A visit with MOB, not the mob – the Dão joint venture of Jorge Moreira, Francisco Olazabal & Jorge Serôdio Borges
It’s not been the easiest of vintages in Portugal – a long one with rainfall during the harvest. So I was very pleasantly surprised to be greeted by all three of MOB’s Douro-based winemakers when I visited Dão earlier this month.
MOB, short for Moreira, Olazabal and Borges, is the Dão joint venture label from Douro winemakers Jorge Moreira (Poeira), Francisco Olazabal (Quinta do Vale Meão) and Jorge Serôdio Borges (Wine & Soul).
In truth, I suspect the trio – firm friends – enjoyed playing hooky! Or perhaps they were just de-mob happy (excuse the pun) at the end of vintage. In any event, as you can see from the photo, they were in fine form.
Moreira gave me a sneak preview of their maiden release (MOB Tinto 2011) late last year, when he explained that the aim with MOB wines was to produce a wine with a clear Dão identity – elegant and intense, rather than concentrated and bold (see my report here). A point reiterated by Borges this month, who expressed concern about some Dão producers making Douro-style wines with riper black fruits, more oak and tannin extraction. I agree. It’s a shame to see blockbusters from a region which lends itself so well to elegance.
This time, I was keen to visit the vineyard leased by the trio in 2010 – Quinta do Corujão which, at 500m, is in the elevated, easternmost Serra d’Estrela district of Dão. The same area as leading producers Alvaro Castro and (recently revived) Quinta da Passarela. In fact, it was Castro who apprised the three of the opportunity to lease Corujão.
Before heading off to Quinta do Corujão we tasted the wines (reviewed below) and tucked into a very finely executed dish of Bacalhau com crosta de broa e coentros at Bem Haja. – “the best restaurant for miles,” said Olazabal. One which has a Douro connection too – the owner’s son Carlos is winemaker at Niepoort. Suffice to say the wine list is very good!
In and amongst the general banter, tasting, lunch and visit we discussed how the project is going. Borges indicated that, with such small volumes, their wines could disappear in no time but all are committed to holding back as much wine as possible to allow it to age as was the tradition.
And, of course, Dão wines age extremely well on account of their acidity (see my reviews of Dão museum releases here, here and here). It’s not so much about the tannins. The trio were quick to correct me about Douro versus Dão tannins. For them, the Douro produces higher levels of tannin. However we agreed that perceptions of Dão tannins are heightened by the fact that they can be greener, also because the region’s wines are naturally elevated in acidity – more mineral, with less sweet fruit than the Douro.
For Moreira these qualities have their basis in two factors. First, the permeability of the region’s very poor granitic soils, which means vine roots have to dig deep to find water and nutrients. Second, the region’s cool nights (which means that the vines stop respiring acidity overnight). To lift it off the page Borges explained if you come from the Douro to Dão to receive grapes at night, you can’t just wear a T-shirt – you need a pullover or jacket. In winter, he adds Dão is really, really cold too (and much wetter than the Douro, though the soils do not hold the water hence hydric stress can be an issue in the summer/lead up to harvest).
Having visited Castro’s vineyards in March and seen snow capping the Serra d’Estrela I’m not surprised to hear how cold it gets. As you can see from this photo, Corujão is right next to this, Portugal’s highest mountain range (rising to c. 2000m). Because it’s flat, cold air sits on the vineyard at Corujão which, at 8ha, is the biggest of three vineyards leased by MOB. Another 3ha vineyard, Balfia, is just behind trees bordering the western boundary of Corujão and a very small vineyard planted to Baga is near the winery (all are in the same ownership). The three take turns conducting daily visits of the vineyards in the run up to and during harvest.
Since renting the vineyards, in order to improve aeration in the canopy (the trio are fans of picking as late as possible and aeration helps avoid rot), there has been a switch from spur to cane pruning in order to spread out the bunches more. They have also grafted over some Tinta Amarela to Touriga Nacional.
The plan is to work the vineyards more organically (and cover crop is helping address some vigor issues), which Moreira observes is easier than in the Douro where vineyards are cheek by jowl. With much less biodiversity than Dão (vineyards are much fewer and further between and punctuated by forests of pine and eucalyptus), there are fewer natural predators of vineyard pests in the Douro, including those pests who, in the absence of other vegetation, regard its vines as dinner!
In the winery, though Moreira, Borges and Olazabal want to stick with the tradition of blending, each variety is vinified separately so that the three winemakers can learn about the region and how the grapes perform there. It’s a learning process – an opportunity to develop their skills together – which they clearly relish.
Says Moreira “all the fun about wine is about knowing different things – we have an obligation to show the grapes here – aromatic and fresh, versus the Douro’s rich wines.” Borges agrees – “it’s different for us working in such a different region with different varieties, so we have to rethink our winemaking, our techniques.”
Here are my tasting notes:
MOB Branco 2012 (Dão)
This blend of Encruzado and Bical comes from 25 year old vines. It looks pale and interesting and it is! Much more to its makers’ taste than the 2011, which they never released (“fat with lots of oak…different from our idea”). The 2012 is exceptionally mineral, saline and limpid. Subtly textured too (which for Borges is key where, unlike Dão’s red varieties, its white grapes are not very aromatic in their youth). Tight and long on the finish with lovely fresh but well integrated, rolling acidity. All three agree Encruzado fermented and aged in tank is “really thin.” This wine is part barrel fermented in 500l barrels with a light toast. The oak is worn very lightly indeed. Brims with fresh-faced youthful potential; expect it to develop some attractive “wrinkles” with age. Very good. 12.5% abv
MOB Tinto 2011 (Dão)
Sweet, with a slightly salty edge to its mineral-sluiced delicate plum and red berry fruit. Fine, really sheer tannins together with its fresh, mineral acidity bring a sense of levity to this blend of Touriga Nacional, Jaen, Alfrocheiro and Baga. But the finish is surprisingly intense and long, with a (fruit and mineral) palate-staining quality. Very good indeed and already sold out! 12.5% abv
MOB Tinto 2012 barrel samples
We then tasted barrel samples of the potential blend components for MOB Tinto 2012. Though a little oaky right now, the Alfrocheiro showed characteristic soft red berry fruit to the mid-palate, while retaining freshness. The Tinta Roriz looked sappy and relatively simple. Jaen, which seemed to gain in popularity with every day of my visit, showed lovely upfront fruit and a clean finish – less full on the mid-palate but complex. Lagares-fermented Touriga Nacional was attractively subtle, not shouty as it can sometimes be. The most complete of the varieties. Finally, the Baga showed classic short-chain and firm powdery tannins.