When we have something great to celebrate, we do not drink French Champagne or Italian Prosecco. We much prefer to get our sparkles sipping Espumante from Bairrada, a region that has produced wine since the 10th century. Our favorite Espumante is made by Luís Pato with a white varietal known in Bairrada as Maria Gomes and elsewhere as Fernão Pires.
We just heard from Luís Pato that his newest creation is a red wine made with this white grape. The wine marks the birth in 2011 of his new grandson, Fernão. And it celebrates the future of Bairrada as one of the world’s premier wine regions. Cheers!
According to an old saying, you need three men to drink a bottle of Bairrada wine, one to do the drinking, and the other two to help him stand up.
Bairrada wines do not actually have a high alcoholic content. But they do have a strong taste imparted by a local varietal, the baga. There was a time when Bairada producers started replacing the baga with French varietals to appeal to the international wine market.
This trend would probably have continued if it weren’t for Luís Pato. This maverick wine maker was determined to make exceptional baga wines. Success was not easy. He had to defy tradition and find new methods to produce and age his wines. But his results are magnificent. Which is why star chefs, like the brilliant Jean-Georges Vongerichten, include Pato’s wines on their wine lists.
You need three people to drink a bottle of Luís Pato: a couple to enjoy the wine with their meal and a chef to cook a meal as great as the wine.
The first story is about the death of Dona Antónia Ferreira’s grandfather. He had a chance encounter with Napoleon’s troops and, eager to show off, addressed the soldiers in impeccable French. The soldiers assumed that he was a deserter from the French army and shot him.
The second story is about Admiral Horatio Nelson. Nelson drank port while he devised his strategy for the battle of Trafalgar. According to legend, he dipped his finger in port wine to draw a map of the fleet positions he later used.
Some might infer from these stories that in times of danger it is a good idea to drink port and a bad idea to speak French. But the lessons from history are always subjective.
Dona Antónia Ferreira lived in turbulent times. She was born in 1811, the year in which Napoleon’s troops finally retreated from Portugal. When she inherited her grandfather’s wine business, another enemy came: the phylloxera epidemic.
Dona Antónia hired thousands of workers to graft her vines into the roots of American vines resistant to the pest. And it worked!
She went on to produce great port wines, plant new vineyards, and make a fortune. She used some of her wealth to endow schools and hospitals, earning the nickname Ferreirinha (little Ferreira) for her generosity.
In 1987, her descendants sold her company to Sogrape, another wine maker. But the brand Casa Ferreirinha endures as a symbol of quality. So, if you see a Ferreirinha bottle in your wine shop, take it home. And make a toast to Dona Antónia who believed that one can plant the seeds of prosperity during hard times.
Do any of these names ring a bell? Touriga nacional, trincadeira, baga, tinta roriz, tinta miúda, ramisco, bastardo? What about alvarinho, arinto, esgana cão, Fernão Pires, sercial? They are all grape varietals unique to Portugal (the first is a list of red grapes and the second a list of white grapes). A few French commodity grapes, such as cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay, currently dominate the international wine market. Portugal has a treasure trove of native grape varietals, developed over centuries of wine production. These varietals have unique flavors and aromas that are waiting to be discovered. So, if you are tired of the same old wines from the same old French grapes, try the wines of Portugal’s growing number of top producers.