The long dark nights of January had me making plans to go to Essência do Vinho – large wine fair in Porto held in February. From time to time I went online to look for tickets but was confused as my searches threw up another wine fair the same weekend – Simplesmente Vinho. Surely there weren’t two wine fairs in Porto on the same weekend ? I checked Portuguese wine contacts and yes there really were two so we made a plan to visit both starting with Simplesmente on the Friday night and Essência do Vinho on the Saturday.
Myself and my partner-in-wine Tracey strolled along the tram-tracks on the bank of the Douro in the winter sunshine, past the chunky Customs building when we were caught up by Richard and Linda Ashton of Quinta 24 winery in Ponte de Lima. Our little British posse walked up the ramp to what looked like a large abandoned warehouse set into a cliff.
We paid our 18 euros for brochure, glass and oak sapling (a nod to the devastating forest fires) and wandered through to the main room. The venue itself would suit a rave, a large hidden space with low arches. Between the pillars were positioned dozens of barrels with bottles of wine perched on top and wine makers hovering around them. At one end a band were setting up, and in the corner a small kitchen area serving up delicious petiscos.
We spent happy hours drifting around the room sampling wines and chatting with wine makers. Rui Cunha of Secret Spot wines talked about the ongoing drought in Portugal while Reto Jorg of Quetzal poured us his Tinto Reserva with its dark fruit and spice and described their winery and restaurant with its displays of modern art in deepest Alentejo. Andre Pereira of Quinta do Montalto in Lisbon told us about making wines in anforas and the local tradition of medieval-style wines combining white and red grapes.
From the Dão Susana Melo Abreu of Amora Brava talked passionately about their new wine-making venture and we tasted from their Psique and Indio Rei range. From the Douro we met Hugo da Silva, winemaker for Pinalta and sampled his Boango and Oficios wines (more on that in a future blog !). There were also quite a few Spanish wine makers dotted about the room including a couple from El Hato y el Garabato in Los Arribes a relatively deserted part of Spain across the border from the Douro. This is just a few snippets of conversation we had in a room buzzing with wine chat but after a long day travelling we called it a day and headed for our apartment.
Essência do Vinho
After a slow start on saturday we wandered around the centre of Porto enjoying coffee and pastries, looking for wine shops and marvelling at all the renovation going on. Every visit there seem to be more and more trendy bars and restaurants on Rua das Flores.
The Essência do Vinho wine fair opened at 4pm and by this time there was already a long line of excited wine enthusiasts in the line in front of us; mostly young Portuguese. The venue was the plush Palácio da Bolsa a fabulous building with elaborate artwork, high ceilings and ornate balconies. It was packed. We were herded to an upper level of balconies overlooking an atrium on the ground level. It seemed to be mostly established producers with teams pouring out measures for eager drinkers.
At the top of the staircase we were greeted by Gazela handing out samples and Mateus Rose, Riedel and Pedras also had large displays. Scanning the corridors we caught sight of some well-known Portuguese wine producers; Niepoort, Quinta do Noval, Julia Kemper, Wine and Soul, Quinta da Brejoeira, Esparão etc with crowds of eager drinkers huddled around thrusting their glasses forward for filling. It was very busy and by early evening we were being swept along the balcony in a wave of rosy-cheeked humanity.
We freed ourselves from the current at the Quinta Sobreiro de Cima table and chatted with Natacha Teixeiro while sampling wines from international varieties that her father Antonio was planting when I visited Tras-os-montes in 2012. (The Cabernet Sauvignon was particularly plummy with ripe pepper notes). Natacha introduced me to Pedro Carvalho of Quinta dos Termos in Beira Interior who is making delicious white wines with Fonte Cal a little-known (to me anyway !) grape variety that produces rich, honeyed whites with steely acidity.
Algarve wine-makers seemed to be out in force and Leonor Frazão of Quinta do Convento do Paraiso took us through their range of wines. Always on the look-out for ports from Portuguese families we pulled up to the table of Vasques de Carvalho and sampled their divine tawny ports aged 10 and 20 years going up to 40 years. Definitely a producer to watch !
We finally made our way down to the ground floor and headed through the crush for Valle Pradinhos’ table which had been on my radar for some time. I was finally able to introduce myself to Maria Antonia Pinto de Azevedo Mascarenhas, the third generation wine-grower at this Tras-os-montes winery and taste the 2014 Branco with its delicious citrus and tropical fruits and an underlying minerality (made by Rui Cunha of Secret Spot fame).
Simplesmente and Essência do Vinho had very different vibes and we barely scratched the surface. It is impossible to do justice to either event in two days. At Simplesmente there was a definite sense of ‘alternative’ and it was great to talk with the wine-makers themselves. At Essencia there was less opportunity to discuss the wines and it seemed more a case of getting around and sampling as many of the big names of the Portuguese wine scene as possible. Next time – (and there will be a next time !) we might visit Essência do Vinho on a weekday when it is hopefully quieter and take part in the numerous master-classes that were on offer.