Atlantisch trocken: die Weinregion Bairrada - Maître Philippe & Filles

Atlantic dry: the Bairrada wine region

On the coast between Porto and the city of Coimbra - famous for its Hogwarts-like university - lies the Bairrada wine region. Green and hilly is this piece of Portuguese land where wine has been cultivated for over 1000 years.

The Bairrada is a sub-region of Beira, quite low-lying and strongly influenced by the Atlantic. The Romans were already involved in viticulture south of Anadia, but when Coimbra became the political center of the then kingdom, wine production in the Bairrada really took off.

The Bairrada - from disrepute to comeback

In the early 18th century, the complex, tannic Bairrada reds were hugely popular and flocked to Vila Nova de Gaia , the famous city across from Porto just at the mouth of the Douro. From there they were exported to Great Britain, because the British had (and have) a fondness for port wine. The producers either mixed it with their Bairrada wine or sold their Bairrada entirely as port wine.

In 1756 the Portuguese government had had enough and put an end to the pandering. The then Prime Minister of Portugal, the Marquis de Pombal, who was known as a strong man, carried out a geographical delimitation to protect the port. To teach local winemakers a lesson, the Bairrada vineyards in west-central Portugal were cleared. Henceforth the land was to be used for grain production.

This drastic measure hit the region hard. The subsequent reconstruction of the Bairrada viniculture took not only decades, but more than two centuries. Because even when the first Regiäos Demarcadas (RD) were founded and later through EU accession to quality status Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) rose, the Bairrada region was exempt.

In 1979, Bairrada was allowed to return from its wine exile and, thanks to continued insistence from winemakers, received RD status. The coveted DOC finally followed in 1990.

But the trauma runs deep. To this day, the long-established wine families are sensitive to government interference. For this reason, Vinho Regional Beiras are also produced more frequently in the region, which are subject to significantly fewer restrictions than DOC wines and allow the winegrowers more freedom.

The berry and the making

The Baga berry and the making of the wines - Maitre Philippe & Filles

There are now around 20,000 hectares of vineyards in the Bairrada, with one grape in particular having prevailed: Baga or Tinto Bairrada dominates the vineyards of this Portuguese piece of land with a strong 70 percent.

Literally translated, Baga means “berry”. The grape variety produces small fruits with a very thick skin, characterized by a high content of tannins. No other appellation in Portugal is so dominated by a grape variety as the DOC Bairrada by the Baga grape.

It is a miracle that the capricious Baga prevailed after the phylloxera catastrophe. Because this grape does not like moisture at all and the Atlantic region was very wet, at least in the past.

If you wanted to produce a good wine here, you had to have strong nerves and hope for a dry autumn. Because it takes a long time for the grapes to have the necessary phenolic ripeness, so the harvest had to be pushed back a long time to late autumn.

Only very few winegrowers in the Bairrada had enough courage and trust and so they produced very hard wines that were harvested too early for a long time and did the reputation of the Baga no favors.

The Baga grape has a lot of potential and is able to produce full-bodied, aromatic wines with lush tannins and a stable acidity.

Young Baga red wines smell intensely of wild berries, but are usually quite reserved. Mature variants, on the other hand, are complex and full of structure. Baga wines only develop the necessary maturity after 10 to 15 years. Then they show very versatile aromas of morello cherries, prunes and tar, eucalyptus and pine.

Atlantic, soil and climate change

Atlantic, Soil and Climate Change in Bairrada - Maitre Philippe & Filles

Bairrada red DOC wines may be blended with other wines as long as they contain at least 70 percent of the Baga grape variety. The Touriga Nacional variety is mainly used for blending, but recently the French grape varieties Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also popular , which are very harmonious with the Baga due to their proximity to the Atlantic.

The soil of the coastal region is a loamy and calcareous clay soil (barro = clay) that tends to slope gently. The rivers Vouga to the north and Mondego to the south, and the Serra do Caramulo and Serra do Buçaco mountains to the east are the natural boundaries of the DOC Bairrada.

Almost the entire Bairrada area was shaped by the Atlantic climate . But climate change is making itself felt: while in the past there was only a very short period without precipitation and the winegrowers had to struggle to get their harvest through safely, the rain has decreased significantly in recent years. This is also noticeable in the extremely good vintages, which are now occurring more frequently than ever before.

The traditional production of Bairrada red wines requires fermentation without destemming. This means that the grapes are not removed from the grape stalks, but fermented together with the wood.

This procedure produces very powerful and tannin-rich red wines that have to reach a certain age before they can be enjoyed. Unfortunately, the quality of the fruit is often lost, which fades during the long ripening period before it becomes drinkable.

This fact is now driving many winegrowers to destem their grapes and thus produce wines that can be enjoyed much earlier and have a nice fruity aroma.

Some of the best red Bairradas are aged wines that are delicate and light, while maintaining a nice complexity. These wines are among the best red wines in the country.

The white and the sparkling

Red Espumante in Bairrado - Maitre Philippe & Filles

The white wines of Bairrada are mainly made from two grape varieties that dominate the wine regions: the
Bical grapes and the variety with the beautiful evocative name “ Maria Gomes ”, also known as Fern ão Pires.

Bical wines are characterized by ripe yellow fruit, exude an aroma of tropical fruits and can be enjoyed even better when well ripened.

Maria Gomes wines are lighter and tasty with a nice fruit, but they do not reach the quality of the excellent red wines. Most of the red wines from the Bairrada are varietal, while the whites are more often blends.

A high proportion of the white grapes are processed into sparkling wines , which are exquisite but do not achieve DOC status. Nevertheless: Bairrada is the leading region among the sparkling wine producers in Portugal. Especially the red Espumantes enjoy a very special attention and popularity, because the interplay of fruit, tannins and acid forms an interesting and versatile bouquet.

The largest wine producers of the Bairrada are the six regional cooperatives: Alianga, Fonseca, Barrocaeo, Messias, Sao Joao, Luis Pato. In addition, Sogrape is also resident in the Bairrada, whose most famous wine is the Rose Mateus.

about the author

Inara Muradowa, SEO Expert, Corporate Blogger, Shopify Partner - inara writes

Inara Muradowa is an SEO expert and corporate blogger. In addition to technical search engine optimization and SEO consulting, she actively supports companies with the conception and writing of professional blog posts.

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