Wine 1: Anselmo Mendes, Contacto Alvarinho, Vinho Verde, 2014
The Vinho Verde region lies in Northern Portugal, close to the Atlantic Ocean and running up to the border with Spanish Galicia. Both vegetation and topography form a strking contast with those of the usually stark and mountaneous Douro Valley (where Port is produced) to the south and east. Here all is green and moist and production is essentially of white wines that are usually light and fresh, made to be drunk young. Such wines are well adapted to local foodstuffs which often mix fish and sea-food with pork and vegetables. There are five main local grape varieties of which arinto, loureiro and trajadura are the most planted, along with alvarinho which is strongly represented in the Monção sector in the north. Together with its white wines, there is also some production of red Vinho Verde which is essentially drunk locally.
Alselmo Mendes, who was born in Monção, has a high reputation amongst Portuguese winemakers. He produced his first wines in 1998 and is a specialist of the alvarinho grape, which is known as albarino across the border in Spain. This fragrant variety can produce deliciously perfumed and seductive wines when its yields are curtailed. Anselmo Mendes is one of the very best exponents of this style and this example from vineyards in Monção and Melgaço proves the point. The wine has been fermented and raised in tanks.
An instant charmer through its aromatic complexity, its softness and fine texture, it manages to be both precise and lively at the same time, mouthwatering and with considerable length. We loved its slight saltiness and its smooth texture. Very satisfying and harmonious.
All kinds of light and salty aperitif dishes, sushis, vegetable terrines, grilled fish, savoury pies and sea food.
Wine 2: Vins de Vienne, Heluicum, IGP des Collines Rhodaniennes, 2013
Lying just north of the town of Vienne and the famous Côte Rôtie appellation, the vineyard has a modest IGP ranking (formerly Vin de Pays) and was formerly known as Vin de Seyssuel. It forms the northern extremity of Rhone Valley vineyards. These formerly famed vineyards were abandoned after phylloxera had destroyed the vines and were not replanted until long after the appellation system was created. This « rebirth » was the idea and labour of three of the top winemakers in the region, all of whom produce wines in neigbouring appellations such as Côte Rôtie, Condrieu and Saint Joseph. Their inspiration came from ancient texts that vaunted the quality of wines from these steep slopes on poor soils of slate that were made more hospitable by terracing. The vineyard was gradually replanted as from the late 1990’s, logically using the syrah grape that is the exclusive red variety in the region. Even from young vines, the wines show great depth and structure, very similar to those of Côte Rôtie on the other side of the river Rhône and just to the south.
Vins de Vienne is the name given to the association between the three vignerons : Cuilleron, Villard and Gaillard. Their project, inspired by the readings of Pierre Gaillard when he was a student in Beaune, was to restore the formerly great vineyards on this left bank of the Rhône. The site had huge potential and, a few years later and despite the youthfulness of the vines, three different wines have been produced, their names paying homage to the ancient Romans who took the wines from these hills all the way to Rome. These pure syrahs have both finesse and complexity to offer. Heluicum comes from hillside vines that were planted in 2001 and was aged for 16 months in oak barrels.
The aromas on the nose are intense and complex, full of refined notes of white pepper, wild berry fruit, thyme and woodland. They are true to the finest expressions of the syrah grape in this region.
The palate is just as refined, with precise aromatic touches surrounding a vibrantly powerful core. The wine has amazing balance since its alcohol level is surprisingly low at 12,5°, and the finesse of its tannins absolves it from any suspicion of austerity in such a young wine. Its lingering finish is the hallmark of a great wine that can be enjoyed now or kept for a good 5 years. Best served at 15/16°
Grilled or roasted red meat, leg of lamb, t-bone steak, feathered game, duck breast.