Thu 01 Aug 2013

Portugal: Straight To The Source

By

Adega de Monçào's general manager, Armando Fontainhas, with The Society's Vinho Verde

The Adega de Monçào Co-operative’s Armando Fontainhas with The Society’s Vinho Verde

5am is not a time I choose to frequent regularly. Even with two small children, the early hours are strictly out of bounds. However, I recently found myself accompanying Wine Society buyer Jo Locke MW on a whirlwind tour of some of Portugal’s most dynamic and evolving wine regions. For once, I had no objections to the hour.

Vinho verde is making something of a comeback, as Jane Parkinson writes in our Wine World & News section. The Society’s Vinho Verde – the first non-fortified Portuguese wine to bear The Society label – hails from the Adega de Monçào Co-operative.

Established in 1958 by 25 founding members, the co-op’s membership has now been capped at 1,600, with serious investment in winemaking facilities in order to capture the best of its numerous sources of fruit.

Quality & attention to detail are everything here (the attractive hairnets we sport in the picture are testament to how seriously they take their work!).

Hairnets in Portugal

After a tour of their facilities and a close-up inspection of the busy (not to mention deafening) bottling line, we tasted a range of nine wines. Fascinating though it was to taste all the different styles this winery is capable of producing, it became clear that the best of the several options has been selected by Jo Locke to become The Society’s Vinho Verde.

Minho ValleyWe then drove 40 minutes to visit Anselmo Mendes, the man hailed as the guru of vinho verde, and the source of the original, delicate and delicious Muros Antigos. His winery is situated in the exceptionally green Minho Valley (right).

The man himself is charming, brimming with enthusiasm but yet down to earth in a way that belies his status amongst the great and the good of Portuguese wine.

The wines we taste here are somehow bigger and quite different from those tried earlier in the day. There are also more of them. A lot more.

It’s worth noting that, having worked at The Society for eight years I know (or thought I knew) how hard the buying team work in order to source wines from across the world for members. However, I must admit I wasn’t quite prepared for the 20-hour day that would constitute the first of our trip, and the number of wines that have to be assessed therein. It takes a very practiced and to a certain degree a naturally gifted palate not to suffer from tasting fatigue when presented with such a wide range of white, red and sparkling wines.

Indeed, at the point in my notes I appear to have jotted ‘flagging’ in the margin (as much to warn myself when reviewing at a later date!) I remember noticing that Jo didn’t seem to be struggling at all, swapping notes with Anselmo about subtleties and attributes I could no longer fathom. A testament to the combination of talent and experience needed to be a wine buyer.

We rounded off the tasting with a red vinho verde, something that I’d certainly never experienced before but with enough refreshing acidity to revive my now somewhat exhausted taste buds in preparation for our next visit to Quinta do Ameal.

This path, we found out, was a less challenging route to Quinta do Ameal!

This path, we found out, was a less challenging route to Quinta do Ameal!

Quinta do Ameal is a true hidden gem. So well hidden in fact that we had to ask for directions twice (the sat nav was also flagging by this point!) and ended up driving down a track that would test the suspension of a rally car.

If there was such a thing as a stealth winery then Quinta do Ameal would fit the bill. Even when we finally arrived at the Quinta itself we were not 100% sure we are at our destination: no signage, nor indeed any sign that this could be a winery was in evidence. No vats, barrels or other wine-related paraphernalia. Just a small farm building and a few stone walled sheds have been cleverly utilised to house the winemaking operation. However, after a little exploration we spotted the vineyard and were soon greeted and given the tour of the winery.

The winery here has quite a different feel and it becomes apparent that the Quinta is keen to embrace agro-tourism as they are currently renovating several outbuildings into holiday accommodation and are in the stages of completing a new outdoor swimming pool. This doesn’t mean for a second that they have taken their eye off the ball when it comes to their wines. Far from it: a ten-year-old bottle of their white was a particularly impressive advertisement for the quality on show, while demonstrating how well the loureiro grape can age when handled skilfully as well.

