Baga Friends

This is a new association of Bairrada producers with one thing in common: they are passionate about the Baga grape. Baga is a variety that is grown throughout central Portugal but its purest expression is on the clay soils of Bairrada where it is by far the most dominant grape. In my book The Wines and Vineyards of Portugal (published in 2003) I say that Bairrada produces ‘the best and worst of wines’.  There is still some truth in this. The unpredictable Atlantic climate and the Baga grape together conspire to produce red wines that can range between being powerful, bold and long-lived to lean, mean and vegetal in style.  In fact a large amount of Mateus Rosé has been made from under-ripe Baga. 

Baga grapes are small and thin-skinned (Baga means ‘berry’). They ripen late and are highly susceptible to rot, especially if it rains in September.  The vines are vigorous producing excess foliage and therefore create a lot of work for quality conscious growers. No wonder that Baga is often pronounced a bit like a four letter word!     

This tasting brings together seven of the best Bairrada producers, including for the first time outside the famous Palace Hotel, the remarkable Buçaco wines. It included a few white wines, mostly made from Bical.  The following wines are some of the highlights from a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable tasting staged at the Portuguese Embassy in London. 

Buçaco 

Situated in a National Forest in the hills that divide Bairrada from Dão, Buçaco (sometimes spelt Bussaco) has to be seen to be believed.  Built as a royal palace, the Palace Hotel lives up to its name. The hotel started bottling its own wines in 1917. As the hotel is located on the boundary of two of Portugal’s leading wine regions, the hotels wines are generally blend of both. The wines (both red and white) rarely leave the hotel dining room and this is the first time I have seen them in the UK other than the occasional bottle sold at auction. For more information on older vintages back to 1959 see pages 156-159 of The Wines and Vineyards of Portugal.   

Buçaco Branco 2001 ****

From Encruzado grown in Dão and Maria Gomes and Bical grown in Bairrada, bottled after one year in new oak: lovely toasty, lanolin quality, slightly sweet with gentle acidity having aged well. Like a well made, old fashioned white Bordeaux.  17.5

Buçaco Branco 2005 *** / ****

Rather too much new oak for my liking on the nose, creamy, some minerality evident, quite fat mid-palate with a rich, full toasty finish 15.5  

Buçaco Branco 2008 ****

Rather more demure, some toasty oak but rich and creamy mid-palate with oak dominating again on the finish. Still a bit disjointed, needing time to draw together.  17+?  

Buçaco Branco 1955

Deep gold; resin and eucalyptus on the nose, strong and powerful, beeswax; similarly waxy on the palate, some bitterness but still alive with a thread of acidity all the way through to the finish. Fascinating to taste but impossible to award a mark. 

Buçaco Tinto 2005 ****

Sixty percent Baga from Bairrada and 40% Touriga Nacional from Dão: characteristic wild berry character with Baga dominating on the nose, just a little floral; firm, tight knit wild berry and hedgerow character, fine, well defined and focused with Touriga Nacional freshness finding its way to the finish. Impressive. 17.5   

Buçaco Tinto 2010 Reservado VM ****

VM stands for Vinha da Mata, a vineyard in Ois do Bairro, Bairrada. Only two vintages of this wine have been made, 2010 and 2001, with just 1,500 bottles: richer and deeper on the nose, dense for Buçaco; similarly rich and almost plummy on the palate with real concentration to it, firm, gravelly tannins rise on the palate towards the finish. Needs time but very promising. 18 

Buçaco Tinto 1960 

Pale browning-brick red; distinctly high-toned, rather faint and fragile with a vestige of minty fruit, rather dry and fruitless on the finish. Just about standing up but really only of historical interest and impossible to award a mark.  Strangely enough the white is more impressive!   

Filipa Pato 

Daughter of Bairrada winemaker Luís Pato, Filipa manages to find the time to make wine as well as being a mother of two children and dividing her time between Portugal and Belgium where her husband owns a restaurant. Like her father, Filipa is a wonderful maverick, coaxing the best out of the Baga and Bical grapes producing a modern style of wine primarily for export markets.

Filipa Pato Baga 2012 ****

Ripe, with creamy opulence and even a touch meaty on the nose, lovely sweet berry fruit, forward in style and absolutely ready to drink, elegant with lovely expressive acidity. Very different from traditional Baga-based Bairrada 16   

Nossa Calcário 2010 ****

Much more closed and tight knit, fine sinewy damson fruit and tannins, combining firmness and finesse with lovely purity on the finish. A fine expression of the Baga grape. 17 

Nossa Calcário 2011 ****

Riper and more foursquare in style, tight knit with good purity of fruit. Needs time to express itself. Not a showy wine at this stage.  17+? 

Luís Pato 

The Pato family has been producing wine in Bairrada since the eighteenth century.  Luis Pato took over the family estate from his father in 1980 and now farms 60ha of vines including the family’s most famous estate Quinta do Ribeirinho where there is a small plot of ungrafted vines. 

Vinha Barrosa 2011 ****

From 90 year old vines: the ripeness of the vintage shows up in this  wine with its open, almost minty nose; firm, ripe wild berry flavours, just a touch of hedgerow, backed by firm ripe tannins. A wine for the long term.  17.5+ 

Vinha Pan 2011 ****

Short for Panascal, a plot of slightly younger vines: closed on the nose by comparison, again ripe in style but more firmer and more minerally, spicy with gravelly tannins. 16.5

Pé Franco Valadas 2011 ****

Baga, planted on its own roots: sharing the same floral, minty ripeness as Vinha Barrosa but with more expression and concentration. There is even a touch of dark chocolate mid-palate. Fine and sinewy through to the finish. Lovely wine with a good future ahead.  18.

Vinha Pan 1995 (Magnum)  ****

 

Still deep in colour with characteristic wild berry  aromas and flavours, open mature and full of character and complexity. Spicy, full and rich. A fellow taster referred to this as ‘Baga heaven’ and I would not disagree.  18

Notes to follow:

Sidonio de Sousa

Quinta das Bageiras

Niepoort (Quinta de Baixo)

Quinta da Vacariça 

 

Location: Portuguese Embassy, London SW1

Scoring

19 - 20 An outstanding wine (*****)

17 – 18 An excellent wine in its class, highly recommended (****)

15 - 16 A good wine, with much to recommend it (***)

13 - 14 An enjoyable but simple, straightforward wine (**)

10 – 12 A very ordinary wine without faults but with no great merit (*)

8 - 10 Disagreeable (no stars)

Below 8 Faulty