• Portuguese Library Gold:  1985 Frei Joao Bairrada Tinto

    Portuguese Library Gold: 1985 Frei Joao Bairrada Tinto

    Of all the great discoveries traveling north from Lisbon to Porto, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out an estate that, thankfully, got on my radar several years back. While it's an over-generalization to point to one vintage as a triumph across all of Europe, 1985 is a year that I fervently hunt throughout nearly all regions of France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and now Portugal. After selling out of the 1990, I'm thrilled today to turn to the 1985.

    Frei Joao's 1985 Tinto from the Baga grape is the diamond that arrived to us just this year, after a long 34-year slumber in the dark, dank cellars below the clay soils of Bairrada. At $56 per bottle, and down to $52.99 on 6 or more,  this is the aged, old world red that delivers history in bottle at a can't-miss price!


    When I think of the wines that have stirred the very greatest emotions they've all had significant bottle age. Meeting a wine at its apogee can be thrilling in a way that often leaves you without words. Those dramatic times when silence falls upon a table always seem to be recounted later, but in the moment we're completely dialed into the glass. The scents, the flavors, and the textures are worlds apart from what we find in young wines. The word haunting often seems to be the note most associated with these aged wines in their prime, where deep sense memories are easily accessed.

    Unfortunately, most of these personal wine experiences have come with a price tag that reflects the scarcity of the bottle in question. That's why today's offer is a very exciting one. Portugal, like Spain, is slowly making their case in the US for value and terroir-driven wines that are highlighted by freshness. Along with these new, fascinating arrivals we're also given a few serious gems. 

    Frei Joao was established in the 1950's, focused on the indigenous red and white grapes of the Bairrada region. The simple story is that because of their long history in the region and strong relationships with growers Frei Joao is offered the right for first refusal of the best fruit. Thankfully, they've taken this gift seriously, stashing away vintages from 1959 to 2000 for long aging at the winery. 

    The Baga grape is one with compelling tannins and very pronounced acidity, the perfect recipe for gradual and transformative aging. The clay soils and the evolutionary track we see today points quite a bit to the right bank of Bordeaux, but of course, the price point couldn't be further apart. Today, the 1985 banner vintage is fully resolved with supple tannins, dark cherry fruit, and all of the tobacco, mocha, and leather old world secondary notes you'd come to expect.

    At 12% alcohol the element of freshness cannot be overstated. Portugal's Bairrada is never shy on ripeness, and this old school mentality tied to lower alcohol winemaking has put this 1985 in the perfect spot today. The limited nature of these wines shouldn't be glossed over either, as Frei Joao is the only commercial winery in Portugal offering library releases from their caves going back this far.

    In its prime, an aged bottle poured around a table creates a collective excitement unlike anything else in the world of wine. I've never come across a better opportunity to see that convenient truth more so than today.
    Posted by Alexander Rosen