A taste of Iberia – you say Souson, I say Sousão

Portugal is renowned for its wealth of native grape varieties though, I have to admit, I’m not sure who first lays claim to Jaen/Mencia or Sousão/Souson – Portugal or Spain.  No doubt the answer is in Wine Grapes, (my copy still idling its way to me via snail mail). At any rate, I’ve enjoyed great examples of both lately.

Sousão/Souson

Sousão, or Vinhão (Vinho Verde) as it’s known in Portugal is a high acid grape variety.  While the Douro’s heat tempers its acidity (and tannins), in the Vinho Verde, this productive grape typically has bracing acidity and, according to the Vinho Verde Commission (here), “produces ruby colour and characterless wines.”

But not always.  Manage the yields/ripeness and rub off the edges with some judicious oaking and there’s much to commend it.  Indeed, Aphros (the biodynamic producer formerly known as Afros) makes the most accomplished red Vinho Verdes I’ve tasted (both pictured).  Eked out over three days, the judiciously oaked bone dry Aphros Silenus 2010 revealed a pure core of wild black currant and (bil)berry fruits, with a Bairrada Baga-like smoky, savoury edge.  Liquorice and leather as it opened up.  Serious stuff.

From the Douro, I enjoyed two great examples from the forward 2010 vintage. Quinta do Vallado Sousão 2010 showcases this vintage’s attractive juiciness, with its perfumed lipsmacking bilberry and plum skin fruit.  Quinta da Gaivosa Vale da Raposa Sousao 2010 is firmer, revealing more of the variety’s angularity, though the acid is well integrated with its herbal-edged, sweet scented fresh fruits.  Lovely minerality; a wine with cheekbones.

As for the Spanish incarnation, Souson, I (happily) stumbled across Coto de Gomariz The Flower and the Bee Souson 2011 (Ribeiro) at Trangallan, which we hugely enjoyed by the traditional Galician cunca/taza (pictured). Fresh, even with a little spritz, lovely spice too, it had great energy and, though well-defined, wasn’t in the least angular.  A perfect vin de soif.

Jaen/Mencia

The Dão is Portugal’s focal point for Jaen, though it is typically incorporated in blends. Alvaro Castro has made single varietal examples in 1990, 1998, now 2010.  Quinta de Pellada Jaen 2010 is quite delicious, putting me in mind both of Grenache (with its hints of orange peel and dried spice) and Pinot Noir (for its juicy raspberry fruit, elegant tannins and lifted floral notes).  Lovely.

Meanwhile, Castro’s some time collaborator (Doda) Dirk Niepoort’s Mencia blend Ladredo 2008 blew me away. Niepoort Ladredo 2010 (Ribera Sacra) is equally seductive – lifted incense spice coarses through its supple, mineral strewn red-fruited palate; tannins are of the finest thread.  Great concentration with fluidity and definition.

Alvarinho/Albarino

On the subject of Iberian grapes, last year I reported here on how well Portuguese wines performed at the inaugural Alvarinho International Wine Challenge.  The Spanish riposte came swiftly!  This year saw the launch of the first Albariños Around the World 2012 International Competition, led by the Spanish Wine Tasters Union and, this time, Albariños won the lion’s share of medals (though I’m assuming some of last year’s Portuguese stars, Quinta de Soalheiro and Carlos Alberto Codesso’s Dona Paterna were not entered).

The tasting panel awarded medals to 25 of the 74 still white wines, 2 sparkling wines and 3 aguardientes shown, including three supreme gold champions: Galician wines La Val Crianza sobre Lias (Bodegas La Val) and Abadía San Campio (Terras Gauda) and the Portuguese Vinha Antiga (PROVAM).  Click here for details of the medal winners.

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