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To many wine shoppers, Portugal is mostly known for value whites and reds...and Port of course. Vinho Verde, for example, is a region that is synonymous with inexpensive, low alcohol thirst quenching white wines of the same name. Many people don't realize that there are red wines from Vinho Verde, let alone skin contact amphora aged whites and medieval-style field blends! Enter Aphros winery...
Starting in 2003, Vasco Croft set out to revive his family's semi-abandoned property in Casal do Paço, in the Vinho Verde region. The estate has been in the Croft family since the 17th century and covers a total of 20 hectares, including four hectares of vines and another four of chestnut orchards. A firm believer in Biodynamics (Vasco led the Waldorf movement in Portugal in his previous life as an architect), Croft immediately began converting the estate after he arrived, and the ecosystem is now thriving, with wild horses, sheep, and bees (the vineyard manager, Alberto Araújo, tends to the beehives). There have been small additions of parcels over the years, as production has slowly increased, and all the vineyards are farmed Biodynamically.
A truly fascinating aspect of the winery has been their research of medieval winemaking styles, and Vasco's drive to rely less on technology, which has led them to pursue the idea of making wine without the use of electricity. Their Phaunus wines (the focus of this email) are all made in this fashion. Grapes are harvested by hand, and crushed by foot. A manual vertical press is used and they were able to track down some old Talha amphorae from the south of Portugal for aging. The amphorae are lined with beeswax, and a small amount of olive oil is used as a cap to prevent any voile from forming. There is no temperature control during fermenation or aging, and wines are bottled by hand. As head winemaker Miguel Viseu says, "This is how wine was made 1,000 years ago!"
I am personally very happy to share these wines with our readers, as I had the pleasure of meeting Vasco here in New York, and Miguel at the Dive Bouteille (a very hip natural wine fair in France), and their excitement about and belief in their project really impressed me. Of course it doesn't hurt that the wines are fascinating and delicious!
The Phaunus Pet Nat is all Loureiro, vinified in stainless steel with no added yeast or sugar. There is a short period of maceration, and disgorgement is after 5 months of aging, with no filtration or fining. Super dry, refreshing and textured, this is a wonderful addition to the ever-changing Pet-Nat section here at Chambers, and comes highly recommended for any fan of tasty bubbles. Eben Lillie
The Phaunus "orange" is all Loureiro, with 8 weeks of skin contact and lees aging in 1,300L clay Talha amphorae from southern Portugal. The wine has nice lift from the natural acidity of the Loureiro grapes, while the maceration and lees aging give it texture and structure. As winemaker Miguel Viseu says, it's a wine "made in silence," with harvest by hand in the early morning, and no electricity used at any point in the process. A truly curious approach with a delicious result. Drink chilled, but not too cold. Eben Lillie
Palhete is the local name for a wine that is made in a farmer's style, by blending red and white grapes to create a low-alcohol wine to drink during the day. As founder Vasco Croft explained to me, there was no soda or beer back in medieval times, and water was not reliable, so the Palhete wines provided the only trustworthy hydration at the time. This particular blend is 80% Loureiro and 20% Vinhão. Alcohol is 12%, admittedly not as low as the medieval version (these were usually between 4-6% alc.), but extremely drinkable nonetheless! Drink chilled. Eben Lillie
"Vinhão is a big grape", says Aphros founder Vasco Croft, "with big acidity and big tannin!" Often yielding a big, high-alcohol wine, the goal at Aphros has been to work with less extraction, for a more elegant and approachable wine. They've definitely hit the mark with their 2016 vintage. It's flavorful and deep in color, but at only 12% alc., it's delicate and smooth as well. There's sour cherry and pepper on the nose, good concentration on the palate and fresh acidity too. Drink with a slight chill. Eben Lillie