As programmed our bus left at 9.30 just as Justin' Time (née Roberts) hurled himself from a taxi and onto the bus.
First stop was the large Bacalhôa winery, where we had a visit and a tasting. We should have been going to the lovely Quinta do Bacalhôa with its gardens and azulejos, which dates back some four hundred years, but unfortunately there is renovation work going on there at the moment. In December 2003 I'd visited the Quinta but I don't think I had seen the winery, which was founded in 1992 under the name of João Pires et Filhos. In 1998 Comendador Berardo became the major shareholder in the company and, in time, the company name was changed to Bacalhôa.
Bacalhôa Wines has a production capacity of 20 million litres, space for 15,000 barrels and around 1000 hectares of vines.
It is possibly easier to list the major Portuguese wine companies that Berardo doesn't own than mention the ones that he does. After an initial joint venture with Lafite-Rothschild at Quinta do Carmo in the Alentejo, Berardo now owns Carmo and last year became the major shareholder in Aliança.
Berardo is a great art collector and there is plenty of evidence of this at the winery including many old azulejos. Close the entrance to the large winery, there are copies of the famous Chinese terracota army. The soldiers and their horses are currently in a rather shabby state, although they may be in the process of renovation.
Barrels for aging Moscatel
We had a very good tasting, conducted by Vasco Garcia, the chief winemaker, of seven wines. Although it was All Saints Day the commercial director was also present. With one exception, they showed well and are all good value for money.
We started with the 2008 Loridos Alvarinho, Vinho Branco Regional Lisboa (7-8€). Most Alvarinho comes from the northern part of the Minhão around Moncão (Vinho Verde production area). This was decidedly lean, austere and lemony – tonique! in French. I would have liked to have seen a little generosity of fruit. On this evidence it may well be best not to plant more Alvarinho around Lisbon.
The crisp 2008 Catarina, Regional Peninsula de Sétubal (6€), was a much less challenging white. It is made from Fernão Pires and Arinto grown on flat sandy soils and Chardonnay on the limestone slopes of the Arrábida mountains. Offers good value at 6€.
We started the reds with the company's oldest brand – the sooty, herbal and leafy 2007 Tinto da Anfora, Regional Alentejano (6€). The company has 350ha of vines in the Alentejo and Anfora comes from vines in three zones in the region – Portalegre, Borba and Arraiolos. Anfora is a blend of number of varieties including Aragonez (Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Alfrocheiro and Cabernet Sauvignon. It's one of those wine that underlines what great value can be had in Portugal in this 4-7€ range. Unlike some of the icon wines that too often have silly price tags.
Next the single varietal 2006 Só Touriga Nacional, Regional Peninsula de Sétubal (11-12€) with its combination of violets, herbal freshness along with structure and power in the finish. One of the more successful varietal Tourigas but still could have done of any variety to soften out the angles.
Then the top wine from the showpiece estate in Azeitão – the dense and smoky 2005 Palácio da Bacalhoa, Regional Peninsula de Sétubal (30€). The initial sweet fruit including blackcurrant and toast is balanced by quite a lean finish: a good wine and quite reasonably priced. This 'Bordeaux blend' is a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon (51%), Merlot (43%) and Petit Verdot (6%) and it spends 17 months in French oak barriques. The straight Quinta wine sells for 15€.
Finally two examples of Sétubal's unique Moscatel – sadly overlooked ahnd virtually unknown outside Portugal. 'The true secret of Portugal." remarked Charles Metcalfe. The 1999 Balcalhôa Moscatel de Sétubal (15€) is a lovely combination of nuts, sultanas, marmalade, sweet apricot and freshness in the finish. Vasco explained that it is the high acidity that makes Moscatel de Sétubal stand out from other fortified wines – both Muscats and other styles. 1983 was the first vintage Moscatel that Bacalhôa made. Apparently 1998 was an extremely good Moscatel vintage and that the 1999 is less concentrated but is still pretty impressive. Mental note: drink more Moscatel de Setúbal!
We finished with a rarity: 1999 Bacalhôa Moscatel Roxo (18€ for 50cls). Most Moscatel here is made from Muscat d'Alexandrie. However, there is a small amount of Roxo, a red Muscat variety that virtually died out here about 20 years ago. Aromas of rose are very characteristic of Roxo. During the 1980s Bacalhôa planted some 4ha of Roxo. It is a very early ripening variety with small berries. Occasionally it ripens in late July. The second and third week of August is more common. In contrast Muscat d'Alexandrie is the latest variety in the region to ripen. As well as aromas of rose the rich and concentrated 1999 Roxo has rich apricot and burnt marmalade flavours. More concentration than the previous Moscatel but less finesse and freshness.