By Marco Giovanetti
Baga is one of the hundreds of native Portuguese grapes that most people have neither heard of nor encountered. A few writers have sporadically brought a spotlight to the grape but it has largely remained in obscurity. However, in the last few years, as Portuguese wines gain more momentum in the international wine arena, Baga is seeing a renaissance, thanks in part to visionary winemakers and modern enology techniques.
After accepting an invitation by Johanna Raynaud from Sopexa Canada to attend the Portuguese wine fair held on Montreal the past May 4th, I tasted amazing Portuguese wines including superb Bagas. Like usual, tasting notes at the end of the article.
Baga is produced almost exclusively today in Barraida, which is just south of the Douro and is located between the Atlantic Ocean and the Dão (it’s possible that the grape is actually native to the Dão, but its current home is definitely Barraida). Historically, Barraida was the source of dense, dark wines that were often used to stretch the Port supply either through deliberate mislabelling or through blending into Port wines so that the producers could keep up with the booming demand from England. In 1756, though, the prime minister of Portugal ordered that the vineyards of Barraida be torn up in order to protect the reputation of the Port region. In 1908, when the Portuguese government was laying the groundwork for what would eventually become their appellation system, the Barraida region was excluded and was only accepted in 1979 after heavy lobbying from locals. It is unusual among Portuguese regions in that a large majority of acreage in the region is devoted to a single grape. As mentioned above, Portugal is a land of blends and most regions have a large mixture of different grapes growing within their borders. Barraida’s production is heavily based on the Baga grape and, thus, the region’s vineyard area is dominated by Baga plantings to the tune of about 25,000 acres of land as of 2004.
The home of Baga, Bairrada has a continental climate system. The area’s Atlantic climate is affected by winds that blow in off the ocean, bringing rains that can cause grapes to rot or ruin the autumn harvest entirely. Bairrada gets from 31 to 47 inches of rain per year, with more rain, sometimes as much as 62 inches, falling in the eastern part of the region. Temperatures are moderate, thanks to the ocean’s influence. Summers are warm, with plenty of sunshine, and winters are mild. Most of Bairrada’s rain falls in the winter and spring months.
What Baga taste like:
Baga wines have deep colour and a rich but lean, tannic, high-acid structure, with clear flavours of berries and black plums and hints of coffee, tobacco and smoke, this unique grape variety whose ratio of skin to pulp makes even Cabernet Sauvignon appear gentle delicate
Though often astringent when young, Baga wines, especially the best ones from Bairrada can age remarkably well, softening and gaining elegance and a herb, cedar note, dried red fruits, that age into elegant wines of complexity. The aroma starts out with red cherry/berry fruit developing into red/black plum, tobacco and coffee bean flavours finishing with expansive complexity. The grape’s ample acid leads to quality sparkling wine production, and it is often proclaimed as the best in Portugal comes from the region of Bairrada.
Baga, wine, has an acquired taste for many; it’s not for the faint of heart. With the vibrant acidity and ample tannins it pairs well with rich foods. Locally it is traditional to pair with rich suckling pig, in other regions pork belly to duck, from rich pastas to heavy stews. Vinified as a sparkling wine, tit can pair well with tapas to spring rolls, samosas to varied crudités.
Many thanks to Johanna Raynaud from Sopexa Canada for the invitation to the Portuguese wine fair as well as Alain Belanger, the importer of Campolargo and Joao Carlos Ramos, the importer of Niepoort. My favorites Bagas of the Portugal wine show:
Campolargo Baga Bairrada 2010. Price: $26.00. SAQ Code: 11693092. The brainchild of Carlos Campolargo, a great Baga modernizer, this baga displays intense notes of blackcurrants, smoke with dry herbs, leather laced with spices. On the mouth, the wine is fruity enough to counterbalance the dense tannins of the wine.
Food Match Idea: Cod and Chorizo tapa.
Niepoort Baga 2011. Private Import. ( Alvin Canada Inc. Joao Carlos Ramos. 514-844-8532. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). On the nose, the wine displays fine notes of smokey red fruit laced with a vibrant minerality. In the mouth, the wine is full body with present but refined tannins. Very long and persistent aftertaste.
Food Match Idea: Paella with clams, Serrano ham and rabbit.
Correction: On the digital edition of May 3rd, a review of an Australian wine Clancy’s was not included. Following are my tasting
notes as this is a great wine for any BBQ.
Peter Lehmann Clancy’s Shiraz / Cabernet / Merlot. 2010 Price: $18.80. Australia SAQ Code: 10345707. On the nose, aromas that remind me of dry redcurrants with ripe cassis, tobacco, balsamic notes, mocha and balsamic notes. In the mouth, full body, round and ample. Generous in fruit and warm in the palate, the wine reminds me of toasty oak, spices with lots of blackcurrant character. The finale is long and very consistent with the rest of the wine. Very good value. 89\100.