Notes by Ted Vance of The Source Imports:
The wine that brought us to Menina d’uva was Palomba. I first had it in a well-known restaurant in Braga with a reputable list, called Delicatum. The following day after some research I introduced myself in what has become the new traditional way, on Facebook, of course, and the rest is history. What drew me to this wine was its complete gulpability that didn’t take away from its seriousness. Plus, I’d not tasted a wine like this from Portugal; but then again, I am a mere enfant at this stage of understanding the broad depth and diversity of Portuguese wines. Palomba has a deep color, but a bright freshness and tastes redder and more sweetly floral in tone than it looks. This is the kind of energizing surprise I like in a wine.
Palomba is made of 90% Negreda, also known as Mouratón in Spain. The vine is known to produce big, juicy, dark-colored berries but with surprisingly very little tannin. It’s mixed with other reds few outside of Portugal have heard of, like Uva de Rei, Moscatel Preta, Moscatel Roxo, among others. It comes from five different plots located in the villages of Uva, Mora and Vale de Algoso, and is grown on a mixture of schist and quartz scattered about on the surface of the vineyards. However, a walk through many of the plots revealed stone walls made with gneiss, slate, and schist—a clear indicator that in this area it’s not so simple to precisely say what the bedrock is underfoot even in small parcels. What’s interesting about this is that you can feel these things in the wine, despite the claim from some scientists that this is impossible. The pressure points within Aline’s wines are deep and fully mouth filling while remaining ethereal and tense. I tasted this wine out of barrel a few times and its texture was as profound and as deep as any unfinished wine I’ve tasted.
In 2017, Aline Domingues left Paris for Uva, a remote village on the Planalto Mirandês, a quiet and mostly desolate countryside in northeast Portugal. Born in 1989, in Cergy, a small suburb about twenty-five kilometers northwest of the center of Paris, she was the youngest of four children born to Portuguese parents. Immigrants from Uva, a minuscule and impoverished ancient village only thirty kilometer from the border of Spain, they came to France in search of better economic prosperity and to escape the dictatorship, like so many Portuguese in the 1960s and ‘70s.
Scientist First, Vigneron Second
Before Aline cut her own first vine and crafted her wine, she became a scientist. She spent seven years between the Universities of Paris Diderot, Dijon, Cergy, and Orléans. During that time, she earned an impressive haul of three Masters degrees in Molecular Biology, Fermentation Science, and QHSE (Quality Health Safety Environment)—the latter of which was more focused on workplace management.
While she was at university, she worked for two years in a laboratory where she studied the metabolism of yeast, and during a school break in September 2012, she worked a harvest in Beaujolais at a domaine that practiced conventional farming—which she immediately realized wasn’t for her. Then, it was during her time at the University of Dijon that she became more fascinated with wine and immersed herself on the subject. Her first official internship was with a Morey-Saint-Denis biodynamic producer, Gilles Ballorin, where she worked exclusively in the cellar.
A Committed Life
In 2015, she met Merlin, the owner of a small watering hole in Paris focused on craft beer, Jura wines and other natural products. With Merlin’s encouragement and support, Aline started to explore the possibilities beyond Paris and what might come of her life with her interest in wine. She took a break from working and hit the road. After a few months she returned to Paris to work at a wine bar to learn more about the subject, from that perspective. Eventually, the idea to go back to her family’s roots in Portugal began to take hold. She considered going to where her grandfather Americo lived, in Uva, but thought that it might be too isolated. The idea of going to livelier regions, like the Douro, seemed more promising. She went to Uva in 2017, anyway, to make an experimental wine with Americo’s grapes. She explained that to make wine with Americo would be impossible because he simply wouldn’t let her do things her way, so she made a hundred liters of wine in a different building that had no power or electricity. That was the beginning of Menina d’uva and Aline’s life in Uva.
With every visit to the girl from uva _(Menina d’uva), thoughts of how incredible it is that at age twenty-eight Aline took the leap from Paris, one of the biggest and busiest cities in the world, to Uva, clearly not a common move for a young _Parisienne _at the start of their professional career, or ever, for that matter; it’s in the middle of _nowhere, even for Portugal, a country already on the true edge of continental Europe, and one of just a few European countries bordered by a single country on the mainland.
