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The wines of Luis Pato, Bairrada
One of Portugal's winemaking stars

Website: www.luispato.com

Luis in his cellar 

Luis Pato (which is Portuguese for ‘duck’) is the best-known producer in the Bairrada region. He’s widely regarded as the modernizer who brought a struggling region back to life, but I think it’s unfair to see him just in this light, because his wines have a traditional side to them, and he’s also a champion of the local red grape, Baga. Now that the regulations in Bairrada have changed, allowing growers in the region to use other varieties, you could say that Pato is a neo-traditionalist.

Baga has a reputation for making rather stern red wines, that are unapproachable in their youth and which often never resolve into mellowness with age. It also makes sparkling white wines which match perfectly with the gastronomic specialty of this region – the famous suckling pig, leitão. While it’s true that Baga can produce rather tannic, fruitless wines that are tough and somewhat joyless, Pato has shown that Baga deserves a bit more respect than it’s often given. I find that it makes wines that share some characteristics with Italian grape Nebbiolo, and it can even approach the elegance of Pinot Noir in riper vintages.

The winery

Pato’s background is that he trained as a chemical engineer before taking over his parent’s winery in the early 1980s. As soon as he was up and running, he began to experiment. He started destemming his wines, which was unusual at the time, and he began to use small oak barrels, some of them new. He also blended in some Touriga Nacional. Quickly his wines caught the attention of the critics. However, since 1999 his wines have not been labelled ‘Bairrada’, but rather by the broader designation of ‘Beiras’. Why? ‘The Portuguese government nominated a guy for the Bairrada head office who was not the right man’, explains Pato. ‘So to show a yellow card I moved from Bairrada to Beiras’. Pato cites two reasons why he doesn’t want to come back to Bairrada. ‘I don’t want to be mixed with new world style commerce and the use of French grape varieties’, he says, ‘and I think that the Beiras region needs to be together, and Bairrada should just be a subregion for the top reds’. [But the news is that from the 2008 vintage, Pato will be using the Bairrada appellation for a couple of his wines: the Pe Franco and the Vinha Formal.]

Pato shows his open-mindedness in that he was the first overseas judge to participate in the International Wine Challenge, the world’s largest blind tasting held in London each year. He describes this experience as ‘my tasting university’.  Altogether he has assembled 65 hectares of vineyards, and makes a range of reds, whites and sparkling wines from 20 separate blocks in various terroirs within Bairrada. His father had 40 hectares, his mother-in-law had 5 hectares, and he has bough 30 hectares, which means that he has rights to another 10 hectares of vines that currently aren’t planted.  The range is quite complicated, but at its core are four top reds: the Vinhas Velhas, Vinha Pan and Vinha Barrosa, and the remarkable Pé Franco, made from ungrafted vines which Pato recently planted in his Riberinho vineyard. There is also a serious white wine, Vinho Formal, which has an interesting story behind it. In 1867, António Augusto de Aguiar produced a map showing his Bairrada demarcation, with a yellow line around the bit he thought was best for white wines (this is shown: the map is in the Bairrada museum). Brazil was the important market for Portuguese wines, and for whites to survive the journey, they had to have the structure of reds. Pato decided to trust Aguiar’s map and bought the Formal vineyard, which has chalky clay soils, and the result is this complex, intense, ageworthy white.  

Pato’s latest theme is that of what he calls ‘precision harvest’. Initially he started doing a green harvest in 1995, in which he removed a third of the grapes at veraison. These days he removes half the grapes: one third at veraison (the usual green harvest), and then later on the balance between a third and a half. This second harvest, of coloured but not mature grapes, is used for the sparkling Baga. He’ll pick the second bunch per stem (the first is the first to grow and is thus more mature). Luis says that his philosophy is ’old world tradition blended with new world precision vinification’.

