The perfect girl at Quinta do Piloto

The second winery I visited during my holidays in Portugal was Quinta do Piloto. I was eager to visit another winery in the Setubal region, because it’s here that the grape castelão is the traditional main grape for reds. As you might have read in one my previous posts, my interest in this grape was piqued when I drank Rodrigo Felipe’s Humus Lca, 100% castelão. The region where the grapes are grown is the same as for the sweet Moscatel, but is called Palmela (named after the town), an appellation that allows still whites, rosés and reds.

Quinta do Piloto is a family owned estate. That does not mean, however, that it’s small, as they have have 200 hectares of vineyards. At least, I wouldn’t call that small. My guide, Rita, did not agree, though. The estate used to have 500 hectares before it was divided among the children during the last change of generation. That’s why Rita found 200 hectares small. A question of perspective, I suppose.

The winery is not the most modern. Or as Rita gracefully said : it’s an old winery, but “built according to modern principles”. She referred to the construction of the winery in several levels in order to use gravity to transport the juice of the crushed grapes to the tanks without using pumps.

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Before we started the tour, Rita said she was going to give “a perfect girl” ! I was already looking forward to meeting Scarlett Johanson, but alas… The perfect girl was a shot of half aguardente, the local brandy, representing a strong woman, and half Moscatel de Setubal, representing a sweet and charming girl. The mix of both was “the perfect girl”. I politely took a few sips, but quickly emptied my cup on a moment Rita was not paying attention. Things weren’t meant to be with the perfect girl…

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Preparing the perfect girl

Moving on to the real wines. I had 3 whites and 3 reds :
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Siria 2016

We kicked off the whites with a wine made of the grape Siria. I had never heard of this grape, let alone tasted it. It is also known as Codega in the Douro and Roupeiro in the Alentejo. The nose was particularly fresh, with green apple taking the front stage.  The wine was surprisingly fresh, and could almost make you think you were drinking a muscadet. But it was also extremely light and there was little more going on than the initial freshness. Normally I like such wines, but this one lacked a bit of content.

Roxo 2017

This was not the sweet Moscatel Roxo de Setubal, but a dry version of the same grape. Very aromatic nose, immediately appealing with peach and white flowers. This wine had  more body than the Siria, and a bit more depth. Very playful and fresh. A nice summery wine.

Branco Reserva 2015, DOC Palmela

Very different glass of wine here, a stylistic break really. Yellow plum and pear come out of the glass. This requires a bit more sniffing! An aromatic profile that is completely different than the previous wines, more serious as well. This Branco was quite full, without being heavy. Not an easy wine though. Not something you would just have as an aperitif, but rather a wine that you would drink with a meal. The bacalhau com natas, cod with cream and potatoes, would be a good match if you wanted to pair it with something Portuguese. This wine is made of arinto, antão vaz and siria.

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Touriga Nacional 2016

This varietal wine kicked off the three reds. Touriga Nacional is especially known in the Douro Valley for being the main grape for Port wines, but Portugal, which is a wine country where wines traditionally consist of blends, sees an increase in monovarietal wines and Touriga Nacional is the grape you will most often find for such red wines.
I was afraid I was going to get a heavy and jammy wine, not having had many good experiences with monovarietals of Touriga Nacional. But this one was not heavy at all! The nose was very appealing with blackberry aromas and blackcurrant. The remarkable thing in this wine was the freshness and balance, with an acidic backbone that would prove to be the defining characteristic of all their reds. Lots of fruit, very smooth and velvety. There is also quite a bit of tannin here, but it’s ripe and will soften perfectly with ageing. Very good effort!

Cabernet Sauvignon 2016

Very different wine, riper than the Touriga, with dark plum in the nose. The freshness kept this wine attractive enough, and ripe tannins gave this a bit of backbone. Probably not a wine that I would recognize as Cabernet if I was served this blind, but not a bad wine.

Tinto Reserva 2014, DOP Palmela

This is the wine I came for, the Castelão, and it did not disappoint me. One sniff was enough to immediately realize that this was a different register. From the attractiveness of the fruit in the previous wines to a more elegant nose with flowery notes and fruit that tends to be more red than black fruit. Nice tension in the wine and precise, yet ripe tannins that guarantee the ageing potential. I like the restraint and the somewhat cool character of this wine. Perhaps I met the perfect girl after all at Quinta do Piloto.

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Bravo Quinta do Piloto!

Periquita : Portugal’s oldest red wine

Today we were in Sintra, about half an hour from Lisbon. Really beautiful, but make sure you have your hiking shoes on if you go there! Or better, have a « tuktuk » drive you around…

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The colorful walls of the Palacio da Pena, the former royal summer residence in Sintra

When we made a stop to buy some water in a local grocery shop, I saw a small bottle of Periquita 2015, a wine of Jose Maria da Fonseca, one of Portugal’s big wine producing companies, owning more than 30 brands. Curiosity got the better of me and I bought it to try it in the evening with cured meats and cheeses. The main reason why I was interested in this bottle is because it’s mainly produced of Castelao (next to trincadeira and aragones), and I had a good experience with Rodrigo Filipe’s Humus of Castelao, which you can read about in my previous post. Castelao is known to produce wines with a higher than average acidity, and if you have been following my blog for a while, I suppose you know that I like such wines. The other reason I bought that bottle is that I was also a bit curious what the quality is of such a mass produced wine.

