“Mais vale uma enxada na mão do que uma mão inchada” (Better to have a hoe in hand than a swollen hand)
I’m really behind on my wine writing but before time slips too far away and my keyboard writes stories of (gasp) Italian wines, I’ve carved out some wine time to backtrack and write about a visit to a small producer from the Dão region, Palwines. I first heard of Palwines while I was working away on a friend’s vineyard in Beira last summer. Throughout the year I had the great fortune to taste some of their wines and meet brothers Pedro and Luís a few times, but the trip to their winery last month really set my heart on fire for this small, dedicated family project. They are relatively new on the Portuguese wine scene, only starting the company in 2012, but since their inception they have already achieved recognition and an awarding-winning wine.
Three siblings make up Palwines: Pedro, Ana and Luís Borges. Their intention for producing wines was simple: to pay homage to their grandfather. However, more than an homage it was continuation of an old way of life, as winemaker Luís told me, a return to a past when a winemaker understood the terroir, the grapes and respected them. For Luís, the influence his grandfather had on him as a winemaker was significant. His childhood was spent with his grandfather in the family vineyards and he experienced the simpler kind of viti-viniculture: donkey-pulled plows, sheep weeding, hand-picked harvests, foot-trodden fermentation in lagares, all things that the Borges family continue to do (although I’m not quite sure about the donkey). Most importantly, however, was achieving the balance between man and nature in the vineyard. “My grandfather would say ‘when you go the vineyard talk to the plant, caress it. It will pay you back with good wine’”, Luís explained. Wise words.
Working with only two hectares of vines in the outskirts of Nelas in the Beira province, the Borges siblings are dedicated to making wines that sum up all that the Dão has to offer. One hectare makes up their century old vines, which are dispersed in various plots throughout the property. The other hectare is of Touriga Nacional grapes. Probably the only rookie mistake for Palwines was ripping out the old existing vines and planting the popular Touriga Nacional in 2007, which Luís regrets, but in all honesty he really shouldn’t be too hard on himself. He understands the varietal, the granite soil, the microclimates of the vineyard and how to work the grapes ever so gently so as to produce the silky, well-balanced and juicy wine that won them the Grande Vinho do Dão of 2012 (Best Dão Wine of 2012, please see tasting notes below).
As with many of the new wine producers of the Dão, there is a revolution happening in the winery. In this case, a quiet revolution in the 20 squared metre winery located in the bottom floor of the Borges’ family home. The focus to more elegant, clean and fruit-driven wines has been something that the Borges siblings have set out to do. Trying to change minds of previous generation of winemakers and wine drinkers, those used to a harsher style of Dão wines, is a challenge that the Borges’ siblings can confront together. However, Luís, who makes his living as a winemaker at the Vinicola de Nelas, must divide himself in two. By day he must conform to the standards of what has always been made in the Dão region, especially when it comes to the heavy-handed use of oak. By night (both metaphorically and literally) he pushes the envelope by opting for low-intervention winemaking, selected yeasts with no added flavours, no (or very limited) use of oak. During harvest, Luís must punch down the grape must by foot in the lagar twice, at 1am and then at 5am, and then he head out to his job. Luckily, when it comes to the other tasks, such as grape picking, administration, and marketing, Ana and Luís are there.
At a more than 4500 bottles of wine, this may seem like a hobby venture but the dedication, labour and investment put into the wine project is commendable. At 20 euros the bottle for both the Quinta dos Três Maninhos and the Centenariae Vineae, they may not be one of the cheaper Portuguese wines but it certainly reflects both the labour and quality of the wine. The way I see it, as a wine producer with a quality product, it is imperative to recognize your wines’ worth as much as your own work. I applaud Palwines, Luís, Jorge and Ana, for their hard work and I hope to taste more in the years to come.
I leave you now with some tasting notes.
Tank Sample of 2014 White from Centenary Vines (to be released later this year)
Very small production of this blend of white varietals, only 240 bottles, it was pale yellow in color, with subtle aromas of stone-fruit and ripe pears. On the palate, it was fresh and lively with some minerality, medium body and medium finish. I’d be curious to try this again once it has matured in bottle a little. Good.
Tank Sample of 2014 Touriga Nacional (to be released later this year)
100% Touriga Nacional
In my humble opinion, it was ready to bottled and sold! Lovely purple color with slight sweetness (2g of Residual Sugar), fruit-driven wine with seductive violet aromas. Tannins were still a bit firm but lively acidity. Very Good. 13.5% abv
Centenariae Vineae 2013
Blend of old vines from Vinha do Canez
As the name implies, made from field blend of century old vines. A rare treasure and gift from the past, the nose entices with aromas of cherry, red berries, earthiness and spice. On the palate, polished and delicate, really well-balanced fruit flavours and harmoniously integrated tannins. Crisp, medium bodied, great structure and has lots of potential to develop with age. Very Good. 13.5% abv (2000 bottles)
Quinta dos Três Maninhos 2012
100% Touriga Nacional
Winner of “Grande Vinho do Dão 2012”, this is an elegant wine that is really easy to drink. Beautiful ruby colour with purple hues and stained legs. On the nose it is seductive melody of violets, red fruits, plums and a hint of pine. On the palate the red fruits and black berries stand out while also offering lots of freshness and spiciness. Smooth tannins and great finesse. A refined wine with a lovely finish. Still young but so pleasant to drink. Very Good to Outstanding. 13.5% abv (200o bottles)