Here on Notes From Esporão we’ve given you an introduction to Esporão’s most iconic white wine, the Reserva White, so you can get a feel for how it beguiling it smells and tastes (you’ll have to get a bottle for yourself of course to get the full experience – unfortunately, we’ve not yet mastered the ability to send those smells and tastes to you over the wire, but we’re working on it… okay, not really…).
But under the hood of Esporão’s Reserva White are three Portuguese white wine grapes that are worth exploring on their own, because they give an interesting glimpse into why Portugal, despite its relatively small geographic size, is home to one of the highest percentages of indigenous fine wine grape varieties in the world.
Chief winemaker David Baverstock describes the Reserva as “a white wine style that combines the best of the local Alentejo white grape varieties, the climate which provides warm to hot weather ensuring fully ripened grapes with body and flavour.” You’ll notice that he speaks with British spelling, but he makes tasty wines so we’ll let him slide on that.
Anyway, David sees the Reserva white as a flag-bearer for the potential of Portugal’s native grapes: “The three local grapes used in this wine are well adapted to the local conditions of heat and dryness, each contributing something unique to the final blend.” So let’s have a close look at these three, with a little help from David…
“Arinto is a widely planted grape throughout Portugal but it is probably in the Alentejo where it’s ability to maintain acidity and freshness is most appreciated,” notes David. “It is a mid to late season ripener whose small bunches and berries contribute intense lime fruit aromatics and balancing acidity.” What this means in real-people talk is that even in arid and hot conditions, Arinto grapes hold onto their citric liveliness and acidity (the component that gives wine a lip-smacking refreshing quality, along with hints of minerals, and potential structure for long-term aging) like Ebeneezer Scrooge held onto his pennies. Its vines produce a small amount of small berries, which means that each of those grapes is packed with more concentrated lime flavors (sorry, flavours). Master of Wine Jancis Robinson once called Arinto “Portugal’s saviour” (she also speaks in British, but she knows her stuff so we’ll let her slide, too).
David’s take on this Portuguese workhorse grape: “Roupeiro, now also known as Siria, ripens earlier and is a more productive variety having large bunches and berries. It contributes floral aromatics and citric notes to the blend but is low in acidity and does not age well as a mono-varietal.” Translation: Roupeiro is a bit simple on its own, lacking the intensity and structure to produce age-worthy wines. But just because it’s not a grape for the cellar doesn’t mean that it has no place in fine wines; in fact, when blended with other varieties it can make the sum bigger than the individual parts by adding friendly, appealing aromas of flowers and citrus fruits.
“Anton Vaz [ more commonly known as Antão Vaz ] is only grown in the Alentejo and is very well adapted to the heat of the region,” notes David. “It ripens later and achieves greater ripeness both in terms of alcohol and richness. It is the variety best suited to barrel fermentation adding texture, structure and complexity to the final blend.” The cheat-sheet version is that this grape is the Alentejo’s answer to Chardonnay: full-bodied, adding a sense of depth and breadth to the texture of the wine and putting flesh on the bones provided by more acidic grapes like Arinto. Like Chardonnay, it can add tropical fruits to the mix of aromas and flavors, but unlike most Chardonnay it can also provide interesting orange peel notes. The extra body and alcohol it provides are the parts that make it ideal for a bit of time in oak barrels, after which the wine will convey a sense of elegant palate texture.