Can I be a bit of an ego for a while? Yes, this is a long one, some of you will probably panic, give up and desperately look for scores at the bottom of the post. But if you call yourself a wine lover and care for the producers daring to make a difference, then seven or eight minutes aren’t much. Is it?
No one remembers a chicken, yet there are so few who dares and actually follow their own belief. I’m probably one of the chickens. You know what you have but not what you’re going to get. On the other side, that makes it easier to identify and admire the people who shows courage and spots potential instead of obstacles. Like Pedro Araújo.
Pedro is one of the frontmen of the viticultural revolution in Vinho Verde. The frontman, some would probably say. Evil tongues perhaps, what revolution. Still, the fact remains that a lot is happening in the region – Portugal’s largest – and the quality thinking is slowly gaining more and more ground. Some like things as it was before, perhaps afraid of losing a good income source, others believe the progress simply moves to slowly.
It’s no secret that Pedro Araújo has called for a broader and more flexible view when it comes to Vinho Verde, aware of the tough struggle his Quinta do Ameal faces, in order to market high quality wines from the region. As a reader here, you’re most likely aware of the fact that Vinho Verde is so much more than well-known brands produced in enourmous quantities. Probably you’ve had some Alvarinho from the sub-regions of Monção e Melgaço close to the Spanish border, getting a first hint that it’s not all about light and slightly fizzy wines with low alcohol. But how many are aware of the existence of the Lima Valley, south of the two more famous sub-regions just mentioned?
In Lima, the high yielding grape Loureiro reigns, at least here it’s character is best expressed. Not too close to the sea, not to far away either. Loureiro likes that. And here you will also find the two leading producers when it comes to putting the grape on the vinous map.
To understand a wine, a region or even more I believe – the person behind it – you need to visit the place. Having followed the Loureiro wines of Pedro for some years now, it felt logical to put him high up on the list when checking out Vinho Verde.
First of all, what characterizes Loureiro? The name, Loureiro, can be translated to laurel and the aroma of the grape resembles that of laurel flowers. You will probably also find scents of lime or lemon, orange blossom, stone fruits and peaches. It’s a generous grape if you’re in to high yields and has been popular to blend with for example the Trajadura, a grape that needs a little helping hand. Nowadays Loureiro is seen in blends together with Alvarinho, having gained a higher reputation the last decade. The grape has quite compact bunches which means it’s sensitive to mildew.
Tasting a Loureiro from Pedro and comparing to other producers, clearly shows what the guy wants to tell us; that keeping down the yields by green harvesting, turning to organic viticulture, harvesting grapes that shows the perfect balance between ripe fruit and high acidity, can result in wines like his two Loureiros. My point not being that the rest of the Loureiro produced in the Vinho Verde region is rubbish, au contraire, Quinta do Ameal is just a proof that the grape has a potential that perhaps has been foreseen previously. I guess this is the viticultural revolution Pedro just wants to be more recognized, in order to raise the awareness and repute of Vinho Verde’s diversity and potential.
It’s no secret and we all know it; some wine regions or countries doesn’t have to struggle as much as others to promote their wines. If you can label your wine as Burgundy or Chianti for example, the ride will be easier. Country wise, it is of course easier to be from France or Italy. Generally speaking though; don’t put too much in it. Being from Portugal means you have to be more active and work harder to convince the market. But even here there are differences in the effort needed. Douro versus Vinho Verde for example – and even more extreme – premium Vinho Verde versus cheap well-known Vinho Verde brands.
How shall a huge region like Vinho Verde work in order to promote the diversity and all the different styles of the sub-regions? But perhaps most of all, how are they going to promote and encourage frontmen who dares, the avantgarde, so they wont give up? That’s the most tricky part; or is it?
Quinta do Ameal isn’t a threat to the idea of Vinho Verde. It isn’t cultivating Chardonnay, nor is it giving the Vinho Verde wines a bad repute. Find a way to acknowledge and fully support the innovators. Don’t look back and feel safe with what you have; use the diversity to show the region’s strength and will to constantly look forward.
No, the biggest threat to Vinho Verde is the yield. You can never reach a higher quality level as long as the yields continue being extreme. Considering there are some major players in the region, one can suspect they will protect their interests and lobby for not reducing the maximum yields allowed. Still, as long as this will continue, Vinho Verde will in most consumers views, be that light, slightly fizzy low alcohol wine it always has been. Hence the price will remain low and no one wants to pay many euros for a bottle. Generalizing I know, the problem is more complex than that, but start with yields and await the effect on the wines.
“You can have the best chef in the world, but if you don’t give him the best ingredients you never go to excellence.”
For some years now, Quinta do Ameal, has been organic and in 2009 they were certified by Ecocert. In one of my discussions with Pedro he pointed out that, although consulting one of Portugal’s greatest winemakers, there were no way for Anselmo Mendes to produce magic if he wasn’t provided with the best grape materiel (see quote). Hence, Ameal is all about attention, cutting down the yields hearty (the yield is more or less a third of the Loureiro average in the region), going organic and picking at the perfect time. Basically it is about taking control without being extreme.
