The Buyer
Buyer Debate Pt 2: Sommeliers put Lisboa wines to the test

Buyer Debate Pt 2: Sommeliers put Lisboa wines to the test

With nine DOCs, each with their own unique climate and soil conditions, it is important to taste across a wide range of wines from Lisboa in order to fully understand its potential in the UK. Which is why in Part 2 of The Buyer report, in partnership with CVR Lisboa, we share the insights from our sommelier and importer panel as they taste and discuss wines that demonstrate the diversity of what Lisboa can offer and how it is using both international and indigenous grape varieties in an increasing number of blends.

Richard Siddle
11th November 2021by Richard Siddle
posted in Insight,

The Buyer would like to thank the sommelier and importers panel and Lisboa winemakers for taking part including: Nelio Pinto, manager and sommelier, Candlesticks, Stamford;Sylwester Piasecki, head sommelier, Wild Carrot at The Four Seasons Hampshire; Elvis Ziakos, head sommelier at Mark’s Club Birley Group; Hugo Filipe Moreira, assistant head sommelier, Trinity Restaurant; Dmytro Goncharuk, head sommelier, Corrigan’s Mayfair; André Luis Martins, head sommelier, Cavalry and Guards Club; Charlotte Wallace, business development manager at Oakley Wine Agencies; and Megan Clarke, wine buyer at Ellis Wines. Representing Lisboa were Sandra Tavares da Silva, chief winemaker, Quinta da Chocapalha and Diogo Sepúlveda, chief winemaker, Casa Santos Lima.

You can read the first part of our report here.

The Tasting: Exploring Lisboa Wines

As well as share their thoughts on Portugal and the Lisboa region, the sommeliers and importers also had the chance to taste through a selection of eight wines, chosen to best reflect the kind of wines the region is producing and looking to export to the UK.

Lisboa hopes to attract more visitors and also consumers to taste its range of diverse wines

Arinto White Grape Variety
Quinta da Chocapalha, Arinto 2019 12% – IGP Lisboa (Imported by Corney & Barrow with retail price of around £13.50) DOC: Lisboa (IGP), vineyards in Alenquer

Casa Santos Lima, CSL Arinto 2020 13% (Imported by Marta Vine, retail price around £10)
DOC: Lisboa (IGP), most vineyards in Alenquer

Sandra Tavares says this is the exact kind of wine her parents wanted to make when they first bought the historic Quinta da Chocapalha estate and planted vineyards back in the 1980s. A wine that could reflect and demonstrate the local varieties that can be used in the area and express the proximity to the sea and the influence of the Atlantic Ocean. Arinto is also one of Portugal’s oldest grape varieties, dating back to the 1700s, and works well in the clay limestone soils of the property.

Alenquer, she says, benefits from a long ripening cycle as the region is cooled down in the mornings and evenings by the fog and dew coming in from the sea, but is also sheltered by the surrounding mountains, which makes it an ideal place to grow red grape varieties as well.

That long ripening period is also ideal for Arinto and its thick skins and high acidity, adds Tavares, which balance out in time, thanks also to its fermentation in stainless steel.

“This is an example of an Arinto that is very fresh, crisp but with a lot of salinity, which is very gastronomic and embraces so many different dishes. It also has beautiful ageing capacity.”

Arinto, adds Tavares, is particularly popular in Portugal as it works so well with its seafood and fish dishes, or Asian and spicy cuisine. “It’s a great variety to introduce the white grape varieties in Portugal, because it is a very pure, direct, charming and appealing white variety. It’s why we have invested a lot in it.”

Diogo Sepúlveda, chief winemaker at Casa Santos Lima, describes Arinto as a “dynamic grape variety” that can be drunk sitting by the pool, or with a rich meal in the middle of winter. It can also be produced in different ways, with Casa Santos Lima producing both stainless steel fermented Arinto and it fermented in French and American oak. Again it is the long ripening period that is key in giving Arinto just the right level of acidity and “good concentration of fruit”.

(Diogo Sepúlveda, Casa Santos Lima, on Lisboa’s ability to make wines for all consumers)

Ageing potential

It’s the multi-faceted aspect of Arinto and the different ways it is made that has attracted André Luis Martins of the Cavalry and Guards Club to the style over the years. “Arinto is a great grape. I like Arinto’s with a bit of age as they bring something else to the table,” he says. “The fresh style is really nice and fights the Sauvignon Blancs of this world. The potential though is the ageing process. That is where they can be compared with some of the greatest wines of the world.”