How is the situation in Bairrada? ‘It’s quite difficult at the moment’, says Pato. ‘Alianca [one of the big producers in the region] was bought by Bacalhoa a few months ago, and I don’t know whether they will keep the winery. The cooperatives are going down.’ Pato thinks that the future may be more positive, though, because while some of the bad, old fashioned companies are disappearing, new companies are arriving. ‘The future will be white wines, sparkling wines and some top reds’. He thinks that to build a good image for the top Bairrada red wines, just 3% of the best red wines need to be kept.

Luis Pato has three daughters, and one of them, Filipa, is now a well known winemaker in her own right. She shares the winery with her father, but makes a quite separate range of wines from both Bairrada and Dão regions, as well as some wines with her husband, William Wouters (she married in summer 2008). Filipa’s wines will be reviewed separately elsewhere.

The tasting notes below are from three separate occasions. First, I attended a vertical tasting of his wines in London at Portal, a high-end Portuguese restaurant in March 2008. Then in July 2008 I visited Luis Pato at his estate in the Bairrada. Finally, in November 2008 I tasted through his wines at a tasting organized by the Independent Winegrowers Association (a coalition of half a dozen high end estates which Pato belongs to) at the Bull and Bear restaurant in Porto.

The wines

First, the espumantes (these are all NV, but the wines here are from the 2007 vintage).

Luis Pato Sparkling Touriga Nacional Rosé
The first harvest of this new sparkling wine (espumante). Light pink colour. Very bright, fruity nose leads to a fantastic sweet strawberry fruit palate with great precision and high acidity. 88/100 (03/08)

Luis Pato Sparkling Touriga Nacional Rosé
Bright, smart and fresh with a lovely strawberry edge to the sweet fruit. Nice fresh acidity. Quite delicious fruity. 88/100 (11/08)

Luis Pato Sparkling Baga Rosé
Bright pink colour. Fresh, fruity nose with a subtle herby edge. The palate is quite zippy but there’s some breadth here. Quite rich. Nice. 87/100 (03/08)

Luis Pato Sparkling Baga Rosé
Gentle pink colour. Sweet, bright and characterful with bright, fresh berryish fruit and a bit of sweetness, too. Delicious. 90/100 (11/08)

Luis Pato Maria Gomes
Aromatic, sweet melony nose with lovely ripe fruit. The palate is fat and broad with a smooth texture, and some freshness on the finish. Pure, elegant fruit here. 88/100 (03/08)

Luis Pato Maria Gomes
Beautifully aromatic with sweet, fresh, grapey floral nose. Fresh and bright and fruity on the palate. Beautifully grapey and sweetly fruited. 89/100 (11/08)

Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas Branco 2007
Lovely bright, fresh, slightly nutty style with nice herby freshness, and also some breadth. A complex, full flavoured white with nice depth and texture. 90/100 (11/08)

Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas Branco 2007
Broad nose is expressive, combining fresh citrussy fruit with some richness. The palate is fruit driven with broad yet fresh fruit and oak in the background. 89/100 (03/08)

Luis Pato Vinha Formal 2007
From the Bical variety grown on chalky clay soil. Very rich, aromatic nose with slightly grapey tropical fruit as well as toasty richness and a high-toned lemon oil character. The palate is bold and intense with rich, rounded fruit as well as some nutty richness. Lovely. 92/100 (07/08)

Luis Pato Vinha Formal 2005
Deep yellow colour. Fantastic bold, aromatic nose with striking minerally, stony citrussy notes plus some tight vanilla oak. The palate is structured with high acidity, toasty notes and a strongly mineralic edge. Complex, powerful and bold with real intensity. 93/100 (03/08)

Luis Pato Bairrada 1985
Luis’ first vintage was 1980, but this was the first vintage in which he destemmed and used new oak. This is one of the 10 bottles he has left! Dark coloured, with a browning rim. Evolved, perfumed nose shows sweet, slightly stewed fruit with earth, spice and caramel. The palate is old-tasting with earthy, spicy notes. It’s slightly stewed but still alive, with some structure. 89/100 (03/08)

Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas Tinto 2005
Lovely focused broad dark cherry and black fruit nose. Spicy, complex and intense. The palate has nice fresh savoury dark fruits with great intensity and an earthy spiciness. This delicious wine is dense and structured with good acidity: should age well. 92/100 (03/08)

Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas Tinto 1995
Matured in new and used French oak, this is a wine that’s made to be more approachable than the Vinha Pan. Deep coloured. Fantastic sweet, cedary, warmly spiced nose with a balsamic note. Slightly olive-like. The palate is evolved but still alive, with earthy, warm, spicy character. Deliciously open, but drink up soon. 90/100 (03/08)

Luis Pato Vinha Pan 2005
Brooding, focused nose is dark, spicy and elegant with black cherry and black fruits. Incredibly tight and complex. The palate is open and expressive with elegant dark fruits, good acidity and a lovely fine yet grippy tannic structure. Wonderful stuff for long ageing. 94/100 (03/08)

Luis Pato Vinha Pan 2003
Warm, ripe nose is sweetly fruited but with a spicy, earthy seriousness. The palate is sweet and dense with some tannic structure and lovely complexity. There are some tannins here, but they are quite smooth. Expressive. 92/100

Luis Pato Vinha Pan 1995
Very deep coloured. Lovely complex, open, spicy earthy nose is brilliantly perfumed and really lively. There are some warm cedary balsamic notes, too. The palate is dense and forward with some firmness and a lovely earthiness. Still quite tannic and full: a lovely complex wine that has aged really nicely. 93/100 (03/08)

Luis Pato Vinha Barrosa 2005
Very deep coloured. Tight, bright, focused cherry fruit nose is aromatic with a hint of mint/eucalyptus. The palate is elegant with lovely fruit purity. Expressive berry/cherry fruit with grippy tannins. Lighter than the other wines in character, this is elegant and should age well. 93/100 (03/08)

Luis Pato Vinha Barrosa 2005
Sweetly aromatic with lovely full blackcurrant and blackberry fruit. The palate is dense with sweet, pure ripe fruit backed up by spicy structure. There’s a subtle minty freshness, which makes me think of eucalyptus. Apparently, the vineyard is surrounded by eucalypts. 91/100 (11/08)

Luis Pato Vinha Barrosa 2003
Aromatic, expressive red fruits nose with a fresh minty, eucalypt edge. There’s some savoury, fresh structure to the palate which is expressive with bright tannins. Quite Burgundian, with good acidity. 93/100 (03/08)

Luis Pato Quinta de Ribeirinho Pé Franco 2005
This is made from ungrafted Baga that Luis planted in one of his vineyards, and it’s his top wine. Wonderfully sweet, elegant nose with beautifully framed red berry and cherry fruit with startling elegance. The palate is concentrated and dense but shows elegance and poise with well integrated oak and good structure. A serious effort that should age magnificently. 94/100 (03/08)

Luis Pato Quinta de Ribeirinho Pé Franco 2006
Lovely aromatic nose of dark cherry and spice with lovely freshness and a subtle earthy complexity. The palate is vivid and dense with real elegance to the berry fruit, as well as firm, dense tannins. Fresh, complex and structured with huge potential. 94/100 (07/08)

Luis Pato Quinta de Ribeirinho Pé Franco 2006
Intense, fresh, spicy nose with pure, focused black fruits and some fine spiciness. The palate is rich and intense with lovely structure under the dense fruit. Amazing structure and complexity. Not an easy wine, but a profound one. 94/100 (11/08)

Luis Pato Quinta de Ribeirinho Pé Franco 2007 (cask sample)
Very deep red/purple colour.
Lovely aromatic nose with vivid spicy berry and raspberry fruit. Concentrated, elegant structured palate with great purity of fruit. Really fresh. 92–94/100 (07/08)

Luis Pato Quinta do Pôpa Tr e Pa 2007
From barrel, this is a blend of Bairrada (Baga) and Douro (Tinta Roriz), and it is a new wine. Rich, chocolatey, spicy dark fruits nose. The palate has a bit of spicy bite as well as soft dark fruits. Nice stuff. 88–90/100 (07/08)

Wines tasted 03/08, 07/08, 11/08  
see also: a much earlier write up of his wines here 

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