Thursday, September 09, 2021

The wine 🍷 that makes this man travel to Portugal Every Single Year: John take note 📝


Keep well  - and Czech out Cloudstratus Sneakers

Em terra de cego, quem tem olho é rei”  ….  “Among the blind, a one-eyed man is king”.

“To a good listener, half a word is enough”
– Portuguese Proverb

Neither handsome enough to kill nor ugly enough to frighten away.
Portuguese saying

The wine that makes this man travel to Portugal every year

It’s an exciting time for the ‘Grand Canyon of wine regions’, says Margaret River winemaker Matt Gant.

One of the steep terraced vineyards at the Quinta da Pedra Alta winery in the heart of Portugal’s Douro Valley during the 2019 harvest.   Ricardo Bernardo″Harvest started last week,” winemaker Matt Gant says. “I wish I could be there.”

Wine glasses against vineyards in Douro Valley, Portugal
Wine glasses against vineyards in Douro Valley, Portugal

“There” is Quinta da Pedra Alta, a historic 35-hectare wine estate in the heart of Portugal’s Douro Valley – about as far from Margaret River in Western Australia, where Gant lives, as it’s possible to get.

Gant has been travelling to Portugal to do vintage each year for almost a decade. In 2018, he became a partner in Quinta da Pedra Alta. But for the past two years – for obvious reasons – he hasn’t been able to get there to work the harvest. And it’s frustrating him.

“It’s a really exciting time for the Douro,” Gant says. “So many people are taking traditional port grapes and turning them into more elegant table wines. I’m really looking forward to getting back out there, I gotta say.”

The first time I met Matt Gant, back in 2005, he handed me a thrilling young red wine he’d made from one of those traditional Portuguese grape varieties, touriga nacional. We weren’t in Portugal, however. We were at St Hallett, in South Australia’s Barossa Valley, where Gant – an Essex boy who’d fallen in love with wine and already done many vintages around the world – was working as a winemaker.

In 2007, he was offered a chance to work at Azamor winery in the Alentejo region of southern Portugal by David Baverstock, a South Australian who had become one of Portugal’s leading winemakers.

Gant liked working in the warm southern Alentejo region – “It was like the Barossa: similar climate, with eucalypts everywhere” – but it was when his assistant winemaker João Pires took him on a trip to the northern Douro Valley, with its dramatic, steep, terraced vineyards, that he really fell in love with the country and its wines.

“The Douro blew me away,” Gant says. “It’s the Grand Canyon of wine regions. The landscape is on a truly epic scale, and you’re like a kid in candy store from a winemaking point of view: such an incredible diversity of grape varieties, all dry-grown, from 100 metres to 600 metres altitude, all different aspects – it’s just crazy.”

Gant returned to Australia and joined forces with an old mate from St Hallett days, marketer John Retsas, to launch their label, First Drop, producing a wide variety of often quirkily packaged wines from the Barossa, McLaren Vale and the Adelaide Hills. But he stayed in contact with Pires: the Portuguese winemaker came out to do a couple of vintages in the Barossa and, from 2012, Gant started travelling to Portugal every vintage to make wine.

Then, in 2016, Quinta da Pedra Alta – where Pires had been working since 2009 – came up for sale. As it happened, a friend of Gant from primary school was looking to invest in the wine industry with his wife. And so, in 2018, after a long negotiation, the new team took the reins at the old estate.

It’s not like Gant hasn’t had anything else to keep him occupied since the pandemic clipped his globe-trotting wings. Until this year, he was still a partner in the First Drop business; in June, he sold his half to Retsas to concentrate on Gant & Co, the label he has set up with his wife, Claudia, to produce wines from her family’s vineyard at Karridale, in the cool south of Margaret River.

The couple met two decades ago, when Claudia worked vintage at St Hallett. After they had their first child in 2011, they decided to move back to Margaret River, with Gant travelling back to the Barossa each vintage. After Claudia’s father passed away in 2016, she took on responsibility for the vineyard, and the couple started making a few wines, Gant says, “to honour his memory and to showcase what a great site it is”.

“First Drop was awesome,” he says. “It was great to make such a diversity of wines from across three regions, to express yourself in so many ways. But with Gant & Co, it’s a complete change: to just focus on a single site. I’m loving being out in the vineyard, spending time there, working with Claude. And Margaret River is such an epic place to live.”

Not quite as epic as the Douro Valley at harvest time, perhaps. But that will have to wait until next year.

2020 Gant & Co Chardonnay [Margaret River]
The cooler climate of Karridale produces chardonnay grapes that have intense flavour but retain crisp, fresh acidity. This for me is the best wine in the Gant & Co line-up (although I also like the $32 Jeune cabernet blend – an old-fashioned, medium-bodied, slightly leafy “luncheon claret”). It has a lovely flow of yellow fruit and a touch of creaminess from the lees-ageing in barrel, with a tangy finish. $40

2018 Quinta da Pedra Alta Branco Reserva [Douro]
I was very impressed with the 2018 Quinta da Pedra Alta reds I tasted – particularly a pair of wines called Alto (a seductively perfumed expression of touriga nacional grown at higher altitude) and Rio (a sturdier, more structured red made from touriga franca grown lower down the slopes), due to be shipped later in the year. But the wine I wanted to drink right there and then, with something suitably salty and fishy (a plate of bacalao, please), was this mouthwatering, juicy, rich but super-refreshing white blend of traditional grapes rabigato (“like the riesling of Portugal”, Gant says), viosinho (“chardonnay-ish”), gouveio (“savvy blanc”) and fernão pires (“like muscatel – and we ferment it on skins”). $65

Quinta da Pedra Alta Pedra No.03 White Port [Douro]
This is a deliciously modern take on white port, a style of fortified wine little-known outside Portugal. Really fresh, lemony, enticing, less wine-like than I was expecting, with a limoncello-like citrus character. Think of it like a medium-dry vermouth and drink it chilled, neat, over ice or – as Gant recommends – with tonic water, as a “Pedratonica”. $42

The Quinta da Pedra Alta wines are distributed in Western Australia only at present, through Wine Terroirists, and are available at outlets such as Re Store Leederville, The Freo Doctor, Boatshed Wine Loft and Mayfair Lane (contact for other stockists). Distribution in the eastern states is to come.