A tip top vertical of Anselmo Mendes’ Vinho Verdes

To many, a Vinho Verde vertical might seem a contradiction in terms. Most of the region’s output fits neatly into the fast moving consumer goods category – quaffers for early consumption.

However, regular readers of this blog know different. Top Vinho Verde, especially Alvarinhos from the sub-region of Monçao/Melgaço and Loureiro from Lima, really come into their own with five years or more in bottle. They are also brilliant partners for seafood.

Because they’re such great ambassadors for the region and first class wines in their own right, I was thrilled to discover that Anselmo Mendes’ Vinho Verdes have recently been listed by wine importer Clark Foyster. Mendes has been “studying” the Alvarinho grape for 20 years and, with several different Alvarinho cuvées, is one its greatest and most exciting proponents. His wines deserve a wider audience.

Anselmo Mendes makes Vinho Verde under his eponymous label and consults widely to, among others, Quinta do Ameal, Casa de Cello (both Vinho Verde) and Douro producer Alves de Sousa.  Born in Monçao which, together with Melgaço, is Vinho Verde’s Alvarinho hotspot, Mendes has been an avid student of the grape for 20 years now.

After completing his degree in agronomy and a Masters in oenology, Mendes started his own label in 1998 following a short but intensive period of work experience in Bordeaux.  He has a loyal network of growers whose vineyards he manages and, more recently, has acquired 20ha of vineyard.  Making wines from a patchwork of 25 small parcels located at varying altitudes and with different soil types explains why his portfolio is so diverse. However, a common thread of his wines is their dry, mineral style – Mendes uses natural and selected yeasts and, I’m glad to say, emphasises he’s not looking for the Sauvignon Blanc character I pick up in some wines – a result of yeast selection perhaps or, he said, too much vegetation (over high vines) which can result in unripe, green wines.

I had a wide-ranging tasting with Mendes in 2010 (which you can read about here) and, earlier this year, visited his ultra-modern Monçao-based winery (pictured) for the first time.  It made for a striking contrast with my next stop, his tasting room, which is located in the old cellar cum winery of a house, high above the Minho River, where Mendes has renovated the terraced vineyard.

The remains of a basket press and grain store (pictured) serve to remind you that, for much of its history, the Minho/Vinho Verde region was Portugal’s bread basket.  High, ramada-trained vines edged fields of grain or, pergola-like, shaded smallholders’ vegetable plots (pictured).

In Mendes’ absence, his wife Fernanda and assistant winemaker hosted the tasting.  Fernanda’s homemade petiscos proved a great foil for the wines.

Anselmo Mendes Passaros Alvarinho/Trajadura 2011 (tank sample)

The grapes for this 80:20 blend are de-stemmed, crushed, pressed and fermented in stainless steel on the fine lees, where the wine rests for 3-4 months.  Battonage is undertaken just once a week.  The Alvarinho lends its characteristic mineral, flinty but floral notes to this fresh, very drinkable (dry) wine, while the Trajadura brings mouthfeel, broadening its shoulders.  Fresh and zesty, the finish sports a lipsmacking edge of salinity. 12%

Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Loureiro/Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2011

Though the junior partner (30%), the Alvarinho currently dominates the muscular but sleek and silky, stone-fruited (apricot) attack and mid-palate.  The Loureiro (70%) is subtler but insistent, with its persistent limey drive pushing out a long, focused, mineral finish, with tangy, bright acidity.  Lovely freshness.  Very good.

Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Loureiro/Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2010

The Loureiro is to the fore here.  From sheltered vineyards in the Ponte de Lima sub-region, which is renowned for this variety, like a Clare Riesling with a touch of bottle age, it shows an almost savoury, salted limes character on nose and palate.  In the mouth, it’s broader than the nose suggests, but it’s still very vibrant, saline and citrus, with no shortage of drive or focus.  Very good.

Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Loureiro/Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2009

In this, the first vintage, the Alvarinho is bouncing back – it’s quite floral (a trait of both grapes) with ripe/tinned peaches and a nutty, autolytic note, which in no way detracts from its freshness or length.  That salty note lends a piquancy to the finish.  12%

Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Loureiro Vinho Verde 2011

Fruit is sourced from several vineyards in Ponte de Lima and Viana do Castelo (nearer the sea), which are managed by Mendes.   Spreading across around 30km, the wine on the coast ripens some two weeks ahead of Ponte de Lima, which tends towards citrus and floral notes, while Viana do Castelo is fruitier (melon, yellow fruits).  With 100% Loureiro, it’s certainly more lifted than the Alvarinho blends – perfumed/floral with pear, pear skin, lime and melon fruit with a salty edge and bite.  Lovely drive and length.  Very good.

Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Loureiro Vinho Verde 2010

On the nose and attack, the 2010 shows zesty, bright citrus fruit with a saline edge, before segueing into a broader, peachy finish. Good if simpler. 12.5%

Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Loureiro Vinho Verde 2009

This is something of a stand out vintage, with a great balance of acidity and fruit.  Thrusting, tangy acidity lends great charge and focus to its limey, muscular and mineral fruit.  A long, stony finish is persistent, precise and fresh.  Very good indeed.

Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Loureiro Vinho Verde 2005

Deep yellowy gold this, the first vintage, shows attractive development with its salted limes, sweeter lime cordial and toast notes (Clare Riesling springs to mind again).  The acidity is, however, softer – rolling – with a delicious warm stone (soft not hard) minerality.  Has the weight and balance to pair with oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, and trout, while the younger wines would work well with sushi.

Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2011

Complex, restrained and not in the least showy, this youthful Alvarinho reveals subtle herbal, pear skin and pretty peach layers.  Long and lively, with fresh acidity from tip to toe. Very good.  13%

Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2010

A more muscular wine, its rippling white and yellow peach fruit lithe and long thanks to fresh, well-integrated acidity.  With an underlying minerality and autolytic toasty note, it puts me in mind of a really good Macon.  Very approachable. 13.5%

Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2009

A richly fruited but bright Alvarinho with deliciously creamy, slightly nutty, ripe apricot and peach fruit; long, lush and supremely well balanced.  All the stone fruity appeal of Viognier but with freshness and line.

Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2008

I’m a big fan of this cooler year and, sure enough, this is a vital wine despite its deeper colour and autolytic nose.  It shows peach and herbal (peach tea) notes, cut with knife edge, citrusy acidity.  Long, elegant and complex.  Terrific.

Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2007

Another great year, this vintage producing more powerfully built wines. Deep in colour – yellow/gold – with rich apricot, pineapple, candied citrus and honeysuckle (think Viognier).  Though girthsome, it’s nonetheless well balanced, with persistent, underlying acidity.  Very good.

Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2005

A hot but very good year.  Green/gold in hue with developed lemon butter, toast and petrol notes wed to still lively acidity, I’m put in mind of Hunter Valley Semillon.  Long and lingering with a salt caramel hint to the finish.  Delicious.

Anselmo Mendes Contacto Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2011

In contrast with the foregoing wines, this wine sees 6-12 hours skin contact (depending on vintage; care must be taken not to overdo the extraction of tannin and colour, which comes from the skins).  On the nose it’s edgier, with hops and tomato leaf as well as floral notes.  Subtler (and a little closed) in the mouth, this is a tight knit Alvarinho with a salty, mineral, piquant character, which is heightened by its fresh acidity.  Needs time, but promising.  13%

Anselmo Mendes Contacto Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2010

Contrastingly cloaked in fruit, the broader 2010 shows pear skin, yellow and white peach, as well as cedar and cinnamon notes (even though it’s unoaked?!?)  Spicy and textured, it’s an interesting (in a good way) wine for earlier drinking. 13%

Anselmo Mendes Contacto Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2009

The superior quality of the 2009 vintage strikes home again.  The 2009 shows ripe apricot with lifted, complexing orange blossom and tomato leaf notes.  Underpinned by tight, mineral acidity and a piquant salinity, the finish is impressive – super-long and sonorous.  13%

Anselmo Mendes Contacto Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2008

I selected this wine for my 50 Great Portuguese Wines in 2010.  With age, it has become more piquant – spicy and salty, kelpy even, with orange peel and pith – good drive to its citrus and stone fruits.  Very good.

