Colares, the unicorn wine

There are not so many rare wines in the world that collectors are dreaming about. Colares is one of them, but you will not have to break your piggy bank to get a bottle if you find it. Surprisingly, even very old vintages (and saying old I mean the 1930s) do not cost a million but just a mere 100 euro.

Colares vineyards
Source: wine-searcher.com

Colares DOC situated between Lisbon and the Atlantic Ocean is second smallest (only 27ha) and second oldest wine region in Portugal demarcated in 1908. It was already famous in the 13th century, and a Portuguese writer Ferreira Lapa in 1866 wrote that “Colares is a wine that has all the requirements and qualities of the red wines of Medoc. It is the most French wine we have.” Colares is elegant and subtle, and this is not what you expect from a Portuguese wine, right? The wine owns its delicacy to the grape variety, Ramisco, which is often compared to Nebbiolo or old French Carmenere. It is perfumed and, when young, shows racy acidity and firm tannins. It is the variety that ages beautifully and keeps freshness despite the age.

Ramisco grape
Source: wikimedia.com

Ramisco is considered the most pure-blooded of the European grapes as it was never grafted. The soils of Colares are deep sands, so phylloxera does not like to live there. For the wines to be Colares DOC, the vineyards should be planted on sandy soils and ungrafted. It is a kind of heroic viticulture. The winds are so strong here that vines are not trained in a traditional style, as Eric Asimov described in his article, they are like “green serpents snaking along the sand.” They are supported by small sticks to avoid contact with the soil. Even the planting of this kind of vineyards is heroic. As there are absolutely no nutrients in these sands, people have to dig trenches until they rich the clayey subsoil where they can plant new vines. The danger is that the stormy Atlantic winds might bury them alive falling on their heads. People say, in the earlier times the workers had to carry buckets on their heads while digging trenches which gave them some handicap to dig themselves out in case of the accident. To protect the wine from the wind, people also need to build bamboo fences, so you can image Colares vineyards do look quite unusual.

The wind is an enemy and a friend. The high humidity brings fogs to these places which come with fungal diseases. The wind helps to dry out the leaves, preventing the pests from appearing. Most of the vineyards are situated inside the national park, so the use of pesticides is not authorized. Due to the cool climate, the harvest here starts in October, much later than in most parts of Portugal.

A beautiful vintage label of Malvasia de Colares

Currently covering 27ha, Colares knew better times. When the European vineyards were devastated by phylloxera, the wines of Colares, not affected by the pest, were on the rise. But later, with the urban expansion of Lisbon in 1960s and 1970s, the area of the vineyards shrank to mere 15ha. Luckily, the Colares co-op, the Adega Regional de Colares, founded in 1931, continued to buy grapes from the growers and produce wines during all these difficult times. Until nowadays, most of the Colares DOC wine is provided by the co-op. There are only two-three other producers in the area. 75% of the wine is made from Ramisco while the rest is saline and herbal local Malvasia. The wines are aged in huge barrels which used to be made from exotic Brazilian wood and bottled in 500ml bottles. Before the standard size was 600ml, but as nowadays it is not legal in many countries, the producers switched to 500ml which allow us to have a little more bottles of this rare wine available. Both white and red Colares are wines for aging, though the red has real longevity and rarely bottled before ten years after the vintage. An old red Colares is a unique wine worth searching for!

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