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Grape Profile – Baga – The Saliva Sucker

baga.jpgI recently stumbled across an issue I haven’t had to deal with before: what do say to the winery rep when you don’t really like the wine?

Last month, during our tasting at Sala Olgival, I came across this exact situation while tasting the 2001 Bairrada Imperio Reserva from Caves do Freixo. Made from almost 100% Baga, actually 95% with a 5% kicker of Touriga Nacional, the wine left my mouth as arid and dry as a Saharan swimming pool. Why? Because the Baga grape is renowned for being thick skinned, traditionally pressed with the stems still attached, and creating wines so thick that any saliva you possibly had in your mouth while drinking the wine is gone. Not a trace to be seen. Also I had just tasted about 40 wines, so I was a bit raw and while many wines still held nuance, this wine demanded an attention I could no longer offer. So what do you say? Trying to be diplomatic, I complimented the wine’s structure and its floral bouquet, which was really quite nice, but the palate… Sadly, I don’t have any formal notes on this wine, but considering the state of palate after tasting so many wines that day, I doubt I could’ve given a fair rating; however, I did learn that when it says, Baga, be prepared!

Back in Terrassa at Catavino HQ, we’ve now had the chance to taste two other Bagas. One wine was made with 100% Baga, while the other was blended with Merlot. My notes are at the bottom of the post, but I want to say this, I don’t get Baga. When blended with Merlot, we actually enjoyed the wine very much. The intense structure of the Baga was balanced by the lush fruit of the Merlot, but Baga on it’s own well, I just don’t understand it.

Quinta do Encontro

While doing research for this article, I noticed that many people speak of it as a noble or quality grape, but I’m not convinced. It’s used as the base for Mateus Rose, where it’s blended with other grapes, and I assume, in these instances it has a very short time in contact with the skins.

I want to say the structure of Baga will allow the wine to age a long time, but in my experience, when a wine has this much tannin, the fruit doesn’t always stick around long enough for the tannin to fade. I know many people really like tannic wines, so very well could be the wine for them, and I just an ignorant fool. However, for those of us preferring a touch less tannin, I can say that when we decanted at our house the wine made from 100% Baga, it did show a bit better. I’m still not sold, but it was at least palatable.

Baga is the number one grape grown in the north central part of Portugal. It has a long history in the region of Bairrada where it is planted more than any other grape variety. Small dark berries with think skins and prone to rot, eventually create tannic monsters. If you follow tradition, Baga wines were usually fermented in whole clusters instead of being de-stemmed, elaborating even more tannic wines due to the high content of tannins in the stems of the grape cluster. From a preservation point of view, this must have made sense back in the day. Tannin is an acid that does help to preserve wine, and with the levels found in these rustic versions, I assume you can put these down for several years or travel to your African colony with ease.

On the other end of the spectrum, there seems to be a movement towards wines with more balance and finesse. Consequently, it appears that many wineries are de-stemming the grapes to calm them a bit down, smoothing out those saliva-sucking tannins. .

With that said, I’d like to be proven wrong. So I ask any Portuguese Baga producers who are listening to help educate us. Does Baga age well? Better than expected? Is there a way to make 100% Baga wines that are not painful to drink, or do you always need to wait before they become soft? Although I haven’t found one yet(contrary to the circumstances in this article I can say I’ve probably had a dozen or so wines made with a majority of Baga), I’m still confident there are some out there. There’s obviously a reason why they still use Baga, and I would very much like to taste a wine that illustrates all its positive characteristics. So readers and producers alike, please comment below about your experiences with Baga!

Till Soon,

Ryan

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  • Troy

    you said you want one with just 10 percent baga? try the Quinta das Baceladas. Primarily cabernet sauvignon and merlot, but with — you guessed it — about ten percent baga. also, I don't know myself, but the portuguese wine writer Anibal Coutinho claims to have tried some extremely old Bairradinas of pure baga and that they aged very well.

