Portuguese wine is one of the categories that just seems to get stronger year by year. Across its 14 wine regions there are an increasing number of winemakers at the top of their game, – producers that are doing great things with some of the country’s 250 grape varieties but also innovating, with concrete eggs, amphora and Pet Nat all increasingly part of their palette. The crowds at Wines of Portugal’s annual portfolio tasting were proof that wine buyers are aware of this sea change and also testament to the importance of the UK. Justin Keay reports and picks 10 producers that need to be on your radar.
But some advice to Vini Portugal for next time: as Roy Scheider didn’t quite say to Robert Shaw when the shark first appears in Jaws: “Um, you’re going to need a bigger venue.”
According to Wines of Portugal, UK imports of Portuguese wine in the first nine months of 2021 increased by 9.4% compared to imports in 2020, affirming the UK as the country’s second most important export market after the US. Within the UK trade, Portugal has long held a special place, first for fortified wines then for increasingly impressive still wines from such regions as Douro, Dão, Barraida and Alentejo, and of course, Vinho Verde.
For its 2022 annual tasting in London, Wines of Portugal had chosen St Mary’s Church in Marylebone with over 70 producers showing approximately 800 wines. It was a tight squeeze compared to WoP’s usual choice of venue, Lindley Hall, but despite the crowds I managed to cover some of the producers that are showing Portugal at the top of its game, – producers that are doing great things with some of the country’s 250 grape varieties but also innovating, with concrete eggs, amphora and Pet Nat all increasingly part of their palette.
António Maçanita (Azores, Alentejo, Douro)
Maçanita is now one of Portugal’s most famous winemakers; having started in the Alentejo with his overtly commercial Sexy range, and Fitapreta, he now makes very different wines across the country. The standouts are his Azores wines, notably the the Terrantez do Pico 2019 both from the island of Pico, very mineral and spicy reflecting the volcanic soil with the latter showing remarkable salinity. Maçanita famously revived the Terrantez do Pico variety from near extinction, and has planted more, yet the price has risen to around £60 a bottle, worthwhile for a wine of this quality.
Maçanita’s Douro wines showed really well especially the Touriga Nacional Cima Corgo 2019, a light but fragrant and balanced interpretation of the Douro’s iconic grape; also worth trying is the Moreto 2019, an incredibly rare variety Maçanita has resurrected; he is one of only two producers making it as a 100% varietal, and very nice it is too, showing spice, pepper and black berry fruit. (Importer – various).
Rocim Wines (Alentejo)
Another producer at the forefront of innovation since its first vintage in 2006, Rocim’s range makes great use of the Alentejo’s many autochthonous varieties including Rabo de Ovelha, Perrum and Mantuedo, all three of which appear in its Fresh from Amphora Nat Cool White, 2020.
“We always use Alentejo native varieties because they are better for the oxidative process as well as being rich in acidity,” says Rocim’s David Rego.
Rocim makes two simple amphora wines with limited skin contact, two DOC red and white amphora wines with extended (40 day) skin contact and Indigena, a red made from local grapes fermented and aged in a concrete egg. My favourite of a great bunch is the Fresh from Amphora Nat Cool Red, made from Trincadeira, Moreto and Tinto Grossa with three weeks skin contact, lots of spicy fruit on the palate. Moreish, so just as well it comes in one litre bottles. (Importer – HN Wines)
Rocim’s winemaker Pedro Ribeiro and his wife were so taken with Alentejo’s winemaking traditions that they set up Bojador near Vidigueira 12 years ago. The big draw are the Talha (clay pot) wines, made in a style which dates back to Roman times. The Bojador white 2018 – the wine rests on the skins and stems for six months and sealed in the Talha with olive oil – is the more challenging showing marmalade and honey flavours but quite citric, whilst the Bojador red 2020 is more mainstream but still hardly your standard Alentejo red, coming from 75 year old vines and showing black cherry and spice. Both are 12-12.5% abv and made with rare local grapes, many (like white Manteudo and Rabo de Ovelha and red Moreto and Tinto Grossa) recovered from extinction by Ribeiro, which he sees as part of his mission. (Importer: Davy’s Wine)
Niepoort (Douro, Dao, Barraida)
From his historic Douro base, Dirk Niepoort has moved southwards into the Beiras, extending his philosophy of unembellished winemaking, letting the fruit speak for itself in wines that rarely exceed 12.5% abv. He enjoys working with Baga, dubbed Portugal’s trickiest grape because of its late ripening but capable of creating delicious, highly complex and ageworthy wines. The range included the flagship still white and red Redoma but my favourites were the Dao Conciso Tinto 2017, a delicious blend of old vine Jaen and Baga, red and dark fruit, supported by soft tannins, and the highly expressive but still youthful Poeirinho 2016, 100% Baga, showing dark cherry and cedar. Very special. (Importer – Raymond Reynolds)
Soalheiro (Vinho Verde)
This is one of the oldest producers in the Minho and was a forerunner in making varietal wines – notably Alvarinho and Loureiro – rather than the blends the region used to be famous for, once it moved across from mainly red to white production. Soalheiro was showing 10 wines but the two standouts were the very mineral, very appealing Alvarinho Granit 2020 and Soalheiro Bruto, an organic non-intervention sparkler made by the classic method and showing lots of balance and spritz acidity. (Importer – Raymond Reynolds).
