Last night at Essência do Vinho I caught up with one of my favourite winemakers (clearly!), Mateus Nicolau de Almeida, maker of the Mux Douro DOC wines (formerly known as Muxagat). If the picture is a little fuzzy… so were we. I had met him upstairs, to taste his 2009 Mux Tinto, which was on show at the eWines table, and then he came downstairs to the Symington tables and we worked our way through the range of Graham’s and Quinta do Roriz Ports, and topped off the tasting with an absolutely divine Madeira, Blandy’s 1968 Bual.
For Douro DOC wines, Mux is my favourite, the one I recommend to anyone wanting to “taste the Douro” for the first time. The wines, both red and white, reflect the terroir: they could only be Douro, you won’t mistake them for another region. Furthermore, they show what this region can do for quality wines at a fair price, offering both a high degree of immediate gratification and great rewards for those patient enough to allow them to age a bit. I have tasted every red vintage from 2005 up to 2010 (2009 and 2010 from cask), and they are a great pleasure at every stage of their development. They always possess the structure and balance that characterise good wine, along with the tannins, power and amazing flavour complexity of the best Douro reds, and as they age, they mellow without losing a thing in structure, flavour or pleasure.
In November 2010 I took my friend Nicola Thomson for her first visit to the deepest Douro Superior, to Mateus and Monte Xisto. The vineyards were settling down for the winter, the leaves had turned and those that remained were tawny to brown coloured, and audibly rattled in the breeze.
We walked through the vineyards as Mateus explained his varieties and pruning methods and more to Nicola, on down the hill to the very elegant schist tractor shed, and then further down to an uncultivated part of the property I’d not seen before. Mateus pointed out a completely wild and overgrown area, in which you could clearly see lines of blue schist posts. He is not sure when it was last planted – there were almost no grapevines surviving in the plot – and said he will need to do a bit of vineyard archeology to figure out what had been done previously, before he decides how or if he will use that parcel of land.
He then turned and looked out over the valley down to the river, to where the Côa comes into the Douro, and into the crevice of the valley to our right, and pointed out the remains of other vineyards and what may have been the foundation of a building. It takes sharp eyes and some experience to recognise these things – I would not have seen them, without his pointing out and explaining to me what I was looking out.
From the vineyard he took us into another little valley and showed us some paleolithic drawings – I have not yet been to the UNESCO site to see the group of drawings that saved the valley from damming and destruction, so these were my first. Again, it takes an experienced eye to find them. Mateus said in the summer, with the sun so bright and overhead, they are easily seen, anyone could spot them, but in the winter light or on a cloudier day they are almost invisible. Hopefully you can see what looks like the outline of an Alsatian dog: from that flaw and deep pock mark in the middle of the photo, look about 2/3 of the way to the top edge of the photo – you should see what looks like cocked ears and a narrow muzzle to the right, and the long elegant line of its back running down to the left. I took a half dozen photos or more, and because of that trick of how the light falls on the rock, only this one made the etching visible.
I mentioned in my post last March about his passion for the oak casks he uses, and his plans to have a tonel made for him by the Burgundian tonnelier Marc Grenier. Mateus took delivery this past summer, and is in love with his new tonel, which is indeed a very beautiful thing. When we entered the winery he walked right in and threw his arms around the tonel and introduced us. He then treated us to a tasting of both the brand new 2010s and some older wines still in cask.
He will be releasing his Mux red and white wines for 2010, but has also made some experimental wines. I am not allowed to say more, but I recommend you keep an eye out and see what happens. And I for one, having tasted them, will be on his back step with a half dozen demi-johns if he does not commercialise the wines this year.