Wine column for week of 21 April 2014

Wine without alcohol might seem a contradiction, but the world of wine needs innovation and Portuguese winemaker Luis Bourbon has created an idea that is compelling in its simplicity.

Bourbon joined forces with Rui Pedro Pinheiro to found Herdad da Madeira Velha (HMV) Wines in 2010. They decided HMV needed a unique selling point, something to make it stand out from the crowd.

They created an alcohol-free red they are seeking to sell outside Portugal. HMV hopes to export to countries connected via language to Portugal such as Brazil.

I have tried alcohol-free wines in many countries and they invariably taste awful — sweet grape juice with no sense of vinosity. HMV’s product succeeds because it actually tastes like wine. The first version appeared in 2010 and Bourbon has experimented with grape varieties and sugar levels to give his wine an appropriate range of flavours and textures.

Over the past three years Bourbon has improved the process, and in late 2013 he released a dry and a sweet version. Bourbon settled on the trincadeira and aragonez grape varieties. The latter is known as tempranillo in neighbouring Spain. Up to 30 per cent of the water in the juice is evaporated in the process of removing the alcohol. This concentrates the flavours but also influences the taste.

Bourbon explained that removal of alcohol changed the sense of “heat” in the wine. But adding sugar and choosing the most appropriate grape varieties made the wine more palatable. He tried a range of levels of residual sugar and found three grams per litre conveyed the wine’s flavours and also improved the wine’s texture. Bourbon has been making wine since 2002.

HMV produces four tiers of wine with alcohol as well as the non-alcoholic red. The entry level is the red or white Monte da Roquina. These are mostly targeted at supermarkets. Both are blends of indigenous grapes and quite pleasant to drink.

Next level up are the red and white Bagaboa. I did not taste these wines and cannot comment about their quality.

When HMV was formed the company acquired two existing brands, Zefyro and Canto. These brands belonged to the Reynolds family that arrived in Portugal in 1820 to run a cork business. They are HMV’s flagship wines.

Zefyro is available as a red, white and rose. A colleague and I tasted tank samples of the 2012 white, made from viognier. Half of the 30,000 bottles made each year receive oak treatment and the other half do not. The tank sample was of the non-oaked version and was delicious: a nose of violets and grapefruit with pleasant acidity. Naturally, the wine needs time to integrate.

The 2009 Zefyro red is a blend of mostly aragonez and trincadeira, with a touch of shiraz and alicante bouschet. It has a welcome balance of acid, tannin and fruit. Decanter magazine, the British-based Bible of wine, gave the previous three vintages a bronze medal, and it also won a bronze in Decanter’s 2012 world wine awards.

Highlight of our tasting was the 2009 Canto X. It is a big wine, full of ripe black fruits and aromas of blackberry, spices and vanilla. People who appreciate new world reds will adore this blend of mostly shiraz and alicante bouschet, with a touch of touriga nacional.

Bourbon told me he wants to be different, to make wines that go beyond ordinary expectations. With the Canto X he has managed to create a wine from the old world with a new-world feel. He uses new French oak elegantly, balanced with some older oak. This produces a wine that feels soft on the palate but sings of sunshine and ripe fruit, and has good length. Decanter awarded it a silver medal in 2005, and bronze medals in 2006-2008. This wine also won a bronze in Decanter’s 2012 world wine awards.

The companion white, the Canto V made from viognier, was not available for tasting.

HMV has big plans and eventually aims to produce 470,000 bottles a year of the Zéfyro and Canto X ranges. Grapes are grown in Évora, one of the best sub-regions in the Alentejo region. Meet an exciting new entry in the world of wine innovation.

Disclosure: Bourbon and Pinheiro took me and a colleague to an excellent restaurant near Albufeira in Portugal, the Veneza, that stocks their wines. The food was excellent and provided a chance to see how well Portuguese wines match with local food.

Words: 736.

About squinn33

Writer and wine lover
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