A lot of food for thought in a single day, and a fascinating insight into a country whose wines deserve more recognition, and indeed were the catalyst for The Society being founded in 1874. With next year marking our 140th anniversary, expect even more Portuguese finds to make an appearance soon.

Gareth Park
Marketing Campaign Manager for Portugal

Comments

  1. Zihni Imamzade says:

    It was interesting to read about Quinta de Aremal region of Porugal. I believe it to be the vinho verde grape area.
    It is nice to hear that tourism is considered and I look forward to be able to go there one day.

  2. Karin Romer says:

    We have known for 15 years that Portugal can produce excellent WHITE wine although RED is their speciality. Unfortunately the UK appears to prefer the cheap variety of their whites. We have explored their whites for ca. 7years and were never disappointed. WHITES CAN be oaked and mature well but again, the UK market does not seem to be interested in oaked white Portuguise wine. Portugal has a big coastline and fish is very popular. In general, one drinks white wine with fish.

    We have even had a barrel fermented Vinho Verde.

    May be you can set an example.

  3. Gareth – I can endorse your problems of finding Quinta Ameal – my husband and I spent a fraught morning trying to find it this July. I have just seen your blog and shown it to my husband to explain it was not just us who had difficulties!
    But as you say a wonderful place and somewhere definitely staying when they finish their buildings.
    Their Loueiro is delicious and ages incredibly well – and the late harvest is a true gem.
    Delighted that the Wine Society is increasing its selection of Portuguese wines – please continue searching – I will be happy to show them to my students.
    Carolyn Bosworth – Davies – Wine Educator

  4. Scott says:

    Great article. Portuguese wine is still of limited supply in the UK which is a massive shame.
    I worked in the Alentajo from 2001 – 2003 and enjoyed a variety that the area and Portugal has to offer.
    I try to convince the family to go back on a yearly basis.

  5. I have been buying wine from Portugal for some years and find them very
    good and good value. Years ago the large Acorean population in Bermuda
    imported red wine in gallon bottles with wicker covering which was very
    rough indeed. I bought 2 gallons and a round of drinks in a bar in Flores,
    Azores in 1950 for 1 shilling and 6 pence!

  6. Michael Hemery says:

    As someone who had a home in Portugal for some 30 years and has driven the length and breadth of the Country many times and love the Portuguese I am glad that you are promoting their wine Industry.
    HOWEVER I think you should be wary of over promoting product at the lower end of the market because it appears to be cheap (which it is not).A case in point is Real Lavrador which you say has won awards.I have drunk many bottles of this Alentejo wine over the years in particular the Red but ,it is what is ,a mass produced coop wine of no merit whatsoever.and it certainly is not worthy of a similar price to that of some of your Chilean or South African offerings..I was so astonished that you were offering this wine at this price that I included some in a recent order and it has not changed at all,bless it.Of course there are good wines from that area;your task is to source Portuguese wines where price and quality are compATIBLE
    Regards

    • Martin Brown says:

      Thanks very much for your feedback, Michael. Being August, a number of our buyers are on leave at present, including those I’d normally pass this on to; but I will do so upon their return and respond as soon as possible. Best regards.

    • Tim Sykes says:

      Thanks for your comment. Jo Locke MW, our buyer for Portugal, is on holiday at present; I myself have never visited the Adega Cooperative Redondo, but I know it has invested quite considerable sums in recent times upgrading its production facilities. For me, Real Lavrador is a good example of a simple, modern and very drinkable red wine made from indigenous Portuguese grapes, which has character and delivers plenty of drinking pleasure at a modest price. The wine stood out in our Wine Champions blind tasting earlier this year, impressing the majority of the buying team for its excellent quality/price ratio. It is certainly a wine produced in large volumes, as are many of our Chilean and South African wines, but I do think that wine has merit, and compares very favourably with similarly priced wines in our range.

      Tim Sykes
      Head of Buying

Leave a comment