Quinta de Covela Escolha, Portugal 2005

This wine comes from the Entre-Douro Minho region of northern Portugal, where the Vinho Verde country borders the river Douro. Owner Nino Araújo bought Quinta de Covela 15 yrs ago from the previous owners – Port House Ramos Pinto. There’s a long history of viticulture here, 19 ha of vines plus orchards and cork oaks growing on granite-based soils. The vineyard is arranged as a terraced amphitheatre and is said to have its own microclimate – a beautiful spot.

Araújo started by adopting “reasonable agriculture”, involving the minimal use of artificial sprays. However, very quickly he moved to fully organic methods. Now the estate has been in biodynamic conversion since 2006 and is working towards full Demeter Certification, a rarity in Portugal.

It has just been announced that Quinta de Covela is also the first Portuguese wine estate to be accepted into the prestigious ‘Renaissance des Appellations’ group, run by biodynamic-guru Nicolas Joly. So yes, technically this 2005 wine is not Biodynamic, rather organic. But future vintages will be BD.

All these fine credentials help produce a range of excellent Branco (white) Tinto (red) and Rosado (rosé) wines. Quinta de Covela are certainly an estate to watch, very much at the forefront of the New Portugal.

Escolha (meaning “choice”) is also my pick of the range. It’s a white blend made from the local Avesso grape combined with Chardonnay and a splash of Gewürztraminer. The percentages aren’t given and the Gewürztraminer is strangely listed as “others” on the back label. Regardless, this is a terrific white wine made from local and international varieties. Avesso is one of the staple grapes of the local Vinho Verde and presumably brings a backbone of zesty acidity, the Chardonnay fills it out with flesh and body and the Gewürztraminer adds some subtle aromas into the mix.

The grapes are all hand-picked and the wine is fermented and matured in stainless steel and sees no oak at all. (Interestingly, this is signified by the use of a silver bottle capsule). The wine is also has a low sulphur content too – a conscious quality policy and clever winemaking.

A pale lemon colour with floral citrus aromas and just a hint of Gewürztraminer roses, this wine really comes into its own on the palate. It’s full textured and mouth coating but the zippy high acidity keeps it fresh. The fruit intensity is remarkable; full limey fruit laced with apple and pear, there’s also a slight vegetal note that appears as it warms, adding some complexity. Dry, taut and well-balanced, there’s a good medium length and just a hint of spice on the finish.

You could drink this happily enough as an aperitif, but it really shines with food. Seafood will work but fish is a better choice given the body of the wine. A white fillet of Bara (a sustainably farmed Vietnamese fish) simply pan-fried with a little butter and olive oil and dressed with lime juice is a perfect foil for Escolha.

Refreshing, individual and a hint of summer to come, drink this wine now and over next two years while the fruit is at its most vibrant.

Portugal is known primarily for Port and secondly for some stunning reds, with the whites frequently trailing in a very distant third. So it’s particularly exciting to find a Portuguese branco worth shouting about!

In the UK: Waitrose, £9.95
In the US: Vinopolis, Portland, Oregon for $9.99

Categorized as Reviews

By Paul Howard

is a wine journalist and educator who runs the site Wine Alchemy. He is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers, the Association of Wine Educators and the FIJEV (international federation of wines and spirits journalists and vintners). He lives in the United Kingdom.