Hugo Filipe Moreira at Trinity Restaurant agrees and says he has had the opportunity to taste 20 year old Arintos and “they are still super interesting”. “That would be a great thing to showcase to the guests.”

That said he also likes the younger, fresher styles of wine that these two wines demonstrate so well, wines that would be ideal with a starter in the restaurant.

Charlotte Walker at Oakley Wine Agencies says it is interesting to taste the Arinto style from Lisboa as it is a grape variety that some of the multiples are now listing from other regions in Portugal like Vinho Verde. “It is one of the varieties that people do perhaps recognise and it’s quite easy to pronounce and easy to drink style,” she adds.

Elvis Ziakos at Mark’s Club Birley Group says Arinto is one of Portugal’s white grape varieties that is full of “personality” and can work well on its own rather than being in a blend.

Tavares says Arinto is also well placed to act as an alternative to Sauvignon Blanc and a good option for by the glass in restaurants.

Nelio Pinto at Candlesticks agrees and says it is the “acidity that gives the freshness” in the wine that makes it great “with or without food”. He thinks it could also be a good alternative to Alvarhinho. “It’s that freshness that cuts through food.”

Megan Clarke says Ellis Wines is having good success with both a single variety Arinto sourced from Vinho Verde and a blend of Arinto and Chardonnay. “It’s very approachable and good for people who like Sauvignon Blanc and want to try something a bit different,” adds Clarke, who also likes Arintos with bit of “lees ageing” where you have a bit more texture to go with the freshness.

Red Wines
Sousão Red Grape Variety
Casa Santos Lima, CSL Sousão 2018 14.5% (Imported by Marta Vine, retail price around £15) DOC: Lisboa (IGP), vineyards in Alenquer

(Click here for Diogo Sepúlveda of Casa Santos Lima & sommeliers on potential for Sousão wines from Lisboa in UK)

Diogo Sepúlveda says Sousão is typical of the native red grape varieties that come from the north of Portugal, but Casa Santos Lima is also keen to show how Portugal’s native varieties do in the diverse soils of Lisboa.

Sousão is a variety, he says, that is used to make both Port and red wines and is well known for its “dark, skinny grapes” that produce wines with deep colour. This particular wine, he adds, is made to fully express the ageing potential of Sousão, which means hand picking the grapes and then fermenting in traditional lagares to increase “maceration and get more extraction and colour, intensity, tannins and aromas from the skins”. The wine is then aged in French and American oak barrels.

“The result is a very gastronomic wine with an intense colour and on the palate it is very strong with good structure and length and good potential for ageing,” he says.

“I love Sousão,” says Pinto. “It’s a fantastic grape and this is the first time I have had chance to taste it from this region.”

André Luis Martins agrees: “It’s a charming wine and very well made. This is the beauty of Portugal when they start working the grape varieties in this way. I think it is brilliant.”

Ziakos particularly likes the fact that this is potentially a very heavy wine, but the way it is made makes it very approachable and just what the market and consumer is looking for. “It has a really ripe texture which is combined by freshness. I would love this with a suckling pig, for example. It’s a very nice style of wine and very well made,” he adds and gets away from the over extracted, wood driven wines that sommeliers do not want any more.

Dmytro Goncharuk is particularly impressed by the price point and the quality of wine you are getting. “It’s also something new for me.”

Native Red Blends from Óbidos
Quinta de St. Francisco Óbidos 2018 13.5% Castelão 60%, Aragonez 20%, Touriga Nacional 20% (Imported by Oakley Wine Agencies, retail price approx £13.50.
DOC: Óbidos

Charlotte Wallace of Oakley Wine Agencies says this is a wine that really benefits from the cool Atlantic breezes that sweep in over the region of Óbidos that really help with the acidity and freshness in the wines made there.

This particular wine is one of Quinta de St. Francisco’s flagship wines and is fermented in stainless steel and then aged in oak barrels. It carries, says Wallace, a lot of red fruit characteristics from the Castelão grape variety and more blackcurrant notes from the Touriga Nacional. “It’s still really fresh considering its age,” she adds, which is perhaps also helped by the 8gm per litre of sugar in the wine. “I think that carries it forward and makes it soft in the mouth.”

She adds: “You can taste the terroir and tell that it is Portuguese. It’s very well balanced and excellent with food. It’s a fantastic wine.”

