Anyone who thinks Portugal is just about fortified wine and heavy, oaky reds should get themselves over to Simplesmente Vinho, an alternative wine fair held in Porto at the end of February. It’s one the best and most inspiring celebrations of the huge diversity, quality and vitality that is Portuguese wine right now. I come back every year having made new discoveries, almost in shock at how many talented young producers there are in every corner of this small Atlantic-leaning nation.
Simplesmente Vinho has expanded in the last few years (this was its sixth edition) to include Spanish growers, originally just a tiny handful but this year over two dozen – again, rich hunting ground for smaller more specialised artisans, many of whom are not yet well known outside their backyards.
João Roseiro, together with son Gustavo and daughter Sara, deserve huge credit for having created an event which merges public and professionals into one ever so slightly chaotic environment – a large part bohemian celebration with just enough structure and quiet moments that serious wine tasting is also possible. Things have moved on since the rather gritty original venue – condensation dripping off the walls, barely enough room to stand up straight and no toilets. Now, all mod cons are included, the warehouse venue is still pleasingly characterful but also light, spacious and functional.
Any successful event like this (and goodness is it successful, with brisk queues to get in and a packed floor on both days) has growing pains. One of Simplesmente’s burning issues appears to be whether it should be more stringent about the types of winery it welcomes. At least there were mutterings about this amongst the regulars. The fair has always had a very open policy for exhibitors – it’s not a natural wine fair perse and you don’t have to be certified organic. At the same time, it operates as polar opposite to Essencia do Vinho, the huge, corporate wine fair which runs simultaneously at the Palacio da Bolsa.
Each winemaker at Simplesmente Vinho gets a barrel to stand around and an ice-bucket if they’re lucky – there are no roller banners, no promotional stands, no executive meeting areas. Yet this year there were a noticeable number of mainstream producers in attendance, often sticking out as their brand images and wines didn’t always chime with Simplesmente’s core audience. A whole article could probably be written about what really differentiates the artisan from a soulless business. It is both deceptively subtle and brutally obvious in the same moment.
Simplemente Vinho’s assertion is that it hopes to become a breeding ground, to inspire more conservative winemakers towards greater authenticity and less intervention in their vini and viticulture. But it should be cautious that the event’s “up close and personal” atmosphere is not diluted by too many faceless operations. It’s always telling when a winery sends its sales and marketing assistant to a tasting, in place of the owner or the winemaker.
That said, this is nitpicking given the overall quality and range of the event. These moments, very briefly, were some of my highlights this year:
El Hato y El Garabato is the project of winemaker José Manuel Beneitez, Liliana Fernandez and family from Arribes de Duero (Northern Spain) – see the photo top right. They impressed with two amazing wines – Otro Cuento 2016 takes high altitude Donna Blanca and treats it incredibly gently to produce a spicy, salty, rhubarby delight that seems tight and dry whilst also being super expressive. Sin Blanca (slang for “broke”) 2016 is the red berried, tannic Juan Garcia done right, with freshness and structure and nothing getting in the way.
The award for the entire event’s most lovable label. Entre Videiras in Spain’s Ribeira Sacra (Galicia) only had one wine “Señor Cuco” to show, but it was a delicious, thirst-quenching red as well as looking effortlessly cool.
Portugal’s Minister for the Economy Manuel Caldeira Cabral popped in to have a look at the fair and have a brief chat with the journos. I snapped this pic of him tasting a wine from La Caves de Nomades with winemaker Zé Tafé. La Caves de Nomades is situated in Banyuls, France, however Zé is originally from Portugal.
Sara Dionísio from Casa de Mouraz pours a sample for UK journalist and Portuguese wine expert Sarah Ahmed. It was great to see her on fine form, after a disastrous forest fire in autumn 2017 torched a large amount of the estate’s vines and wrote off several of their buildings and much of their stock. As ever, the wines are wonderful, with the spicy, mineral 2015 Branco my firm favourite.
Simplesmente is not complete without saying hello to Brazilian writer and personality Didu Russo
There’s always art on display at Simplesmente, I just wish I knew which of these artists created this, but I don’t! but it watched down over the throng nonetheless.
