Welcome to Soalheiro, one of Portugal's top alvarinho producers in the Vinho Verde region. Soalheiro translates literally to "Sun Drop," and means something akin to "Sunny Place."
Here in the foreground you see some of Soalheiro's alvarinho vines. Soalheiro sits right on the Portugal-Spanish border in the Vinho Verde subregion of Monção e Melgaço. The mountains in the background are Spain.
The wine comes from 7 hectares of organically farmed, family owned vineyards, and they have some of the oldest alvarinho vines in the region.
1974- João António Cerdeira plants alvarinho vines here
1982- João produces the first Soalheiro bottling
1986- The family transitioned to organic farming
1994- João's son, Luís Cerdeira, takes over the winemaking
2010- They celebrate their 30th vintage in bottle!
Some residences mingling around the winery.
Another view of the organically farmed vines (with Spain in the background)
Alvarinho needs some shade to maintain the natural fruit characteristics, and so Luis devotes much of his vitivultural prowess into vine training and canopy management. He uses three different training systems-- two VSP and also some traditional ramada vines (high trained vines, similar to pergolas). Luis notices that the diversity of training systems contributes "more flavors in the wines."
In this region of Portugal his biggest vineyard problem is mildew from the humidity. The mildew is also his biggest challenge to maintain his commitment to organic farming, but he works through it. The impetus to switch to organic farming came from a desire to see more biodiversity on the land. He noticed a big change when they converted, and as he puts it, "Birds, animals, and the vineyard say thank you."
Soalheiro produces three main styles of wines.
1. Classic- described by Luis as "fresh & fruity"
2. Primeiras Vinhas- "first vines," as in the first vines that were planted by his family. equivalent to old vines
3. Reserva- barrel fermented
he also makes some low alcohol sweeter wines, but very small production.
The tasting he did for us was pretty cool. This was a complete vertical of his Classic alvarinho 2004-2010-- an all-stainless steel wine. It was incredible to see the evolution, and to get a feel for vintage variation. It was also very generous of him, as he doesn't keep back stock vintages and really has only a few cases of the older ones lying around.
the color of meyer lemon (the darkest of the flight). aromas of cheese rind and candied melons. soft tannins from a hint of skin contact, but still bright with acidity. This wine was the most developed of the bunch. It also was the last year that Luis bottled in green bottles. Starting in '05 he switched to brown, which filters out harmful UV rays.
2005 Soalheiro Classic Alvarinho (Vinho Verde, Portugal)
2005 was a great harvest. this wine had a meaty pork-rind-like aroma, and a vibrant minerality to it.
2006 Soalheiro Classic Alvarinho (Vinho Verde, Portugal)
2006 was a warmer vintage. This wine had seriously complex aromas that reminded me of some of the finer Clare Valley rieslings. There was an earthiness and meatiness to the aromas, with a more powerful taste than the previous vintages, and that same granite-like minerality that you can taste in the '05.
2007 Soalheiro Classic Alvarinho (Vinho Verde, Portugal)
2007- here a bit more fruit began to be apparent, and the palate was quite bright.
2008 Soalheiro Classic Alvarinho (Vinho Verde, Portugal)
2008 was a very cold harvest. This wine had smokey, cheesy aromas, and also a very mineral, wet-stone like aroma as well. It tasted like starfruit and minerals, and had a crazy zingy acidity.
2009 Soalheiro Classic Alvarinho (Vinho Verde, Portugal)
2009- starting with the '09 there is a distinct change in the way the wines taste. Maybe it's due to some sort of aging threshold. But this one was full of candied fruits, rich and full aromas, and a great, rich mouthfeel.
2010 Soalheiro Classic Alvarinho (Vinho Verde, Portugal)
2010 was a warm year. This is the only harvest Luis has ever had that has had sugars high enough to get to 13% alcohol. Rich and full tasting, with tropical fruit characteristics, and the classic mineral finish.
2011 Soalheiro Classic Alvarinho (Vinho Verde, Portugal)
This wine was fresh, citrusy, and had a hint of floral aromas.
<---This is alheira sausage (made by Maria)--a classic Portuguese sausage, with a fascinating history. During the Portuguese Inquisition many Jews were forced to convert to Christianity. If their conversion could be proved false, they risked persecution. One major give-away was the lack of consumption of pork. To throw Inquisitors off the trail, many Jews pretended to smoke "pork" sausages that were actually full of bread and small amounts of other meats. Alheira sausage has since become a very popular national food, and nowadays many people make the bread-meat sausages with pork, despite their anti-pork historic origins.
The charcuterie paired amazingly well with the alvarinhos-- especially the oak aged ones. After we tasted the vertical of the Classics he brought out some of the Primeiras Vinhas and Reservas to have with the charcuterie.
This is a photo of Luis' small-production, low alcohol, sweet alvarinho.
Luis took us on a small field trip to his nursery vineyards. Here, he has 1-3 year old baby alvarinho vines that aren't ready for production.
Here you see eucalyptus trees tower over the vineyards.
The granitic soil is so full of mica that it sparkles.
Luis handed out alvarinho grapes as he expounded more on the local biodiversity, the soil type, and his wines.