  • Ryan

    Just had the higher end wine from Quinta do Encontro…Much nicer baga and great nose: <ul type='square'><li>2003 Quinta do Encontro Bairrada Preto Branco – Portugal, Beiras, Bairrada (9/12/2007)I always complained about people judging a wine by it's color. I used to say things like, "You can't taste red", therefore I now feel silly wishing to describe the nose of this wine as blue. That's right blue. Don't know why, but that's what pops in my mind, the aromas and ideas that follow that are diverse and intriguing. Blueberries, cassia, violets(pure and almost volitile), dusty cinnamon topped with shavings of allspice, then mix this all with the gravel from middle of a country road. WOW. I really want to keep my nose it in and everytime I go back I get reminded of something, this time a whiff of my mothers homemade chokecherry syrup. In the mouth this is a lush and sensual wine. Great acidty that sparkles almost combined with fine silky tannins, that leave your mouth receptive to myriad flavors. Blueberries, chokecherries, bitter chocolate and steely gravel. Just opened, I'm excited to see it evolve. Full of flavors that have yet to show themselves, this is a wine I would gladly buy and even cellar for 4-8 more years, if not longer. 4.5/5</li></ul>

  • Troy

    you said you want one with just 10 percent baga? try the Quinta das Baceladas. Primarily cabernet sauvignon and merlot, but with — you guessed it — about ten percent baga. also, I don’t know myself, but the portuguese wine writer Anibal Coutinho claims to have tried some extremely old Bairradinas of pure baga and that they aged very well.

  • http://www.catavino.net Ryan

    Just had the higher end wine from Quinta do Encontro…Much nicer baga and great nose:
    2003 Quinta do Encontro Bairrada Preto Branco – Portugal, Beiras, Bairrada (9/12/2007)I always complained about people judging a wine by it’s color. I used to say things like, “You can’t taste red”, therefore I now feel silly wishing to describe the nose of this wine as blue. That’s right blue. Don’t know why, but that’s what pops in my mind, the aromas and ideas that follow that are diverse and intriguing. Blueberries, cassia, violets(pure and almost volitile), dusty cinnamon topped with shavings of allspice, then mix this all with the gravel from middle of a country road. WOW. I really want to keep my nose it in and everytime I go back I get reminded of something, this time a whiff of my mothers homemade chokecherry syrup. In the mouth this is a lush and sensual wine. Great acidty that sparkles almost combined with fine silky tannins, that leave your mouth receptive to myriad flavors. Blueberries, chokecherries, bitter chocolate and steely gravel. Just opened, I’m excited to see it evolve. Full of flavors that have yet to show themselves, this is a wine I would gladly buy and even cellar for 4-8 more years, if not longer. 4.5/5

  • Tommy

    Ryan the best 100% Baga I have ever had is from producer Luis Pato who is located in Bairrada. He's ones of Portugal's great wine makers. I just recently had his 1998 Vinha Barrosa from a vineyard which is over 80 years old. This wine was in my humble opinion incredibly complex and such a surprise I bought this bottle a year or two back for curiosity sake and was completely wowed. His wines from his old vine vineyards are known to age well. I agree young Baga doesn't really float my boat. But the aged juice from Pato is outstanding truly a great wine to search out. His website is <a href="http://www.luispato.com “>http://www.luispato.com and is in english as well as Portuguese. He is very friendly and loves promoting his Portuguese indigenous varietals, I have asked him a lot of questions about Portuguese wine making and he always replies back to me personally. We currently distribute his Maria Gomes white but someday I hope to direct import his other reds. Interestingly he makes a sparkling wine with 100% Baga too. I haven't tried it yet but I'll let you know when I do! Let me know what you think if you try them. Aloha!

  • Tommy

    Ryan the best 100% Baga I have ever had is from producer Luis Pato who is located in Bairrada. He's ones of Portugal's great wine makers. I just recently had his 1998 Vinha Barrosa from a vineyard which is over 80 years old. This wine was in my humble opinion incredibly complex and such a surprise I bought this bottle a year or two back for curiosity sake and was completely wowed. His wines from his old vine vineyards are known to age well. I agree young Baga doesn't really float my boat. But the aged juice from Pato is outstanding truly a great wine to search out. His website is <a href="http://www.luispato.com “>http://www.luispato.com and is in english as well as Portuguese. He is very friendly and loves promoting his Portuguese indigenous varietals, I have asked him a lot of questions about Portuguese wine making and he always replies back to me personally. We currently distribute his Maria Gomes white but someday I hope to direct import his other reds. Interestingly he makes a sparkling wine with 100% Baga too. I haven't tried it yet but I'll let you know when I do! Let me know what you think if you try them. Aloha!

