Tasting the wines of the Buçaco Palace Hotel, one of Portugal's treasures

palace hotel bussaco

The Buçaco (Bussaco) Palace Hotel is one of Portugal’s most striking bits of Neo-Manueline architecture. It’s almost impossibly ornate, with incredibly elaborate stone carvings rammed in just about everywhere. But despite its over-the-top nature, it’s quite magical. Originally there was a convent on this hilltop site, but the current building was constructed as a palace for one of Portugal’s queens in the late 19th century, but a change of political fortunes meant that it was turned instead into a hotel, exactly 100 years ago in 1917.

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One of the inside secrets of Portugal’s wine trade was for a long time the wines of Bussaco. Right from the beginning, Alexandre de Almeida (the owner of the hotel, and whose grandson Alexandre is now running the family hotel chain) wanted to offer local food and drink, and so the hotel began making their own wines, creating the current labels in 1920 (they are the same every year: the vintage is indicated by means of a small white sticker). These, a pair of red and white wines, have always been a blend of Dão and Bairrada, and they had a reputation for their longevity. But you could only get them and drink them in the hotel dining room. Occasional bottles got out, and they were the source of great excitement.

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This all changed with the challenging financial situation in 2008. Suddenly the hotel began releasing stocks of old wines, and they began to make their way onto the market. For a while, there were some nice older vintages available, but this supply has now dried up, and Bussaco are releasing current vintage only.

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These wines have traditionally aged beautifully. The winemaking changed a bit back in 2001, though, with a switch from large old vats to small new oak for the white. Is the wine better? It’s impressive, but will take time to shed the oak, and may age well. But it’s different, so only time will tell. I love the story and the old bottles, though: this historical wine holds a unique place in the Portuguese wine scene.

Buçaco Branco Reservado 2015 Beiras, Portugal
Maria Gomes and Bical from Bairrada with Encruzado from Dão, in equal proportions, fermented and aged in 300 litre new French oak. This is a baby that needs a decade or so. Complex nose of nut and fennel, with a citrussy intensity. Vivid, powerful palate with some warm spicy richness and a rounded pear, spice and nut character. Very intense and powerful with potential for development. The oak is quite present at the moment. 92/100

Buçaco Branco Reservado 2013 Beiras, Portugal (magnum)
Very intense, spicy and vivid with citrus fruit, some pear, a hint of fennel and some spicy oak. Youthful and intense with good acidity, this needs time. 91/100

Buçaco Branco Reservado 2005 Beiras, Portugal
This has an incredible nose with amazing matchstick reduction adding spicy minerality. The mineral palate has pithy hints and a lovely core of crystalline citrus fruit. So linear and engaging, with lots of potential. 95/100

Buçaco Branco Reservado 2001 Beiras, Portugal
Full yellow in colour. Toasty and rich with broad pear fruit, some spice and some white peach. Quite dense with a nice spiciness to the rich fruit. 92/100

Buçaco Branco Reservado 1992 Beiras, Portugal
Intense and fresh with just a hint of mushroom and some waxiness, over the top of intense lemon and pear fruit. Has structure and freshness, and is ageing beautifully. Some pithy notes, too. Still very fresh. 94/100

Buçaco Branco Reservado 1958 Beiras, Portugal
This old wine is remarkable, and still very fresh. It has beguiling flavours of mint, pine and eucalypt with citrus and wax notes, and lovely precision and acid drive. It’s now a bit delicate, but drinking beautifully. 95/100

Buçaco Tinto Reservado 2015 Beiras, Portugal
This is 60% Baga from Bairrada and 40% Touriga Nacional from Dão. Sweetly aromatic with floral Touriga character on the nose: fine cherries with some meat and olive. Lovely freshness and focus to the sweet fruit on the palate. Very fine grained tannins, cloaked in sweet fruit. Primary but very fine with lots of potential. Harmonious. 94/100

Buçaco Tinto Reservado 2010 Beiras, Portugal
Sleek, sweet and nicely dense, with mint, spice and herb notes, as well as a bit of tar. Very sleek and sweet with appealing black fruits but there’s a faint hint of medicine and a tangy metallic finish that I don’t get on with that well. 90/100

Buçaco Tinto Vinha da Mata Reservado 2001 Beiras, Portugal
Sometimes a second red, a special selection, is made under the Vinha da Mata label, indicated on the small vintage sticker with ‘VM’ before the year. This is firm and spicy with nice grip. Very structured and savoury with vivid black cherry and blackberry fruit. Firm and dense. 92/100

Buçaco Tinto Reservado 1983 Beiras, Portugal
Firm and spicy with some herbal notes, a bit of spiciness, and notes of meat, earth and herbs. Very savoury with some spiciness and elegance. Ageing very nicely. 93/100

Find these wines with wine-searcher.com

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