The house at the heart of Quinta do Avelar dates from the 18th century, though some tender care has elevated it from the collection of manor house and outbuildings that Nuno Barba (Senior)’s father purchased in 1980. The 243 hectares then hosted a variety of agricultural pursuits, from cattle to olives, and 60 hectares of vines. The Barbas believe it was the oldest quinta producing wine in the Bucelas DOC, and now they want to shepherd it back into quality winemaking.

The Barba’s first vintage came in 1982, and since then they have scaled back the number of hectares planted to 14, in order to meet the reduced demand for domestic whites in Portugal that plagued them 20 years ago. Today, they make 60,000 liters of Arinto, and 11,000 liters of the red blend, selling mostly to restaurants and small markets through a distributor. We were fortunate to find their red blend at our local Covarin in Janas.

The oldest vines have been around more than 80 years, a field blend of reds including Castelão, Tinta Muída, and Aragonez, and Arinto–the flagship casta of Bucelas–the only white grape in abundance. But each row of white vines ends with a planting of what the Barbas call esgana cão (“dog choker,” otherwise known as Sercial, grown on Madeira), typically placed at the end of the rows to distract the wild dogs from the juicy Arinto grapes. Nuno Senior pours us a 2011 wine made from the variety–a rarity–that has had several years in old barrels to mellow away its choking acidity. It’s an intriguing treat in the glass with layers of flavors and aromas.

We taste it next to the 2015 and 2016 Arinto, sitting under the oak trees next to the quinta’s winemaking facility. They have the means for larger production, but want to make sure they have a market for the wines before taking the leap. Only 10 percent of the 2015 spent time in oak, for less than six months, followed by a year in the tanks, then six months resting in the bottle–to meet the DOC’s requirements to release no sooner than two years after the harvest. The 2016 followed a similar aging process; the latest vintage, the 2017, remains in the tanks for bottling in September.

We adjourn to lunch on the patio, the sun already intensifying though it’s only May. We have glasses of the 2016 with a salad of bacalhau, and a casserole featuring farinheira sausages. The Barbas graciously take us around the house, showing us the azulejos lining the poolside, and the tromp l’oeil paintings upstairs in the garden room. The view looks out over the hills towards the town of Bucelas, and windmills turn slowly in the distance. The peace settles deep within, and is certainly echoed in the glasses of Arinto we enjoy as we take it all in.

Quinta do Avelar

Telephone: +351 21 969 4174

Email: [email protected]

Tasting Notes: May 13, 2019

Quinta do Avelar Arinto 2015

Blend of 85% Arinto and 15% Sercial. Only 10% goes into oak for less than six months, then spends a year in the tank, followed by six months of bottle rest. A deep yellow straw color with a tint of green. Aromas of hayfield flowers, going to lime zest. On the palate: key lime pie, with the blend of tart and creaminess. 12% abv.

Vintage & Producer: 2015 Quinta do Avelar

From: Bucelas DOC

Style: Citrusy, floral white

Varieties: Arinto and Sercial

Price: €7 at online retailers

Quinta do Avelar 2016 Arinto

Golden straw yellow color, with an aroma of golden apples. Moderate to high acidity. Bright Meyer lemons on the palate, with a strong finish. 12% abv.

Vintage & Producer: 2016 Quinta do Avelar

From: Bucelas DOC

Style: Fruity, citrusy white

Varieties: Arinto and Sercial

Price: €7 at online retailers

2011 Quinta do Avelar Esgana Cão

Of 300 bottles made for consumption by the quinta. A deep green straw color. Lemon, key lime, hayloft aromas, moving into butterscotch as it opens up. Moderate acidity now in a great place. Vanilla, lemon zest, and apricots on the palate. Smooth, slows down into the finish. About 12% abv.

Vintage & Producer: 2011 Quinta do Avelar

From: Bucelas DOC

Style: Citrusy, multilayered white

Variety: Esgana Cão (Sercial)

Price: NA

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