Ξ January 17th, 2010 | → 2 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, International Terroirs, PORTUGAL, Wine History |
How does one approach a wine largely made with a Roman technology hundreds of years old? How does one square the modern palate, though habituated to a broad range of flavors, but nevertheless structurally incapable of thinking such a wine on its own terms? How does one taste what is ancient without a historical memory? These are more than academic questions. Imagine a time traveler from contemporary Mexico City conversing with Cervantes. Or an American Christian fundamentalist suddenly in the presence of Giordano Bruno. In a similar manner, one may say what a wine tastes like, but one cannot easily enter into a productive cultural dialogue with an ‘ancient’ wine, one pioneered by monks, certainly not with one like the Vila de Frades clay jar wine sitting in front of me. How does one properly taste ‘the blood of Christ’?
Like many aspects of Portuguese wine culture, and, frankly, of the culture of Portugal itself, there is very much for this writer to learn. Yet this equally holds true for American wine enthusiasts generally. Since my November return to the states from the European Wine Bloggers Conference held in Lisbon, I can honestly say I have not had a single constructive conversation on the subject of Portuguese wines! The absence of knowledge has been a revelation. This must change. Portugal is an intellectual paradise for the restless mind. I encourage folks to visit and explore. And to drink widely.
Moving on. During the organization of the Alentejo Vinho Regional (VR) into DOCs and Indicação de Proveniencia Regulamentadas (IPR), the clay jar tradition, with Vila de Frades at its center, was somehow overlooked. A process has been underway for some time to provide the associated villages distinct government protections.
Vila de Frades, parish of the village of the friars, is located in the Alentejo, a few miles west of Vidigueira DOC and south of Evora IPR. The local economy is based upon the vine and olives, an agricultural economy maintained by many, many small landowners. Through attrition, the wearing out and accidental breaking of their distinguishing clay jars and the expenses associated with privatized winemaking, it happened that Vila de Frades became the region’s center of wine production. I will freely admit primary, local information is hard to come by, a condition I hope to partially remedy when I visit the region and villages this February. Perhaps the reader might, therefore, forgive me offering so few details! For now an interested reader may find something of value in an earlier piece I wrote a short time ago. Stay tuned to this space.
Of the wine itself, just what grapes are used to produce precisely this wine I cannot firmly say. I do know that at least these varieties are possible: Touriga National, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Rufete, and the white grape, Rubigato. (A search of Catavino’s deep archive would likely prove most rewarding.) The wine is a blend of red and white. Curiously, I have found contradictory information as to the percentages permitted. One site claims it is 85% white and 15% red maximum. Another source, lost in my browser ‘History’, claims the reverse, 85% red, 15% white. (I hope to clarify this detail in a few days.) In either case there is a law forbidding the blending of red and white wines. Just how this matter is locally dealt with I am not certain. But I believe it may come down to the antiquity of the blending practice. Yet another question to ask…
As may be seen in the picture above, the wine is quite a crystal clear pale red, almost pink, (though rosé would perhaps be most accurate were it not to give us the wrong idea). The nose is fruity, with strawberry and sweet cherry. A good sniff is difficult owning to the traditional plane drinking glass, also pictured above. I suspect this choice of glass has to do, in part, with how quickly the wine might oxidize in a larger vessel.
The wine is mildly acidic, very fruity, agreeable, with 13.5% alc., definitely detectable on the tongue. But all of this is completely irrelevant because the wine must be drunk with food! Indeed, the person from whom I received this jar and glass, Virgilio Loureiro, forcefully insisted in a private communication that there can be no proper tasting of this wine absent food. So it is that its historical character, its gustatory genealogy, makes of the modern gesture of tasting notes a perfect non-sense. This is a difficult notion to grasp in our age of the near-universal acceptance of evaluating wine in isolation, for example. And let us pass over in silence the stupidity of scores. But the question of how we moderns might think and come to appreciate such a wine on its own terms is, I believe, of broad interest to wine culture.
For what is the purpose of a horse now that we have engines? What is the purpose of love since soon we will soon have a pharmaceutical cure? A Kindle for books. And as for transubstantiation, now that we are rapidly refining the science of genetics, of what use is God?
Special thanks to Eduardo Segueira and Virgilio Loureiro for help with this fragment.