It was great to taste the very pure, sculpted Albarinos from Iria Otero (Sacabeira), who interestingly used to work at Dominio do Bibei along with Laura Lorenzo. Iria prefers to chill her Albarinos down to prevent malolactic fermentation taking place – a technique that may enrage hardline naturalistas (Blocked malolactic is listed as a no-no for Raw fair exhibitors, for example). Yet the results are hugely successful. She’s also involved with a new project in Ribeira Sacra, “4 Muras” which will be interesting to follow – tank samples of a Mencia-heavy field blend were very promising.
Organiser and hellraiser-in-chief João Roseiro muscled into this photo with winemaker Miguel Viseu(L) and owner Vasco Croft (R) from Aphros.
The latest vintage of Vasco’s “no technology”, amphora (Talha) fermented Phaunus Loureiro (2016) is the best I’ve yet tasted. WIth eight weeks of skin contact it’s super structured, packed full of spiced apple fruit and a pungent, earthy character that is somehow both fresh and hugely satisfying.
There are very few artisan winemakers working in a natural way in Rioja, but Sandra Bravo (Sierra de Toloño) is one. She’s brought experience working in the new world back to her home region, and produces nuanced, fascinating Tempranillo and Viura from old vines at seriously high altitude (up to 650 metres). The Raposo Tempranillo 2016 is excellent but most exciting is the amphora-fermented Santa Cruz single vineyard Tempranillo 2016.
Englishman Christopher Price and his German partner Helga Wagner (Vinhos Cortém) started to make wine in Tejo almost by accident. I was initially sceptical noting that most of their red wines are made from international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – and the labels look rather amateur. But the wines are actually rather tasty, and I love the fact that they’ve made two vintages of an orange wine “because we wanted to make a white wine but we just didn’t have a press or any other technology to do it!”.
Pedro Marques (Vale de Capucha, Lisbon) has finally bottled his first “orange wine” or curtimenta, after three patient years of waiting. It’s a solera blend of 2014, 2015 and 2016, Alvarinho, Arinto and Gouveio. In short, it is sensational. Very pure, textured and harmonious, with subtle aromatics and a rich apricot character.
Four winemaking friends from all over Spain came together to create “Envínate“. Roberto Santana, who is based in the Canary Islands, was on hand to pour a selection of their wines. The highlights for me were the field blends from 100 year old vineyards on Tenerife. Benje 2016 (100% Listan Bianco) has a bit of skin maceration in the mix, and a wonderful salty, mineral refinement. Envínate also makes wine in Galicia, Alicante and Extramadura.
Some new wines from Rita Marques (Conceito) – Legitimo is the (non)-bastard son of “Bastardo”, a field blend but given similar treatment, ie: a delicate whole bunch fermentation. It’s light, fresh and elegant. Ontem is a new project with old vineyards situated between Douro and Dão. The wines are understated field-blends with a great deal of charm.
This talented chanteuse leapt upon a barrel and sang a couple of traditional (Spanish? Portuguese?) songs acapella towards the end of day two. I’ve no idea who she is, but she had the room mesmerised for the whole period she sang.
Half-French, half-Portuguese Guillaume Leroux (Monte da Casteleja) is based in Algarve, and his mission has been to bring something authentic back to an area that has become anything but. Working with native grape varieties, he’s making a range of great wines, but the showstopper for me was his Branco 2017 – a skin-fermented delight which manages to pack in fresh floral, honeyed hints with candied fruit and just so much depth and drinkability.
António Madeira’s incredibly elegant wines are no secret. But it was a great pleasure to taste new vintages of the fabulous Liberdade and A Centenária. Antonio and family have now moved from Paris to Dão fulltime, so it will be great to follow progress at this estate.
If only Adega Viuva Gomes, one of the tiny number of producers from the seminal Colares region (spelling it with two R’s is optional these days) had some of their spinetingling 1934 or 1969 vintages on the stand. Still, their Malvasia 2010 and Ramisco 2009 (current vintages on the market) are no slouches – unique wines from a unique sandy terroir, at near constant threat from being wiped out by tourism.
João Tavares (Quinta da Boavista / Terras de Tavares) saved the very last bottle of his 2016 Curtimentas (Orange wine) to open at Simplesmente. If only there was more, because this wine is really just getting into its stride. It was just a gawky teenager last year. The 2017 still needs time. Meanwhile, drink his perfumed Terras de Tavares 2008 (a red blend) which is just perfect now.
Laura Lorenzo (Daterra Viticultores) in full tasting flow. Her Gavela de Vila has a very different and more leesy character in 2016, being fermented in wood rather than amphora (2015).