The wild wines of Colares, Portugal

Recently I visited Portugal for a friends wedding. It was one that sticks in the memory for all the right reasons; great hosts, great food, enormous amounts of sun and great wine. I was already a big fan of Portugese vinho and had tasted wines from the Douro, Alentejo, Vinho Verde, Lisboa, Dão and of course Madiera. Although, keen to try something new, I asked around and a friend recommended visiting Colares (pronounced ko-larsh). Have you heard of it? I certainly hadn’t.

Colares is Portugal’s smallest DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada). It sits just outside picturesque Sintra and a stone’s throw from buzzy Lisbon – irresistibly close to overlook. So, amidst the flurry of celebrations, Custard Tarts and Caipirinhas’s my partner and I hot-footed it over. On local recommendation we headed to the Adega Regional de Colares (the co-operative which represents several dozen growers). It’s in no way set up for wine tourism, but was all the more charming for it and proved a good starting point to get to grips with the 23 acre region.

The vineyards are sandy and vines grow wild and snake-like between bamboo shields protecting the fruits from the wind. This unique soil proved inhospitable to the unrepentant vine pest, Phyloxera. Making them among the oldest ungrafted vines in Europe, with some over 100 years old. The result; feisty and virtually undrinkable when young but with potential to become beautifully complex and interesting with age, most need at least 10 years. Ramisco (the native red varietal) is known for its staggering acidity, colossal tannins and low alcohol. It looks like Pinot Noir, with little berries growing on ungenerous vines – but unlike Pinot, has abnormally big seeds and thick skins – hence the tannins.

We tasted the co-operative’s Arenæ Ramisco 2006 which, although still in its infancy, was already developing aromas of leather and ripe cherries folded between comforting layers of sweet spice. The acidity was still stonkingly high and tannins young and harsh which made the wine unbalanced, but the complexity of the nose hinted at something which will be utterly astonishing in time. Ramisco is not, nor will it ever be, a mid-week-night easy sipper. It is challenging, an ‘oddity’ as one critic remarked – but for those intrepid (and patient) enough it carries a lavish bounty.

Also noteworthy was the co-operative’s Arenæ Malvasia 2011, both beautiful and surprising in equal measure. Somehow it delivered upfront ripe peaches, honeyed limes and honeysuckle with a Fino- esque salty twang at the finish akin to the land which it came from. Excellently balanced, it treads the line between unusual and delicious with aplomb.

Advanced warning: Colares comes in 500ml bottles. Don’t despair – I promise, its ample bang for the buck and all the best things come in small packages (my mother tells me). In short. Deliciously different, rewarding of patience, rarer than hens teeth and (most importantly) absolutely bloody scrumptious.

 

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