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Portuguese Groundbreaker: Luis Seabra
There's no ragtag band of young winemakers vowing to carry the Douro Valley's wine region into the future, but they do have Luis Seabra. After spearheading port house Niepoort for a decade, in 2013, Seabra started his own winery, using native grape varieties to produce delicate yet powerful still wines.
What truly sets Seabra apart is his exploration of soil and terroir. Most of his vineyards are in the eastern Douro, planted as field blends, but the Granito Cru Alvarinho is sourced further northwest in Vinho Verde, closer to Galicia, Spain. In Portuguese, the word "cru" translates to raw, so this particular bottling refers to the raw, granitic soil on which the vines grow.
This is hands down the most thrilling Vinho Verde in terms of complexity and depth. Words like saline, electric, and light-footed first come to mind, and as the wine unravels, rich, oceanic, almost umami flavors come to the surface. The 2020 bottling is yet again delectable, with more open-knit fruit right out of the gate, making it nearly irresistible upon release.
Producers like Seabra are few and far between in Portugal. If I were to place him in a camp, he would be among changemakers like Raul Perez, Envínate, and Comando G, who produce fresh, mineral-driven wines in a similar vein. Whether or not other Portuguese winemakers seize this moment, Seabra has reconfigured our former perceptions about this region otherwise known for its blustering red wines. This standalone Alvarinho is not to be missed!
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Portuguese Library Gold: 1990 Frei Joao Bairrada Tinto
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's 1990 Tinto from the Baga grape is the diamond that has landed just now. It comes direct from the estate's cave where it has rested for 27 years in the dark, dank cellars below the clay soils of Bairrada. At $44 per bottle, and down to $41.50 on 6-packs, this is the aged, old world red that delivers history in the bottle at a can't miss price!
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 1990 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 1990 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.
1990 Frei Joao Bairrada Tinto
$44 per bottle.
Special E-mail 6-Pack Price: $249 ($41.50 per bottle)