Curiosity, rarity and accessibility: a different Portugal, by Antonio Maçanita
by Sophie Lamontagne of the Coureur des bois, bistro gourmand
Working in a restaurant blessed with a cellar that won the Grand Award of Excellence of the Wine Spectator magazine is an out of the ordinary experience. Everyday, you are faced with situations such as climbing over a Carré d’As to retrieve another extremely prestigious bottle (such a hard life!). The best words to describe this reality brought by the Grand Award are not my own, but are from one of my colleagues: rarity, curiosity and accessibility. These three words also adequately describe Antonio Maçanita, a Portugal producer, by upholding his unique products, a selection of wine that the Coureur des Bois is proud to offer to its customers.
Passionate, audacious and creative: it was in his early twenties that Antonio Maçanita discovered his way by dedicating his life to producing wines. He was pursuing, at the time, studies in agronomical science in Lisbonne, notably with Rogério de Castro, a producer of the Vinho verde region that was able to pay forward his love for the vine to his student. Maçanita decided, at the end of his program, to pursue his passion for winemaking internationally. Three years later, he was back in his home country for his first major project: Fitapreta.
Fitapreta originates from a meeting between Antonio Maçanita and David Booth. “A 23 years-old winemaker and an English vine grower: it can only end badly!” This was what most of the people said at the birth of this domain that is now the perfect example that success and excellence can easily originate from improbable pairings. Modern and authentic wines are the result of their work; they usually say that innovation is often found in a simple return to their roots. This is why these two phenomenal partners have turned their attention to local varietals of the Alentejo region to produce wines that represent themselves well, while also maintaining a balance with what the terroir has to offer. Alentejo, in the hands of these artists, cannot offer anything else but excellence.
Another Maçanita project is in the famous Douro region with no one other than his sister Joana: Maçanita Irmaos e Enologos. Two winemakers in the same family, two artists of the wine that unite their efforts to create exceptional products. The domain, founded in 2011, is the representation of this mythical terroir in this oldest Portuguese appellation – even around the world! – by creating a wine with strong character and a unique personality, just like every Maçanita product. They mainly propose products made with traditional blends of the region, but also some quirky products such as a Malvasia Fina in white and red or a Sousao originating from old vines. Both the siblings often say humorously that this collaboration is not without hurdles and that sometimes, family tensions are quite present. Nonetheless, the result is incredible, thanks to an overall strong partnership and a good complicity between them.
It is not all! Because if Fitapreta or Maçanita Irmaos e Enologos are extremely big and fascinating projects, Antonia Maçanita also is a part of the Azores Wine Company, founded in 2014. Working with Filipe Rocha and Insula Vinus, their idea was to honor a specific terroir that was unknown to the wine world and by bringing forth its unique local varietals. The Azores, these Atlantic islands rich with their volcanic soils and their oceanic climate, offer spectacular sceneries to anyone that visits – Pico, with its volcanic rocks, is a World Heritage site – but is also an ideal location for vineyards. Ideal, certainly, but also quite rigorous as the vine has to suffer (it is planted directly on the rocks) to offer its best. The Azores Wine Company, where Maçanita acts as a winemaker, shares in its wine all the poetic energy and the culture of this beautiful region of the world in the most authentic way possible. The varietals planted have been selected following the traditions: local varietals such as Arinto des Açores, different from the continental Arinto, the prohibited Isabelle, but that is also an important element of the daily lives of the people of these islands. In summary, it is the unknown richness of this region of the world that is brought to our glass when a wine of this domain is tasted.
Curiosity, rarity and accessibility: it was said, earlier, that Antonio Maçanita and his wines were the perfect example of these words. These words embody the philosophy that he pursues, which is to simply share and allow better access to rare products and experiences, by opting for a bigger dose of audacity in his work, resulting in overall excellence. Tasting one of his wines will certainly make you an ambassador, and you will soon find yourself recommending to others the various products of Maçanita, just like it happened with me!
Alentejo, Fitapreta white, Fitapreta vinhos
A cuvee named after the domain, this blend of local varietals is the perfect summer season wine. Imagine yourself in one of the hottest regions of Portugal, midsummer, and ask yourself what you would like to drink: the white wine from Fitapreta, undoubtedly. Aged at low temperatures in Inox casks, this wine is the expression of the Antao Vaz, the Roupeiro and the Arinto, as no wooden cask has altered the aromatic profile of these local varietals. It is an elegant and forthright product, with an impressive palate balanced with an exquisite fresh finale. The particularly expressive aromas leave us with an impression of lemon, white grapefruit and subtle dry herbs.
Alentejo, Palpite 2013, Fitapreta vinhos
“Intitution” in Portuguese, Palpite originates from the most beautiful parcels of this domain, aged in the best barrels. If the homonymous white cuvee is charming, this blend of Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet, Touriga Nacional and Cabernet-Sauvignon will certainly win over the hearts of amateurs of full-bodied wines. Its robe, of an intense ruby color with violet reflections, lets us believe in a dense product. The nose confirms this: exuberant aromas of ripe black fruits are matched with subtle aromas of dry flowers and fresh herbs. The palate is blessed with an impressive voluminous structure and with round tannins, all of it ending in a persistent finale.
Isabella a Proibida, The Azores Wine Company
This eccentric cuvee must be experienced for its extremely difficult to find varietal in the cellar of a restaurant! The Isabelle, a varietal of American origins, was planted in the 19th century to counter the phylloxera crisis that destroyed most of Europe’s vineyards. Even if it is the main varietal cultivated in India, its culture is prohibited all across Europe because of the poor quality of its fruit compares to other varieties of Vitis Vinifera. However, the Isabelle has been a part of Azores culture dating back to multiple generations. It is the wine that is served in all family gatherings, in religious celebrations, or on special occasions; it a part of the identity of these small Atlantic islands. How does the Azores Wine Company, that so clearly wants to represent the region, could pass up such an occasion to offer a product made with the Isabelle varietal?
A cuvee of a clear ruby, with a strong and seductive nose of red berries, exotic fruits and rose pepper. The freshness of the product is unmatched, as it is simply so out of the ordinary with its suave structure and its bewitching aromas that cannot keep you indifferent for very long. But how can they commercialize this product even if the Isabelle is prohibited for culture in Europe? Maçanita, with a dose of cheekiness, corrects the situation by crossing out the name of the varietal and by naming this cuvee Proibida, which means the “prohibited” wine.
Pico, Arinto des Açores 2017, The Azores Wine Company
The Arinto des Acores is not the Portugueuse Arinto: it cannot be found on the continent. Even if its structure and its acidity are similar, it is in fact a very distant parent of the Savagnin jurassien, just like the Chenin Blanc and the Verdelho.
The grapes used for this cuvee are planted in the rocks of the Pico volcano, which also gives its name to the appellation. The vines are protected from the ocean by walls of volcanic rocks named “currais”, even if this constant movement offers a salinity that can be perceived in the palate alongside fine aromas of lime and grapefruit. With its strong minerality, this wine is the ideal companion to fresh oysters or grilled white fish.