Low-yield­ing al­var­inho is ver­sa­tile and has se­ri­ous po­ten­tial

The China Post - - LIFE -

Feted Por­tuguese wine­maker Jorge Mor­eira tends a sin­gle hectare of low- yield­ing al­var­inho with which he crafts his high-end Por­eira. The vines are planted on a steep slope at the top of his nine-hectare site in the Douro Val­ley’s easterly Sabrosa area. A re­cent com­ple­ment to his ul­tra-pre­mium red Por­eira, his al­var­inho is a fab­u­lous, highly tex­tured wine with bright acids and a gen­er­ous dose of min­er­al­ity.

The Douro is not the first place you’d ex­pect to find al­var­inho — but its pres­ence in this pre­mium wine re­gion, out­side its tra­di­tional home of Vinho Verde, at­tests to its se­ri­ous po­ten­tial. The more usual if less high pro­file white grapes in the Douro in­clude gou­veio and ra­bi­gato.

Wine­maker (and gen­eral manager) of classy Vinho Verde es­tate Quinta da Lixa, Car­los Teix­eira, as­serts that al­var­inho is not only the top grape “by far” of Por­tu­gal, but up there with ries­ling, semil­lon and viog­nier. He’s de­lighted to see it spread­ing across the world, even as far afield as South Africa and North Amer­ica. He says that in Por­tu­gal it is the most ex­pen­sive grape, fetch­ing more than one euro per kilo.

While the im­age of the wines of Vinho Verde has tended to be at the light and easy end of the spec­trum, wines made with al­var­inho can be rich, full-bod­ied and highly fra­grant with flo­ral tones such as honey­suckle and fruity notes like peach, ap­ple and cit­rus (and pos­si­bly trop­i­cal tones such as pineap­ple).

It can also be suc­cess­fully blended with grapes such as tra­jadura and loureiro. Wines from the Vinho Verde re­gion are usu­ally de­signed to be drunk young, but those crafted with al­var­inho can age for as long as 20 years, be­com­ing rounder and de­vel­op­ing or­ange-honey char­ac­ters.

Car­los Teix­eira has noted that con­sumers are now ac­cept­ing drier wines so he’s re­duc­ing the level of resid­ual sug­ars in wines like his fas­ci­nat­ing Pouco Co­mum (“Un­usual” in English), for which he gives the al­var­inho four dif­fer­ent treat­ments, and then blends the re­sults to­gether. Re­duced resid­ual sugar helps to de­liver a slightly en­hanced yet re­fresh­ing acid­ity.

Mean­while, across the Vinho Verde bor­der in the Span­ish re­gion of Rias Baixas (in wet and windy Gali­cia) the grape is known as al­barino and it is very much on the as­cen­dant. “Liq­uid gold!” says Mar­i­ola Varona, ex­port manager of high-end prop­erty Martin Co­dax. “We have been ex­port­ing our wines for more than 20 years, but it is only re­cently we have no­ticed the re­gion be­com­ing well-known,” she says. Th­ese wines are also very popular in Spain, and Mar­i­ola Varona says that what Rioja is for Span­ish reds, al­barino is for whites.

There’s some ri­valry be­tween the two re­gions with each be­liev­ing their ex­pres­sion of the grape is the best. But in fact they pro­duce quite dif­fer­ent wines. The Rias Baixas re­gion is dis­tinc­tive in be­ing a group of val­leys where the in­flu­ence of the rias (fords) gives a unique meso-cli­mate that pro­duces a ben­e­fi­cially long and slow ripen­ing pe­riod. Fur­ther, the soils are uniquely granitic. This, to­gether with the in­flu­ence of the At­lantic Ocean, cre­ates min­er­al­laced wines.

The Martin Co­dax Or­gan­istrum 2012 is a marked ex­am­ple of this. It has a creamy, lees-rich tex­ture but shows a stunning pu­rity of fruit, min­eral over­tones and a bit­ter almond fin­ish. Like Jorge Mor­eira’s Por­eira, the wine is de­fined more by tex­ture and fin­ish than aro­mat­ics. On the other hand, the more sim­ple Martin Co­dax 2013 shows how ver­sa­tile the al­barino grape can be. This wine is bright, lively and re­fresh­ing; a bril­liant seafood wine. It brings that squeeze of lemon ef­fect. As in Vinho Verde, it can also be blended — here with grapes such as loureira and caino.

There is no ques­tion that qual­ity has been mas­sively im­prov­ing across both coun­tries thanks to in­vest­ment in tech­nol­ogy and win­ery fa­cil­i­ties, and de­vel­op­ing knowl­edge in the vine­yard. At Co­dax they’re un­der­tak­ing anal­y­sis of ocean in­flu­ences to learn more about the po­ten­tial of al­barino, and ex­am­in­ing the var­i­ous dif­fer­ent ter­roirs in their own vine­yards so as to show the dif­fer­ent ex­pres­sions of the grape.

It is a sim­i­lar story in Vinho Verde, where in par­tic­u­lar bet­ter train­ing and trel­lis­ing have height­ened ex­po­sure to sun and wind, re­sult­ing in health­ier grapes. The re­gion is di­vided into nine sub­re­gions, with Mon­cao and Mel­gaco in the north­ern part tra­di­tion­ally seen as the epi­cen­ter for al­var­inho be­cause of its lower rain­fall and higher sum­mer mean tem­per­a­tures. But there’s now in­creas­ingly in­ter­est­ing work be­ing done with avesso and arinto across the re­gion — and cer­tainly arinto is an­other top white grape va­ri­ety to look out for. Stephen Quinn writes about wine for a va­ri­ety of pub­li­ca­tions in the re­gion. From 1975 he was a jour­nal­ist for two decades with the Bangkok Post; BBC-TV, The Guardian, ITN, the UK Press As­so­ci­a­tion; TVNZ; the Mid­dle East Broad­cast­ing Cen­ter in Dubai and a range of re­gional news­pa­pers in Australia. Dr. Quinn be­came a jour­nal­ism ed­u­ca­tor in 1996, but re­turned to jour­nal­ism full time in 2011. He is based in Hong Kong and is the au­thor of 17 books.

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