards; photo credit Companhia de Vinhos dos Profetas e dos Villões

An old friend and an altogether new acquaintance make the cut for my March Wines of the Month.  Quinta das Bágeiras in Bairrada is one of the region’s finest purveyors of Baga.  António Maçanita is one of Portugal’s finest purveyors of  light (as opposed to fortified) island wines. Island hopping from Pico (Azores Wine Company) to Porto Santo in the Madeira archipelago, the winemaker has just expanded his repertoire in a unique partnership with Nuno Faria, co-owner of the Michelin-starred Lisbon restaurant, 100 Maneiras.

As Baga is to Bairrada, Listrão is to Porto Santo.  Insofar as Porto Santo’s Listrão has a reputation, it is for Madeira. You may recall my post about Blandy’s terrific 1977 Listrão Madeira – the only example of Porto Santo’s signature variety in the shipper’s considerable back catalogue and one of only a handful of Listrão Madeiras I’ve ever tasted.

As for light wines, I’ve come across examples of Listrão from Jerez (where it is known as Palomino Fino) and the Canaries (where it is known as Listan Blanco).  And I’ve undoubtedly tasted it unknowingly in blends from mainland Portugal, where the variety is known as Malvasia Rei.   But Porto Santo light wines – Madeirense when made on Madeira island – are a whole new, very interesting ball game.

According to Maçanita, being relatively low lying, Porto Santo is Portugal’s driest island.  Like Pico in the Azores, traditional vineyards (low-lying old vines) are protected by dry stone walls (known as ‘muros de crochet’ as opposed to Pico’s ‘currais’) or cane fences (like in Colares).    Unlike Madeira or Pico, which have volcanic soils, Porto Santo has sandy, clay limestone soils.  Its a unique terroir.

I’ve tasted the two Listrão wines made by Maçanita and Faria under their Companhia de Vinhos dos Profetas e dos Villões brand (they also make a Caracol).  I could have chosen either, but plumped for the Vinho da Corda because, being a press wine, it is particularly singular.  Listrão dos Profetas 2020 – also excellent – is purer of expression, mineral and taut, with a flint and Fino-like twang that put me in mind of Navazos Niepoort, made from Palmonio Fino in Jerez.

Here is a little background which explains why Vinho da Corda is so unique.  ‘Vinho da Corda’ (rope wine) was one of the ways that ‘liqueur wines’ were made in the past before the arrival of brandy in the mid-17th century. The vines were harvested super-ripe, allowing for a must naturally strong in alcohol. The grapes were crushed in a press.  The first press – ‘Flor’ – produced a lighter, fresher wine.  Being most squeezed, the last pressing of ‘Vinho da Corda’ produced more flavor, phenolics and a golden hue.

As for my other March Wine of the Month – Quinta das Bágeiras Vinho Tinto Avô Fausto 2018 – it does not seem that long ago that I wrote up the maiden 2010 release of Avô Fausto (meaning grandfather Fausto).   Mário Sérgio Alves Nuno then explained to me that his grandfather “was the most responsible for the winery direction of this agriculture family and myself.  He liked a lighter wine – less alcohol, moderate tannins, elegant and fresh as he liked to drink not just a glass…….so, in his honor I blended old and young vines (15 years) from different terroir to achieve what I know would be more to his liking.”  Tasting Quinta das Bágeiras Garrafeira Tinto 2017 (tremendous) alongside Avô Fausto highlights the greater concentration and structure of the former, but it is no less mineral and beautifully balanced too.

António Maçanita & Nuno Faria Listrão dos Profetas Vinho da Corda 2020 (DOC Madeirense)

Innovative Listrão from Companhia de Vinhos dos Profetas e dos Villões; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Winemaking: Sourced from 80-year-old vines, grapes were harvested manually on Saturday on the island of Porto Santo, chosen bucket by bucket and loaded onto a cold truck for transport by boat to the island of Madeira (since it is not legal to make wine in Porto Santo). At 1:00 am, whole bunch press to decantation deposits inside a refrigerated container, with three pressing fractions being separated, without any use of SO2. The last fraction of the press, “o mosto da Corda”, was transferred to a 415 L Pipo (barrel) of Madeira wine to ferment and age for 10 months.

My tasting note: Copper-coloured like an aged white port, this is a powerful, full-bodied white wine.  Made from press juice, it has an exciting phenolic edge, lending tension – a certain astringency – and tactile quality to the palate (think fruit close to the skin or stone).  Oxidation (deliberate) brings pungency, with fresh fenugreek, salsify, chicory and sherried notes to the high-toned bruised apple fruit.  It is salty – sea-smacked – for sure.  Hugely intense and long, my mind wanders as the flavours and textures unfold.  I’m thinking about food.  Smoked mussels in a saffron broth springs to mind.  Have I actually had that?!?!  Must have….I wonder what Nuno Faria pairs with it and hope to find out – perhaps when I visit later this year (watch this space).  Just 450 bottles were made.  14.3% 

N.B. Maçanita will be one of 50 winemaker/producers attending FESTA, the Portuguese wine-centric festival by Bar Douro at Tobacco Dock, London this June (find out more/register/book early bird tickets here).  I am directing the wine content and I’m thrilled that he will show one of his Porto Santo wines at the old vine winemaker panel discussion for the trade press session.  I shall be showing his top Pico wine – Azores Wine Company Vinha dos Utras Criação Velha 1os Jeiroes 2019 – at the fine & rare consumer session I am hosting at FESTA.

Quinta das Bágeiras Vinho Tinto Avô Fausto 2018 (DOC Bairrada)

Quinta das Bágeiras Vinho Tinto Avô Fausto 2018 & Quinta das Bágeiras Garrafeira 2017; photo credit Sarah Ahmed

Winemaking: The two grape varieties were fermented without destemming for about a week in a lagar (stone vat). Throughout this period, the must was hand plunged several times a day until the wine reached the desired  intensity. The fermentation concluded in used barrels from Burgundy where the wine aged. Subsequently, the component parts went into a small wooden tonel to ‘marry,’ remaining there until bottling, without fining or filtration.

My tasting note: a classic nose – all chalk and smoke – Baga on chalky clay soils!  The nose suggests minerality and freshness.  The palate does not disappoint, exuding  fresh, juicy plum, damson and black cherry fruit.  An expression of fruit which comes not on the attack (which is taut and mineral), but pulses from the mid-palate as if you had a fleshy plum stone or cherrystone in your mouth, exciting the saliva glands.  There is a sense of skins too which similarly bring energy and nuance to the fruit.  Refined sooty/chalky tannins and sluicing, persistent acidity make for a delicious flow.  Long with sweet pretty blueberry and violet fragrance.  An elegant Baga, just as grandpa liked….13.5%

Quinta das Bágeiras will also be at FESTA where they will be showing the follow on 2019 vintage of Avô Fausto.

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