You might have never heard of Colares wines, and there's nothing wrong about that! These uber-exclusive wines are produced in very small amounts (15.000 litres per year for the whole region) about 40 minutes West of Lisbon.
A lot of things can be said when it comes to justify why they are so unique:
The fact that vines are ungrafted and planted right on the beaches' sandy soils, natural protection against Phylloxera (aphid-like bug that, in the late 19th century, forced nearly all of Europe to graft their grape varietals onto American rootstock Vitis Vinifera);
The fact that only 5 wineries produce the annual 15,000 litres, organised around the co-operative (Adega Regional de Colares) that centralises the grapes grown by local farmers and organises the repartition between winemakers;
The combination of the Atlantic influence that cools down the temperatures and allows for a slow ripening process with sandy soils that reflect the sunlight. The result is a natural fresh acidity (with good tannic structure in the reds), and a slight salty twang on the finish. Wines that are long livers, Adega Viuva Gomes now selling a brilliant 1934 vintage!
*for those of you who never came across Mahogany casks, the main difference with oak is its neutral aromas and the finer grains in the wood, allowing for a much slower oxygenation process.
When we visited Colares with our van, taking it through some narrow streets on a busy day, we were lucky to visit Adega Viuva Gomes, one of the historical producers of this unique wine made using vines that are bursting out of the sand on the beach!
Diogo Baeta, who runs his family’s winery today, showed us around, explained the typicity of his region and of course, gave us a lovely tasting. When you meet a passionate guy like Diogo, you want to stick around and keep asking questions, which is pretty much what we did, and here are the answers!
Actually there are 3 L’s, Colllares. Just kidding. Some Portuguese words have changed through time and “Colares” was one of those, in the past the correct spelling was “Collares”. For instance, “Sintra*” was also spelt “Cintra” in the past.
NOTE: (Sintra is a nearby city we highly recommend to visit! Pictures at the bottom of the article)
The company or brand Viúva Gomes, begins when the “viúva”, which means widow, of Mr. Gomes took over the business. My family, having a food & wine business in Sintra since 1898, acquired the winery later on in a pretty bad shape and almost abandoned and with it, the “possibility” of having and producing Colares DOC wines.
Today, we are making an effort to maintain this hidden region alive, by maintaining what already exists and creating more.
THE LAND AND THE GRAPES: Well, where to start?.. Colares is a unique place and it is probably not as famous around the world as it should be. Could you help our readers to understand your grapes (Ramisco and Malvasia de Colares for the DOC but also the ones you might use in Vinho Regional), your terroir and above all, the major differences between areas with clay/limestone soils and others with sandy soils?
Here in Colares we sit in between the Atlantic Ocean and Sintra’s hills. It’s not an easy terroir to work with, specially due to humidity, maritime winds and lack of sunshine, but, at the same time, this is what makes it unique, characteristics that later are transmitted to the wines – freshness and acidity.
In the region, the sandy soils are the most known and the ones that put Colares on the historical map of wines. Although, we also have clay-limestone soils in the area, exposed to the same wheather conditions and producing quality wines, with the same sense of freshness. Usually in sandy soils the varieties used are Ramisco, on the reds, and Malvasia of Colares, on the whites. These are the only two varieties allowed to produce DOC Colares. If these, or other varieties, are planted on clay-limestone soils the wine is stamped in the comission as IGP Lisbon, even though it comes from the same site, but not from sandy soils.
The Ramisco grape gets its full potential when planted low to the ground on sandy soils to help the ripeness. Due to this, the variety is not usually planted in the area where you find clay soils.
VIDEO: SANDY SOILS VS CLAY/LIMESTONE SOIL
THE CHALLENGES: Back in the time of Phylloxera, the natural protection given by sand to your vines could have launched Colares as one of the main wine regions of Portugal and perhaps Europe. However, it didn’t go this way, probably because of the many other challenges you have to face. Could you please tell us a bit more about them?
In my opinion, there are 3 important key factors for this:
Real Estate pressure in the area – this is a great place, close to Lisbon, to live and spend vacations;
Lack of land in the area to plant (even if you clear up the houses);
Market demand – wines in this region are not easy or consensual, you either love it or hate it.
The Cooperative of Colares
In such a small region (15,000L/year), where the biggest part of the grapes come from local farmers and delivered to the co-op, things have to work out in a united way, if we are “splitting” the yields. We believe that together we can elevate these wines higher.
In this sense, all wineries get along pretty well to make a bigger buzz and contributing for the sustainability of Colares’ wines.
Note: unlike most wine regions we have been to, in Colares, the many small independent vine growers deliver their grapes to the co-operative which, in turn, sells them back to the winemakers. With this system, winemakers are guaranteed to always have a reasonable share of the crop and all wines are made from grapes grown in the area but not on a single estate.
THE WINES, TO EAT OR NOT TO EAT: If our readers find some Colares wines in their local shop or restaurant, they might feel a little lost for not knowing them that well. In your opinion, are they wines for an aperitive or for a meal, and if so, what sort of food would go well with them?
It depends on each person. In my case, if I’m focused on the tasting and really want to take the best from the wine, I prefer to drink them with no food. However, if I’m just in the mood to enjoy and balance it with a meal, I would recommend game dishes or a light sweet meat for the reds and a heavy fish or seafood for the whites. The reds also go very well with the “Queijada de Sintra”, one of our traditional sweets.
YOUR FAVOURITE WINE IN THE WORLD: Now, the tricky question, except your own, what would you call your absolute desert island wine? If there are words to describe your choice, can you tell us why?
That’s a tricky one. A wine has to have a “soul”, has to be vibrant and have tension in it. I value a lot honest wines, with a sense of the place where they come from.
In portugal I would go for old fashion Dão’s (red and white), some of Bairrada’s (red) and Azores (whites). Outside of Portugal, the region of Galicia, in Spain, have excellent whites and Piedmont in Italy have my favourite reds.
*Sintra: a fairy-tale-like city near the DO Colares!