Spent a day at Quinta do Sol, the Symington Family Estates (SFE) winery for making the table wines for Altano and Vesuvio, among many others. Pedro Correia, the head winemaker at Sol, treated me to an unusual tasting: press wines.
After the grapes are crushed and the must fermented, the liquid is run off the solids, and the solids sent to a press. At Sol a balloon type press is used for all wines – white and red – as being the most gentle type of press, and least likely to break the grape pips (which could release bitter flavours to the wine). What was really interesting though, is that the press is operated first at a very gentle pressure, and the wine from that pressing is captured and identified in a tank by itself, before another tank is hooked up to receive the wine created by pressing the solids again at a slightly greater pressure. This does create hundreds of lots of press wines, of just one or two hundred litres each, but gives Pedro an incredible repertoire of wines which he can use to enhance and round off blends.
The three press wines I tasted were made from Touriga Nacional harvested at Quinta do Vesuvio, and were run off from pressing the same batch of solids at three different pressure levels. For a benchmark, the Touriga Nacional wines I tasted from the toneis and tanks at Malvedos during harvest were characterised by very aromatic fresh fruit and floral notes on both nose and palate. Granted Vesuvio, in the incredibly hot, dry and open landscape of the Douro Superior is a very, very, different terroir from Quinta dos Malvedos, in the more moderate climate and crumpled-paper like landscape of the Cima Corgo, but the finished bottled port wines are similar in style, so I would have expected the same tasting profile of predominant red and black fruit with some degree of floral or herbal notes.
In fact, the press wines presented very different flavour profiles from the Touriga Nacional wines I am accustomed to tasting from tank, barrel or bottle. The noses were quite pungent, generally earthy and vegetal, but appealing and intriguing, at least to me, though I suppose not everyone might go for this. If the taste of the macerated wines suggests a comfortably hot and sunny August afternoon, the press wines were a temperate but overcast and brooding late autumn twilight.
On the palate, you had the earthy, vegetal notes suggested by the nose, but toned down and balanced by rather dark jammy fruit flavours. Altogether dark and brooding little wines. I was also intrigued that the second wine tasted like this, but as if had been watered down by half – not what you would expect from the second level of pressure, when both the first, most gently-pressed wine and the third, most fully extracted wine were very full and intensely flavoured. Pedro and his colleague José Daniel Soares who focusses on making the reserva wines, were discussing how to use the press wines, and even the second one would be used to soften the power of some lots whilst still adding another flavour dimension, whereas the first and third wines could be used to intensify or “fill in gaps” in the flavour profiles of other lots.
Accustomed as I am to the small wineries of Burgundy, and the small Douro wineries at Quinta dos Malvedos, Quinta da Cavadinha, and Quinta do Vesuvio (which make ports for each Graham’s, Warre’s and Vesuvio), I was a bit staggered by the scale of Sol, which produces much of the table wine and some ports for SFE’s various brands. And yet Pedro was describing to me exactly the same kind of attentive processing for this volume of production as I witnessed for small volumes at the other wineries, with two triage tables to hand-select bunches and grapes for the reservas, and the same detailed planning and tracking to ensure that selected parcels’ grapes, whether from Symington-owned or local farmers’ quintas, were vinified together to create specific wines.
It is a lot of additional work to make and store these small batches of unique press wines, as well as to assess and use them to fine-tune the balance of the larger batches of wine. No wonder the wines taste so well-made and so good.