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  • Julia Harding MW
Written by
  • Julia Harding MW
17 May 2019

A perfect, well-priced introduction to Baga, the sometimes tricky red grape variety from Portugal's Atlantic coast. 

From €11.90, £12.95, $27 

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If you have not tasted the late-ripening, small-berried Baga grape variety before, this wine provides a great way to start. If you are already converted, it's an excellent way to recruit your friends and relatives to the ranks of Baga lovers

Vadio Tinto 2015 Bairrada has complex aromas of tangy red-berried fruit – more cranberry and redcurrant than anything at all sweet – and a touch of oak spice, all interwoven so that the oak barely shows. It reveals the mouth-watering freshness and evident tannins that characterise the variety but has delicious richness and depth of fruit on the palate to bring it all into balance. All this and just 12.5% alcohol.

2015 was a great vintage in Bairrada: the winter was relatively dry, most of the year's rain fell in the spring and the summer was warm and dry, which contributed to early but balanced maturation of the grapes.

In general, the climate of Bairrada is inconsiderate to winegrowers in that it often rains around harvest time. In the past, wines made from Baga were often a bit tart or tannic, or both, at least until they had had some years in the bottle. With better vineyard management, there are now many examples that prove this is a truly great variety as long as its distinctive character is not lost by being picked too late or swamped by oak or polished into mediocrity in the winery.

At Vadio, Luís Patrão, winemaker at Esporão in the Alentejo for 13 years, and his family have carefully avoided all these pitfalls.

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The small family business, founded in 2005 in the village of Poutena in Bairrada about 200 km north of Lisbon (you can find them on this World Atlas of Wine map) is run by Luís and his Brazilian partner Eduarda Dias, pictured above (Eduarda's grandfather came from neighbouring Dão), with Luís's father Dinis (below) making sure his beloved organically farmed vineyards get the care they need.

Vadio are part of an exciting movement in Bairrada, a region with great potential but still many challenges. 'Historically', recounts Eduarda, 'it was a region of négociants and not of wine growers, and the dynamic of these times is still present. An average size of a vineyard in Bairrada is 0.3 ha (0.75 acres) and most producers are selling grapes and not making wine. For most growers, viticulture is not their full-time job, and selling grapes is only a small addition to the family´s income. Therefore, there is a bigger incentive for producing as much quantity as possible. Baga is a very vigorous variety and the old bush vines and Guyot trellis systems were pruned to achieve production.'

In order to get the best out of the their Baga vines, since 2007 they have been planting new vineyards using unilateral cordon training and a higher canopy. According to Eduarda, 'this allows for more balanced yields, better ripening, more sunlight exposure and aeration. In a year like 2014, most of the grapes from old bush vines could not achieve maturation and were often affected by rot, because the high density of canopy hides the fruit. Our best quality grapes in 2014 were the ones from our young vines picked after the rain. This trellis system also allows us to be more efficient when using organic practices, since we can quickly treat vines before and after rain comes.' 

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They have three vineyards totalling 4.5 ha (11 acres), all on clay-limestone soils, planted not only with Baga but also with Bical and Cercial (known as Cerceal Branco in the Douro), with which they make a very good white. All three varieties go into an unusual and delicious bottle-fermented sparkling wine in which the base wine is aged in a solera system. In addition, they have just bought a further 2.5 ha with the aim of being 100% self-sufficient in fruit in the future. 

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This 100% Baga red is made mainly from their own fruit plus 30% bought from local growers. As Eduarda explains, 'In Vadio we have around 7 ha of vineyards that we had to buy from over 10 different people. It is very a slow process, and it is not easy to grow the vineyard area.'

Hand-picked grapes are fermented in stainless-steel tanks with indigenous yeasts and then aged for 24 months in neutral oak barrels and large oak vats. They keep the wine another year in bottle before it is put onto the market, which means the wine is just ready to drink even though it should age well for at least another decade. 

In fact they have also just made a 'museum release' of the 2009 though this is less widely available (just 1,000 bottles for both the UK and the US). The idea is 'to showcase how Baga develops with ageing, and how it can completely transform with time. In our opinion this is one of the most unique and special characters of this variety. It is also a very educational wine, since it really helps someone who has never tasted Baga before to understand how a young Baga wine will develop going into the future.' In September they are launching their first single-vineyard Baga, the 2015 Rexarte, and very good it is too.

There's even more information and some lovely black-and-white photos such as the one top right on the Vadio website. If you are in Portugal, you can also buy the wine directly from there in cases of six.

In the UK the wine is available from the estimable Wine Society as well as in A Portuguese Love Affair deli in east London. 

In the US Rachel Farah Selections has the 2015 and ships to CA, AZ, NM, ID, LA, CT, OR, NV, NY, MA, NJ, RI, DC and FL. Vadio's other importers in the US are: Grape 2 Glass (NJ), Ideal Wine & Spirits Co (MA), P R Grisley (UT). Most of the other US listings on Wine-Searcher seem to be for the 2014, which was a difficult vintage in Bairrada because of rain at harvest time but the Vadio 2014 shows how much difference can be made by good viticulture (see above). It is less ripe-fruited than the 2015 but perhaps also a little fresher – and also appears to be cheaper, from around $16.99 if the Wine-Searcher information has been kept up to date by the retailers.

Wine-Searcher also lists stockists in Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Brazil. It is not always clear which vintage they are selling but as I have tasted most vintages back to 2006, I can confidently recommend them all, though I think the recent vintages have gained in finesse while still reflecting, in a good way, the characteristics of each year.

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