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Julia Harding MW, Tasting Notes

Tasting Notes / Excerpt from Julia Harding, Amphora Day – The Drama of Clay & Portugal’s old-vine heritage

An urban winery set up in Lisbon by former academics Catarina Moreira (evolutionary biologist, or ‘frog scientist’) and David Picard (anthropologist studying magical thinking in the western Indian Ocean), mostly using grapes from Lisbon University’s vineyards. They both studied oenology and viticulture at the Instituto Superior de Agronomia at the University of Lisbon, then went to Geisenheim as Erasmus students. The story of how they came to make wine, as recounted on their website, is a good one. Complicated but descriptive wine names and great labels designed by their daughters (‘junior winemakers’).

Adega Belém Arinto 2021

Vinho Regional de Lisboa. Fruit from a vineyard that belongs to Lisbon University. Cooled overnight, spontaneous ferment in tank. Four months in used oak for part of the blend.

Complex, rich aroma with a lot more to it than many Arintos – grapefruit and a touch of spice. Smells ‘golden’. Creamy, leesy texture with great acidity and good length. Should age well.

12% Drink 2023–2028

Evaluation: 17/20

Adega Belém Senhor Rita Castelão Reserva 2020

Vinho Regional de Lisboa. Fermented in tank. Free-run juice which was concentrated because some juice was bled off for their rosé. One year in used barrels.

Apparently Castelão stinks when young – it certainly doesn’t now. Mid crimson. Fragrant with red cherry and raspberry. Vibrant and expressive. Refined and wholesome at the same time. Pure-fruited at the core of finely dry texture. Long and moreish.

14% vol. Drink 2023–2030

Evaluation: 17/20

Adega Belém Lili Cellar Dog Selection 2020

Vinho Regional de Lisboa. Two-thirds Alicante Bouschet, one-third Touriga Nacional from Alenquer. Blended just before bottling in January 2022.

Deep crimson. Rich, chewy and deliciously firm and dry, the texture giving it a mineral savour. Pure, dry, long.

14.5% Drink 2023–2028

Evaluation: 17/20

Adega Belém Unicórnio Graúdo Ânfora 2021

Vinho de Portugal, Moscatel Graúdo from Quinta do Piloto in Palmela. Hand-harvested, destemmed, spontaneous fermentation on the skins in a 220-litre terracotta amphora lined with pez (beeswax and pine resin), aged three months on the skins. Filtered naturally through the skins, not stabilised, aged in stainless steel until bottling. 535 bottles produced and sold for €22.50 at the winery.

Pale gold. Aroma of Moscatel grapes but smells a bit greener. Pine/cedary and some beeswax from the pez. Tension and an angular impression complement the aromatic fruit character. Great freshness.

12.5% Drink 2022 – 2024.

Evaluation: 17/20

Adega Belém, Corroído Ânfora Estágio ao Sol 2021

Vinho de Portugal Destemmed, spontaneous fermentation on the skins in a terracotta amphora coated with pez (beeswax and pine resin). Wine left outside on the terrace for 11 months in permeable PET jars. 19 bottles produced. Sold for €88.50 per bottle from the winery.

Cloudy amber colour. Caramelised apricot. Dried orange peel. Toasty hint on the palate. Nutty and savoury. Long and complex with an amazing amount of fruit given the winemaking style.

11.5% Drink 2022 – 2025.

Evaluation: 16.5/20

Adega Belém, Rabo da Prensa Maceração em Ânfora 2020

Vinho de Portugal Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Castelão from Alenquer. Destemmed, spontaneous fermentation in stainless-steel tanks. Aged 10 months in clay amphorae. Just 90 bottles produced. Sold for €68.50 per bottle from the winery.

Black core. Sweet spice of Alicante Bouschet. Highly aromatic. Super-tannic, dark and savoury. Charry but has remarkably fresh fruit. Freshness also from the tannins, it seems. The fruit came back in the amphora, apparently. Long and deep.

14.5% Drink 2023 – 2030.

Evaluation: 17/20

Adega Belém Maceração Diabólica Arinto 2020

Vinho de Portugal. Based on a batch of 2020 rotten (and not noble rot) Arinto grapes from Alenquer on the right bank of the Tejo river. However, they treated this wine like a noble rot; cooled the grapes to kill the fungi. Hand-harvested, cold-macerated, slowly pressed and fermented in tank. 18 months in neutral French oak. It took 12 people to clean 600 kg.

Deep orangey gold. Smells of almonds, honey and white glue – all those I associate with noble rot. Dried fruits, figs. Very fresh, firmly tannic and with honeyed apricots. Deep, long and complex. Sour and fresh. As they say, this shows the transformative power of fermentation.

14% Drink 2022 – 2024.

Evaluation: 16.5/20