Some might say that organising a wine fair amidst the current circumstances is madness, and a small number of Simplemente’s regular winemakers were absent presumably on that basis. But João Roseira and his team worked hard to put together an event that met all the health and safety requirements. Notably, they switched to a new outdoor location in the idyllic gardens of FAUP (Faculdade de Arquitectura da Universidade do Porto, the architecture faculty of the University of Porto). Notwithstanding some light rain on Friday evening, the weather was just about perfect with balmy temperatures and a good amount of sun.
It felt very different to the more packed, chaotic atmosphere of previous years. The crowds were modest, but by the Saturday afternoon a nice buzz had built and all the tasting barrels had people gathered around them. As always, the variety and quality of the wines was stellar.
Tasting new vintages from some of the more well known names – Aphros, Casa de Mouraz, João Tavares de Pina, Luis Seabra or Folias de Baco is always a pleasure, but here I’ll focus on some favourite new discoveries.
It’s great to see more happening in the Azores, and this year Simplemente welcomed Entre Pedras for the first time. This is the fledgling project (est. 2019) of two young employees of the Azores Wine Company, André Ribeiro and Ricardo Pinto, based on Pico island. They rent a two hectare plot of old vines, and have two hectares of newly planted vines.
Their Arinto dos Açores (aka Terrantez da Terceira, and not to be confused with the much more common mainland Arinto variety) 2019 comes from the young vineyard. Unfiltered, wild fermented, and bottled with just a dash of sulphites, it has that exciting salinity and mineral energy that I love about Pico and volcanic wines, plus a bit of pickled peach on the finish.
Arinto dos Açores 2020 comes from the old vines, and is actually a field blend with a little Terrantez do Pico and Verdelho. This wine really steps things up a gear, with noticeably more concentration and a salty, chalky texture studded with crushed rocks and dried herbs.
Both these wines really impressed with mouth-watering acidity and expressiveness. They exude soul and authenticity. These guys really live and breathe wine too. As Ricardo told me, “when it gets to five o’clock we leave our day jobs and head into our vineyards to continue working”. They also manage the Pico vineyards for another promising Azores grower, Adega do Vulcão.
Espera and Herdade do Cebolal
Rodrigo Martins is a consultant winemaker based in Alcobaça (north of Lisbon), and makes his own wines under the name Espera. His first vintage for this project was 2014. A tight and salty Branco 2019 is made without any added sulphites, and fleshes out Bical’s rather savoury character with the bright acidity of Arinto. The 2020 palhete (red and white grapes co-fermented), made from a old field-blend vineyard is very crisp and lightweight with just a dash of red berries.
Palhete is a typically thirst-quenching and very old style enjoying a serious resurgence in Portugal. Some define it as having a majority of red grapes and a splash of white, although the reverse is true in Rodrigo’s example (85% white, 15% red). Even though EU wine laws routinely forbid red and white grape blends for quality wine, the regional wine commissãos in Portugal seem to be increasingly sanctioning these wines – although some producers sneak them through tasting panels as clarete, theoretically a very light wine made entirely from red grapes.
Espera’s Castelão 2020 ‘Natcool’ (an natural wine distribution initiative created by Dirk Niepoort) is a seductive raspberry-scented vin de soif, made with just two days of skin contact to keep it featherlite and fresh. Bottling wines like this in litre bottles is always appreciated!
Herdade do Cebolal is technically in Alentejo, but all of their vineyards are situated in the Península de Setúbal, the south-westerly corner of Alentejo that stretches out to the Atlantic. As a result, these wines have a a freshness that speaks much more of the sea than it does of the hot plains. The winemaker is Luís Mota Capitão, who took over running of the estate from his mother over the last decade.
My top picks were a peppery, Aragonez-dominated palhete 2020 and Vina da Rossio 2016, a seriously complex, savoury and salty white produced from a very old field blend vineyard, which has a beguiling bit of grip (phenolics) on the finish.
Finally some serious pet nats
As Rodrigo Martins jokingly told me one night, the two trendiest wine styles in Portugal’s winemaker or wine-geek communities right now now are pet nats and curtimentas (orange wines). Both were present in spades. I confess that I’m getting bored of pet nats. Too many seem just to be soft, amorphous creations that lack much sense of place. When they are disgorged before being put on the market, the risk is that they emerge with an even more neutral character.
I was delighted to taste two pet nats that reignited my passion for the style. Ládano, the project of winemaker Daniel Costa based in Douro, offered up a juicy mandarin-tinged blend of Codega and Viosinho which was thrilling in its crisp, salty drive.
Sem Igual’s rosé Pet Nat 2019 (a blend of Touriga Nacional and Baga) had similar electricity, crisp and nutty with a texture more reminiscent of a traditional method sparkling than of a ‘frizzante’, and a delicious whisp of redcurrant and raspberry.
Completing a trio of superb Pet Nats, Protótipo’s “P2” based on Arinto, Viosinho and Codega do Larinho had the belt of acidity that, for me, is necessary to make this style really thirst-quenching and moreish. Protótipo is the project of Manuel Valente, based in Távora-Varosa.
