Renewed impetus from a younger generation in the Azores has added new energy to the traditional ways in this remote outpost of the Portuguese wine industry, as Sarah Ahmed reports
The volcanic wine styles of Portugal’s Atlantic outpost will excite those wine lovers looking for something new and exciting, says Sarah Ahmed
ThREE huNDRED ThousAND years ago, 1,500km west of the European continent, explosive magma from the Atlantic ocean bed gave violent birth to Portugal’s highest mountain, Monte do Pico (2,351m). Today, seismic changes of a different order are shaking up Pico, the youngest of nine Azorean islands forged from lava flow.
In the years since my original, eye-opening visit in 2014, the seeds of a revolution sown by Fita Preta’s António Maçanita – then a charismatic Alentejo-based winemaker and consultant, now co-founder of Azores Wine Co – have sprouted vibrant green shoots. First, a mind-bogglingly ambitious renaissance of Pico’s vineyards. second, a flurry of the penetratingly dry, brisk, über-mineral, salt-flecked white wines which, two years ago, prompted me to wonder whether Pico might be the santorini of Portugal (with that volcanic Greek island’s popular Assyrtiko grape in mind).
Top wines produced on the island showcase two native grapes – Arinto dos Açores (thrilling zesty drive) and Terrantez do Pico (earthier, herbal, more textural) – and, new research suggests, their (fruitier) parent Verdelho, whose presence was reported in the Azores 200 years earlier than in Madeira.
They are worlds apart from the historic vinhos licorosos – dry to fully sweet, nutty, honeyed, saltily persistent liqueur wines (traditionally unfortified), a trickle of which are still made from these scarce Vitis vinifera grapes on Pico, Graciosa and Terceira islands, where they enjoy top-tier Protected Designation of origin status. or the correct if uninspiring wines made from local, mainland Portuguese and French varieties, which paved the way for the Vinho Regional Azores classification in 2004. Most of all, the rustic vinho de consumo/ vinho de cheiro – local table wines made from American grapes.