Pedro currently puts his focus on Loureiro. Yes, there is an espumante (sparkling) as well made mostly on Arinto, but his main passion is Loureiro. Two dry wines, the Quinta do Ameal Loureiro and the Quinta do Ameal Escolha. He has also produced two vintages of a pretty unique wine for the region, a Special Harvest Loureiro made in the Passito style, that is dried grapes.
It’s mid-March but unusually hot even for Portugal. We’re meeting Pedro at the beautifully located Quinta do Ameal, close to the village of Ponte de Lima. The area is amazing. Big trees surrounding and the cherry is blossoming; the smell of spring. Next to the house there’s a trellis looking patio, overlooking the vineyards and mountains. There are the bottles we’re going to taste, lined up!
Doing wine visits are, at least in my case, mostly about meeting the people behind the wine, to hear their story. Furthermore checking the facilities, the vineyards and its surroundings. Tasting the wines is of course also an important feature, but in order not to get blinded or lose focus, it is important to have tasted the producer’s wines before.
Discussing the wines we taste together, a 2010 Loureiro, a 2003 and a 2009 Escolha, before having the 2010 Special Harvest, while Pedro explains more in detail how they work the vineyards pointing at the different parts, is just great for a wine nerd. Then out, in the vineyards to check the soil, have a closer look at the vines and to feel the sun. Afterwards, the facilities to get the grip of the vinification techniques used. So rewarding and essential – on a personal level – to take the next step towards understanding and perhaps enjoying the end product even more.
The 2010 Loureiro is all about wet rocks, lime peel and a restrained, very gentle floral scent. Some white peaches mixed with pears. The taste is more grapefruit and pears. The minerality and acidity are present, calling for food. So clean and with a slight herbal finish. Some wines are easy to taste without food, others demand it. This wine reminds what it’s actually all about; accompanying food. That is the relationship we should focus on, the drinking and eating part. First then, a wine’s true nature is revealed.
The two Escolha wines demonstrates the latest vintage and that Loureiro surely can be cellared – and benefit from it. 2009 and 2003. It is now the controversy begins. The best parts and grapes of Ameal’s vineyard are used for the Escolha. The wine ferments and ages in Nevers oak, which is quite a rare sight in the region’s white wines. Sure, some premium Alvarinho up in Monção and Melgaço also spend some time in oak, but they aren’t many, the wines.
Pedro has found out that just a shorter time in barrique, in this case around six months for the Escolha, blends harmoniously with the Loureiro grapes of his. Only a few thousand bottles are produced yearly of the Escolha.
The 2003 Escolha has such an amazing greenish color. A joy to just watch. The nose is complex with waxy notes, lime peel, a hint of vanilla, wet rocks and stone fruits. Again, just a floral hint. Going through the memory bank and do find similarities with Riesling. Like crossing a German with an Aussie premium version. You’d expect a tired taste? Think again! Nothing indicating it is falling apart. Herbal, waxy notes with some honey. Completely dry with balancing acidity and a delicious creamy feel. Long, refreshing finish. A real eye opener for me.
The 2009 Escolha is the exact opposite. Youthful and filled with minerals and citrus fruits. Such a fine concentration in this glass. More elegance to it. Lime, white peaches, pears and flowers backed up by this again gentle oak treatment. Lots of mineral feel in the taste. The oak still needs some time to integrate but is getting there. Acidity….you got to have a weak spot for that mouth-watering acidity just craving for food, when you drink this Loureiro. Peaches and stone fruits again. Long clean finish.
Pedro is on his way abroad and offers the bottles with us home. The three dry wines are hence tasted during three days and keeps on evolving; well perhaps not the 2003 but nonetheless it stays fresh and alive (and enjoyable). 2009 is for sure the best Escolha I have tasted so far.
Then, the true rarity, 2010 Special Harvest. What can I say? The man likes to surprise! A Passito styled dessert wine where the Loureiro grapes are allowed to dry for a couple of months before the pressing starts. Only two vintages produced; 2007 and 2010. We’re being served the latest vintage which has less alcohol than the 2007, only 9 per cent.
Just a few hundred half-bottles produced of this light amber colored 2010 Special Harvest. Big nose of dried apricots, acacia honey, summer flowers and apples. It reminds me of something but I can’t recall what. The taste is where it really hits off. Hello fabulous acidity! My taste buds are blinded and I guess wrong, when Pedro asks me about the residual sugar content. 50 grams wrong! Such a cool, thick mouth-feel and yet fresh. Apples, the ones you taste in a Strudel di Mele, dried apricots and peaches, summer honey and orange blossom. Don’t hesitate to buy this one although it will cost a few euros. Lots of work in the vineyard behind this.
Do you care what’s in your glass? Are you an aware consumer? Do you wish to support the brave? Then Quinta do Ameal is a property to follow closely. But more important; do you like great wines with personality? Then this is the stuff you want to drink. And Pedro Araújo the guy you want to support.
To promote his wines, Pedro has chosen to work together with four other producers which simply help each other in spreading the word – The Independent Winegrowers Association.