A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Baga - Barraida, Portugal

This will be the 78th post on Fringe Wine, yet it is my first foray into Portugal.  It's certainly not because Portugal lacks unusual or interesting grapes.  On the contrary, Portugal may be second only to Italy in its wealth of indigenous grape varieties (have a quick look here).  There are a few reasons why Portugal hasn't been covered here until now.  The first major problem is simply availability.  Most shops I go to have a perfunctory section on Portugal that has a small handful of wines, nearly all of which are either Vinho Verde or a Touriga Nacional/Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo, Aragonez, whatever you want to call it) based blend from the Douro or the Dão.

The second major issue concerns the nature of most of the wines from Portugal.  The Portuguese table wines that I am able to find are nearly always blends of several different grapes.  I personally don't have anything against blends, but they can be difficult to write about, especially when many of the labels on Portuguese wines don't give you any indication of what grapes have been used.  The wines may be (and often are) pretty good, but for my purposes on this blog, if I don't know what's in the bottle, then I don't have an angle and there's no story for me.  I have been able to find a few bottles from Portugal made solely from a single unusual grape or mostly from one, so hopefully Portugal's presence will start to be a little more noticeable around here.

One of the grapes that I had been really searching for was the Baga grape.  When I get bored sometimes, I flip through Oz Clarke's Grapes and Wines to try to find new grapes to be on the the lookout for.  Baga is near the beginning of the book (as you might imagine, since it's referenced alphabetically) so I tended to trip over his write-up of the grape fairly frequently.  It turns out that it's one of those grapes that's more common than you may think and many people have probably had the grape before without being aware of it.  Mateus, the sparkling rosé which, at one point in time was responsible for 40% of the total of Portuguese wine exports, is made from a fairly large proportion of Baga grapes (Sogrape, the parent company, is located in Barraida, Portugal, Baga's current home). Baga is actually well suited for this kind of mass-produced product as it has a tendency to very high yields and has fairly thick skins which make it resistant to a large number of fungal diseases (an important quality in the wet, Atlantic coastal region of Portugal).  Baga has a tendency to searingly high acidity and tough tannins, so I'm guessing that the blending partners that Sogrape chooses to mix with Baga soften these as bit, as does the healthy wallop of sugar they dose the wine with.

Baga is produced almost exclusively today in Barraida, which is just south of the Douro and is located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Dão (it's possible that the grape is actually native to the Dão, but its current home is definitely Barraida).  Historically, Barraida was the source of dense, dark wines that were often used to stretch the Port supply either through deliberate mislabeling or through blending into Port wines so that the producers could keep up with the booming demand from England.  In 1756, though, the prime minister of Portugal ordered that the vineyards of Barraida be torn up in order to protect the reputation of the Port region.  In 1908, when the Portuguese government was laying the groundwork for what would eventually become their appellation system, the Barraida region was excluded and was only accepted in 1979 after heavy lobbying from locals.  It is unusual among Portuguese regions in that a large majority of acreage in the region is devoted to a single grape.  As mentioned above, Portugal is a land of blends and most regions have a large mixture of different grapes growing within their borders.  Barraida's production is heavily based on the Baga grape and, thus, the region's vineyard area is dominated by Baga plantings to the tune of about 25,000 acres of land as of 2004.

It took me a few months, but I was finally able to track down a bottle of the 2007 Casa de Saima Baga Reserva from my friends at the Wine Bottega for about $18.  In the glass, the wine was a medium purple-ruby color.  The nose was nicely aromatic with crushed blackberry, black cherry, leather, cola, and dark tobacco notes.  There was also a bit of tart red currant there as well.  On the palate, the wine was on the fuller side of medium with high acid and medium tannins.  There were flavors of tart and black cherry, wild blackberries, cola and spicy leather.  The wine had a kind of briary, brambly feel to it with nice dark berry fruits.  The acid here was definitely high, but the tannins weren't too clunky and were integrated pretty well into the wine.  This probably has the structure to hang around for a few more years and soften up a bit more, but it was drinking nicely when I opened it.  The acid and tannins here demand food and I would think almost any kind of red meat would be nice here.  If you've got an acidic sauce like a tomato sauce or something, so much the better.  For under $20, this is a very nice wine that fans of other tannic, high acid wines like Nebbiolo or Xinomavro especially might want to check out.

No comments: