Tasting Vinho Verde with the guru – Anselmo Mendes

Vinho Verde supremo 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.  He’s a busy man and previous efforts to meet up have been foiled.  But it was third time lucky and lucky was how I felt, especially given it was a Saturday evening – he’s an enormously talented yet thoroughly nice, unassuming man.  And, of course, the wines.  That evening, a seemingly non-stop flow of sigh worthy Vinho Verde, including an exciting new single parcel cuvée.

Mendes was born in Moncao, together with Melgaco, Vinho Verde’s hotspot for Alvarinho, a grape which he’s “studied” for 20 years.    His grandfather grew grapes and Mendes studied agronomy at university before completing a Masters in oenology, followed by a short but intensive period of work experience in Bordeaux.  He started his own label in 1998, making wines from 25 small parcels.  During the tasting, we discussed his approach and I’ve included his insights in and amongst my tasting notes below.

Muros Antigos Alvarinho/Loureiro 2009 – the Loureiro, 70% of this blend, is unsurprisingly pretty emphatic, floral on the nose and lime zesty and pithy on the silky palate, which has a mineral undertow.  The Alvarinho gives body/structure – it’s a nice combination with plenty of concentration and length, especially given the price point.  Very good, especially since I can find Loureiro a bit “lavender soapy/floral” for my taste.  Mendes explained he looks for this citrus quality in Loureiro and finds what he’s looking for in warmer microclimates, though he says it’s critical (and for Alvarinho) not to expose the grapes to direct sunlight.  He also prefers not to train the vines too high (Mendes recommends 50cm).  As for the silky texture, this is derived from a slow and steady fermentation which lasts around one month, followed by at least 4-5 months lees ageing with stirring (via a pump).  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.  While I can understand the temptation to go down that route, personally I’m not keen on Marlborough Light.

Muros Antigos Loureiro 2009 – a flint edged nose with limeflower and sappy melon/cucumber. In the mouth it’s fresh’n floral with a limey, saline quality which lends poise and a certain linearity, which saves it from tipping over into soapiness.  Lovely balance, especially in this warm year.  Very good.  £9.50 at Ultimate Wines (2008 vintage)

Muros Antigos Alvarinho 2009 – plenty of ripe stone and tropical fruit salad, with juicy, sour mango and tart greengage for balance.  Rich profile but lipsmacking too! £13.75 at Ultimate Wines (2008 vintage)

Muros Antigos Alvarinho 2005 – a touch golden with a nose that puts me in mind of Eden Valley Riesling from Australia with limes on toast and lemon butter on the nose.  In the mouth it retains gorgeous freshness and structure with lime not lemon butter and beautifully integrated acidity.  Excellent.

Anselmo Mendes Contacto 2009 – I selected the 2008 vintage for my 50 Great Portuguese wines. Unlike the Muros Antigos range which come from more typical well drained sandy/granitic soils, Contacto comes from a site with round stones and clay near the river.  Its name derives not from the site but the skin contact which Mendes uses to enhance aroma and flavour.  His studies have shown that skin contact is particularly important for the concentration of Alvarinho and Loureiro.  For Contacto, after a cold soak with skins, after pressing he adds a small proportion of whole grapes to the fermenting must.    A tight nose and palate shows concentrated fruit salad, with grapefruit and lime.  Lovely purity, length and line.  Very good.

Muros de Melgaco Alvarinho 2009 – fermented and aged in untoasted French oak for 6 months, of which 10% is new, the balance 2 years old.  This impact is to groom this long, tight poised wine which shows lemon and lime oil and a hint of spice.   Very young – Mendes recommends drinking it with a year’s bottle age and, in a really good year, it will last 5 years plus.  £20.50 at Ultimate Wines (2008 vintage)

Anselmo Mendes Curtimenta Alvarinho 2009 – fermented on the skins for two days and aged for 9 months in 400l old oak barrels and tank.  Mendes chooses grapes with both higher sugars and acid so the wine has the depth of flavour and structure to age.  And there’s plenty of depth of flavour, with spicy, slightly exotic mandarin, fresh apricot and lime.  Lots of structure too – this is powerful, long, tight and persistent.  Terrific.

Anselmo Mendes Curtimenta Alvarinho 2005 – this was Mendes first trial vintage of this cuvee.  Golden in colour it shows a leesy, tufa/white porcini nose with toast and buttered lime.  A lively palate still shows greengage bite with orange peel and spice, fresher than the nose suggests.  Very good.

Anselmo Mendes [yet to be named, single parcel Alvarinho]? 2009 – for 10 years, Mendes has made wine from this vineyard and this wine is made from the best performing parcel.  The vinification is similar to the previous wine with skin contact (28 hours) and 6 months ageing in 400l barrels, but this is super intense and tighter, with pithy lime and grapefruit.  Much tauter and more mineral, this youthful wine shows fabulous potential.

Anselmo Mendes Passito Alvarinho 2007 – a golden hue with lanolin and sweet hay on the nose.  In the mouth, at the drier end of the spectrum for a passito sweetie, it shows dried honey and sweet hay with pineapple and coconut.  Good.

You’ll find my report of the highlights of an earlier Alvarinho-focused tasting that day at the Solar do Alvarinho in Melgaco here.  If you’re in the region, you can taste at the Solar – I highly recommend it.

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