Living on the edge (Bairrada, Portugal – Day One)

I could have picked a lot worse places to celebrate entering my fourth decade on the planet than Lisbon, a city that lives up to its status as a European capital city. Much alcohol and little sleep was enjoyed over the weekend, and many visits to the Bairro Alto part of the old town as well. Whilst it was nice having five days off from the wine as I celebrated my 30th birthday, it was almost relief to get back into the familiar territory of visiting wine regions. The only problem with that idea is the fact that I know almost nothing about Portuguese wine, even the most famous one of all, port. I’m always up for a challenge, and relished the chance to learn about a country not really appreciated outside their borders, mostly because they aren’t great at promoting their regionally distinct premium wines, and partly because most of the good stuff is consumed within the country. I chose to visit only three regions which represent the top quality wines and are all in the northern part of the country within Oporto, the second largest city. The first was the coastal region of Bairrada, which has been known for its sparkling wines for many years but is starting to gain recognition for its red wines made from the indigenous baga variety.
Traditional method sparkling wines at Sidonio de Sousa

The first winery I visited is not only the shining light of the Bairrada region, but also a great ambassador for Portuguese wines everywhere. Luis Pato is a grower/producer that has been a champion of Portuguese indigenous varieties, particularly baga and is a members of the Baga Friends group that promotes the variety. His father Joao was the first producer to bottle wine from his own vineyards after the demarcation of the region. His son Luis further revolutionised the region by introducing such revolutionary techniques as destemming the fruit and ageing in French oak barriques back in the 1980s. He has travelled all over the world learning about wine, and has been involved with wine judging in London for some time. His daughter Filipa continues the tradition, recently returning to Bairrada from the Dao region. Luis himself took me through a tasting from barrel, which was interesting to see the difference between different varieties, terroirs and vine ages. Unfortunately I didn’t and Luis didn’t seem to have enough time to have more of a tour than just seeing and tasting some of the barrels, so there aren’t many photos I can show or more information I can give. I joined Sara Rodrigues e Matos for lunch at a local restaurant where I got to try some of the wines with some regional food. The most famous dish in this part of Portugal is the suckling pig that is stuffed and roasted on fire made from vine prunings, and cut directly onto the plate, an absolute cracker with locally made sparkling red wine (although Luis doesn’t make one). Click here to see my notes on the tasting from barrel and a few wines from bottle.

Barrels at Luis Pato

In the afternoon I struggled to find my second appointment because I wasn’t sure of the address, and as is common there was no sign indicating the winery. The winery I eventually arrived at is Sidonio de Sousa, another Baga Friend located within the village of Sangalhos. Sidonio de Sousa is a very small producer that focuses on the classic Bairrada wines including sparkling white and red wines from indigenous varieties. Winemaking is typically traditional, like the use of shallow open lagars to crush, ferment and macerate the red wines. Things are very small-scale and quite cramped, but somehow Paolo and his family manage. The sparkling wines are made in the traditional method completely by hand, and are aged along with the red wines under the winery/house. The fruit for the wines only comes from their own vineyards, which unfortunately I didn’t get to see and can’t really speak about. As Paolo has a limited grasp of English there wasn’t a lot I could ask so felt that this was a missed opportunity. The wines are fantastic if a little bit different, and I got to taste the first sparkling red on my trip. Click here to read my notes on the tasting.

A bottle of reserva ageing in the cellars of Sidonio de Sousa

Click here to see a few more photos from my first day in Bairrada, Portugal. Tomorrow I visit a few more producers before moving on to the Dao.

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