I attended the annual Portuguese tasting in London the other day where I was fully expecting to find some lovely wines. Portugal makes terrific wine and I find it inexplicable that there is so little demand for it in the UK.
However, I was not expecting to be so totally bowled over by a brace of white wines – and by the guy who makes them as well.
Marcial Dorado owns and manages the hugely impressive Quinta do Feital in the Minho region of northern Portugal – Vinho Verde territory. Marcial is in a fact a Gallician Spaniard, but his search for old vine Albariño grapes took him south of the Minho and into Portugal where they call the grape Alvarihno. Over the last twenty years or so Spanish Albarinños from Rias Baixas in Galicia have enjoyed a far higher reputation and greater international following than their Portuguese counterparts across the river. However, I have often been disappointed by many but the very best, like Albariño de Fefiñanes from Bodegas del Palacio de Fefiñanes and Marcial’s wines reminded me of that in many ways. Actually in virtually all respects other than the grape variety, I think Vinho Verde’s closest Spanish relative is the wonderful Chacoli from the Basque country.
In 2000 Marcial Dorado bought the Quinta do Feital near Melgaço, the vineyard contains 70 year old Alvarinho, some of which are ungrafted – it is so close to the Minho, which forms border with Spain, that he could almost spit into his native Galicia.
In 2002 he purchased another vineyard at Caminha, near the mouth of the Minho, which was planted mainly with the Trajadura. However Marcial has now also planted his beloved Alvarinho there and is very pleased with the results.
He is a larger than life figure who is really exciting to talk to, well to listen to actually. He has all the technical know-how you could hope for, but seems to be as much ruled by his heart and has an obvious love for what he does.
In all honestly I could only properly digest what he told me after the event, so I am sure that I asked all the wrong questions, but this film of him will show you how passionate he is about his wine.
I tried both his wines and they were thrilling – not just good to drink, although they were that, but they had that extra something making them complex and worthy of contemplation.
Once I had tried them I attempted to understand what made them so very good.
Firstly was Marcial’s passion and total commitment – he spoke about Alvarihno like other winemakers do Pinot Noir or Riesling. This showed in his wines – there was no compromise. He believes it to be amongst the great grape varieties and has set out to make the very best expression of the grape that he can.
He farms organically and everything is done by hand – whether the organics affect it or simply the care that he takes, I do not know – but it works.
Harvesting is done by hand to allow for selections to be made, although I understand that is cheaper than machines in Portugal. What is more he told me that every grape passed in front of his own eyes for quality control and he removed any that were not perfect.
The fermentations are carried out using only the wild yeast, so the yeast has to breed to achieve the numbers that can cause the fermentation – this makes for a long process of some 20 days, which makes for more richness, mouthfeel and complexity in the wine.
As you can tell from all this, Marcial is not trying to do is to make typical Vinho Verde and to that end he lets his wines undergo malolactic fermentation which adds to the richness and complexity while only slightly reducing the vibrant acidity. One consequence of this is a more stable wine that he can afford to filter less and can use very low levels of added SO2 – both of which enhance the feeling of purity in his wines.
In addition his wines spend 9-12 months on the lees with weekly stirring which adds texture and complexity to the palate as well as a richness to the aromas.
Not being D.O.C. Vinho Verde allows him to put the variety on the label.
This is a 70% Alvarinho to 30% Trajadura blend – Trajadura is generally considered the more acidic of the 2 grapes.
The nose was rich, creamy and leesy with an underlying mineral and floral quality.
The palate was surprisingly fleshy and succulent with a juicy nectarine-like texture balanced by a seam of clean acidity and a lovely smoky leesy complexity.
It was a medium-bodied dry white with a long, pure finish beautifully balanced between crisp acidity and ripe green fruit.
I really liked this – 91/100 points.
100% Alvarinho from his older, more inland vineyard.
As you would hope from the name the wine was a pale gold colour.
The nose was fragrant and complex and leesy with floral, spice and mineral notes.
The palate was rich, rounded and textured with lovely fruit and acid balance. It was all beautifully integrated and balanced with a long mineral finish.
This was the more well knit and complete of the 2 and I could see it happily holding its own against the very best Gruner Veltliners.
A superb dry white wine – 94/100 points.
Frankly it is winemakers like Marcial, with his passion and commitment that make wine such a wonderful subject. Do try his wines when you get the chance and keep an eye on the estate, Marcial is aiming to have holiday lets there before long.
Stockist information is available from Indigo Wines.