First taste: Luis Pato’s all new 2011 Pé Franco from the Valadas vineyard, Ois, Bairrada

I’m in Oporto tasting the upcoming 2010 (reds) and 2011 (whites) Douro vintage releases and making good use of my baggage allowance to collect six bottles of Quinta do Canto Garrafeira 1995, which is distributed by Niepoort Projectos.

Not heard of it?  Neither had I until I was introduced to it earlier this month at Claro!, Vitor Claro’s Lisbon restaurant.  It’s a perfectly mature Baga from Bairrada – heaven in a glass and a bit of a snip too.  Watch this space for Monday’s review of this wine to be followed by a report of some exciting mature Bairrada vintages from Quinta das Bageiras which, for my benefit, Claro expertly matched to a meatless dinner.  No meat feast and no mean feat.

But just for today, I want to focus on an exciting new release from Bairrada’s best known producer, Luis Pato.  It’s a follow up to a wildy successful experiment which the chemist-turned-winemaker started in 1988, when he planted ungrafted Baga vines in the sandy soils of Quinta do Ribeirinho in order “to understand pre-phylloxera wines.”  

“After big anxiety” (about the vines succumbing to phylloxera), the first wine from that vineyard, Pé Franco, was produced in 1995.  Each vine produces just one bunch of grapes (the equivalent of one glass of wine) thanks not only to the smaller production of ungrafted vines but also to Pato’s successive green harvests.  By lightening each vine’s load, Pato obtains concentration with riper tannins and acidity than would otherwise be possible in the Atlantic-influenced Bairrada. With only 2.5ha, Quinta do Ribeirinho Pé Franco will only ever be made in small quantities.

But there’s good news.  In 2011, Pato has released another Pé Franco (which designates a wine made from ungrafted vines).  This one is from 0.4ha of the high density (8,600 vines/ha) Valadas vineyard which he planted 8 years ago.  For Pato, though only located 7km south east of Quinta do Ribeirinho, Valadas Pé Franco is very different because the grapes are grown on the chalky clay soils of Ois. With only 23 magnums and 20 single bottles produced, it’s in even scarcer supply than Quinta do Ribeirinho Pé Franco. I’m thrilled to say that I was privileged to receive a bottle.

As you can see, it comes in smart red and gold livery which, together with its (lucky for gamblers) number eight, signposts Pato’s desire to court the Asian market. But it’s not the only reason for the number eight. Though Pato liked my idea that it might be a play on Ois (the Portuguese for 8 is oito), in fact it’s also intended to represent his signature bow tie.  This, of course, only becomes apparent when you read the label on its side but, as Pato very logically points out, this wine is meant for ageing so the bottle is destined to spend most of its life prone.

And because great Baga is built for ageing, it was with a mixture of both excitement and reluctance that I broached it – you’ll find my note on the young Pé Franco Valadas Baga below.  Meantime, Pato tells me he’s keeping back a few magnums to show with more age. He reckons they’ll be close in style to his single vineyard Vinha Barrosa  or Vinha Pan (which also come from chalky soils) though, with less vigor and  lower yields, he expects the mature Pé Franco Valadas Baga to be “closer to Pinot Noir than Nebbiolo.”

Luis Pato Pé Franco 2011 (Valadas vineyard, Ois, Bairrada)

Though a deep, inky purple this opaque wine moves very easily in the glass – a clue to the fresh acidity associated with both variety (Baga) and region (Bairrada).  On day one, it doesn’t give much away at all.  It’s not news to me that Baga is first and foremost about structure and, other than a  subtle hint of rosemary/pine needle, I find it hard to penetrate its fresh acidity and charge of tannins.  On day 2, it’s opening out, its tannins unravelled and more harmonious – chalkily fine. The acidity is juicier now that the fruit – satiny, succulent, pure and vivid red cherry, sweet black berry/currant and blood plum – is no longer outpaced by the acid and tannin.   It’s wonderfully scent-infused too, not just pine and rosemary, but violets and liquorice too.  A whisp of smoke (savoury as in charcuterie, not flint) reminds you that this is Baga from chalky clay soils.  Painfully young, but wonderfully refined already.  Of the same vintage, I think young Fernão, Pato’s grandson (who already has a wine named after him) has struck lucky here!

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