Óbidos, she says, is one of Portugal’s oldest wine producing region and has become a great source for “sappy” and “fresh” red wines thanks to the colder climate, with fog quite a common occurrence in the area. It means producers need to be on their vineyards and “quite strict with pruning to make sure they make the quality that we want”.

Sandra Tavares says the direct wines from the Atlantic makes Óbidos a region capable of making “classic wines with great ageing potential”. “It’s what I love about Lisboa. It is such a long and wide region along the coast and you have such different styles of soils.”

Pinto describes this wine as being a good example of what you might call a “traditional” Portuguese wine style. “You know it is Portuguese when you drink it.” It is a region, he says, where Castelão does particularly well, which Pinto likens to a cross between Pinot Noir and old Zinfandel, which gives it great ageing potential where the “velvety” side of Castelão really comes through. “This wine in 10 to 15 years time would be beautiful.”

Goncharuk says the wine would be a good introduction for some customers to try Portuguese wines. “It’s got personality and unique flavours.”

Lisboa has the personality and the winemakers to make bigger strides in exports and in the premium on-trade

Indigenous Red and International Grape Blend (Lisboa Blends)

One of the key themes to emerge from the debate was the use of international varieties with on the one hand a commercial understanding of why they are important, but from a sommelier point of view a desire to see wines of true typicity from the region.

Moreira said he could understand why producers might want to work with them but it makes them hard to sell compared to the same varieties being made in other parts of the world. He would instead look to list those wines that are made from traditional local varieties that are true to the Lisboa region.

Diogo Sepúlveda agrees it is a difficult balance to get right. For on one hand its indigenous varieties offer wines that nowhere else in the world can match, but on the other hand there are those consumers who are looking for varieties they know and trust. Which is why he thinks there is a place for them in blends where they can be integrated with native grapes to offer a new assortment of varieties for consumers to try – like Touriga Nacional and Shiraz or Arinot and Sauvignon Blanc.

“Sometimes it can be a door to [get people] in and then we are able to promote and to show the single varieties or blends,” he says.

But he also recognises the importance of “promoting our most competitive advantage which is our native grapes”. “It is something unique and traditional and different compared to our competitors in other countries. In Lisboa, and all of Portugal, we have the conditions to create different styles of wine for different occasions, be it for the table, for the shelf, and for different types of consumer. Our goals and our challenge is to find the balance between preserving our own culture, but also offering something unique and appealing,” he explains.

Tavares says Lisboa and Portugal’s diversity is also reflected in the different types of producer that are now making wine, with a wide range of big and small companies, and winemakers who are all looking to find their edge, their niche and point of difference. “You can have a very wide experience in Lisboa and what we are looking in our property is to make very terroir-driven wines with local varieties produced in a very classic style. There is space for all these producers in Lisbon.”

André Luis Martins fears that when Portuguese producers get that balance wrong it can be harmful to the overall category and he would rather they focused more on promoting and working with indigenous varieties.

Pinto, though, could see the value in using varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon to help introduce more consumers to regions like Lisboa as it removes the “fear” factor that they are going to buy a wine they won’t like. The success of Porta 6 in Majestic is proof of that, he adds, and how powerful that has been in introducing Portugal to 1,000s of new consumers who can then go on to try other Portuguese wines.

DFJ Vinhos Consensus 2016 13.5% Pinot Noir 50%, Touriga Nacional 50% (Imported by Ellis of Richmond, retail price approx. £13.99). DOC: Lisboa (IGP)

DFJ Vinhos Francos Grande Escolha 2015 13.5% Touriga Nacional 34%, Touriga Franca 33%, Alicante Bouschet 33% (Imported by Ellis of Richmond, retail price approx. £25). DOC: Lisboa (IGP)

Megan Clarke from Ellis Wines was able to introduce the panel to the idea of red blends made from a combination of local Portuguese varieties and international grapes from a producer, DFJ Vinhos, that it has been working with for some time as it has properties in wineries across different regions in Portugal.

Here the focus is very much on bringing modern winemaking into more traditional areas, exemplified by the Consensus blend that combines “the elegance” of Pinot Noir with the “power” of Touriga Nacional, says Clarke.

The Consensus uses the classic fermentation method, with destemming and pre fermentative skin contact, followed by the introduction of dry yeasts. It is then aged in 225 litre Seguin Moreau French oak barrels for a minimum 18 months.

Ziakos admires the “freedom” to make such a unique blend, but thinks it will need to be supported by strong marketing to introduce it to customers. “It is a well made wine and well balanced,” he adds, but is not sure he could identify the Pinot Noir in a blind tasting.

