Graham’s Sales Director, Euan Mackay, was up at Malvedos this morning with another visitor. Whilst Henry explained the wine making techniques and equipment, Euan set up a tasting on the table at the back of the room where the lagares are. Besides the usual array of finished wines (Six Grapes, LBV 2005, The Tawny) and a recent sample (one of the pure Touriga Nacional lotes which Charles especially liked yesterday), he set out two bottles not often seen: one marked Robotic 2008 and the other marked Traditional 2008.
Euan explained it’s a bit academic now, the robotic lagares have long since proved that they make wine as well or better than traditional treading methods, but they still have some of these wines and it is still fun to taste and appreciate the differences. In 2008 we took one parcel of grapes from Quinta dos Malvedos and divided them between the two types of lagares, and have kept the two resulting wines separate every since.
On the nose, the robotic lagar wine was much deeper and more powerful, more structured; the traditionally treaded wine was distinctly more floral, more delicately aromatic, more elegant. Both were beautiful, but of very different characters. In terms of colours, both wines were an intense blue-toned purple-inky black, the robotic lagar perhaps a tad more intense.
Euan emphasised that when we begin assessing wines for possible blends, we don’t even look at how the wines were made – robotic or traditional is not part of the decision. We assess each wine for the aromatic qualities it can bring to the blend – the sum is definitely greater than any of its component parts – and so both of these wines will find their way into our finished ports.
From the winery team’s perspective, there is one other very important difference between robotic and traditional lagares. To empty a traditional lagar, as was recently done at the Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira, is a matter of about 90 minutes of hard shovelling for three men. To empty a robotic lagar, wine, cap and all, is a matter of 15 or 20 minutes standing at a control panel and keeping an eye on the flow out of the trap door. We may not be able to choose between the wines, but the team might like to make a choice between the methods!