Portuguese Espumante

19th March 2024

Portuguese Espumante

Bairrada (bay-RA-da) is the story of a Pig, and two really cool grapes – Bical and Baga. This culinary holy trinity reveals itself in quaint villages and 19th century luxe hotels. Pastoral Bairrada’s meadows, and pine covered mountains are the contemporary home for the discerning traveler in Portugal’s newest ‘Age of Discovery’.

Nestled between the picturesque towns of Porto and Coimbra, you can access, and explore Bairrada’s historic palaces with pebble drives, and legions of swans, privately beckoning the EnoTourist to an elegant, forgotten age of hospitality. These ‘Grandes Dames’ hotels in the 19th century P.G. Wodehouse style splendor feature iron elevators, a concierge anticipating your every whim, and grand banquetted, airy dining rooms with sun drenched floor to ceiling windows.

Grapes adore a good view and Bairrada’s granite peaks and clay-lime rich alpine vineyards are buffeted by the dramatic diurnal Atlantic influences. A marginal climate with warm days and chilly nights ensures a traditional grape harvest of moderate alcohol and ripe grape structure. In a wine world of high-anxiety, and extracted alcohol, Bairrada’s flavorful moderation is its virtue.

Centuries of ancient, isolated trading led to Bairrada’s recent legal demarcation in 1979. Pedigreed winemakers have sought to showcase unique Portuguese wines made from the best vineyards with modern tannin management, and unrestricted fruit blending. They ably marry tradition with new technology such as cryo-vac freezing (a radical technique for newly harvested grapes), or encouraging maverick owners to intelligently design passive hillside Quintas (estates), thus allowing gravity to gently nudge grapes into lagars (the traditional Portuguese grape crusher.)

Bairrada is planted to the usual suspects of Arinto, Touriga Nacional, Castelnau, and Tinta Franca, the most recognized Portuguese grapes. Our Barraida local heroes, the obscure Bical and Baga donate plucky harmonic wine chords reminiscent of Django Rhienhart’s musical jazz genius. These are Bairrada’s sequestered Gypsy grapes and the natural gourmand partners to the national dishes of Portugal: Bacahlao (Salt-Cod) and Leitão (Suckling Pig). Bical’s apricot essence has an extraction to flavor ratio that imbibers will find exotically familiar.

Baga’s floral, showy preserved red fruit notes are balanced with high-strung and rapier-like acidity structure, displaying winegrowing diva traits of Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo grapes. Baga demands disciplined, costly vineyard management, and will never be inexpensive; its value rests in its delivered quality. Bairrada’s diverse stellar standouts of brilliantly original still and sparkling wines deliver compelling distinction for the connoisseur, and friendly priced options for the novice wine drinker.

Filipa Pato & William Wouters ‘3 B’ Brut Nature Espumante £20

Filipa (the daughter of equally stunning winemaker, Luis Pato) and her husband, William Wouters, an accomplished Belgian sommelier are viticulture road trippers, sniffing out biodynamic ‘3 B blanc de blancs’ grown from Bairrada’s chalky soils; the expressive Maria Gomez 39%, Cercial 23%, and Bical 38% displaying core fruit minerality (green apple, pear, and herbal autochthonous white grapes,) the ‘3 B’ wine has a refreshing saline spray aroma, and is proudly bone-dry, a zero dosage Barraida Lokal Espumante cuvée. This winemaking couple threads a high tension wire, without relying on superficial cellar trappings or hiding behind a cushioning skirt of an elixir secret sauce.

2021 Aliança Reserve Brut £9

Aliança, since 1927 has a sterling reputation for sparkling wines, whites, rose, reds and brandies. Being the industry leader in traditional innovation, they control over 800 hectares of vineyards from 5 Quintas in 8 regions, making the most diverse range of authentic Portuguese wines on the market.

A study in contrast, the Brut is a bubbly blend of Bical, Arinto and Baga. A dry, yet intensely fruity, chiffon textured, elegant sparkling wine that is more weighty than a Prosecco, and it’s not just for breakfast mimosas or Bellini anymore. The Aliança is the go-to celebratory sparkler!

Peter Birmingham

Restaurant General Manager, Corporate Beverage Director, & Hospitality Consultant, with these qualities he represents a Triple Threat: a culinary tableside historian, an accomplished wine taster with the casual ability to make flavor relationships and beverage quality value accessible.