André Luis Martins agrees it is perfectly drinkable and well made wine, but would personally question the wisdom of bringing Pinot Noir and Touriga Nacional together.

The DFJ Vinhos Francos Grande Escolha 2015 looks to combine Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Alicante Bouschet and is aged, says Clarke, for 15 months in New French oak. “You have got that lovely rich depth of colour and it is quite a powerful wine with a lot going on in the glass, but you also have that elegance and it is very drinkable wine.”

The sommeliers felt the key for this style of wine was to perhaps tone down some of the “jammy” characteristics and lift the indigenous varieties. Ziakos says it is a challenge for all hot wine regions which is why the focus needs to be on using the right varieties that can integrate well together and really think through the marketing strategy for the blended wines.

(Click here for Lisboa winemakers on offering appealing wines for all consumers and keeping traditions of Lisboa)

Vidigal Wines Porta 6 Reserva 2018 14%. Syrah 40%, Alicante Bouschet 20%, Cabernet Sauvignon 20% and Touriga Nacional 20% (Imported by Majestic Commercial, retail approx. £11.99). DOC: Lisboa (IGP)

The Porta 6 wine brand from Vidigal Wines has arguably done more than any other wine in the UK market to really help promote and put a flag in the ground for Lisboa and the type of modern, easy to drink, highly appealing wines it can produce. So much so that its UK partner, Majestic, often sells out of allocations within days if not hours of putting more stock on shelf.

The brand is made by Vidigal Wines, a family-run, medium-sized wine producer based near the city of Leiria, in central Portugal, but with land and vineyards spread across Portugal’s wine regions. It is now exporting over 90% of its production to over 30 countries worldwide.

Here the panel had the chance to taste its the Porta 6 Reserva wine, distributed by Majestic Commercial aimed at the on-trade.

Ziakos says he is not surprised that this “modern style” of Portuguese wine should do so well as it is a very well “rounded and polished wine” ideal for everyday drinking. But it is equally not trying to demonstrate the “typicity” of the Lisboa region.

André Luis Martins says it is very much a wine that would do well in more brasserie and casual dining outlets than fine dining and whilst he can see it ticks all the boxes from a commercial point of view he would like to see “more of a fingerprint” of Lisboa and Portugal in the wine.

Equally Pinto believes the success of Porta 6 is introducing “more people to Portuguese wines”. “It’s very easy to like this wine and I think a lot of consumer will do. It will help them look for other Portuguese wines. It’s a great image as well. The bottle looks great and is promoting Lisbon.

Fortified Wine: Carcavelos

Villa Oeiras Carcavelos Superior fortified 15 yrs NV 19.5% (Arinto, Galego Dourado and Ratinho
(Imported by Raymond Reynolds, retail price for 7yrs approx. £24.50). DOC: Carcavelos

(Click here for sommeliers on why Carcavelos is such a “fantastic” wine that needs to be protected and promoted)

A growing number of producers have risen to the challenge of reviving, and shining a new spotlight on the close to be forgotten Carcavelos style of fortified wine that was for so long the region’s biggest calling card and has been made in the area since 1908.

Thankfully Villa Oerias is one such producer, that ever since it was established, saw the Carcavelos DOC as a key part of its business strategy, ageing barrels of the fortified wine in the traditional cellars of its old Marques de Pombal estate in Portuguese and French oak for an average of 15 years. It mainly uses Galego Dourado and Arinto to make its own distinct style thanks to celebrated fortified winemaker, Pedro Sá. The wine’s fermentation is stopped half way through in order to add wine brandy from Lourinhã, Lisboa.

It was the perfect way to end our discussion with universal praise from the sommelier panel. “This is definitely the wine I would list,” says Goncharuk. “It’s amazing.”

Luis Martin says he first had the chance to taste this wine around eight years ago and he was so taken with it that he immediately bought 100 cases and has stored in his cellars ever since. “I still list it and put it by the glass at Christmas time. It is keeping history alive. It is an amazing wine.”

“It’s a fantastic wine to finish on,” adds Pinto. “It’s very important and such a historic area in Portugal.”

Ziakos says it is clear how important the clay soils are in making this style of fortified wine and giving it a “spice and structure”. “It is fantastic. You can have it as an aperitif or after food.”

Moreira says this “is the type of wine I feel proud to present”. “I love my country and I am very proud of it and this is the type of story you want to tell your guest. It’s something unique and different.”