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I can be very clear about that : it was better than I expected, and actually a very good price quality ratio! The nose let me believe for a moment that this was going to be a very ripe wine, and rather not my cup of tea, with dried fig, plums, spices, and a hint of tobacco. But the wine was surprisingly fresh, and even quite structured, with sturdy but good tannins. A nice companion also with the cured goat cheese. I paid 4,40€ for the half bottle, so a whole bottle will not make you go bust either.

I’m pleasantly surprised by this Periquita, which was the first red bottled in Portugal (around 1850) according to the winery’s website. And it only strengthens my interest in Castelao. So be warned, there might be more Castelao reviews comings up soon…

Exciting stuff coming out of Portugal

I left on holidays today, yay! And Portugal is my destination. No wine holidays really, but I hope to squeeze in a winery visit or two. Or three… 

Most people will know Portugal for its port wines or for the still reds of the Douro and the Dao. Even though I can appreciate a good port, these are not the wines that I spontaneously look for when buying wine. My mistake probably. Maybe I will try and schedule in a visit of a port winery, we’ll see.

When it comes to Portuguese still reds, I generally find these wines pleasant to drink. These are generally very ripe and fruit-driven wines, great partners for a summer bbq. In Belgium, however, the Portuguese reds that you find in the supermarkets are often budget wines,  priced around 5€ or even less. Not bad per se, but also not the wines you really go looking for either. On top of that, my personal preference goes to wines that are a bit fresher, with a natural tension, higher acidity. The Portuguese wines that are commonly found in Belgium tend to be full bodied, very ripe and a bit too easy going for my personal taste. 

So not much to look forward to, you might think? Well quite the contrary, actually. There are quite a few hidden gems in Portugal. So, in order to get in the mood for my holidays, I did a bit of research and ordered a number of Portuguese wines of which I thought they might please my taste buds. And I found quite a few interesting bottles. Here’s a few recommendations :

Bairrada

If you have not heard of Bairrada before, that’s ok, this is not a region that receives alot of press attention. And that is a pity, really, because the wines from this region deserve to be better known. Why? One word : baga. This is the name of the local grape that is used to make red wine. For long it produced very rustic, tannic wines, but some wine makers have started making wines that are a bit lighter, with a lighter touch of oak, and tannins that do not condemn your wines to the cellar for 20 years. 

Filipa Pato is such a “new style” wine maker, with new style also meaning natural wine, use of amphorae, the whole lot. She is the daughter of Luis Pato, one of the leading names in Bairrada and someone who still makes wines in a slightly more “rustic” style, as I have been able to taste. Filipa Pato has several bagas and I have tasted two of them so far, and both deserved to be mentioned here! 

The first is called Post Quercus 2016, which is Latin for « post oak ». A very clear statement : no oak barrels used for this wine. They used amphorae for this wine, and the wine is made with as little intervention as possible. This gives a rather light, but compelling wine, exuding aromas of iron, cherries, and minerality. This wine has written cool climate all over it. And yes we are in Portugal. But on the Atlantic Coast… and that makes a big difference!

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This is a 50cl bottle!

The second baga of Filipa Pato I tasted was the Territorio Vivo 2015, partly aged in amphorae, partly in old wooden barrels. The nose is a very pretty, very noble and refined, with cherries, leather, and a bit of smoke. The wine is pretty rustic at first and needs some time to open up, but when it does, this wine shows its character. Still young, but great potential. More structured and serious than the Post Quercus, but still very attractive, again very cool climate. This wine can do with a bit of food at this point. A couple of years further cellaring will surely benefit the wine.

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It strikes me that both wines remind me of nebbiolo. The red fruit, the acidity, and above all the structure. It’s hard not to make this comparison. But let’s be honest, there are worse comparisons to be made…

Lisboa

Rodrigo Filipe makes organic wine in the Lisboa region, but did not get the DOP qualification for his Humus Lca 2015. It wasn’t considered typical! So he just bottled it as vinho regional, a regional wine. I surely don’t mind, because this wine is excellent as far as I’m concerned. This is a wine made of castelao, a grape mainly used on the peninsula of Setubal. Here it gives a rather light, but exciting red wine with cherries, raspberry, roses, and a touch of wood in the nose. Quite complex! Again a beautifully fresh wine, that actually makes me think of a very good Beaujolais. Light, juicy, salivating. A wine you just can’t get enough of. Just chill the wine a bit and you will have a delightful glass, also in the summer.

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I forgot to take a picture of the Castelao… This is actually the Tinta barroca, also good!

Douro

Yes, Douro! I enjoy a glass of Douro from time to time. But in general, the ripeness of Douro reds makes me stop after one or two glasses. Not in the case of Luis Seabra! He is the former winemaker of Douro star, Dirk Niepoort, but set up business for himself. And it’s clear why he did that. His Xisto Illimitado 2015 is a very tight and tense red. The dried cherries that playfully whirl out of the glass do not yet give away the surprise. But when you take your first sip, you immediately realize that this is definitely not Douro business as usual. This is mineral, fresh, razor-sharp, and powerful, and yet elegant. Wow, I did not see this coming… Painfully young almost, with very robust tannins leaving their traces, but they are ripe, and make the act of opening this bottle forgivable. Again a wine, by the way, that was not allowed in the DOP qualification because of its lack of typicity… 

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The label is as tight as the wine

It seems that I don’t like typical Portuguese wines! Luckily there are quite a few people in Portugal who dare to defy tradition. They definitely won me over.

Let the holidays begin!