  • Tommy

    Ryan the best 100% Baga I have ever had is from producer Luis Pato who is located in Bairrada. He's ones of Portugal's great wine makers. I just recently had his 1998 Vinha Barrosa from a vineyard which is over 80 years old. This wine was in my humble opinion incredibly complex and such a surprise I bought this bottle a year or two back for curiosity sake and was completely wowed. His wines from his old vine vineyards are known to age well. I agree young Baga doesn't really float my boat. But the aged juice from Pato is outstanding truly a great wine to search out. His website is <a href="http://www.luispato.com “>http://www.luispato.com and is in english as well as Portuguese. He is very friendly and loves promoting his Portuguese indigenous varietals, I have asked him a lot of questions about Portuguese wine making and he always replies back to me personally. We currently distribute his Maria Gomes white but someday I hope to direct import his other reds. Interestingly he makes a sparkling wine with 100% Baga too. I haven't tried it yet but I'll let you know when I do! Let me know what you think if you try them. Aloha!

  • Tommy

    Ryan the best 100% Baga I have ever had is from producer Luis Pato who is located in Bairrada. He’s ones of Portugal’s great wine makers. I just recently had his 1998 Vinha Barrosa from a vineyard which is over 80 years old. This wine was in my humble opinion incredibly complex and such a surprise I bought this bottle a year or two back for curiosity sake and was completely wowed. His wines from his old vine vineyards are known to age well. I agree young Baga doesn’t really float my boat. But the aged juice from Pato is outstanding truly a great wine to search out. His website is http://www.luispato.com and is in english as well as Portuguese. He is very friendly and loves promoting his Portuguese indigenous varietals, I have asked him a lot of questions about Portuguese wine making and he always replies back to me personally. We currently distribute his Maria Gomes white but someday I hope to direct import his other reds. Interestingly he makes a sparkling wine with 100% Baga too. I haven’t tried it yet but I’ll let you know when I do! Let me know what you think if you try them. Aloha!

  • João Rico

    Ryan, Baga is a wonderfull grape that needs to be understand. It so hard to work with Baga but there are a few winemakers that know all the secrets ans make really great wines. Baga gives wines so amazing and so bordeaux like. You just need to wait for the apropriate moment ( sometimes 10 years or more). Ex: Luis Pato Vinha Barrosa Luis Pato Vinha Pan Luis Pato Quinta do Ribeirinho Pé Franco Casa de Saima Garrafeira Quinta das Bageiras Garrafeira Sodónio Sousa Garrafeira Just no name a few that have great wines. Best regards

  • http://pumadas.blogspot.com João Rico

    Ryan,

    Baga is a wonderfull grape that needs to be understand. It so hard to work with Baga but there are a few winemakers that know all the secrets ans make really great wines. Baga gives wines so amazing and so bordeaux like. You just need to wait for the apropriate moment ( sometimes 10 years or more). Ex:

    Luis Pato Vinha Barrosa
    Luis Pato Vinha Pan
    Luis Pato Quinta do Ribeirinho Pé Franco
    Casa de Saima Garrafeira
    Quinta das Bageiras Garrafeira
    Sodónio Sousa Garrafeira

    Just no name a few that have great wines.

    Best regards

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  • James

    Just did Luis Pato's 1990 'Vinhas Velhas' Baga. Stunning fruit and structure- only twenty years old, I'm assuming it will continue to develop for another ten to fifteen in some form or another. His 2007 Bga is destemmed and pulled off the lees sooner, resulting in a fresh, lively fruit forward baga expression that drinks well right out of the bottle. It's a great grape, but the whole cluster fermentation needs to go- it's too old school and the wines take too long to mature into something drinkable.