Meet Mr. Mendes – Master of Alvarinho

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“My wine is made in the vineyard.”

Finally I’m meeting the man behind so many of Portugal’s great white wines. Reds as well. I’ve followed Anselmo for some years by now and I can’t recall I’ve bumped into any disappointments. It’s an odd feeling. I haven’t met him but feel I’ve learnt to know the man through his wines.So, what kind of person is he?

Anselmo has brought his charming wife. After having introduced myself the first Anselmo basically says is that his wines just reflects the vineyards he’s working with; “My wine is made in the vineyard.”

A strange statement one could argue. After all, the man uses French oak for some of his Alvarinho wines. Sure, but he’s combining that with the very best techniques tradition offers. As an example, Anselmo allows many of his Alvarinho wines one or two days of skin contact at the fermentation. Furthermore the treading is without destemming. He’s also found out that Alvarinho benefits from a delicate battonage on the lees. Not too much because then there’s a risk you loose the bright fruit flavors of the grape.

The region of Vinho Verde is huge and stands for a substantial part of the Portuguese wine production. Quantity is also the number one enemy of quality wine producers such as Anselmo Mendes. They kind of disappear in the flood of cheap wines and brands which blocks the consumers awareness – or rather will, to spend more than a few bucks on a Vinho Verde. Too few of us simply knows about their existence. The high quality Vinho Verdes that is. Although the region has a lot to work with in order for Vinho Verde to gain some acknowledgment, it is just as much a responsibility for wine journalists to tell the world about the likes of Anselmo Mendes, Soalheiro, Ameal, Feital, Gomariz or Afros.

Yes, it is mostly about Alvarinho currently and personally I believe this is the path to follow and take advantage of for the producers. It is a recognized grape of great quality, for me, actually amongst the great green grapes. Next step would be to promote wines made of Loureiro and Trajadura for example. And all other indigenous grape varieties the region offers. But first, let’s introduce Alvarinho to the world.

Anselmo Mendes is a man of passion. It doesn’t take more than a minute to understand he loves what he’s doing. He really shines. And just like many other great winemakers I’ve met, humbleness seems to lead the way. That Anselmo’s skilled – and wanted – can be verified by the companies who consults him. Quinta do Ameal, Provam, Quinta da Gaivosa, Quinta do Vale da Raposa and Quinta de Covelos. The latest project of his is the Douro Quinta of dos Frades where he works with some amazingly old vines. Expect to hear more about these wines soon. Consult Anselmo and he will put focus on what matters the most, the vineyard – where the quality is born.

“My wine is made in the vineyard.”

Although Anselmo Mendes has projects outside of the Minho region – in Alentejo, Dão and Douro, it is Monção (where he’s born) and Melgaço he cherishes the most. The sub-regions of Monção and Melgaço, close to the Spanish border and hence the most northern part of Vinho Verde, has a climate which differs a bit from the one that is normally thought of when thinking Vinho Verde. Granitic soil and protected vineyards allow the grapes to reach a ripeness and minerality which are hard to beat in the region. But the climate also calls for some extra attention – picking the grapes needs to go quick and be done at the right time. One of the trademarks of Alvarinho, acidity, will otherwise drop quickly.

I’m tasting a quartet of his wines. Especially one wine I’m really excited to finally taste, the Curtimenta. A rare and extremely limited Alvarinho which has aged in French oak.

2010 Pássaros Alvarinho and Loureiro, Minho Valley, Lima Valley (86-87 p)

Soft pressing of whole grapes and a blend between two grapes. Youthful aromas of melon, wet rocks, orange peel and a slightly floral scent, reminding me of jasmine. Dry taste with a youthful and lovely fruit feel. Peaches and Anjou pears. Slightly spicy. Lots of mineral feel giving the wine a restrained finish. Approachable right away. A fine entry wine.

2010 Contacto Alvarinho, Monção and Melgaço (89-90 p)

The Contacto, first produced in 2008, gets a shorter skin contact. The result is really impressive. Melons, lime peel, wet rocks, fennel and a slightly waxy feel. Gorgeous acidity, restrained fruit and mineral feel. A bit herbal and peachy. Grapefruit bitterness. Long finish. Perhaps in need of an extra year before showing its best but already tasting great. Talking in terms of QPR, quality price ratio, this is hard to beat. A must buy for all Riesling fans in need of an alternative. Seriously, this is a wine to buy a case of.

2010 Muros de Melgaço Alvarinho, Monção (90-91 p)

Treaded without destemming prior. Fermentation in new and used French oak casks (which has been scraped in order not to allow toasted oak to shine through) and then aged for 6 months in oak casks. A steup up in class if compared to the Contacto. Higher concentration with scents of orange, fennel, summer flowers, melon and oozing of mineral. A totally different wine in the mouth compared to Contacto. Youthful and restrained, a creamy texture which notes of peaches, pears, lime peel and a waxy finish. Long, impressive but in need of age. Give it at least two years to settle.

2009 Curtimenta Alvarinho, Monção and Melgaço (92-93 p)

Anselmo’s wife pours the Curtimenta. Boy, have I wanted to taste this one for quite some time now. Sniffing. Sniffing again. Something is not right. Tasting. Yup. A slight hint of cork defect. For a few seconds I’m just so disappointed, thinking I missed my chance to taste the Curtimenta. But thankfully….one bottle left! And now things happen. This is a style of Alvarinho I haven’t encountered before. Two days in contact with the skin. Vertical pressing and fermentation in barriques. Then allowed to age for nine months in the barrels with battonage on lees. Half a year in bottle before released.

This is classy. Youthful nose with scents of toasted oak, minerals, white peaches and a slight floral note. I would have a hard time guessing Alvarinho on this one, blind. Restrained mineral driven taste with impressive fruit and balancing Alvarinho acidity. The oak is gentle and never intrusive, yet it is not fully integrated. Slight tropical note, herbs, fennel and dusty summer road. Long, pure finish. Amazing stuff and a proof that when in the hands of a master, Alvarinho and oak can be a great combination.

PS. A note on the 2008 Contacto here.

PS.2. Anselmo Mendes was earlier this year recognized as “Producer of the year” by Revista de Vinhos.

PS. 3. Anselmo has also released another limited Alvarinho, Parcela Unica. Never tried it. Anyone?

Buying? Check out Vinopedia. The Jeuris guys in Belgium retails an impressive line-up of Anselmo Mendes wines. My Swedish readers should note that the 2010 Contacto is released in October. QPR wise, a bargain.

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