From €5.89, $12.74, £10.50
Versatility is a great virtue in a wine, especially if you are drinking it with a mix of people or if you need something you could enjoy with or without food. This crisp, characterful Portuguese white wine combines a recognisable and lively aroma with the dry, more stony texture and steely character of a serious food wine. The fruit flavours are lively enough and the acidity fresh enough for an aperitif or casual evening glass and yet it has the intensity and mineral core to go well with fish or seafood. Best of all, it is keenly priced and it will develop more interesting flavours without loss of freshness if you keep it - in suitably cool conditions - for a few years.
Made from 24-year-old Arinto vines (pronounced Arintu), the flagship white variety of the Lisboa region north of Portugal's capital, Chocapalha Arinto, Vinho Regional Lisboa is fermented very cool, without the addition of yeasts, in stainless-steel tanks at around 12-13 ºC but doesn't suffer from those pear-drop aromas that you sometimes get with whites fermented at this temperature. It spends five months on the yeast lees, with CO2 injected into the tank to move the lees around and add texture, and it's unoaked.
The result is a wine with aromas of lightly smoky grapefruit and bright lemon citrus – very pure but with a nicely dusty quality that I associate with Chablis. It's super-fresh and zesty, mouth-watering and impressively persistent in a relatively light body. The acidity – 7.2 g/l and a pH of 3.22 in the 2014 – is all natural and the alcohol is a modest and harmonious 12.5%. The 2015, which I tasted yesterday, is very similar, the main difference being a little more fruit intensity in the aroma.
Well made wines such as this and the other wines in the Chocapalha range, both red and white, are many years in the making, longer even than the quarter century the vines have taken to establish themselves to provide intense but naturally balanced raw material.
Quinta de Chocapalha, an 80-hectare estate in the Alenquer region 45 km north west of Lisbon, was bought by Alice and Paulo Tavares da Silva in the 1980s. The 40 ha of vineyards had been planted with high-yielding hybrids in the 60s and 70s and they set about replanting the whole lot at a time when international as well as indigenous varieties were in vogue, so that they have not only Arinto, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and other Portuguese varieties but also very good Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Paulo is still in charge of the vineyards and Alice looks after wine tourism. The name Chocapalha is derived from two words meaning 'warm wind' (choca) and 'calm water flowing down a valley' (palha) - the estate lies in a small valley formed by three natural wells that are on the property.
Both the Tavares de Silva daughters are an integral part of this family business, Andrea (on the far right in the photo top right) in exports, marketing and logistics and Sandra as winemaker. Sandra (on the far left) is one of those people who seem to be able to fit two lives into one: she lives in the Douro with her winemaker husband Jorge Serôdio Borges and their three young children. Together they make wines under the Wine & Soul label (Pintas, Guru, etc) and Quinta da Manoella, a property that has long been in Jorge's family and is now run by Jorge and Sandra – alongside day jobs at Quinta da Passadouro (Jorge) and Quinta Vale Doña Maria (Sandra). Whew. Even so, Sandra is hands-on and clearly committed to the Chocapalha family estate.
The proximity to the ocean and the mountains to the north and hills to the west provide a location that is a good deal cooler than you might think if you've been to Lisbon. Combine this with gentle slopes, some north-facing, and clay-limestone soils and you have vineyards particularly well suited to producing fresh whites as well as refined and flavourful reds. Chocapalha Reserva white, a blend of barrel-fermented Chardonnay and Arinto, was impressive when I presented it in a tasting at Prowein wine fair in Düsseldorf two weeks ago and the estate red 2011 is particularly elegant for the price (Corney & Barrow are selling it for £12.50 in the UK).
Arinto (pictured below), also known as Arinto de Bucelas and one of Portugal's oldest varieties, mentioned as far back as the early 18th century, is the flagship white of the region and originates from nearby Bucelas but is found in many parts of Portugal, particularly in Bairrada and Vinho Verde, and often used to add freshness to blends – thanks to its ability to retain acidity even in warmer regions.
This wine shows that it is a variety to be taken seriously and that ages very well over a few years even though it tends to be drunk young. I have tasted some older wines, including the Chocapalha 2008 when it had been in bottle for around four years, and the more mature flavours were turning towards cedar, quince and honey but it was still tangy and fresh. Truly versatile.
Unfortunately the 2014 vintage has sold out in the UK but the 2015 will be available at £10.50 a bottle from Corney & Barrow from the end of next month. If you cannot wait that long, the 2014 is available from Prestige Wines Portugal, an online business based in Portugal, at a remarkably cheap £5.90 per bottle though you have to buy at least six. Their delivery charges are of course higher but delivery is free if you spend more than £99 and they appear to have a very wide range of Portuguese wines. NB I have not personally used this site but am trying to find out more, particularly with regard to import duty.
According to Andrea Tavares da Silva, the 2014 is still available in the US, Brazil, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Portugal. Chocapalha's US importers are WineBow. The 2015 is bottled and just waiting for the labels so should also be available on other markets very soon but don't hesitate to buy the 2014 in the meantime.