The Three B’s

She repeated it several times.

“When you talk about Bairrada you only need to remember the three B’s.”

Now I have a dirty mind, and the three B’s I first recalled were not exactly “Bical, Baga and Bairrada“, but it is undoubtedly a good mnemonic when it comes to memorising one of Portugal’s few wine regions focused on mono-varietals.

Bairrada lies nestled between the mountainous Dão and the Atlantic ocean. The oceanic influence is strong, and saline qualities are perceived by many in the wines. The soils are dominated by limestone terraces interspersed with sandy clay, and due to the maritime climate winters are mild and rainy and summers hot and windy.

Nearby Coimbra has always been an important cultural and administrative hub, with a one of the oldest universities in Europe and a history reaching back to Roman times. During the Napoleonic wars the famous battle of Buçaco played out along the Bairrada mountain range of same name, the effects of which Filipa touches upon lightly, merely mentioning an abundance  of French forces in the area at the time.

The vineyards of Filipa Pato lie only 15 kilometers from the Atlantic, in the middle of Bairrada. All the vineyards are oriented east – which means they mainly enjoy the morning sun and escape the burning afternoon rays. A great help to the vignerons of the area is the river Cértima. Together with the neighbouring mountains and the ocean it keeps the humidity. That’s why this area of Bairrada can be surprisingly cool — openness to the ocean, mountain, cooling river.

Pato works with more than 20 plots – a total of about 60 hectares. The bulk of the vineyards are located within three villages, but she also has vineyards in the south of Bairrada for the reds. Quite recently she had the chance to buy almost 7 hectares of really good quality baga vineyards, which has has enabled her and Wiliam to develop and diversify their red wine range. They’ve also started making their own compost, which they try to use every three years in the vineyards. ”It’s always the first thing you do when you arrive in a new vineyard is to use our compost.” Filipa said. That together with a cocktail of cereal and green beans have proven highly beneficial to the vines.

Filipa Pato 3B

The first wine we tasted was the 3B. Bairrada is the most famous region in Portugal for serious sparkling wines, and Pato’s non dosage rosé is – if not a very typical example of a Bairrada sparkling – then a high quality introduction to it. This wine spends a minimum of nine months on its lees and is vinified without sulphur. Filipa likes to bottle in November before the wine has completely stabilised, so the wine both finishes fermentation and stabilises in the bottle. At degorgement the 3B is topped up with more of the same wine, making it a non dosage. The wine has a lovely aroma of wild strawberries, a structured start and an integrated acidity with soft bubbles.

Bical & Arinto 2018

Arinto can be found in all areas of Portugal and is – as here – usually used in blends. The grapes are picked a few weeks apart, fermented separately (mostly in tank, but about 10% goes into oak cask) and blended right around when spring returns to the Bairrada region.

The 2018 vintage is a ridiculous amount of bang for your buck. It’s a simple wine, but I can’t imagine a customer who wouldn’t be pleased by it as a by-the-glass pour, and the low alcohol (11,5%) and light, supple mouth feel makes it food-friendly budget saver.

Post Quer…s Bical 2017

In the old days the wine growers of Bairrada would vinify their bical like a red wine. To honor this tradition Filipa lets the wine for the Post Quer…s ferment on its skin in amphora. The first year they used the amphora was in 2013, and if possible they try to use those made from local material – the village itself is surrounded by clay soils.

In old texts the best location for white wines in Bairrada – the grand cru so to speak – was said to be the village Pato is located in, a mid-sized hamlet by the name of Óis do Bairro. Wines from here were the first to be exported to the Portuguese colonies and were rumored to be the best you could get. Sometimes the wines was even allowed to finish fermentation aboard the ships, a practice the mere mention of which would probably send most modern winemakers into a fit.

The grapes for the Post Quer…s are harvested quite early compared to the bical used in the other wines. An early harvest is extra important for Filipa, since she wants to retain enough acidity to carry the wine through skin fermentation. The wine hasn’t gone through filtration or decantation since it was completely stable and had finished both alcoholic and malolactic fermentation well before bottling.

The wine shows a light, pleasing bitterness at first. Integrated medium acidity and aromas dominated by charcuterie, lemon zest and ginkgo nuts. Slowly waning aftertaste with a slightly fiery finish.

Roleta Russa 2017

The Roleta Russa is an idea of Wiliam’s. It’s basically bical vinified in an oxidative style. The grapes are hand picked and the bunches are then slowly pressed and then left on their lees in a 2000l Stockinger oak cask for 22 months. Apparently a killer combo with oysters and another example of how to successfully combine innovation and tradition.

The wine has a discrete, unobtrusive nose, juicy, thirst-quenching acidity, nice concentration on the middle of the tongue and a pleasing, raspy mouthfeel. Long length with aromas of fresh dates, yellow plums and white currants.

Nossa Calcário Bical 2018

The Nossa Calcario Branco comes from a vineyard in Óis do Bairro bought in 2007. The vines average at about 40 years and grow on slopes with chalky clay soils. After a long, soft pressing of full bunches the free run juice ferments and matures in used 500l casks along with one 1500l cask over a period of 8 months. This was perhaps the first cuvée that really opened my eyes to Filipa’s wines. Structured, sleek and saline it’s been a life saver with difficult food and wine pairings as well as guests missing their Burgundy wines in a restaurant with an all-Iberian wine list.

The 2018 Nossa Calcario has a distinct aroma of oyster shells followed by saltwater, kelp, turnip and snowberry. Long and sleek with a nice lift in the finish and a slight hint of tannins on the tongue.

