Leslie Williams: A debut for Azores wines

A first this week as I believe this is debut appearance of wines from the Azores on this page.

Leslie Williams: A debut for Azores wines

A first this week as I believe this is debut appearance of wines from the Azores on this page.

The Azores are volcanic islands right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean around 1,350km from Portugal and 1,900km from Newfoundland. Vineyards are right beside the sea planted on barren rocky soil — the sea has as much influence on the wines as the volcanic bedrock and the wines frequently have a salty character.

The islands were discovered in the early 15th century by Henry the Navigator and settled soon afterwards. Grapes were once grown everywhere but the islands were devastated by downy mildew and phylloxera and these days vines are only planted on three of the nine islands — 33 varieties are authorised (15 red, 18 white) including some hybrid vines which are unauthorised (hence the crossing out of ‘Isabella’ on the wine below). The vineyards on Pico island are a world heritage site as the vines are surrounded by dry stone walls made of black basalt to protect the vines from wind and sea air as is the case on Lanzarote and some Mediterranean islands — on Santorini the vines are woven into a basket shape to protect them. The other reason for the walls is practical as the vineyard creators had to move the stones to get to the soil.

Growing grapes on volcanic soil is never easy as there is almost no clay and little water retention or fertility. Vines must dig deep to find water and nutrients, yields tend to be low but quality is often high giving savoury elegant wines with a salty mineral character. Salty fresh Catarratto whites and fragrant taut Nerello Mascalese from Mount Etna are other examples.

Four of the wines are from Wine Mason run by Ben Mason and Barbara Boyle MW who import the Azores Wine Co wines. They have assembled a brilliant collection of unusual and high quality wines. Their wines are more available in Dublin shops, but a few can be found in 1601 Kinsale, Bradleys, North Main St, Cork, and other good independents.

Finally, today is World Buckfast Day should you wish to relive your student years in Galway or Belfast (the two Irish cities where it is the only acceptable wine to bring to a student party). Don’t knock Buckfast until you’ve tried it — think of it as a kind of red bull and vodka wine!

BEST VALUE UNDER €15

Portuga Branco, Lisboa, Portugal - €9.99

Stockists: Ardkeen, World Wide Wines, Next Door, Donnybrook Fair, Vintry, NOffLA Independent Off-Licences.

A floral fragrant and citrus tinged blend of Arinto, Fernão Pires and Sauvignon Blanc to add a little zip to the finish. This is a great value white from Casa Santos Lima who have a range of great value red and whites under a number of different names – watch also for Lab and Stella.

Azulejo Vinho Regional Lisboa, Portugal - €9.99

Stockists: Ardkeen, World Wide Wines, Next Door, Donnybrook Fair,

Vintry, NOffLA Independent Off-Licences.

This wine is a bit of a wonder given its price and the fact that it packs so much flavour into a bottle. A blend of Castelão, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and Pinot Noir with spicy blackberry and blackcurrant fruit aromas, punchy but elegant berry fruits on the palate and a lingering bitter cherry freshness. Try serving a little cooler if the weather is warm.

Cazas Novas Vinho Verde, Portugal - €14.95

Stockists: Baggot St. Wines, Blackrock Cellar, Clontarf Wines, Corkscrew, Redmonds, Wicklow Wine Co., Greenman.

Vinho Verde has to be one of the best summer wines and it is making a comeback with beautifully refreshing aromatic wines. A blend of Loureiro and Avesso (the two classic grapes of the region) this has a pale lemon colour, floral, citrus and peach aromas and on the palate this is textured, crisp and clean with a leafy fresh finish.

BEST VALUE OVER €15

Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Bianco 2016, Sicily - €24.99

Stockists: Blackrock Cellar, Lilac Wines, Baggot St Wines, Greenman, Sweeneys, Wicklow Wine Co.

I loved this wine’s elegance and mineral purity – it could only have come from a place like Etna. A blend of 60% Caricante with 25% Catarratto and some Grecanico and Minnella – all native (or naturalised) Sicilian grapes grown on volcanic soil at between 600-900m. Pale yellow with floral aromas, pure, clean and slightly salty with a refreshing mineral edge.

Tinto Volcanico 2016, Azores, Portugal - €24.99

Stockists: Corkscrew, Blackrock Cellar, Clontarf Wines, Mitchell & Son (Rosé only)

The Rosé is also excellent. A a blend of Iberian peninsula grapes, e.g. Aragonés, Castelão, Malvarisca, Touriga Nacional plus a little Syrah and Merlot grown in infertile soils at the base of a volcano — only grapes grow there. Bitter cherry aromas, flinty red fruits at first but supple soft and elegant on the middle palate with a mineral finish with a hint of salt.

Isabella a Proibida Tinto, Azores Islands - €29.99

Stockists: Redmonds, Baggot St. Wines, Corkscrew, 64 Wine, Greenman,

The forbidden (proibida) element here is that some of the grapes here are from hybrid plants where European Vitis Vinifera was crossed with American Vitis Labrusca (not usually permitted in the EU). Bright floral red fruit aromas, racy and supremely fresh on the palate with juicy fruits and a crisp mineral and complex finish. Brilliant!

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