Azores Wine Company Verdelho O Original 2017
Bright straw-yellow. Aromas of passionfruit, pineapple, sea spray and oyster shell on the nose. On the palate, vibrant and fresh with high toned tropical fruit held in balance by impressive mid-palate weight and breadth. Finishes long and clean, with the Azores’ tell-tale saline minerality running through the finish.
What better food to eat with a wine from the islands than the bounty of the sea? Shellfish, oysters, grilled or fried fish are all excellent pairing ideas.
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The 2017 Verdelho Original is, emphasizes the winery, "not to be confused with Gouveio of the mainland or Verdejo of Spain. [It is a] unique grape to the islands of Portugal, Madeira and Azores. It has never been found in mainland Portugal." I repeat that every year, but it's worth doing again. An unoaked blend from three islands (80% Pico, 15% Graciosa and 5% São Miguel), it comes in with 12% alcohol. Gorgeous, this is a fresh white with fine tension and a long finish. Elegant but nicely concentrated, this is intense in a balanced way and always enlivening. It is a fine Verdelho again, one of the best in the brand so far. It should age well, but we'll take that in stages again.
Portuguese winemaker António Maçanita (also the winemaker at FitaPreta in the Alentejo) founded Azores Wine Company in 2014 with his two partners, Paulo Machado and Filipe Rocha. Their sustainably-grown vineyards are less than 50m from the Atlantic, with truly breathtaking views.
Arinto dos Açores is a grape variety indigenous to the Azores that shares the acidity and potential for longevity of the mainland variety that shares its name, however, the two are not related. The characteristics of the grape variety, coupled with Pico’s unique terroir, impart incredible minerality, purity and unmistakable salinity to the wine.
The Portuguese archipelago of the Azores is home to a winemaking tradition that dates back to its colonization in the 15th century, wherein viticulture was introduced by Franciscan friars. This group of islands is home to a singular terroir and microclimate, one that draws close comparison to the island of Santorini. Like Santorini, the Azores are volcanic islands comprised entirely of black basalt. Pico, the main wine producing island where these vineyards are located, has such poor soil that the vineyard needs to be supplemented with soil from neighboring islands to support vine growth , and even with that, the yields are a fraction of what they are in the rest of the DOC. Additionally, the vineyards are grown in tiny plots (2-6 bush trained vines per square) protected on all sides by small walls called “currais” to ward off the strong winds that blow in from the north Atlantic, mere steps from the vineyards. At its peak, Pico was home to over 6,000 hA of vineyards. These are still there today, but are for the most part grown over by forests – only a handful of small family-owned vineyards remain outside the production of 3 main producers. Of these, Azores Wine Company is the clear leader at 116 hA of recovered vines.
Before phylloxera hit in the mid 19th century, the Azores were one of the most prolific growing areas in Europe. In 1852, total production was over 10,000,000 liters. By 1859, that production level was less than 25000 liters. As a stopgap, Isabella was planted. Since it is a hybrid of Vitis Vinifera and Vitis Labrusca (related to the “fox grapes” of the American South), it is resistant to phylloxera, and became a mainstay for rustic “house wine” production on the island. António has rescued an old plot of this unique varietal for a passion project, to show that this grape is capable of making spectacular wine.
What makes the Azores Wine Company unique? Their micro-production wines from the tiny island of Pico in the Azores is grown in volcanic basalt at sea level, less than 50m from the Atlantic. These wines are produced by one of the most talented winemakers of Portugal today, António Maçanita and 100+ vines lend concentration and intensity.
Best known for intense, impressive and age-worthy fortified wines, Portugal relies almost exclusively on its many indigenous grape varieties. Bordering Spain to its north and east, and the Atlantic Ocean on its west and south coasts, this is a land where tradition reigns supreme, due to its relative geographical and, for much of the 20th century, political isolation. A long and narrow but small country, Portugal claims considerable diversity in climate and wine styles, with milder weather in the north and significantly more rainfall near the coast.
While Port (named after its city of Oporto on the Atlantic Coast at the end of the Douro Valley), made Portugal famous, Portugal is also an excellent source of dry red and white wines of various styles.
The Douro Valley produces full-bodied and concentrated dry red wines made from the same set of grape varieties used for Port, which include Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Spain’s Tempranillo), Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão, among a long list of others in minor proportions.
Other dry wines include the tart, slightly effervescent Vinho Verde white wine, made in the north, and the bright, elegant reds and whites of the Dão as well as the bold, and fruit-driven reds and whites of the southern, Alentejo.
The nation’s other important fortified wine, Madeira, is produced on the eponymous island off the North African coast.
While capable of making a delightful Portugeuse dry white wine, great as an aperitif and for pairing with raw fish and oysters, Verdelho is also a major grape in the production of Madeira. While many less expensive Madeira wines can be blends of different years or grapes, including Verdelho, single-varietal Madeira represent the highest quality versions that also have long aging capacities. Sercial, Boal, Malmsey and Verdelho are the best Madeira grapes. Of the four, Verdelho is the most concentrated and smoky. It is dry, intense, spicy and is flexible in food pairings. Somm Secret—Like many other fortified wines, Madeira made of Verdelho can tolerate extreme aging and some rare bottles can still be found from the late 19th/early 20th century.