Portugal Diaries Day 3: Bairrada and Beyond
Today we left rainy Porto and head to hopefully sunny Alentejo. On our way to Evora, we stopped for a lunch visit at Luis Pato Winery.
Luis is a legend in his own time, often called Mr. Baga, the most dominant grape variety in the area.
Bairrada is made up of small plots, either sandy or chalky soils, and either North or South exposure. Each terroir produces a characteristic profile. Luis was the first in Portugal to recognize the singularity of plots by designating single vineyard labels.
We learned that sandy soil is great for white wines. Bairrada is 12 miles from the ocean and is impacted by winds and humidity, with foggy mornings, hot days and cool nights.
His wines are characterized by their high acidity and minerality. There are 4 white grape varieties:Bical (grafted and ungrafted), Maria Gomez, Cercial and the hybrid Sercialinho.
40% of their production is red, from Baga and Touriga Nacional.
There was a big family fight when Luis told his father he was going to study chemical engineering instead of farming but he came back to the winery and found that his education taught him how to improve the winery. For instance he practices organic farming and does not use sulfites because he oxidizes his wines during production and they can last decades.
Pato means duck and there are ducks on the winery and the 3 ducks on the label symbolize his 3 daughters. Besides, the ducks eat the bad insects.
Luis has 50 hectares of vineyards and produces 300,000 bottles annually from his own grapes only.
He produces 3 levels of wine: the entry level which have the names of the grapes on the label; next level is vinhas velhas and the highest level are his single vineyard wines.
He took over the winery in the 1980s and has earned the title of Mr. Baga and also the “rebel” because he bucked the trend to plant only French varietals and instead focused on the little known local varieties. Time has proven him correct.
He has learned to adapt the local grapes to the most suitable terroir. For instance his single vineyard Quinta do Ribeirinho is ungrafted Baga grown on sandy soil. His wine “8” is Baga grown on grafted vines in chalky soil.
For aging, Luis uses large 500 liter barrels called pipes which allow for evolution without acquiring a wood profile. They are suitable for his style of terroir driven wines.
Bairrada is also known for sparkling wines and the winery uses both the traditional and ancestral methods of sparkling wine production (single fermentation in the bottle).
His whites are known for their longevity and in fact the winery has just started selling the 1991 vintage.
As for the Baga, Luis claims that young Baga reminds him of Nebbiolo, 20/30 year old reminds him of Sangiovese and 35/40 year old Baga reminds him of Pinot Noir.
When asked how he makes a white sparkler and a red from the same harvest from the Baga, he said he developed the technique of 2 harvests: 1st harvest in August when the grapes are green is destined for the sparkling wines and the 2nd in September is for the reds.
Our appetizers of various local specialities such as empanadas of cod and meat and calamari were accompanied by these wines:
Maria Gomes Sparkling NV, on sandy soil, cider aroma; Vinha Pan Baga Rosé Informal 2014, aroma of cider/apples, orange hue, 3 years on lees;
Vinha Pan Baga 2015, no sulfites, uses hyper oxigination from beginning so sulfites are not needed; a blanc de noir, yeast, a big difference between the Baga rosé and this wine.
Luis joined us for lunch, and what a lunch it was! Carrot soup, roast suckling pig and 2 desserts: the local version of crème brulé and tapioca.
The wines accompanying lunch were stupendous:
Bical 2017 grown in chalky soil, 6 months in chestnut barrels;
Vinha Pan 2016, Baga vinified as red from the 2nd harvest;
Cercial 2017 Parcela Candida (not to be confused with Madeira’s Sercial) bright, soft, rich wine, less acidity;
Cercial 2015 Parcela Candida, what a difference 2 years of aging does: deep yellow color, reminiscent of an aged Riesling
O Pan do João 2017 Baga, hyper oxigenated, Luis calls it “Early Harvest” wine, .8% RS
AM 2011 (Abafado Molecular) fermenting must stopped with high residual sugar, wine was frozen and juice extracted from the water, from Cercial and Sercialinho.
Luis Pato was a rebel and you should enjoy the fruits of his rebellion.
We then checked into our 5 star hotel in Evora next to the 11th century aqueduct. Evora is one of the most charming towns you’ll ever see. It’s a walled city with a warren of tiny narrow streets. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.