Anselmo Mendes 3 Rios Vinho Verde 2011

This blend is comprised of three grapes – 40% Loureiro from Lima, 40% Avesso from the Douro and 20% Alvarinho from Moncao.  Tasted separately, the Loureiro shows lovely lift (orange blossom) to its salty, powerful limey fruit.  In contrast, the Avesso is quite neutral on the nose – a relatively blank canvass, salty and mineral, while the Alvarinho adds muscle – a peachy underlay of fruit, with hoppy lift.  Together, this is a perfumed, peachy blend, with good citrus drive and an undertow of minerality.  At this (early) stage, not as compelling as the single varietal wines.

Anselmo Mendes Muros de Melgaco Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2011 (cask sample)

This cuvée is crushed, racked, then fermented and aged in oak (20% new) for six months on the gross lees with battonage.  The new oak shows through on a spicy nose and palate.  The fruit – tightly coiled and concentrated beneath – needs time to strike. Green and glinting with a terrific underpinning of mineral acidity, I’d set this aside for three years before broaching; no doubt it will last another five or more.

Anselmo Mendes Muros de Melgaco Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2009

Well endowed with fruit and acidity both, this superbly balanced, peachy wine is precise of delivery and extremely persistent.  A lick of dried herbs and greengage bite lend animation to a long, mineral finish.  Terrific youthful poise.

Anselmo Mendes Muros de Melgaco Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2008

Bright, tight, spicy and saline with orange peel and pith notes to its herb-tinged, peachy fruit and a tight spine of citrus acidity.  Penetrating, racy, mineral finish; very good.  13%

Anselmo Mendes Muros de Melgaco Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2007

Indolent in comparison, with its honeyed nose and waxy, apricot and peach fruit, it’s not as precise or penetrating as the 2008 or 2009 but, with well balanced acidity, there’s lots to like here.  A weighty, leesy finish is tangy, with good concentration and depth of still primary fruit.  13%

Anselmo Mendes Muros de Melgaco Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2005

Surprisingly, this is darker in hue than the 2003 and well into tertiary stage in the mouth.  Intensely, pungently spicy with its fenugreek, cinnamon and orange peel notes, a wild honey note to the finish isn’t quite enough to distract from the hard acidity or a bitter edge.  Query if in condition?

Anselmo Mendes Muros de Melgaco Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2003

Brighter – more green gold. Though it shares the pungent spiciness of the 2005, overall its fresher and more forgiving, with long, rolling, ripe citrussy acidity.  Good.

Anselmo Mendes Curtimenta Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2011 (cask sample)

This is fermented on skins for one day and aged in 400l old oak barrels and tank.  It has a lovely cusp of ripeness super subtle celery salt and tomato leaf greenness about it, the fruit still tightly coiled beneath.   A long, stony mineral finish is fresh and vital.  Very promising.

Anselmo Mendes Curtimenta Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2010

Though well structured with fresh acidity, the 2010 vintage is riper with a fleshy mid-palate of white peach and cedar spice.

Anselmo Mendes Curtimenta Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2009

From a riper vintage, this wine spent two days on skins and is much more powerful, with concentrated white peachy fruit which, close to the kernel, has nuttiness and bite, citrus spice too.  A herbal riff lends lift to a long, muscular finish.  Very good.

Anselmo Mendes Curtimenta Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2007

Another ripe vintage which, similarly spent two day on skins, this is deeply coloured with ripe, developed yellow peach, even some calvados hints.  A little warm.

Anselmo Mendes Curtimenta Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2005

Another two days on skins, this powerful, deep gold wine shows spicy pear skin and cinnamon notes to its apricot and greengage fruit.  The finish is long, well-structured and muscular.  Terrific.  Seems fresher than the bottle I tasted the previous year!

Anselmo Mendes Parcela Unica Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2011 (cask sample)

From a single parcel at 205m fermented and aged in 400l oak barrels for nine months with battonage, this shows plenty of promise.  With ballerina-like delicacy and power, a honeysuckle nose leads onto a refined, intense palate with quince, minerals and cedar spice.  A tight knit, well-focused finish is perfectly poised. Lovely balance.

Anselmo Mendes Parcela Unica Alvarinho Vinho Verde 2009

This cuvée wasn’t made in 2010, because the grapes were insufficiently ripe.  The 2009, my stand out vintage of the vertical, is wonderfully tangy, with vivid apricot fruit. A salty, pithy nip and tuck of piquant acidity makes for great line and length.  Tremendous.


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