Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Quinta Do Ameal: The Marvels of Vinho Verde & Loureriro

The Portuguese wine, Vinho Verde, is an excellent choice for the summer. It's commonly light and refreshing, crisp and full of bright citrus flavors, simple and easy to drink, with a touch of effervescence. In addition, it's often inexpensive, and you can even find tasty wines for under $10. 

However, many people don't realize the diversity of Vinho Verde, generally as they've had no experience with its other forms. Vinho Verde goes beyond the general flavor profile that I described above, and people should understand its other forms, as they are quite compelling as well. 

First, you should know that Vinho Verde is a DOC region in Portugal that was demarcated in 1908. There currently are nine subregions, including Amarante, Ave, Baião, Basto, Cávado, Lima, Monção e Melgaço, Paiva, and Sousa. The region encompasses approximately 21,000 hectares of vineyards (with 47 grape varieties), 18,000 winegrowers, and 600 bottlers. The potential for plenty of diversity is obviously present. 

Annually, the region produces about 80 million liters of wine, composed of 87% White wine, 7% Red and 6% Rosé wine. The region also includes Sparkling Wine (designated Espumante de Vinho Verde), Vinous Spirit and Grape Marc Spirit (designated Aguardente Vínica de Vinho Verde and Aguardente Bagaceira de Vinho Verde), and even Wine Vinegar (designated Vinagre de Vinho Verde). Of the white wines, not all fit into the common perception of Vinho Verde, some lacking effervescence and being produced to be more serious and complex wines. 

I recently participated in a media wine tasting and Zoom seminar with José Luis Moreira da Silva, commonly referred to as Zé Luis, who works for the Esporão group as the lead winemaker for Quinta dos Murças in the Douro region and Quinta do Ameal in the Vinho Verde region. I've previously written about Esporão and Quinta dos Murças, including reviewing a number of their wines, and have been impressed with their portfolio. They produce both inexpensive and higher-end wines, and excel at all price points. So, I was eager to taste wines from Quinta do Ameal, an estate they recently acquired in 2019.

Quinta do Ameal, located in Ponte de Lima, already possessed an excellent reputation, and its history extends back to 1710. The estate is best known for its Loureiro-based wines, which possess great acidity, minerality and can age well. The previous owner, Pedro Araújo, stayed on for a time to help Zé Luis get up to speed on the nature of the estate.

Zé Luis, a native of the Douro region, received his undergraduate degree in microbiology from the Universidade Católica Portuguesa, and then a master’s in oenology at the Escola Superior de Biotecnologia. He worked for about 11 years in the Douro before being hired by Esporão to work at the Quinta dos Murças. And when Esporão acquired Quinta do Ameal, they appointed Zé Luis to also be the lead winemaker for that estate as well. 

Quinta do Ameal, located in the Lima subregion of the Vinho Verde DOC (and next to the Lima River), occupies about 75-acres, about 35 of which are planted with the Loureiro grape. Of the various subregions of the DOC, they are generally differentiated by their temperature and rainfall amounts. The Lima subregion has two main influences, the Atlantic (about 30 km from the ocean), and Continental, and has lower temperatures and higher rainfalls than some other subregions. There is also a large gap in the day and night temperatures, and the Lima River helps to control humidity. 

The soil is primarily granitic, and is richer in clay than in other subregions. The winery is currently conducting extensive soil studies to determine how the grapes can best be grown. Zé Luis stated that the Lima subregion has the "best natural conditions for white wine in the Vinho Verde DOC." Quinta do Ameal was originally planted with only Loureiro as the wine maker wanted to make more serious Vinho Verde, which would have an aging potential of 15-20 years. 

The Loureiro grape is named after the louro, the Portuguese word for laurel, as the aroma of the grape is supposed to be suggestive of the laurel. The grape originated in the Lima River valley, so it was only natural that Quinta do Ameal chose to concentrate on this grape. Zé Luis loves the grape for its “tense, vibrant acidity, and incredible aromatic and aging potential.” 

Their least expensive wine is the 2020 Esporão Bico Amarelo ("Yellow Beak"), which retails for about $12, and about 28,000 cases are produced annually. It's a blend of about 40% Loureiro (from Quinta do Ameal) and 30% each of Alvarinho & Avesso (sourced from nearby growers). With an ABV of 11.5%, the wine remains on the lees for 3-4 months, and possesses no effervescence. On the palate, it's light, crisp and refreshing, with bright notes of lemon, citrus and floral elements. It's a simple wine, in a good way, something to just sip and enjoy, especially on a fine summer day. It would also pair very well with seafood or light dishes. This is the type of wine you should buy by the case so you always have a bottle on hand. 
Quinta do Ameal also produces three, estate-grown Loureiro wines, including the Ameal Loureiro, Ameal Solo Único and Ameal Escolha. I sampled the 2020 Amreal Loureiro ($18), produced from 100% Loureiro (from 20 year old vines) which sits on the lees in stainless steel for about 7 months and has a 11.5% ABV.  They winery doesn't put "Vinho Verde" on the front label as they wish to highlight the Loureiro grape, as well as avoiding consumer's usual expectations about Vinho Verde wines.  

I fell in love with this wine from the first sip. It possessed an intriguing nose, stone fruits and floral elements, and on the palate, its complexity and rich flavors burst through. It was crisp, fresh and dry, with a delightful melange of citrus, peach, floral notes, minerality and subtle herbal touches. This wine was well-balanced with a lengthy and delicious finish. This wine would also be perfect on its own, or paired with seafood or similar lighter dishes. 

I was told this wine could easily age for 15 years or more, and I'd love to see how it progresses over time. Zé Luis, also noted that it is similar to Riesling, as the two grape varieties have much in common, and I can understand the comparison. At $18, this is a very good value and I'd highly recommend buying this wine by the case as well. I'm sure it would impress your guests this summer. 

In the future,  Zé Luis wants to make a Sparkling Loureiro, and believes the region is perfect for such a wine.

The Esporão group has acquired another excellent estate with Quinta do Ameal, expanding their already fine portfolio. Quinta do Ameal may also help American consumers understand the marvels of the Vinho Verde DOC, and show them that it's not a monolithic region, but one with plenty of diversity. 

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