Dinamica Baga 2018

The Dinamica Baga is made with grapes sourced partially from Filipa and William’s estate vineyards in Ois do Bairro, and partially from other growers in various villages.. The grapes are fully destemmed and fermented in tank with a gentle extraction. All the different plots are vinified separately, and only later assembled into the Dinamica cuvée.

A first whiff misled me into thinking it had gone through carbonic maceration, but the mouthfeel with its chewy tannins quickly belied this. A sharp acidity and herbaceous aromas of raspberry, oregano and tarragon fizzes out a bit too quickly, but then again the wine is young and will certainly find its balance in the future.

Território Vivo 2017

With Território Vivo Filipa wants to show the potential of Baga made from old vines. The grapes are selected from several different small plots of mainly bush vines – all of around 80 years of age – and then partly destemmed and fermented in open oak lagares. After fermentation the wine matures for a year in used oak casks of various sizes before being bottled. 

And the result? A pleasing acidity, medium length and firm, harsh tannins that need a bit more aging before they smooth out. The aftertaste has notes of bramble, Sichuan pepper and ceder and the wine will probably be a welcome company to any meal once it has seen some more aging.

An interesting detail that Filipa mentions is that the vineyards that are interspersed with olive trees generally have less problems with frost. The olive trees also attract insects and wildlife and more than make up for the loss in yield. The local variety that is planted in most of the old vineyards is called galega, a small olive with a pointed shape and apparently distinct taste. Filipa does produce some olive oil from these olives, but only for family consumption.

Nossa Calcario Tinto 2017

The Nossa Calcario Tinto has changed a bit in character over the years, but the 2017 vintage gives us a focused and precise portrait of baga and is perhaps better than ever. Bunches are hand-picked from the oldest vineyards, then partly destemmed and fermented in open oak lagares. 2017 was a year with good grape maturation, but perhaps partly thanks to the age of the vines Filipa has managed to avoid any and all jammy notes in the wine. With aromas of blueberry, raspberry and a structured, almost bloody approach in the mouth it carries a medium length with tense tannins and a slightly anonymous fruit profile. A very young wine with a long life ahead of it that should benefit greatly from decanting.

Post Quer…s Baga 2017

The Post Quer…s is another homage to the winemaking traditions of the area. The grapes come from different vineyards in Bairrada and are partly destemmed before fermenting in open amphoras above ground. This vintage Filipa used 9 amphoras of 500l. After fermentation the wine matures in amphora for six months before  bottling. According to Filipa one of the great benefits of amphora is that you have the micro-oxygenation but not the tannins of oak casks. Baga has more than enough tannins of its own, and the amphoras helps smooth down the wine without any unnecessary additions to its tannic bite.

The 2017 Post Quer…s is juicy and sleek, with a medium length and chalky tannins. This vintage is less unruly than some of the previous, but that could also be a sign of a winemaker perfecting her technique. Aromas in the nose are reflected on the palate with a burst of purple berries, oregano and fried forest mushrooms.

Nossa Calcario Tinto Magnum 2011

Filipa remembers 2011 as an easy year. The harvest started at the same time in both 2011 and 2017, but while the 2017 was matured in both small and big oak casks the 2011 saw only small casks. 2011 was also the only year they didn’t use a percentage of whole clusters since Filipa didn’t have the chance to monitor the picking herself. In comparison with the 2017 the 2011 has slightly more uneven tannins and aromas of black cherry, pencil and camphor. The color is darker and thicker and while the wine has aged well there isn’t necessarily any point in keeping it longer.

Nossa Missão 2015

The Nossa Missão is made from pre-phylloxera vines from a 0,57 ha vineyard of the same name. The soil however is not sandy as one could assume, but shallow limestone with red clay and pebbles. The vines only produce about 1-2 bunches each. These are carefully sorted and partly destemmed before fermenting in amphora, and receive a daily punch-down over three weeks. The wine is then aged in used casks for 18 months before being bottled without filtration.

In 2014 they only managed to harvest 50kg of grapes. In 2015, 2016 and 2017 they managed to pick just enough for one cask, but in 2018 the yield was so low that they put the grapes together with the Nossa Calcario Tinto instead.

The wine has an unusual aroma of medicine cabinet, green tea leaves and dried rosehip. The tannins are firm and textured, the acidity high yet integrated and the structure elegant and austere. The wine finishes with a fiery note and slightly dry tannins and benefits greatly from being served with food to lure out the aromas.

Espirito do Baga 2015

The Espirito is a classic fortified wine of which the brandy used comes from local baga grapes. The first year Filipa made this wine was 2010, and since 2013 it has been in the D.O.C.  Only 3 growers in the area make this style of wine, but Filipa hopes that the practice will spread in the future. The Espirito opens up with aromas of orange zest, raw sugar and pickled cherries. It’s a slightly rough wine, with an aroma profile nearly dominated by rowan berries on the palate. It finishes off with a hint of green tea leaves and mothballs. More interesting than seductive at this point, but I may be too harsh of a judge.

Contrary to many winemakers Filips prefers to tame her new oak casks with entry level wines at first. She believes the new oak can ”burn” the more delicate wines and says; ”I believe it is better to buy better quality oak and then use them for a lifetime than to buy normal oak and just use them for 5-6 years.” Another important factor is of course the cork. She has found a good cork supplier who owns a cork forest unmarred by pesticides in the area and believes a big part of the problem with TCA nowadays can be traced back to the huge increase in pesticide use in agriculture.

Filipa and Wiliam have also made a conscious decision to sto planting vines during summer, because then you have to irrigate, and the vines get addicted so easily, so then you end up having to irrigate year after year after year. Instead they plant in February, which is difficult since they have to plant by hand (the machines don’t arrive in Bairrada until the summer months) but the quality of the vines remains high, the wines remain complex and enjoyable, and wine lovers like you and I stay happy!

 

 

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