In Uva there’s a coffee shop/bar in the center of town that never seems to be open, and a lot of not much else other than the beautiful, natural surroundings, and the ancient, yet nicely renovated bright-white structures for housing pigeons, called dovecoats, that litter the hillsides above the town. Aline’s choice was clearly not that of the vigneron inhabiting the modern lifestyle of close proximity to great restaurants and specialty grocery stores; I know from experience that there’s no place for a quick meal and what you can find isn’t going to be light fare. There’s also a dearth of like-minded people nearby—though she does have some cohorts about forty minutes away, at Arribas Wine Company, another Portuguese duo we work with who have the same kind of admirable commitment to working in Portugal’s Siberia as she does. It’s real European backcountry living and one has to be tough to live in the area—not only physically, but also mentally. Aline admitted that she struggled with the decision during her first year. But after that, it gradually became her home.
Uva is a straight shot from the Atlantic directly east from Porto. It’s about two hundred kilometers, or a hundred twenty-five miles, as the crow flies, so it’s hard to accept that it takes about three hours to drive because it looks so close on a map. But the roads zigzag through and around a series of mountain ranges, and while there are a few straightaways (thankfully), it all leads to what seems like an endless maze of rural roads that pass through tiny one-lane villages and over an endless horizon of rolling multi-colored hills patched with fields, picturesque orchards and groves, with hardly a human to be seen outside a passing car. To the other side, on the eastern border of Portugal, it’s Spanish desert, and the closest city is Zamora, the local equivalent to Mali’s Timbuktu.
The Trás-os-Montes and its most eastern subzone, Planalto Mirandês, is famous for high quality olive oil, nuts, meat, sausages, cheeses, and a multitude of crops. It’s also known for wine, but not the kind for those with a low tolerance for high alcohol and the overly flavored.
Menina d’uva’s Wines
While the Trás-os-Montes is known for heavy wines, Menina d’uva couldn’t be much further from that style. Here, she’s begun to modernize the wines in the best possible way: indigenous local grape varieties, organic farming, naked wines made through gentle extraction and a low-tech, heavily thought out, soft-touch approach. The result is wines with soft-colored hues, low-to-medium alcohol with natural freshness and tension. Her wines have heightened aromatic nuances of spring fruits, moorland brush and flowers, with unusually deep minerally and metallic textures that vibrate on the palate.
While Aline’s wines are mostly the opposite of what one thinks of with Portuguese wines, her white, made mostly from Malvasia, is more in line with the country’s white wine style in its texture and more subdued aromatics, as well as its likely natural capacity for the long haul; we’ll see about that in time, given her first vintage is 2018. I admit that I am extremely impressed by the depth and almost invincibility of many of Portugal’s white wines, like those from the Vinho Verde, Bairrada and around Lisbon, and I have a particular fascination with the Colares white wines made from the same Malvasia grape. The only thing that seems to hold back the consistency of older wines is how the Portuguese commonly allow their cellars that fluctuate too much in temperature throughout each year. Somehow in Portugal Malvasia is more attractively made than other parts of the world where there is almost a negative association with the grape for having too abundant of an aromatic sweet floral and perfume punch. They’re different here, as they are in Italy’s Carso, and some neighboring areas of Friuli.
Her red wines, by contrast, are strangers from a distant land. They taste and feel every bit as much like they’re from central or western Galicia, or areas like Saint-Pourçain in France’s Upper Loire Valley, or a Côte Roannaise; or the nearly forgotten Persan from Isère, or perhaps even the Beaujolais Jules Chauvet’s made decades ago (which I’ve only read about)—not only from the alcohol level, but the tensile ripeness and gentle, attractive amargo of the fruit. The aromas in Aline’s reds are high-toned, fresh and bright, even in her Palomba, a darker red made almost entirely of Negreda, a grape variety that is curiously low in tannin for its dark, thick skins. The smell of both is impactful and vibrant, pure and beguiling, like energized spring fruits and the aromas of arid land with sweet red flowers in bloom—this really describes the red, Ciste. Once in the mouth, the textures are unexpectedly concentrated with vibrant, dense mineral and metal impressions. While Aline’s reds are often shy at first, they blossom into wines that are as beautiful and charming as they are contemplative and serious.