Aphros, the artisanal wine formerly known as Afros: latest thrilling releases
Following on from Saturday’s post (here) about the Real Wine Fair, today’s focus is on one of its exhibitors, a favourite Vinho Verde producer.
I reckon Vasco Croft won’t mind if I describe his label Aphros as the artisanal wine formerly known as Afros. He may not be a Prince fan, but he is a man who enjoys his music (and whose wine was particularly intrigued opera star and wine lover Bryn Terfel – click here to find out more and for a report of my visit to the estate).
While the name change was apparently at the request of his biggest export market (the USA found the label confusing given the hairstyle), Croft told me he was happy with the change because the new spelling reflects the name’s origins – Aphros was the ocean foam from which Aphrodite was born. A new label with a motif of interlocking circles rings the changes and was designed by Croft’s cousin José Pedro Croft.
The changes go beyond skin deep. The Aphros portfolio now includes no less than three cuvees each of Loureiro and red variety Vinhão. Top cuvees, Silenus (Vinhão) and Daphne (Loureiro) will only be made in top years. I was particularly enchanted by the pellucid Aphros Daphne 2011, 70% of which underwent skin maceration and 30% of which was fermented in used oak and chestnut barriques.
Bigger picture, Croft is hard at work implementing his vision to create an agricultural/cultural centre, involving winemaking, permaculture, education, tourism, and a vine to wine bar/farm-to-table restaurant. Five hectares above the main house I visited have been set aside for a food forest with beehives, individual vines (no rows, posts or wires) and different plant species to maximize biodiversity. As he puts it, “[J]ust making good wine is not enough. The wine production must have meaning, bring joy, connect people and be part of a culture to be created for the future, otherwise it will be part of the same mess we have put ourselves into in the last decades.” I look forward to my next visit.
Here are my notes on these latest releases, save the 2011 Vinhao, which was out of condition:
Aphros Loureiro Reserva 2008 Bruto
Like Champagne, this is possessed of a fine bead, great drive and complexity. A lovely mousse has lime zest ring, hints of hedgerows (after the rain) and toast. 12%
Aphros Ten 2011
Croft describes this as “a lighter Loureiro, with only 10% alcohol,” hence the name. It’s a pretty, off-dry wine – quite different from Croft’s other more characterful, edgy Loureiros. Its elderflower and orange blossom florality, sweet elderflower and lime cordial notes are more or less off-set by lime peel hints and persistent acidity. Still, the residual sugar softens the whole. I’d have liked to see a little more edge and thrust. But then maybe I’m not the intended market! And based on my last visit, I’ve no doubt Croft would have a persuasive food match in mind. 10%
Aphros Daphne 2011
This is the cuvee 70% of which underwent skin maceration and 30% of which was fermented in used oak and chestnut barriques. I tasted this over three days during which I completely fell for this guileless clear-eyed beauty. Bone dry but all grapey freshness and vivacity, a rippling pebble in a pond finish shows great symmetry and balance. A hint of fresh, fiery ginger too. The oak lends structure and poise, in no way detracting from the purity and depth of this wine, which maintains line and length on day three. Outstanding. 12%
Aphros Loureiro 2011
Aged four months on the lies, this is a really concentrated Loureiro, sleek and muscular with ripe, juicy citrus fruit, shimmering minerals, powder puff and floral hints. Very long and limpid, with a trace of elderflower cordial sweetness to the finish, which becomes more pronounced over the three days. It’s more about the richness of the fruit, for this is a deftly balanced, dry wine; just not bone dry like the Daphne. 12%
Afros Loureiro 2009
Croft’s Loureiros age well and this is showing lots of character, with spicy lime and orange pith notes to the nose and palate, which shows complex layers of beeswax, lanolin, oilskin and marzipan notes. Long and textural with a lime cordial/butter richness as it opens up (like a Hunter Semillon or Australian Riesling), it’s still going strong on day three with terpenic but fresh pine needle notes.
Aphros Rosé 2011
This Vinhao rosé is bright cherry red and sweet scented on the nose. Though fresh on the attack, the ripeness of its sweet red cherry and wilder bilberry and raspberry fruit makes for a creamy just off dry – sec-tendre – finish. Very well made; like a very posh Mateus Rosé! 10%
Aphros Vinhao Super-Reserva Bruto
Made from a blend of 2005 and 2006 vintages and aged for 48 months on lees, this is nonetheless very bright and very deep in colour. Though it sports vivid red fruit in the mouth, there’s a darker spectrum of leather and linseed. Minerality too, with the mineral/savoury smokiness of Baga from chalky clay soils; a touch of iodine too. Complex, singular stuff. 12%
Aphros Silenus 2010
This is the second vintage of Silenus, a Vinhao aged for 9 months in oak barriques (some new). As you’d expect from grape and region, it’s a very deep hue and very fresh. This bone dry youthful wine was initially sulky but, by day three, had really opened up, showing liquorice and leather hints to its angular but vivid red and black fruits with a savoury/smoky quality undertow. The acidity is keen but well-integrated – very much a part of the wine. Very good, very different and quite demanding. But patience is, as they say, its own reward.