Nuno Falcão Rodrigues’ parents bought Casal de Coelheira in 1986, and he started working here in 1992. It’s the last winery going north on the E118, at the beginning of the Tejo, and although they are inside the region they are 20 km from the Alentejo and 20 km from the Beiras. Here, the Tejo river is quite narrow, with sharper hills. This is where the valley opens up, and the soils are sandy.
The distance between Campo and Cherneca, two of the three distinctive terroirs of the region, is smallest here. They have vineyards close to the river, but also in dry and sandy soils, not the alluvial soils that are more common next to the river. They get a climatic influence from river, even in the summer, and with this terroir they can make a wide range of wines. ‘We can go for fresh and delicate white wines,’ says Nuno. He’s a big fan of Fernão Pires, which he says is the visiting card of the region.
They are mainly focused on the Portuguese grapes like this, but this is a region that has flirted with international varieties, and sometimes quite successfully. ‘At the end of 80s beginning of the 90s the French grapes had an important role in changing the vineyards,’ says Nuno. ‘50 years ago all the vineyards were on Campo, with richer soils.’ But many of them have been pulled out and these soils are now dedicated to maize, corn, wheat and peas. It’s the sandy soils that have been reserved for the vineyards.
‘People abandoned some grapes but introduced others, and the French grapes played an important role,’ he says. He’s choosing to focus on Portuguese grapes, and this year is planting two new ones: Alfrocheiro and Tinta Miuda. One of the reasons for the latter is because he’s learning to live with climate change: it is drought ad heat resistant. With the new plantings Casal de Coelheira are up to 52 hectares of vines.
‘Fernão Pires was a bad grape 50 years ago because it produced a lot, with high alcohol,’ says Nuno. ‘It was flat. We need to be careful here because the soils are sandy and it’s a hot climate, and we have the conditions for fast ripeness. We need to pick Fernão Pires in the first or second week of August. It’s a grape that gives good volume and structure if we ripen it more, but the trick with this grape is to find the balance.’
‘I don’t work with the TA, but the pH which tells me the freshness on the palate. pH 3.3 maximum is time to pick, and Fernão Pires will achieve this at 12.5-12.7% potential alcohol.’
He likes Touriga Franca. ‘It is late ripening with compact bunches so it does well here because in a warm climate it ripens early to avoid the rains.’
Casal de Coelheira Branco 2022 Tejo
13% alcohol. Verdelho, Fernao Pires and Arinto. Sandy soils. Highly aromatic and fresh with a lovely textured palate showing primary pear and citrus fruit with some fine spiciness. Lovely weight here with beautiful fruit, showing a bit of weight but also a touch of grapefruit freshness on the finish. 90/100 (£7.95 ND John)
Casal de Coelheira Private Collection Fernão Pires 2022 Tejo
13.5% alcohol. This is the third vintage of this wine, half barrel fermented in French oak. Powerful and vivid with a lovely spicy edge to the bold pear and white peach fruit, with some citrus brightness. Has lovely intensity with a hint of white pepper and some subtle spicy oak. Superb balance here, drinking beautifully now, but this has some potential for development. 92/100
Casal de Coelheira Tinto 2020 Tejo
14% alcohol. Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and a little Alicante Bouschet. Sandy soils. Perfumed and bright with a lovely juicy, fruity palate offering bold cherry, berry and blackcurrant fruit with nice spicy grip and hints of tar and cedar. Very stylish with some nice dark fruit quality as well as a bright juicy finish. Lovely balance between the ripe fruit and the spicy qualities. 90/100 (£8.50 ND John)
Casal de Coelheira Reserva Tinto 2020 Tinto
Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Cabernet Sauvignon aged for a year in French and American oak. Brooding blackcurrant and cherry nose with lovely aromatic lift. Supple, ripe and expressive with lovely balance and some nice spicy qualities. There’s good density here showing lovely oak influence right in the background adding a foil to the polished, sweet fruit. Really lovely. 92/100
Casal de Colheira Carpe Vitae 2019 Tejo
15% alcohol. This has an intense, spicy, vivid nose with some chocolate, blackberry and blackcurrant notes. In the mouth this is concentrated, intense and yet fresh with lots of tannins, high acidity and focused blackberry and blackcurrant fruit with some spicy oak in evidence. Lots of concentration here. There’s some new oak, with some American in the mix. A striking wine with a long future ahead of it, although it’s fairly impenetrable now. 94/100
EXPLORING PORTUGAL’S TEJO REGION