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Super-Portuguese: Luis Pato
By Jim Clarke

When it comes to wine, Portugal has meant Port for a long time (or maybe Madeira as well, for those who remember that cluster of islands in the Atlantic is a Portuguese possession). But the smaller nation of the Iberian peninsula has been taking another look at their table wines: the Douro, where Port is made, is making more and more unfortified wines, the Alentejo is running over with up-and-coming producers, and regions already known for table wines like the Dao and Bairrada have bolstered their quality as well.

But you know you’ve made it when a producer in a classic area decides that the region’s winemaking regulations are too limiting and declassifies their wine into some broader category that gives them more freedom – think of Italy’s Super-Tuscans or Alsace’s white blends of Grand Cru grapes.

Portugal joined their ranks in 1999, when Luis Pato has backed out of the Bairrada DOC to bottle his wines under the Vinho Regional Beiras appellation. The decision marked the growing momentum of the winery, which started major improvements fifteen years previously.

However, abandoning the DOC did not mean adding international varietals and tons of new French oak. For a small country, Portugal is dotted with a bewildering variety of indigenous varietals, many of which are capable of making high-quality wines. Bairrada claims Baga (for reds) and Bical (for whites) as its own, and Pato has largely kept true to them, while Port fave Touriga Nacional makes an appearance in his single-vineyard Quinta do Ribeirinho.


Quinta do Ribierinho – an older label for this single vineyard blend on StarChefs.comLuis Pato has two takes on Bical. The first, Vinha Formal 2004, really gets at the grape’s natural flavors: peach, flowers, and minerals, with high acidity and surprising length – a reminder that Bairrada lies close to the sea, which both helps moderate vineyard temperatures (and help maintain that acidity), and provides the seafood that matches so well with this wine. The Vinhas Velhas 2004 (Old Vine) is Bical blended with a few other grapes, and sees some time in French oak. The effect is subtle, adding a clove-like spiciness to the pear and mineral flavors; the Vinho Velhas is heftier and less overtly crisp than the Vinho Formal.

Pato makes a third white from a blend of other native grapes, Maria Gomes and Arinto. The Maria Gomes grape is prone to adding a peppery note, not unlike that of Austria’s Gruner Veltliner; Pato’s Maria Gomes 2004 blends that aroma together with touches of grapefruit, mineral, lemon, and a leesy quality reminiscent of Muscadet. It’s light and very crisp; another wine for scallops, oysters, and the rest of their kin.



Vinha Barrosa – making the most of the indigenous Baga grape on StarChefs.comBaga is a tough grape, and its wines often remind me of a rustic cross between Syrah and Pinot Noir, with the former’s spice and dark fruit aromas and the latter’s acidity and mushroom scents. Traditional winemaking has emphasized its astringent qualities, but Pato’s background as a chemist comes to the fore when he sees the potential of a grape like this and puts modern winemaking to work. The Vinha Pan 2003 is the most international in style, a full-bodied wine with lots of blackberries, cola, and earth rounded out my well-balanced tannins. The Vinha Barrosa 2003 is more complex, with notes of mushroom, cassis, and cola, and impressive length as well. The third Baga-based wine is a surprise: the Espumante Casta Baga 2003 is a sparkling rosé, smooth and full-bodied, with notes of strawberry and mushroom – an unusual earthiness in a sparkling wine.

“Pato” means “Duck” in Potuguese, and the winery has taken the bird as its symbol on StarChefs.comThe Quinta do Ribierinho vineyard is planted with Baga and Touriga Nacional, one of the Douro’s star grapes. Here they are blended together; in the Quinta do Ribierinho Primeira Escolha 2003 the result is a big, multi-dimensional wine; the Touriga’s smoke and chocolate aromas layering themselves in among the mushroom and earthy scents of the Baga. It’s a real winner, with international appeal but a distinct Portuguese style. In that sense it embodies Luis Pato’s stance: looking to traditional grapes and vineyards for their character while at the same time embracing modern winemaking.


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   Published: January 2006