Sem Igual: an exciting modern take on Vinho Verde, Portugal


João Camizao and Leila Camizao Rocha (pictured above) came into winegrowing from the outside. He was (and still is) and engineer for Nokia, while she was busy running corporate events, and after a spell of two-and-a-half years in India, from 2009-2011, they moved back to northern Portugal to make wine in the Vinho Verde region, where João has family with vineyards. He’s applied what he learned at Nokia. ‘My dream is to apply Nokia technology in the vineyard and take smart actions.’

‘I am the fourth of fifth generation (I’m not 100% sure) of wine growers,’ says João, ‘and the family has been making wines since 1780.’ The family owned an old winery, and they’d been in the business of selling bulk wine and also grapes. ‘In 2012 together with my wife Leila, we decided to turn a problem into an opportunity,’ he says. ‘The problem is that my grandfather had money to maintain the property, and this was going to be a challenge for us in the future when it was our time to maintain it. We tried to turn this problem into an opportunity by creating a new wine style, different from the wine style that was done in the region.’ Vinho Verde was typically a cheap, fizzy, slightly sweet wine selling at low prices. Their region, Sousa, wasn’t highly regarded within Vinho Verde and was known for cheap bulk wine. ‘We decided to make a still wine, which was kind of an innovation 10 years ago, with Azal and Arinto which are the varieties of this specific subregion.’

João and Leila had this idea during their time in India, ‘I am a telecom engineer and I was working as an expat for a company, and I had an assignment there to start up a software development team. I was part of an expat club and I met people from all over the world and I understood how much people were respecting the wine. I thought: we have something that we are not respecting the way we should. So I told Leila, when we are going back to Portugal (our first kid was born in India) we need to try to do our own wine.’

On their return, João enrolled in a postgraduate degree program in the University of Porto in enology and viticulture. And then they did proof of concept with 600 bottles. This was the first Sem Igual release, the 2012. ‘Leila helped me a lot,’ says João. ‘She was working for an international agency doing business event management in Porto.’ Her connections got João into all the top restaurants to show off this new wine, and sales were good, although he often had to do blind tastings. ‘If they see a Vinho Verde they say I am not going to buy that. Is it Alvarinho? It isn’t? I don’t want crappy wine.’

‘In 2017 we decided to move to the property. I work with a winemaker, Jorges Sousa Pinto, and he was making the wine in his winery. But in 2021 we built our own winery and did the first vintage there. We also opened some accommodation, and now we have an oenotourism business which is very complementary, because we have an opportunity to show the wine, and then we can break this pre-conceived idea that Vinho Verde is cheap wine’

We have 10 hectares of vineyard. For the whites we work with Arinto and Azal. We have some Alvarinho, but we sell most of these grapes. For the red we try to do a bit of a revolution. The red varieties that were used in the family were Vinhão, but for me it’s very difficult to find a good Vinhão. It’s a very specific style. But everyone is very proud of this Vinhão. So in 2017 we decided to add more vineyard and we chose Touriga Nacional, Baga and Vinhão (it’s part of our tradition and we need to respect that). The altitude of our vineyards is 220-280 m. We are in a valley, 25 km from Porto and 15 km to the Marão hill. Our soils are mostly granitic.

Currently, they farm 10 hectares of vines: 5.5 hectares around the house and winery, 2.5 hectares further down the road, and then some old vines in another family property 3 km away. Half the grapes are sold, and they put around 30 tons through the winery each year. Farming isn’t fully organic, but no herbicides are used. There is irrigation, but it was only used in 2017 and 2022, particularly hot years.

The logo is 100 igual, written as ‘cem’ in Portuguese and which sounds the same as sem. Sem means without, and igual, equal, hence these wines are without equal. The main production is Sem Igual Vinho Verde, which retails for €14 in Portugal. João still works for Nokia, from an office in the winery, beginning at 0630 in the morning and finishing by 1500, to focus on wine matters.


Sem Igual 2016 Vinho Verde, Portugal
13% alcohol. From younger vineyards, fermented and aged in stainless steel. 70% Arinto and 30% Azal. Refined aromatics of yellow fruit: peach and plum, with some citrus notes. Lovely crystalline palate with stony notes, some pear and a good acid line, with a hint of nuttiness, and just the first sign of development. 93/100

Sem Igual 2017 Vinho Verde, Portugal
13.5% alcohol. This was a warm year. Full yellow colour. Toast on the nose with fine peach and mandarin notes. The palate is supple and refined with with good acidity under the yellow fruits. There’s some depth here, and a hint of mint, as well as a little creaminess. 91/100

Sem Igual 2018 Vinho Verde, Portugal
Full yellow colour. Crystalline citrus nose with some toasty hints. Very supple palate with mandarin and lemon. Open, with a nice acid line and some delicacy to the fruit. Quite exotic in terms of the fruity notes. 93/100

