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.
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!