Oenophiles searching for an obscure appellation to impress their friends will love Colares. Hailing from the Estremadura region of Portugal, this hard-to-find wine is testament to the fact that viticulture is, very often, a labor of love. Mechanized harvesting and micro-oxygenation are physically impossible in this rugged coastal terroir not to mention economically unviable for its handful of small producers. Growers instead stick to practices dating back to Roman times. These include growing vines not on the usual trellises, but on runners lying close to the sandy soil. Says agronomist and winemaker Francisco Figueiredo, "The sand is essential for capturing the sun's radiation and for reflecting the heat back to the bunches. That's the reason why the grapes are on top of the sand or very near the sand."
Ramisco and malvasia are the appellation's two main varietals and wine must have at least 80% of either grape to be labeled Colares DOC. The unwillingness of farmers to cultivate such varieties is revealed in production figures for Colares, which have seen a dramatic 94% slump over the past 50 years, from 26 million gallons (1 million liters) annually to 160,000 gallons (60,000 liters) a year. The difficulty of planting the vines in several feet of sand is a major deterrent, and the region's proximity to Lisbon has siphoned off available labor few people are left to do the backbreaking work.
In other words, enjoy Colares while you still can. The Arenae 2005 Malvasia features savory and mineral notes, with a palate of tropical fruit and a tart finish. It can be ordered from D&F Wine Shippers in London, tel: (44-20) 8838 4399 (they ship internationally). But as white Colares is much rarer than red, for real bragging rights grab hold of, say, a bottle of 1997 Colares Chitas Branco, which is similar to Chardonnay. Try looking on www.wine-searcher.com or call the gregarious third-generation winemaker Paulo da Silva on (351-219) 29 20 36 and inquire about small-quantity shipments. He only speaks Portuguese and bits of Spanish and French, but what fun is bagging an obscure bottling if you don't have to work at it?
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