Rock ‘n roll: Azores Wine Company developments & new releases
Developments continue apace at Azores Wine Company: changes in grape sourcing, more ‘hands off’ winemaking techniques, new cuvées and a new rock’n roll winery.
Dramatic yet discrete – à la classic little black number – the winery is built from basalt (lava rock) and all but subsumed within the folds of Pico’s rolling lava-bed landscape.
For António Maçanita, AWC’s co-founder/winemaker, tweaks to the winemaking are also grounding the wines more firmly in this very specific terroir. Speaking candidly, he admitted to feeling that the wines from 2015 were “stripped of soul a bit.” It prompted him to step back and review the process.
We are just in the beginning of the potential of this amazing terroir
Interrogating the terroir more acutely has also produced a new flagship cuvée – Vinha dos Utras 2019 – centred around Arinto dos Açores. Macanita reckons “[t]he wine is quite unique…my best till now, showing that we are just in the beginning of the potential of this amazing terroir.”
You’ll find my review of this stunning new wine below, alongside my reviews of the latest releases of AWC’s top tier Arinto dos Açores and the current Terrantez do Pico, which has become rather truer to its name. More on that below.
First, here’s a low down on recent tweaks to the winemaking process, which I discussed with Maçanita last month.
A broader mouthful – more texture – and more terroir-driven notes
Since 2019, AWC has eliminated sulphur (an anti-oxidant) from the reception process. Sulphur is now only added after fermentation. In consequence, with more oxygen available during the fermentation process, the wines have a broader mouthful – more texture – and more terroir-driven notes. Maçanita believes they will be more stable and age-worthy too.
Since 2020, all the wines have been wild-fermented. This and using temperature controlled horizontal tanks (which he has been using with other formats for some time) introduces extra texture and length, without losing the freshness, said Maçanita.
Terrantez do Pico – up from 87 known vines
Macanita’s Azorean winemaking journey started in 2010 with Terrantez do Pico. The variety was on the brink of extinction, with only 89 known producing vines. Engª Susana Mestre led a project to restore native grapes, planting it at the Agricultural Department’s vineyards in Ponta Delgada, on São Miguel island. Initially, the grapes were sourced from there but, following a drive to plant the variety on Pico, nowadays, 85% of the Terrantez do Pico hails from its place of origin.
Azores Wine Company Vinha dos Utras Criaco Velha 1os Jeiroes 2019 (DO Pico)
The vineyard: Sourced exclusively from a small, well-exposed parcel of 60-80-year-old vines in Criação Velha (whose windmill is oft-snapped). It was acquired by AWC from the Dutras family in 2018. Unfortunately, since being well-exposed means being close to the ocean, just 80m away, there is a downside. In 2019, Vinha dos Utras lost seven jeirões (seven lines of currais) to the Atlantic in 2019! The vineyard – a field blend – comprises predominantly Arinto dos Açores (>95%), together with Verdelho, Boal (Malvasia Fina) and white Alicante (Boal de Alicante).
The winemaking: Hand-picked and, following selection on the sorting table, pressed direct. After 12 hours cold settling, the first press juice was vinified in stainless steel (70% horizontal vats). The second pressing (30%) was fermented in third use French oak barrels. The wine aged (no batonnage) for 12 months.
My tasting note: Yellow gold, with a bosky, briny, nutty, spicy quality to nose and palate. Evoking my last holiday on Pico, it reminded me of pungently scented evening walks through woodland scrub and poking around in (even more pungent) rockpools. A firm core of apricot and peach, close to the kernel speaks of the sunny, exposed location. Judicious oak lends support, with attractive phenolics – a strong sense of dry extract – making for a palate-cleaving, flavour-anchoring finish. Creamy, savoury, sourdough lees knit the powerful, pungent layers of flavour together like a good sauce. On day two, citrus notes emerge, with green pineapple, lemon peel and dried herbal (lemon verbena). The peach is tangier. Earthier tumeric nuances, a smokery’s briny saltiness (Maldon smoked salt?) and dried herbal suggestions play in and around the edges. A savoury, vegetal strand puts me in mind of an unwitting breach of my pescatarian diet – a salsify dish it transpired had been (rather deliciously) poached in chicken stock. There’s a touch of celeriac and toasty resonance – a nutty smoky penumbra – to the finish. Lasting well into day three – postively conversational – this is a profound, powerful expression of Pico. Terrific. 1,166 bottles produced. 12% €202/bottle.
Azores Wine Company Vinha Centenária 2018 (DOC Pico)
There are no prizes for guessing that this cuvee hails from centenarian vines. It is another field blend, with around 85% Arinto dos Açores, the balance comprising Verdelho, Alicante Branco and Boal. I think of Vinha Centenária as particularly precise and this vintage is no exception. It will be interesting to compare Vinha Centenária 2018 with subsequent vintages. The 2018 vintage is pale yellow, with green glints, as if to signpost its fresh cut of acidity. The nose exudes purity and precision, concentration and freshness. Lovely salinity and dancing acidity on the attack. Then it becomes a little creamy, a touch nutty, with candied lemon and sherbetty mango – lightly puckering, as if close to the stone. On day two, Vinha Centenária shifts into another gear. The salinity and minerality is emphatic – penetrating and lingering. There’s a hint of lemon verbena. Silky lees add to its throw – length and fluidity. This cries out for fresh Brixham crab or goose barnacles. 1,533 bottles produced. 13.5% €75
Azores Wine Company Arinto dos Açores Indígenas 2018 (DOC Pico)
The regular Arinto dos Açores bottling (reviewed earlier here) has been a combination of around 40 different fermentations, some inoculated some not. This cuvée (“Indígenas”) is one of those fermentations – a spontaneous one, from a temperature-controlled horizontal tank. It has a mineral nose, with slate and snuffed candle/candlewax notes – traces of bitterness – which follow through in the mouth. The lees influence – creamy, incipiently nutty – is pronounced – initially a touch heavy – especially on day one. But there is persistence and pronounced salinity, with a succulents/vegetal edge to the fruit. Decant to allow it to open up and shrug off the lees a little. 12.5% 1,933 bottles produced.
Azores Wine Company Terrantez do Pico 2019 (IG Açores)
The original releases were made with fruit sourced from pretty much the only source – the Agricultural Department’s vineyard on São Miguel’s more fertile soils. The success of this wine encouraged producers to bring Terrantez do Pico home. This example comprises around 85% Pico-sourced grapes. It is yellow gold – significantly deeper in hue than the others. The palate bursts with papaya, mango, green pineapple and banana/banana skin flavours. Much fruitier than I expected and recall of previous vintages. In tune with previous vintages, the fresh and creamy fruit salad palate has a striated phenolic quality (attractive) and white pepper edge. Fresh acidity keeps the flavours flowing. Fermented in stainless steel save for 30% (which was barrel fermented), with wild and neutral (inoculated) yeast components. One to review with more bottle age, when it (the fruitiness) has calmed down a little. It would be interesting to taste a vertical to assess the impact of different fruit sourcing and vinification techniques. For Macanita, São Miguel’s soil produced a saltier wine. I agree. I found earlier vintages had an earthy, briny quality. 3,402 bottles produced 12.5%