A Unicorn Wine if ever there was one
I really hate the term “unicorn wine”. But if there is such a thing, then this is it.
Tinta Grossa. If you’ve heard of it, you’re already ahead of the game. If you’ve tried it, you are in the minority. And if you’ve had it as a monovarietal wine, then you’ve almost certainly had one of Paulo Laureanos’ bottlings. Why? Because he’s the only one currently bottling a monovarietal wine with this, alas, very uncommon variety. A variety, in fact, that used to be extremely important in that most southern of Portuguese regions: Alentejo. Paulo and his estate have rescued the grape from extinction, for the time being. His 3.5-hectare vineyard was planted with cuttings from very old vineyards some 40 years ago. Laureano’s Tinta Grossa is an important trove of vines.
If left to its own devices, Tinta Grossa produces a lot of greenery. It is important to manage exposure of the grape bunches to the sun, and it does well on shale soils. It also thrives in hot, dry climates – making it another variety that could be good for the future of wine in our changing world.
Paulo Laureano Vinus
Paulo himself runs a 120-hectare estate dedicated to the indigenous varieties of Portugal, with a special focus on Alentejo. The property is located in the area of Vidigueira, which is set apart from the rest of Alentejo because of the shale soils found there. Over a hundred hectares of the estate is managed sustainably in accordance with the program set out by the Alentejo Regional Wine Growing Commission, with the rest farmed organically.
The estate focuses on Aragonez, Trincadeira, Alfrocheiro and Touriga Nacional and, of course Tinta Grossa for their red varieties. The whites include Roupeiro, Arinto, Fernão Pires and Verdelho, but it is Antão Vaz that is the main variety. The area around Vidigueira is the best part of Alentejo for this grape.
Selectio Grosso 2009 14% abv – The Wine
The vines are 40 years old and come from grafts taken from much older vineyards in the region.
Paulo ferments the Tinta Grossa in steel before ageing it in first and second-use 300-litre barrels of French oak. The oak influence is clear in the wine, but the grape has plenty of substance to carry it off. Only 5550 bottles of the 2009 vintage were made, and the bottling is 100% Tinta Grossa. What a treat to be able to try a bottle that is already nine years old!
Deep ruby in the glass, with just a hint of garnet reflexes. The wine is dense, yet bright and clear.
The nose doesn’t leap out of the glass at you, but it’s no wallflower, either. Firm aromas of black olive, bramble and black plums glove a solid core of sweet wood spice and tobacco leaf, with some smoke on the side. Dried lovage lingers.
Compact in the mouth, with excellent equilibrium between the acidity and tannin – which remains somewhat rough and firm after nine years – the wine has immense length and plenty of body. There is still lots of dark plum and berries, with even more spice and black olive tapenade to accompany it. Dried fruits, sweet herbs and wood combine to create a complex, well-balanced wine that calls out for food, age and contemplation. And there is that brambly, slightly stalky rasp again. Very reminiscent of Sagrantino (very high praise coming from me) at about the same age. Sweet fruit lingers in the finish, but the wine is unquestionably bone dry.
A fascinating wine that is, admittedly, probably not to everyone’s liking – but it is very much to mine!
I would love to have the opportunity to try this wine in a younger vintage, to see where it starts out – now that I have an idea about where the journey is heading.
The One-Line Takeaway
If you see it, drink it – because you will never find another one and it is more than worth the experience!