Making the cut
So, let’s talk about orange wines, AKA curtimenta. I must have tasted more than 30 over the weekend. Here are the ones that stood out.
Serra Oca’s Branco Curtimenta 2019 blends Arinto, Fernão Pires and Moscatel Gaudo (AKA Muscat of Alexandria) together, with around four days of skin contact. What I loved about this wine was its spicy, grippy tannins which provide the perfect foil for the lean citrus fruit and typical Atlantic freshness. You can feel subtle floral notes on the nose, no surprise as both Fernão Pires and Moscatel tend to head in this direction. This is a serious orange that delivers texture, excitement and depth. I didn’t get to put it to the test but I have no doubt it will be superbly food-friendly. Serra Oca is a line of wines made by Joana Vivas, at Quinta do Olival da Murta in Serra de Montejunto, north of Lisbon.
A&D wines (Quinta da Santa Teresa, Vinho Verde) produced a Curtimenta 2020 which is 100% Avesso. With three weeks of skin contact, it’s taken on a spicy redcurrant character while remaining extremely fresh and light on the texture. This is an orange that you can drink right now, although I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to age it for another year.
I’ve been following the Douro wines from Hugo Mateus and Ana Maria Hespanol at Quinta do Zimbro for a few years now, and this time they really nailed it with their Undo Curtimenta 2020. It’s a big blend of typical Douro white varieties including Viosinho, Rabigato, Codega, Gouveio and more.
All boxes are ticked here – it’s big on texture with quite a serious grip, bright tangerine fruit interwoven with fresh herbs, and an impressive feeling of harmony, all delivered in a lightweight package of 11% alcohol. This required 31 days skin contact, and I can safely say it’s their best curtimenta yet. Their Branco 2019 (Viosinho, Codega) also impressed.
I am a little confused by the branding. Hugo and Ana Maria now seem to use the name Grau Baumé for many of the more experimental wines – including this one. Still, the label is beautiful and minimalist.
Don’t panic, it’s organic
After attending Simplesmente Vinho last year, I had a bit of a winge about the many varied spiels and excuses for not working organically. This year, two estates restored a bit of my faith in Portugal by not only taking their farming seriously, but also making delicious wines.
Lagar de Darei is an estate that’s exhibited at Simplesmente right from the very first edition in 2013. Back then, José Ruivo (who purchased the quinta in 1997) was in charge, but these days his son Carlos Ruivo has taken over winemaking. The estate was certified organic in 2004, but Carlos’ father then had a bit of a run-in with the certification body and decided to stop. But Carlos insisted he wanted to return to working fully organically and with certification. It’s now in its final year of conversion and will be certified again from 2022.
All of Carlos’ wines impressed me, but perhaps fittingly for a Dão producer, it was the reds that stole the show. The entry level Dão 2015 (Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen, Alfrocheiro) is packed with juicy red fruit and Mediterranean herbs and a firm, sinewy texture that feels very typical of the region.
The Reserva 2015 (same blend as before) is much more structured, with a darker more plummy fruit character, balsamic notes and wonderfully sappy tannins. This is serious stuff, with all the classicism and gravitas that I love and expect from Dão. What makes it all the more wonderful is that both of these reds are completely unoaked, so all the focus is on the fruit.
Back in the Douro, organically farmed Quinta da Carolina is an estate that was created in 1999 by American winemaker Jerry Luper, but then purchased by the Cândido da Silva family. Luís Pedro Cândido da Silva handles the winemaking with admirable restraint and skill, working with minimal intervention in both vineyards and cellar.
Their Xisto Amarelo (yellow schist) 2018 and Quinta da Carolina 2017 both showed pure fruit, with plenty of Douro character: a little earthy with wild herbs and woodsmoke, but without over-extraction or overbearing woodiness. Wonderful wines which I hope to spend more time with in the future.
Finally, the weekend’s biggest surprise and one of the most outstanding wines I tasted over three days was a Riesling. José Madeira Afonso has 15 hectares of vineyards in the Beira Interior region (bordering Spain), and has been making wine since 1995, under the label Casa Altas. His Riesling 2020 is a full-bodied concentrated style that lures you in with spicy gooseberry and zesty grapefruit, and then opens out into a gorgeously chalky, leesy texture. The finish is very long, with a mouthwatering saline touch right at the end.
It would be easy to dismiss the idea of growing Riesling in Portugal, but this is a wine that shows plenty of varietal character, whilst also showing what Riesling can do on poor granite soils in Beira Interior’s warm continental climate. It ticks all the terroir boxes.
More importantly, as with everything I’ve mentioned above, it is simplesmente deliciosa.
For much more on Portugal’s top independent winemakers and artisanal wines, be sure to order the forthcoming book Foot Trodden – Portugal and the Wines that Time Forgot – by Simon J Woolf and Ryan Opaz. Pre-orders will be shipped out in September 2021. PRE-ORDER NOW