Anselmo Mendes: The Master of Vinho Verde

Anselmo Mendes: The Master of Vinho Verde

Anselmo, you who are a key winemaker of Vinho Verde, how could you present this very particular Portuguese region?

This region is distinguished by its history. It was the first to export wines to England in the 14th century, through an English company established in the port of Viana do Castelo. These red wines, produced by the Benedictines, followed the rules of the “clarets” of Bordeaux (English region at the time) and the red wines of Burgundy.

Vinho Verde has undergone two major changes. In the 18th century on the one hand, with the massive development of corn cultivation arriving from the United States, the main method of cultivation was that of "hanging vines", high (up to 4 meters!) above the fields corn. This had the effect of making the wines almost undrinkable, with very high acidity and a very low alcohol level. This is the origin of the designation “Verde” (green) and, later, the designation of origin “Vinho Verde”.

The other change occurred in the second part of the 20th century, with a shift from red wine to white wine: from 90% red wine in the 1950s to 90% white wine in the early years of the 21st century.

Our region has a very particular orography, it forms an amphitheater facing the Atlantic Ocean, with several valleys along its rivers where vineyards grow. The climate, tempered by the influence of the Atlantic, gives the wines a very distinct profile. The soils, mainly of granitic origin, have a sandy-loamy texture, ranging from alluvium in the valleys close to the rivers to more skeletal and sandy slopes.

If you had to describe yourself, what would you say?

I would describe myself as a visionary without a plan! I was the first to ferment Alvarinho in barrels. Then, to attempt fermentations with the skins, which was heresy in 1999. Studies on how different soils condition wines are not an innovation, but rather a passion for the earth and its interaction with the wines produced. 

You have been growing Alvarinho for more than 35 years. How do you analyze the evolution of this grape variety over time?

In the sub-region of Monção and Melgaço, at the beginning of the 20th century, there were no more than 5 hectares of Alvarinho planted, and 100 years later, we have 1500. This shows that everyone recognizes that the variety is well adapted to the climate influenced by the Atlantic, and moderated by the mountains of the Spanish and Portuguese sides.

Improved management systems and organic cultivation have contributed to obtaining fresh, full-bodied wines with great structure and strong aging capacity.

Like a musician with his musical instrument who tests all possible scores to make it vibrate as best as possible, what did you “put” the Alvarinho through to enhance it?

Like any instrument, its components and the materials that make them up are the basis of its functioning. In the production of wine, these bases are the climate, the soil and the grape variety. Next comes the tuning of the instrument, without which it is impossible to play or interpret. In the wine pairing, it is a question of deciding on winter pruning, green pruning, scouring, mobilization or not of the soil, what we can call cultural techniques.

Sublimating wine is like creating a musical work. The art of creation requires a lot of knowledge and respect for the essential techniques. The moment of creation must bring all of this together in a harmonious way. Do what we dream of and make those who listen to us or those who drink our wine dream.

We offer two vintages, “Contacto” and “Curtimenta”, can you present these two wines to us?

These two wines are produced at Quinta da Torre, in Monção. This is our main estate and we have already planted 50 hectares of Alvarinho there. These two vintages were born from my desire to innovate.

Contacto is a dry, mineral and clean Alvarinho, with subtle fruit and an elegance all its own. We carry out short contact with the skin during maceration and, after fermentation, the wine is aged on fine lees, in stainless steel tanks, for three months, before being bottled and marketed. It is our most popular wine, pleasing both the general public and experts.

Curtimenta is somewhere between classic Alvarinho and an orange wine. It is in contact with the skins during maceration and for the first 24 to 48 hours of fermentation, then we remove the skins. Due to this contact, the wine has a slightly bitter taste of orange peel, zest and very vibrant tannins. But because we only ferment the wine with the skins for a short time, we overcome the reductive nature of many orange wines, and make the wine easier to drink, fresher,more elegant, without losing its funky side. It took a while, but it has become very popular recently, especially among young people.

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