Posted by: tomciocco | December 30, 2012

A BIG BAGA FIREWORKS

The diverse Atlantic swath of the Iberian peninsula that makes up the ancient nation of Portugal has become home to quite a few oenological stars – Port, Vinho Verde, and Alentejo among them – and probably ten times that many underachievers and undiscovereds, one among them is tonight’s Bairrada. The Bairrada region is pinned between the fishing town of Aveiro on the north, the ancient, hilly, university city of Coimbra on the south, the Dao wine region directly to the east, and a narrow, sandy strip of land buffering the Atlantic Ocean on the east.

Bairrada is temperate, rarely experiencing any extreme heat or cold, but due to its proximity to the rough and chilly Atlantic, it is quite damp year round. Whites do quite well here, and the full potential of quality native white-berried vines like Maria Gomes and Bical, not surprisingly, have not been fully realized.

But what Bairrada really has in its heart and guts in terms of wine is the powerful and explosive native red variety Baga. It’s always a risk to describe the general flavor/aroma profile a grape in terms of other grapes, but since it might be a while before you can snag a bottle to judge for yourself, I’d  describe as a sort of fictive blend of Nebbiolo and Carignan, with much of the former’s aromatic, elegant character, an equal measure of the latter’s depth, chewiness, and rusticity, and plenty of both parent’s stalwart frames. At its best, it is deep and rich, aromatically complex, and burly all at once, and can age for decades. Unfortunately, for all its hardiness in the vineyard, Baga’s Achille’s Heel is that it ripens very late, and in this sometimes sun-challenged, wettish region, full ripening before rot sets in is an eternal dilemma. In hotter and dryer years, with delayed Autumn rains, Baga excels, but under wetter conditions threat of rot forces cultivation of less ripe fruit, accentuating Baga’s already elevated acids and tannins, making for wan, rough wines. Vintage counts more for Bairrada Baga than it does for most other vines in most places, but in the right years, Baga’s gotta lotta “BOOM”! 2009 seems to be one of them…

Baga’s depth, aromatics, earth, and “cut” make it a great match for stronger cheeses, especially if they’re Portuguese, so that’s what we had: Amarelo de Beira Baixa, Flor de Estrela, and Zimbro, with Saloio bread from Newark’s Ironbound, pears, apples, and walnuts.

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Quinta das Bageiras Bairrada Tinto 2009

Deep, nearly opaque magenta/garnet color. Layered and powerful nose of blackberry and mulberry fruit, tomato paste, wood smoke, dry earth, mocha, juniper berries, salami, black peppers, and dried rose petals. The wine enters the mouth with a fairly rich and dense texture, framed by a fine but broad and powerful tannic structure and honed acidity that carry dynamic, bold flavors of plum nectar, black cherries, pomegranate syrup, black licorice, minerals, and pickling spices. Austerely elegant, dry finish.

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