Friday, 31 July 2015

Mono-varietal wine from Portugal

From vinho verde to port, Portuguese wines are mostly blended. 100% varietal wines only appeared about 30 years ago and they are mainly confined to Alentejo and the Algarve where wineries are often owned by foreigners. Even then, single varietal wines have mostly been limited to a few major varieties such as Touriga Nacional, Aragonez (aka Tinta Roriz in the north, or Tempranillo in Spain), and Syrah. Ironically, the only 100% Tinta Barroca I have ever tasted was Sadie’s Swartland Old Vines Series Treinspoor from South Africa! I shared a bottle with the Vintage Port Academy's founders and they said they had never come across a 100% Tinta Barroca in Portugal. So imagine how my eyes lit up when I got the opportunity to taste four single varietal wines from Portuguese native grapes from one winery over lunch.

The winery in question is Quinta da Plansel in Alentejo, owned by Dorina Lindemann, one of the few female winemakers in Portugal. Like most Alentejo winery owners, Dorina is not Portuguese. She is German, and after finishing her viticultural studies at the University of Geisenheim in Germany she joined her father, Hans Jörg Böhm, in Portugal to run his breeding nursery. Hans loves Portuguese wine so much that he sold his wine merchant business in Germany, took a course at the Geisenheim Research Centre and then founded Plansel SA in Alentejo with the objective of improving the nation’s viticultural stock via clonal selection to match with different rootstocks and terroirs.

Dorina made her first wine in 1996 and then, in 2001, her first single varietal wines: Tinta Barroca, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional. She believes that only mono-varietal wine can truly reveal the potential of a grape. Like all passionate winemakers, Dorina believes the vineyard is where the wine is made. Because of the dry conditions in Alentejo the vineyards need irrigation. But instead of using drip irrigation like most  modern wineries, Dorina floods the vineyard with water so that the majority of water is absorbed by the soil. She says this is the only way to make the vine roots go deep into the soil to get water, thus producing better quality fruit. She explained that drip irrigation, although using less water, makes the vines lazy as the roots never need to go deep.

The first wine we tasted was Selecta ‘Homenagem ao Thomas’ Tinto 2012, made from 100% Trincadeira in memory of Dorina’s late husband, Thomas, who passed away in 2008. According to Dorina this will always be a small production wine because Trincadeira is not easy to grow. So I was surprised to learn that this pleasant, well-balanced and fresh wine retails at a steal at $108/bottle. Dorina wants to keep the price affordable because the wine expresses her winemaking philosophy.

The next three varietal wines were Touriga Franca, Tina Barocca and Touriga Nacional. Dorina introduced them as male, female and bisexual respectively. Touriga Franca has a firm structure, Tinta Barooca is softer and more voluminous while Touriga Nacional is seductive yet with firm tannins—not a bad analogy at all. All three are elegant with supporting acidity making them not heavy to drink even on a hot summer's day. I loved the manly Touriga Franca and it went well with the bacalhau (cod). All three are reasonably priced at $298/bottle.

Dorina does also make blended wines. The Selecta Reserva Tinto (50% Tinta Barroca and 50% Aragonez) is her best seller, while the Dorina Lindemann Limited Edition (equal proportions of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca) is only made in the best vintages.

Although I worked in the south of Portugal for three vintages, I have to admit that I don’t drink too many wines from the region here in Hong Kong because they are usually too heavy for the climate. Dorina’s wines changed my mind. Yes, they may have 14+% alcohol but all have a fresh natural acidity and ample fruit concentration. This is how a good wine should be: balanced and graceful.

By the way, if you are interested in native varieties of the Iberian Peninsula, check out Dorina’s father website, Vine to Wine Circle.

Quinta da Plansel is available from Adega Royale.

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