Throughout June, we're supporting the Wines of Portugal campaign which provides the ideal excuse to take a look at one of our favourite Portuguese producers. Soalheiro are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, so let's dive in and learn a little more about what has made them a lasting success.
Who are Soalheiro?
Soalheiro are based in Melgaço in the north of Portugal, overlooking the Minho river. This is part of the Vinho Verde winemaking region, Portugal's largest, which has a long history of stretching back to before 100AD. Loueiro and Arinto were the most commonly used grapes, offering wines with floral peach aromas and vibrant citrus fruit.
In 1974, João António Cerdeira and his parents, António Esteves Ferreira and Maria Cerdeira, planted a full vineyard of Alvarinho (Albariño.) The grape variety had grown there as long as they could remember, planted on the edge of grain fields, but no one else in Melgaço had been bold enough to give it their focus.
They called the vineyard ’Soalheiro’, which means ‘sunny’, because its location was exposed to sun all day long. Soon after, in 1982, João António turned his passion into a small independent family winery, producing the first brand of Alvarinho in Melgaço. The garage where he kept his red Ford Escort was now full of the tools he needed to turn grape must into wine.
From the start they wanted the wine to be as perfect as possible and they took a highly scientific approach. Today, third-generation family members, siblings Maria João and António Luís, along with their mother, have embraced this spirit of innovation. António Luís has built a profound knowledge of the Alvarinho grape variety throughout his life. Maria João has introduced organic farming into their vineyards and the sustainable revitalisation of the surrounding rural area.
Award Winning Wines
Their efforts produced a wine that was really quite special and by 1991 they were winning regional awards recognising them as the best 'Vinho Verde Wine Producer' in Melgaco. They've since won many, many more. Sarah Ahmed in Decanter Magazine awarded a very high score of 95 points for the 2019 vintage, celebrating the 'tropical fruit in the flamboyant nose and palate' and describing it as 'Breezy, but concentrated. Vivid and very intense, with lipsmacking acidity.'
When to enjoy Albarino
These are amazing wines to enjoy fresh, but they can also be aged for several years where they take on a honeyed and nutty character with a rounded waxy texture. Though, to be honest, unless you're building up a cellar, its hard to resist enjoying the wine in its vibrant youth.
Soalheiro have explored the possibilities of Alvarinho in barrel-fermented and sparkling wines, and looked at the effect of vines planted at a higher altitude (it created a very precise, minerally style, if you were wondering). It wasn't until 2007 however that they tried blending Alvarinho with other varieties. ALLO was the first of these blends, a merge of Alvarinho and Loureiro, the two noble grape varieties of Minho region. It's some of the best Vinho Verde you'll ever have. Super light and full of peach and apple fruit with a little honey and that Alvarinho acidity keeping it fresh.
Soalheiro have shared their experience and success to help improve the region's agriculture and economy. Now their own team of 30 people support over 150 families of grape growers in a Club of Producers. They've also launched projects aiming to revitalize the local herbal tea culture and create opportunities for young people to learn and develop skills across all areas of their production.
In 2019 they launched the Soalheiro Innovation Centre, which has lead them to develop projects that aim to improve all aspects of their business and rethink the sustainability of their operations in the face of climate change. Recent projects have included the installation of a living green roof on a new winery, a customised bottle with an eco-efficient design, and digital wine tourism experiences.
So yes, you could say we're fans of their work! We're currently stocking the wines below and for the quality, they offer really good value for money.
Nicknamed ‘Clássico’, as it was the first wine ever to be made by the family, back in 1982. Since then, it remains their most classic style of single varietal Alvarinho, with aromatic freshness, intense flavour, and the chance for evolution in the bottle – it is a wine that goes well with any occasion, and pairs brilliantly with steamed mussels or clams.
This may sound like a greeting, but the name is simply a merge of Alvarinho and Loureiro’s initials. Loureiro dominates (70% of the blend) and provides floral notes and soft ripe fruit. Alvarinho is responsible for the wine’s structure. By combining the delicate nature of Loureiro with the confidence of Alvarinho, ALLO is a wine that embodies both the fun and serious sides of their character. Try this with a fish tacos.
This Pet Nat uses the ancestral method, a single fermention finished in bottle, to create a light and elegant espumante, expressing all that is great about the Alvarinho grape. Bright stone fruit and tropical notes, with leesy minerality, and a fine mousse.
"I love Albarino and this fresh, sparkling take on the grape is a delight. You'd expect no less though from Soalheiro, who continue to push what this varietal can do and always with a focus on precise, ripe flavour."