Anselmo Mendes (Vinho Verde)
If you are looking for experimentation crossed with excellence, look no further than Mendes who was championing low intervention and organic winemaking methods long before it became the done thing elsewhere. He makes a range of Alvarinhos – which he’s famous for – including a fresh, moreish skin contact wine called um, Contacto. But the wine that grabbed my attention was the Pardusco 2019 a light, tannic red in the traditional style of Vinho Verde Tinto and made from three traditional red varieties, Alvarelhao, Caiño and Peral. Really quite special, with lots of red berry fruit. (Clark Foyster Wines)
Adega Regional de Colares (Colares)
I have fond memories of visiting this small cooperative winery, just outside Lisbon in the tiny Colares DOC, many years ago, afterwards taking my daughter to the nearby seaside for the first time. And it is sandy soil that is key to this winery, enabling it to retain pre-phylloxera vines that still grow the native grapes that go into excellent wines including Arenae, made from 100% Ramisco. Oz Clarke showed the delicious 2009 vintage in his masterclass and very nice it was too, with rich, spicy fruit supported by firm saline acidity. Only 12% abv, this has great length and a wonderful sense of place. (Importer – Clark Foyster).
Herdade dos Grous (Alentejo)
I was impressed with this winery when I visited several years ago and am glad to see standards are still high. Grous use local varieties like Antao Vaz and Arinto but also Rhône varieties (notably Viognier and Syrah) and unusually perhaps, Douro varieties including Touriga Nacional (the Pohl family who own Grous also own Quinta de Valbom in Douro). The whites here are particularly good, especially the very generous, tropical fruit charged Herdade dos Grous Reserva 2020 but my favourite is the fat, incredibly velvety Herdade dos Grous Moon Harvested 2020 (made from 100% Alicante Bouschet, a variety actually banned in some wine growing nations for over-productivity. This wine benefits from the grapes being picked by the light of a full moon. Can’t be sure whether this made a difference but this was a lovely, full-on Alentejo red, perfect with a steak or lamb. Nothing to grouse about here.
Symington Family Estates (Douro, Alentejo)
The British-Portuguese port family was one of the first Douro producers to start making reds seriously and their latest offering is the very acceptable unoaked but fully flavoured Comboio do Vesuvio 2018 a younger brother to the famed Quinta do Vesuvio. This is very good value, showing once again the family’s uncanny ability to cover the market at all price points.
Symington has also started to shine brightly, in Alentejo since launching two brands, Florao and the more premium Quinta da Fonte Souto five years ago. The current red vintage of the latter, the Quinta da Fonte Souto 2018, grown on slopes near Portalegre, is showing well with lots of acidity supporting the spicy red and dark berry fruit. This will show more complexity with time. However for me the white Florao 2020 is a real find. Quite fresh and citric but also rounded, with peach and tropical flavours showing on the palate. A moreish blend of Arinto and Verdelho.
José Maria de Fonseca (Moscatel de Setubal DOC)
What a fabulous and underrated drink Moscatel is, particularly when it is as good as those made by this fantastic producer. I’d been keeping what I thought was a watchful eye on the self-pour table where José Maria de Fonseca had laid out some of their best examples but, by the time I’d gotten to taste them, they seem to have done a runner. Luckily Oz Clarke came to the rescue, showing the stunning Domingos Soares Franco Moscatel de Setubal Superior 2003. Words escape me but this was a real, delicious wine, made with Armagnac in the base, lots of rounded fruit flavours. But frankly, most of this producer’s Moscatel are worth a go.
So a great tasting, reflecting the really good place Portuguese wine is at right now, and showing far too much to take in during one visit. But some advice to Vini Portugal for next time: as Roy Scheider didn’t quite say to Robert Shaw when the shark first appears in Jaws: “Um, you’re going to need a bigger venue.”