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Bairrada wines are like successful marriages: they require commitment.

I remembered that when, recently, I had the opportunity to drink an old bottle of a “middle-division” winery from Bairrada at Restaurant São Gião. This restaurant is a miracle itself. This is one of the best restaurants of traditional Portuguese cuisine set among factories and the football stadium of Moreira de Conegos (a former first division Portuguese football team). Moreira de Conegos is known, well… for its football team and restaurant São Gião! How a town with a few thousand inhabitants got to have a team in the first division for a large number of years is a mystery. Even a bigger mystery is how it still has a restaurant in the first division of Portuguese cuisine. São Gião is even more surprising because, while from the outside it looks just like what it is (an house in a rather industrial area next to a football stadium) from the inside it is an almost prefect blend of classic and contemporary design. Moreover, they managed to set it in such a way that its large windows mostly bring into the room the scenery of a beautiful vineyard that has, somehow, managed to survive between the stadium and the factories!

It was impressed by this miracle that we proceeded to select the wine, while having some bites at a wonderful ham from Pork Bizaro (this is an ham that is beginning to reappear in the north of Portugal and which, in my view can compete with the best hams: the Pork is fed with chestnuts what gives it an incredibly rich – almost sweet – taste). When looking at the wine list I came across a final section entitled: Old Wines. Almost all where Bairradas (though we were not in Bairrada) and paradoxically the prices were… cheaper than the new wines! We could have an array of different Bairradas from the 70’s and 80’s from around 10 Euros! Should we take the risk? Being from Bairrada myself I didn’t hesitate a second. I asked for an Adega Cooperativa de Cantanhede from 1978 (I had many years ago, at the start of my wine adventures, drunk some bottles of the 78 and they are partly responsible for the fact that I am now writing this blog!). Unfortunately, the bottle could not be found… and the sommelier brought instead a Frei João from the same year. Both are good Bairrada wines but they are not top of the league wines.

With a few notable exceptions, Bairrada producers have not become part of the emerging Portuguese market of highly rated and expensive wines that is largely concentrated in Douro, Alentejo and, to a lesser degree, Dão. The rules for producing a Bairrada have until very recently been very strict and conservative too (only the Baga grape was allowed to have a Bairrada doc). As a consequence, production methods have, until quite recently, remained largely the same, marketing has suffered and Bairrada wines are, often, seen as too hard to drink. Baga is the most discussed grape in Portugal and its international status is not great (a well known international wine book basically describes it as a high production/low quality grape). A classic Bairrada can be quite tannic when young. Yet, I believe there are few wines in the world that can get old as well as a Bairrada and even fewer that can be bought at such cheap prices. That was the case with this Frei João from 1978: all the strength was there but the tannins where gone. What was once a rugged personality had become the embodiment of elegance. Exactly what an old wine should be: age had made its role but was not on evidence. Sure, these wines are not made for this day and age, when you buy for immediate consumption. But, sometimes, in life, there are things (often the best things) that arise out of patience and commitment. Buy some bottles of Bairrada now and wait. One day, at least 10 years from now, bring them out from the cellar, opened them and you will see beauty awake.

Bairrada wines are changing: the rules have been amended to authorise other grapes, production methods have been much improved and an emerging generation of oenologists and wine growers is reshaping the region and its image. Nothing wrong with this. It is always good to improve and Bairrada deserves a new and better image for its wines. But I beg to all its producers: continue to make wines for life and not simply for tomorrow!

Some of the best Bairrada producers and wines:

Quinta de Baixo

Campolargo

Luis Pato (pay attention also to what his daughter, Filipa Pato, is doing)

Quinta das Baceladas

Quinta das Bageiras

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