What helps a winemaker make a really interesting wine?
Is it the tools, technology and modern training received from experts at the best wine colleges? Or might it be the fact that when they walk through a grove, crunching the remains of Autumn leaves underfoot, to the sounds of the local church bell down the hill, they know the fact that the trees are exactly 107 years old because their grandparents planted them to celebrate their wedding?
Does a biodynamic vintner make better wine because (s)he follows this particular regime, … or does the biodynamic respect for nature stem from a connection to that land that the vintner already has?
This was my second meeting with Vasco Croft of Afros Wine, the first being a Vinho Verde tasting in London where I was rather taken by his wines. This time we met at his estate on a visit during the Wines of Portugal International Conference (#WoPIC) in 2010.
By the way, Vasco, as a fellow visitor remarked, has more than a passing resemblance to a young Richard Gere and certainly seems to embody the ‘vitality’ that biodynamic followers like to discuss. He looks like he could move seamlessly from the winery to leading a local yoga masterclass.
I was taken by the sounds of his place. I’ve been to many wineries recently, from the large and clinical to the small and haphazard. This place was more ‘natural’, more suited to the translation of ‘Adegga’ as ‘farm’ rather than the grander wine term ‘estate’.
There may have been 30 people there, but you could still FEEL the calm, seeing the mountain horses and sheep allowed to roam freely in the vineyards and hearing the specially designed fountain sculpture ‘dynamising’ the water used in the winery and vineyard.
After a brief outdoor tour, past the edges of the vineyards, through the special room for biodynamic preparations, past the fountain and into the grove, we finally entered the recently completed tasting room. Here we matched the rather individual Afros wines to a menu specially designed by the kitchen team at Ferrugem (a well respected local restaurant) that, like the wines, take traditional materials and delivered them in an exciting way.
Our first experience was to match the delicate mouse and fragrantly biscuity Afros Espumante Reserva Loureiro 2007 (sparkling wine) with a spoon of “sarrabulho* sweet, Reineta apple puree and caviar of cherry tomatoes”. Arguably the food flavours were a little strong for the wine, but both were excellent.
Next was a superb take on a classic: Pastel de (Bacalhau com) Nata – a light pastry which instead of the traditional sweet cream, was filled with creamy, savoury cod in order to match the floral, crisp Afros white made from the Loureiro grape, Afros Loureiro 2009. A stunning combination, not just of the salty food and crisp wine, but also the creamy softness of the food accentuated the structure of the white wine. Wow!
We followed this with a surprising combination of red Vinho Verde, made from a grape no-one thought could make ‘proper’ wine, the 2010 Afros Vinhao, with Caldo Verde soup (based on potato and cabbage I think). Lovely! The wine was intense, with that ‘purple’, inky, sharp character I associate with teinturier grapes (with red flesh) but also fresh, with a fruity character of crisp blueberries, red currants and pepper.
Next was the surprising Afros Espumante Reserva Vinhão 2006 sparkling red, made from the same Vinhao grapes, but further enhanced by the second fermentation that rounded out the palate with some yeasty character but also had the bubbles to bring out the fruity aromatics. We matched this to chef’s local equivalent of a ‘surf and turf’ dish of octopus, chestnut and red pepper sauce. So many flavours but well complemented by the wine.
It is heartening to see a small business balancing a very modern outlook with a natural approach in a traditional context. Biodynamics, from a traditional ‘estate’ but made with an eye on an international consumer.
This is a small estate, and one of the very few registered biodynamic producers in the whole of the country, but I hope it represents a new wave of ‘artisan’ winemakers that will gain international and national recognition for their dedication, and will raise the profile and standing of their region and country.
Well done Vasco, and well done Portugal
p.s. lots more food and vineyard photos if you see the full set above or click through to my Afros photos on flickr
*as far as I can tell this is a dish made in the style of black pudding, but I have been unable to find out much more – it essentially was a blood-pudding meatball
- Forthcoming From Reign of Terroir (reignofterroir.com)
- A Vindima: A Geologist’s Take on the Grape Harvest in the Minho (catavino.net)
- Historical Wines Of Portugal Documentary Update (reignofterroir.com)
- A snappy wine for a fish dish (brettthewinemaestro.wordpress.com)
- Vinho Verde (wine-by-benito.blogspot.com)
- Vinho Verde Wine Selection Reverts to Regional Portuguese Recipe (catavino.net)