Colares – wine region on the edge of the western front of Europe

A version of this article was first posted in the Swedish on-line wine magazine DinVinguide.se.

On DinVinguide we’ve been focusing on Portugal in July. When you do a deeper focus you remember and try thing you really want to share with others, Colares is such a place. It’s actuallt so good a friend of mine told me to: please keep quiet about Colares – there are so few wines lets keep them to ourselves.

This might be true but then again shared joy is double joy! I’ve been to Portugal several times. It’s a great place. Good people, great wines, nice cities – it is a great place to visit!

Portugal LisbonPortugal has many interesting and very nice wine regions such as Douro, Vinho Verde and Alentejo. But there are also at lot to discover outside of these more known areas.

Colares is one of those! It is a small wine region just northwest of Lisbon, basically as far west as you can get in Portugal and Europe. It is within the municipality of Sintra and is one of the most exciting and peculiar wine regions in Europe. I have not yet had the opportunity to visit the region, but I have had several occasions to enjoy the wines from Colares and I’m hooked – I absolutely love Colares – they do produce #winelover wines!

Azenhas do Mar, Colares, Sintra, Portugal (CC BY-SA 3.0) - Wikipedia.
Azenhas do Mar, Colares, Sintra, Portugal (CC BY-SA 3.0) – Wikipedia.

Then what is the fuss about? What is it that makes the wines so personal and exciting? The answer lies within it’s terrior!

The vineyards are completely exposed to the Atlantic winds and climate. This makes it tough to grow wine here, it’s windy, relatively cool and often foggy. Thank God for the sand! The sand is something of a savior in a double sense for Colares. It helps to warm the vines during cooler days and nights and it did stop phylloxera.

The vines grow as low bushes in the sandy soil (Chao de Areia) and the vines are often very old. Phylloxera is not a problem here, so the vines grow on their original rootstock. Under the sand is a layer of clay (Chão Rijo). To help the vines roots to reach down into the clay they have to dig pits or trenches in the sand. This creates vineyards with a rather different look, but vineyards that are very well adapted to this particular area. Nature and man creating terrior together.

Collares Portugal (800x530)

To be called Colares wines, the vines must be grown in the sand and be made out of one of only two grapes allowed. Ramisco for red wines and a local clone of malvasia for white wines. Colares is the the current name for the region, an older name is Collares, the latter name is often present on the labels.

These are wines that should be aged, red as well as whites! As young the red wines are rustic, flavorful and have harsh tannins. The white wines have high acidity and high minerality that goes towards ocean flavours and saltinessand a quite bitter note not unlike the oil from citrus peel. As young, both white and red wines are tough to drink but not without charm. With age, however, comes complexity, big time – and when we speak of age and Colares we’re not talking just a few years, but decades – time really makes these wines into something quite special.

Viuva Jose Gomes da Silva & filhos Collares Branco 1931
Viuva Jose Gomes da Silva & filhos Collares Branco 1931

I have tried a few wines from Colares over the years, from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s but would still call myself a novice when it comes to these wines. What often stands out no matter the vintage is oxidative notes and the acidity and the minerality that goes towards saltiness and the ocean.

Collares D.J. Silva 1955 Reserva Tinto
Collares D.J. Silva 1955 Reserva Tinto

In the aged red wines there is a great minerality pulling towards saltiness with a hint of the ocean and distinctive oxidative notes. In the taste there is often earthy herbal notes, aromatic spices, dried flowers, cherry, tobacco and nuts. The tannins soften up with age but never disappears completely.

Viuva Jose Gomes da Silva & filhos Collares Reserva Branco 1969
Viuva Jose Gomes da Silva & filhos Collares Reserva Branco 1969

In the aged white wines you’ ll often find a distinctive oxidized note and combination of flavors with hints such as ripe apricots, ripe yellow apples, almonds, orange and lemon peel, freshly grounded wheat and hints of candied sugar. But what gives the wines its character is the freshness that comes from the minerality with hints of saltiness, the acidity, the bitterness. The flavor profile goes slightly toward Vin Jaune from Jura or dry sherry.

Collares (800x461)

At one time Colares was a well-known wine region. In the 1930s it was called the Portuguese Bordeaux. At that time they produced about one million hectoliters of wine per year, today they produce about 70,000 hectoliters (1 hectolitre equals 100 liters). Today there are about 10 growers who makes wines under their own label.

These wines works well with grilled seafood or fish and food with umami notes. Through the complexity in them makes them better suited to drink while enjoying the sunset with good friends. It is wines you want to sit down and talk about, to share with friends – it is wines that gives experineces and pleasure. It’s wines that are not big nor easily accessible, it is wines for people who wants a challenge, who wants to develop as wine drinkers and who loves aged wines.

Viuva Jose Gomes da Silva & filhos Collares Reserva Tinto 1969
Viuva Jose Gomes da Silva & filhos Collares Reserva Tinto 1969

There are few places in the world where you can find aged wines, wines going back to the 1930’s, 40s, 50s or 60s and get them for a decent price. In Portugal, you can find aged Colares wines from the 70s or older for around 25-75 euros and they are worth every euro.

Collares Viuva José Gomes da Silva 2006 eller 2008
Collares Viuva José Gomes da Silva 2006 eller 2008

If you get them, buy them, drink them and enjoy them! It’s a #winelover experience!

If you are Portuguese-wine-curious – check out the Adegga wine markets held in Porto and Lisbon and around Europe and Brazil. I found lots of wines, grapes and producers that would have been outside my radar if it was not for them. Here’s some of the Adegga crew:

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Cheers and…. don’t be greedy, only a few bottles per person!

Magnus Reuterdahl

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