Bucelas Wine Region - the kingdom of Arinto
Updated: May 12
Bucelas is one of Lisbon's 3 historic wines, now, unfortunately, threatened for extinction. At the same time it's the kingdom of Arinto grape variety, a very lemony tasting wine! Arinto is an indigenous wine variety to Bucelas, although due to similarities with the most acid wines of Rhine region, once it was thought to be Riesling.
I had a wine tasting tour to Bucelas wine region together with a WSET Level III guide. We were about to visit one or two wineries within Bucelas appellation. However, all of the wineries , their wine shops and all premises were closed (it was Wednesday). This was the first stop on my Southern Portugal Wine Tour during which I visited Cheleiros, Alentejo, Setubal and Lisbon wine regions. And it was as well the first warning on how badly managed is enotourism in Portugal - wine producers simply don't get the importance of travellers visiting their estates. Perhaps, that's one of the reasons Bucelas is half way to extinction.
Wooden barrel workshop in Bucelas
Accidentally, we noticed a cooper workshop just across the road from the cellars that were closed. Here a man was working on reviving some old wine barrels transforming them to furniture and also refreshing barrels for the next usage in vinification (in Portugal using old oak is very common either when it comes to sweet or fortified wine, or for small estates which can't afford a brand new oak). We entered and found out that this man just started here a month ago, taking over the business from an old cooper, who wasn't able to continue this physically difficult job. He moved back from the city, left his office job and became a cooper. Slowly, this scenario becomes more popular among Portuguese, as the next day I visited a winery again managed by a man who gave up his banking career for winemaking.
Bucelas Wine Museum saved my day :)
The cooper recommended us going to the Museum of Wine, just a few meters away from him in fact. Luckily, this one was open, unfortunately, we were the only visitors. Indeed, seeing how neglected is Bucelas was quite painful, I wish when I return here next time I'll see it full of wine snobs discovering the Queen of the Region - Arinto.
It was the most unusual wine tasting I had so far, as to do the tasting, my guide had to buy the whole bottles from the museum's selection. Obviously, if they had more frequent customers, they'd have many bottles open to taste. But for now, it was only us and the bottles.
You can easily do a Bucelas wine tasting in the museum. Although you will have to buy the bottles of wine that you want to taste. But no worries! Those bottles will cost you less than paying for a wine tasting in most of the wineries in the world. We tasted two unbelievable wines. Unbelievable because you would never expect this acidity and minerality in one of the southernmost parts of Europe.
So let's talk about Geography!
Bucelas appellation - geography, soil, climate
If we are talking about Lisbon's coastline, its' main characteristic is inevitable winds from the Atlantic ocean. This makes ripening grapes very difficult. It's much more suitable for windmills.
But as we go a bit inland we find hills and mountain ranges giving crucial protection for viticulture. It makes it just a bit warmer, and a bit less windy and wet. This makes it just perfect for unique mineral acidity so rare in Southern Europe. The soils are clay and sand mixtures.
Thus a crisp, fresh, mineral wine is born here, made of minimum 75% of Arinto. It can be still or sparkling, mainly dry, but nowadays producers experiment with late harvest versions as well. It's great to enjoy this white wine young, but luckily Bucelas DOC develops pleasant complexity over years. You can get a few bottles in the Museum of Wine and Vine Bucelas and try them fresh, in 2-3 years, and in 10 years to see the contrast.
when drinking Arinto and Bucelas DOC think of a citrus fruit catalogue
When drinking Arinto and Bucelas vinho branco (white wine) think of a citrus fruit catalogue - lime, lemon, grapefruit and then comes a green (very tart) apple, lots of mineral acidity, freshness which you carve for in a glass of wine in summer.
Bucelas wine tasting notes:
Forte D'Alrota by Opta Wines - refreshing, fruity, citrus and easy to drink. Look at this colour! It's a wine to drink on a beach in Algarve!
Bucelas DOC Arinto 2017 Caves Velhas - this wine definitely has to age, and people which blame it for little body, just don't understand it. When young it's easy and fresh to drink, although has more aromas and flavours then the first wine. Riper fruits, yellow plum, apricot, peach with addition of well known citrus notes of Arinto. In years the colour will become more amber (beautiful!), medium body with pronounced aromas and flavours of citrus and stone fruits, and a much longer finish.
Either way, both wines are just perfect for a summer meal with seafood and fresh grilled fish from the Atlantic.
Wineries you can visit in Bucelas:
Confraria do Arinto Bucelas - a community which organizes events with an aim to promote Arinto and Bucelas wine region.
Caves Velhas Enopoint Bucelas - one of the oldest producers in Bucelas (which was closed on a Wednesday when I visited)
Coteaux da Murta - outside of the town of Bucleas, located on its' surrounding hills. This winery is perfect if you want to organize an event (up to 300 people), want to add some hospitality to your experience (you can book your accommodation on site the winery) and try their wine in a beautiful tasting room with a view.
Quinta da Romeira - the winery exists since 1703 and hosted many famous people of past and present. Their current vineyard occupies 70 ha.
Willing to visit another obscure gem among Portugal's wine regions? Just like Bucelas, Cheleiros wine region was almost extinct, until a Brazilian football player decided to become the savior of its' rare wine varietals.