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The wines of Luis Pato, Bairrada, Portugal

[Editor's note: A much more recent, in depth review of Luis' wines in now available here.]

One thing you may have noticed about Luis Pato’s top wines is that various species of wildfowl feature prominently on the labels. Ever wondered why? It’s because ‘Pato’ is Portuguese for 'duck', so it’s a sort of visual pun.

The man himself is an intelligent, press-friendly ex-chemist, and he presented these wines himself. Ironically, although he’s the one person who has probably done the most for the international visibility and reputation of the Bairrada region, Pato longer bottles any of his wines under the Bairrada appellation. Instead, he uses the wider generic Beiras label, as a protest against what he considers to be an over-legislative attitude of the regulating authorities.

Pato is often tagged as a modernist, a label he seems unsure about. He claims to ‘keep the tradition’, choosing to work exclusively with Bairrada’s traditional red grape, the Baga. ‘I’m not an oenologist’, says Pato, ‘but as a chemical engineer, I try to optimise what I do. I know about wines born in the vineyards, and I always try to make improvements each vintage’. French oak is used here, with the new oak mainly reserved for the whites. Pato notes that sometimes it is hard to distinguish the Baga tannins from the oak tannins (I find I’m often picking up oak in Bairrada, even when no new oak is used), and that the Baga grape doesn’t really benefit from new oak.

Most of the wines tasted here are cask (or tank) samples, and this is indicated where appropriate. The wines are uniformly of a good quality, and while the prices are appropriate for the quality on offer, I suspect these wines might be a hard sell, simply because most people are rather unfairly looking for a bargain when they turn to Portugal.

Vinho Formal 2000 Beiras
Bairrada is predominantly a red wine region, but some interesting whites are also made. This one is 100% Bical. Very bright piercing lemony nose leads to an attractive fresh modern palate with a savoury nutty edge. Quite a lot of character here in this softly-textured white wine. Very good+ (£13.50)

Maria Gomes NV, Bairrada
This sparkling wine displays a striking sweet herby nose. The palate displays bracing acidity with a yeasty, caramel-like edge. Unusual and interesting: quite rich. Very good+ (£7.99)

Luis Pato Baga 2001 Beiras (cask sample)
Very bright purple, with a vivid savoury, rich spicy nose. The palate is firm and tannic. This is very spicy and quite oaky, but has a serious, drying finish. Lovely stuff and good value – this is expected to retail at no more than £5.99. Very good+

Vinha Barrosa 1999, Beiras (cask sample)
This is one of Pato’s four single-vineyard wines, and it is produced from 1 ha of 90 year old vines. Striking herby edge to the rich, spicy nose, which is very appealing. Lovely chunky, spicy fruit on the palate with good acidity. Very attractive. Very good/excellent  (£13.50)

Vinha Barrosa 2001, Beiras (cask sample)
pronounced toasty edge to the earthy, spicy fruit on the nose is quite alluring. The palate is rich and spicy with good acidity and firm tannins. Still very concentrated but higher acidity and lighter in structure than some of the other wines. Very good/excellent

Vinha Pan 1999 Beiras (cask sample)
80% from 21 year old vines and 20% from 90 year old vines. Rich, spicy enticing nose with an oaky edge leads to a chunky palate with dark fruits and some chocolatey spicy notes. Good concentration. Very good+ (£16.95)

Vinha Pan 2001 Beiras (cask sample)
Spicy cherry fruit on the nose, with a slightly caramel edge. The palate has firm acidity and tannins with some wood. Almost inapproachable now but with lots of promise. Highly concentrated. Very good/excellent

Vinha Barrio 1998 Bairrada
 From 2 ha of 90 year old vines, planted in chalky clay. Fading a little at the rim, otherwise deep coloured. Rich nose of caramel and berry fruits. The palate is tannic, earthy and rich, evolving nicely with a spiciness to the structured fruit. Very good/excellent (£16.95)

Vinha Barrio 2001 Beiras (cask sample)
Enticing nose is spicy, liquoricey and enticing. Very dense, tannic palate shows great concentration and a minerally edge. Very youthful, but lots happening here. Spicy finish. Very good/excellent

Quinta do Moinho 1998, Bairrada
12 year old vines; 100% Baga planted on chalky clay soils. 7.8 ha vineyard. Deep coloured with a slightly fading rim. There’s some gamey, earthy maturity on the nose, which is spicy and savoury. The palate is spicy and chunky: still very tannic and quite earthy. Very good+ (£16.95)

Quinta do Moinho 2001, Beiras (Cask sample)
Vivid purple colour. The dusty, slightly spicy nose is quite shy and a little earthy. Dense, tannic palate is very earthy and spicy, with a strong oak imprint. Very youthful and dense now. Very good+

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