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