Andrew Barrow - 2011-07-12
Being an intrepid traveller and all I imagine you have been to Portugal. Perhaps you explored the Alfama in Lisbon, or lapped up the sun while lounging around the beaches of the Algave. The more adventurous might have explored the impressive cliffs of the Douro river and sampled the nations most famous fortified wines, marvelled at the landscape from the railway carriage that hugs the rivers bank or wandered the streets and Port warehouse’s of Gaia and Porto. But have you explored further? Have you travelled into the unkempt hinterlands of the Dao and Barriada?
For those with a love of Portugals wines, the still wines of all colours are some of the most delicious and value packed bottles around at the moment and to visit the land where they are made adds much to their enjoyment. Hire a car, slip out south from Porto and head into Bairrada and on to the Dao. Make an appointment to visit a few wineries and return with a fascinating insight into a seldom visited land with, no doubt, plenty of wine.
Head to Casa de Mouraz and their scatterrd vineyards. It was here I recently clambered on top of a boulder and soaked in the stunning view. The gorse, the tumble of rocks, the quietness, towering conifers, broken only by a clatter of startled birds - this wildness was very immediate. Interspersing the rocks, eked out from the scrabble of leafless bushes and the sharp, hard, dry undergrowth are pockets of vineyards, hewn one imagines with herculean strength and brute determination from the enveloping forest.
Having stood on that boulder I now have a greater understanding of the wine and the people that forged it. You can appreciate why they are so passionate and determined to bring the fruits of their toil to our glasses. What is even more remarkable is that this particular estate - Casa de Mouraz, manages to produce a large range of wines using organic and biodynamic principles and was the first to introduce such practises to this area of Portugal. They farm 13 scattered vineyards ranging in size from just ½ hectare to a large 5 hectare plot and from these produce a full range of wines from Vinho Verde to the Douro. Having trampled through their Dão vineyards it is the wines from here that most excite. Look out for their Encruzado. It’s a white grape that deserves greater appreciation while their fabulous Private Selection, a blend of Touriga Nacional, Jaen and Alfrocheiro, replicates the wild landscape in a surge of pepper, herb and black fruits.
The Casa de Mouraz estate contrasts nicely with that of José Perdigão. Where Mouraz offers a large and diverse range Perdigão keeps to a range of just 7 wines from 7 hectares of carefully tended vines. I was greatly appreciated a personal tasting by José and a tour of the winery, which, if one is honest is little more than a shack. A tour reveals barrels crammed into one corner, stainless steel tanks line another wall, and through the back a small bottling line.
José gets more animated and passionate as he pours, little snippets of info are given to everyone as he pours out a generous sample. The rosé is first - Quinta do Perdigao Rosé 2009, Dao, Portugal. Did he really recommend it with roast beef? "the colour of the flowers of the japonica bush" he sighs as my glass is filled. It's a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen and Alfrocheiro, dry, weighty with a vibrancy that is quite entrancing.
A white is poured - Quinta do Perdigão Reserva a further example of the wondrous Encruzado, lovely and fresh with a melange of "lychees, pear, peach, papaya and honey" to quote José. Of the following four reds it was the Quinta do Perdigão Reserva quickly followed by the Quinta do Perdigão Touriga Nacional that really excited the palate. The Reserva, a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen and Alfrocheiro and a magnificent dousing of oak, gave a really complex taste - tea and violets, plum and herbs. A certain edge of chocolate and violets to be sure but chamomile and bergamot?? Its fine structure should ensure decent aging potential.
Later Encruzado appears again. Mixed with a little Malvasia Fina the Julia Kemper Branco has to be one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted. Lightly fragrant, balanced and elegant with superb texture and weight that makes for excellent food matching potential. This estate produces just two wines. The red, the Julia Kemper Tinto, is every bit as stunning as the estates white. The Kemper Estate, in the family for hundreds of years, fell into a rather sorry state but with Julia Kemper now at the helm the family have replanted plots of vines, rebuilt the winery and gone for quality over quantity.
We wandered in gathering twilight over long-gone plats of vines, the aroma of gorse and lavender rising, the stony path winding up towards an expanse of Encruzado vines. The wild, stoney landscape cleared and now ordered with row after row of irrigated vines. They must struggle those vines and how Kemper produces such superb wines from them is one of the wonders of winemaking.
If you don’t scrabble up a granite boulder and seep yourself in the surrounding landscape you really are missing out on fully appreciating the wines so finely crafted from the wildness. You could just savour the wines at home, theMouraz Encruzado with a plate of squid perhaps or a Perdigão red with a dish of game but wouldn’t it be more fun to drink them where they were crafted?
While the wines mentioned are widely available several of the producers mentioned will require an appointment to visit. Tasting tours generally cost between €5 and €8.The best guide to the region with details of producers, opening times and what visitor facilities are available is The Wine and Food Lover’s Guide to Portugal by Charles Metcalf.