Baga Rebel & Baga Friends
Next month at the Wines of Portugal Conference, the focus will be on Touriga Nacional, widely touted as Portugal’s flagship variety. The event kicks off on 9 December with Portugal’s Top 10 Touriga Nacional and you can find out more about the conference here.
I love what Touriga Nacional brings to a blend but, if there’s a Portuguese red variety I’m gunning for, it’s Baga and Baga needs friends! Where the lush and perfumed Touriga is upfront and seductive, Baga is a little uptight (a rebel even, of which Baga King Luis Pato, pictured, is making a virtue). Far from a bagatelle, Baga is Portugal’s least trivial grape and, as with many of the best things in life – think those other great Bs, Barolo and Burgundy – it just needs time.
Time, of course, is increasingly a luxury in this speedy society of ours and, though Baga is the traditional stalwart of the Bairrada region, a relaxation of rules has led to producers using alternative grapes. According to Filipa Pato, Luis Pato’s daughter “unfortunately this grape is being abandoned in the region in a dramatic fast way. Part of the heritage of old well located Baga vineyards were lost in the last decade.”
Keen to halt the slide down this slippery slope, Pato and Mario Sergio of Quinta das Bageiras came up with the idea of “Baga Friends.” She explains “we believe that the authentic red Wines of Bairrada come from Baga grape and…in order to promote Baga we decided to join forces: 8 growers who represent different terroirs and styles of Baga in Bairrada.” They are Mario Sergio (Quinta das Bageiras); Luis Pato; Sidonio de Sousa; Palace do Bussaco; Kompasus; François Chasans; Dirk Niepoort and Filipa Pato.
In case you’re wondering, Niepoort makes a wine at Quinta das Bageiras whose terrific reds I tasted recently in Lisbon at Encontro com o Vinho together with those of Sidonia de Sousa and Luis Pato. Here are my Baga highlights:
Quinta das Bageiras Colheita 2008 (100% Baga) – opaque but, in this great Baga vintage, has lovely clarity on the nose and palate with expressive fruit spice notes, especially liquorice and colts foot, supported by firm but ripe tannins. Broachable now, just, especially with food. It should go a decade plus.
Quinta das Bageiras Reserva 2008 (60% Baga, 40% Touriga Nacional) – fifteen year old Touriga vines bring an intense floral quality to nose and palate together with silky upfront fruit, but there’s no mistaking the girder of Baga that lies beneath. Its firm, fine velcro tannins assert themselves on a tight but powerful finish, guaranteeing this wine a long life.
Quinta das Bageiras Garrafeira Tinto 2004 (100% Baga) – showing some delicious mature notes – roast chesnuts and incense spice married to a deep seam of small berry, cherry and currant fruit well supported by ripe but present tannins. A long, long fresh and well defined finish just keeps going. Excellent. Broachable now though it will benefit from decanting and expect it to go another 10-15 years+.
Quinta das Bageiras Garrafeira Tinto 2005 (100% Baga) – though it’s more restrained on the nose in the mouth the 2005 is surprisingly elegant, supple and fresh – a very modern Baga in this sense, but it has lost none of the variety’s penetration or structure. Excellent. Now to 2020+
Sidonia de Sousa Reserva 2005 (100% Baga) – quite toasty and gamey on the nose, appetising and, in the mouth, powerful, perfumed and spicy with its thread of intense incense. A beautifully structured, long drawn out finish sports fine tannins.
Sidonia de Sousa Garrafeira 2005 (100% Baga) – the last fruits of very old (c. 100 year old vines) since grubbed up simply because they had become too difficult to work. I first tasted this wine in July 2009 when it was super intense, almost one note (at least on a tasting with no time to linger). It’s still very intense, but its spice is unravelling beautifully and starting to saturate the red cherry fruit. Terrific structure, will last decades!
Luis Pato Pato Rebel 2009 (99% Baga, 1% Bical) – Pato can be relied upon to innovate and this cheekily labelled red (above) with a dash of white variety Bical is an early drinking style designed to win new Baga friends of the consuming not campaigning variety. The Bical certainly makes a difference introducing a different (more vegetative/floral) spice note, especially on the nose. In the mouth, it has bright red fruits and juicy blackberry with friendly grainy tannins. Retains Atlantic freshness without the Baga (tannic) bite – he’s done it, an early drinking Baga. (Currently on daily sampling, 85p a shot, at Bottle Apostle.)
Luis Pato Pato Vinhas Velhas 2008 (100% Baga) – this old vine cuvee is always elegant, less extractful in style than the single vineyard wines. Firm, fresh, fine tannined and floral – the finish is particularly lifted; lots of finesse. Give it a couple of years for the other “f,” the fruit to open up and watch it last another ten plus.
Incidentally, I notice that The Haslemere Cellar have a selection of modestly priced older vintages of Baga which are worth snapping up.