Sem Igual 2019 Vinho Verde, Portugal
12.5% alcohol. Full yellow colour. Powerful and intense with keen acidity under the vivid citrus fruit, as well as some melony richness. Lively and focused with good acidity. Lovely intensity to this wine which shows a crystalline quality and a hint of pineapple on the finish. Some pithy notes, too: striking and boldly flavoured. 94/100

Sem Igual 2020 Vinho Verde, Portugal
Refined and quite linear with keen acidity and bright citrus fruit, complemented by some tropical notes – a touch of pineapple and peach. This has lovely acidity, and is really linear with nice focus. Has a lot of potential. 93/100

Next we tasted wines from old vineyards. These produce wines with both higher acidity and also higher alcohol, and the higher acidity is the only way to have balance: it is difficult to have alcohol levels below 13%. ‘With my best wine I decided to have oaked and unoaked,’ says João. These vineyards are 70-90 years old, planted in Ramada (pergola). The fermentation starts and then a portion goes to French oak to finish fermentation and age.

Sem Igual Ramadas Metal 2018 Vinho Verde, Portugal
13.5% alcohol. Full yellow colour. Toast, apricot and honey on the nose. The palate is bold yet fresh with crystalline citrus fruit and a touch of marmalade, as well as fine spicy notes. The colour and nose make you think that this has development, but the saline crystalline fruit and good acidity deliver freshness in the mouth. 95/100

Sem Igual Ramadas Wood 2018 Vinho Verde, Portugal
13.5% alcohol. Fermented in used French oak. Full yellow/gold colour. Lovely aromatics of melon, lemon and mandarin with a subtle toastiness. The palate is bold and crystalline with a lovely acid line as well as focused citrus fruit and subtle nut and spice. There’s a slightly pithy bitter twist on the finish. Substantial, complex and layered. 94/100

Sem Igual Azal 2021 Vinho Verde, Portugal
This is version of the historic style of Vinho Verde. 100% Azal, bottled dry, then malolactic takes place in the bottle adding some fizz. High acid (10-11 g/l) with lots of malic acid (c 6 g/l). They don’t add sulfites but just put a cork in it, and it reaches maybe 1-1.5 bars. This is tart, bracing and refreshing with lovely freshness. Notes of green apples and lemons, with high acidity, and it’s dry. 91/100

Sem Mal 2020 Vinho Verde, Portugal
11% alcohol. 70% Azal, 30% Arinto. Full yellow colour. Lovely aromatics of peach, toast and mandarin. Just a hint of spritz adding some freshness with lots of depth of flavour and nice acidity. Some ripe yellow fruit and toasty evolution. 90/100

Sem Igual Bruto Natural 2017 Vinho Verde, Portugal
12% alcohol. 70% Azal, 30% Arinto. Traditional method fizz, 50 months on lees. Yellow/gold colour. Highly aromatic with pear, citrus, some peach and some toast. The palate is focused and intense with fine toasty hints as well as a touch of cherry alongside the core of citrus fruit. Great precision: a distinctive wine. 93/100

Sem Igual Pet Nat 2020 Vinho Verde, Portugal
Touriga Nacional and Baga, not disgorged. A rosé that has lost a lot of colour and is now cloudy full yellow. Bright lemon and cherry aromas, leading to flavours of pear and apple with lots of fizz and some bright citrus. Lovely purity of fruit and nice texture. 92/100

Sem Igual Pet Nat 2022 Vinho Verde, Portugal
12% alcohol. Baga and Touriga Nacional. Cloudy orange/pink colour. Juicy, bright, vivid and primary with taut cherry fruit and some fine spicy notes. Zesty and vivid with lovely cherry fruit as well as some pear drops. Very youthful. 91/100

Sem Igual Rosé 2022 Vinho Verde, Portugal
12% alcohol. Touriga Nacional and Baga. Full pink/red colour with some orange hints. Has aromas of dried herbs, rose hip syrup and strawberries. The palate is supple and fresh with red cherries, strawberries and some stony detail. Expressive, finishing with fine herbs. Gastronomic. 92/100

Sem Igual Tinto 20202 Vinho Verde, Portugal
This is Touriga Nacional and Baga with 10% Vinhão, foot trodden in granite lagars, fermented six days on skins. Not to deep in colour, this has beautiful freshness and balance with red cherry, raspberry and cranberry fruit showing good acidity and showing nice tannic grip. Brisk, enjoyable and showing lovely balance. 93/100

Sem Igual Vinho Verde Black Label 2020 Vinho Verde, Portugal
This is a Blanc de Noirs from Baga and Touriga Nacional, fermented and aged in barrel. Very fine nose of toast, spice and minerals. Supple and fresh on the palate with mandarin, pear, fine citrus and delicacy and refinement. Linear and focused with a touch of spicy oak. 93/100

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