Monday, 24 March 2014

Alicante Bouschet – its changing fortunes.


Isn’t it curious how perceptions change?  When I was first writing about the Languedoc, Alicante Bouschet was castigated and despised as one of the grape varieties that contributed to the European wine lake.  It produced high yields of thin flavoured wine, and as a teinturier variety it also performed the useful function of boosting the colour of lighter varieties.  But there has been an perceptible change in its fortunes.
 
When I visited Domaine Crès Ricards, back in 2006 before it was sold to Domaine Paul Mas, Gerard Foltran gave me a pure Alicante Bouschet to taste.  He sold it as Vin de Pays du Mont Baudile - you are not allowed Alicante in Pays d’Oc – and called it Cousin Cousine.  The 2005 vintage characterised its key attributes, with some lovely fresh ripe berry fruit and a firm streak of tannin.  There was some acidity, which gave it freshness, with an engaging rustic note and a lovely deep colour.   Since then I’ve encountered it in various blends, at Domaine de Fabregous, and at Mas des Dames, and then more recently at Château de Viranel in St. Chinian.   Look back at my post last summer and you will find some enthusiastic tastings notes about a pure Alicante Bouschet, Arômes Sauvages, and Gourmandise, a delicious cartagène.  But it is still not a grape variety that you encounter often in the Languedoc. 

So it was a surprise to attend the large annual Portuguese trade tasting in London and to meet Portuguese producers from the Alentejo, the main region of southern Portugal who were enthusing about Alicante Bouschet.

Julio Bastos of Dona Maria Wines in Estremoz in the Alentejo grows his Alicante Bouschet at 1300 feet.  The grapes are not irrigated, so the yield does not exceed 30 hl/ha and the vines are over 50 years old.  His 2007 Julio B Bastos, a pure Alicante, had rich berry fruit with spice and depth, and some refreshing acidity, as well as a streak of tannin.  It was a revelation.

Sam Davies, the young New Zealand winemakers at Herdade dos Grous blends Alicante Bouschet to good effect with other Portuguese varieties such as Aragonez, Tinta Miuda and Touriga Nacional as well as Syrah.  At Quinta do Mauro they also favour blends with Trincadeira, Aragonez and Touriga Nacional, as well as a drop of Cabernet Sauvignon.   2007 Quinta Da Mauro was stylishly ripe with smoky cedary fruit, with an elegant but rich finish.

Howard’s Folly made by David Baverstock is a blend of Alicante Bouschet and Touriga Nacional, with a medium weight palate, with some firm red berry palate, with some smoky notes. 

Herdade do Mouchão is credited with introducing Alicante Bouschet to the Alentejo in the middle of the 19th century.  And their red wines are all based on Alicante Bouschet, with Trincadeira and Aragonez, or maybe Syrah and Touriga Nacional in the blend.  They are given some oak ageing and the results are characterful with rich berry fruit and an intensity of flavour, balanced by freshness and acidity.   And I finished the tasting with Mouchão Licoroso, a fortified Alicante Bouschet, made like port.  It was ripe with rich berry fruit and spice, with a streak of acidity and a firm finish, and well integrated spirit, and not unlike the Gourmandise of Château Viranel.   It certainly made me look anew at Alicante Bouschet.

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