Pathbreaking Perspectives on Vinho Verde: ‘Muros Antigos’ from Anselmo Mendes

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… one of Portugal’s great white wine producers…Wine Advocate
Click the map to zoom! Here you can see how three different zones of the appellation and three different varieties each bring their own character to the Muros Antigos wines

Anselmo Mendes is, simply put, one of Portugal’s most revered winemakers. A native son of Monção (which, along with neighboring Melgaço, where his cellar is located, is one of the top Alvarinho crus in the country), he hails from an agricultural family that, like most in the area, dabbled in wine for household production. It wasn’t until after university studies in agronomy that he began to specialize in wine, studying in both Portugal and France and enjoying a rapidly rising star as one of the most sought-after consulting winemakers in Portugal.

In 1998, he finally struck out on his own, producing his first own-label wines from rented grapes in the Monção e Melgaço zone, and his (at that time highly unusual) focus on a bone-dry, mineral, serious, no-fizz style rocketed him to the top of the list as Winemaker of the Year in the Revista de Vinhos, Portugal’s chief domestic wine publication. (He has since repeated that accolade.) It was then that he also garnered the charming nickname with which he is still associated today — “Mr. Alvarinho”. And indeed, his skill with this grape puts him into any conversation about the best producers in the Vinho Verde demarcated zone, though that skill is supplied no longer by rented vines but one of the most significant estate holdings of Alvarinho in the area.

But Mr. Alvarinho is dedicated to exploring multiple facets of this very far-from-monolithic appellation, and over the last couple decades has extended his masterful touch to encompass both Loureiro from the Lima Valley (just south of Monção and Melgaço) and Avesso from Baião (even farther south, in the lower Douro valley but still in the Vinho Verde zone). His Muros Antigos (“ancient walls”) line is a fascinating parallel exploration of all these terroirs and varieties from a relatively neutral and hands-off winemaking perspective. If Alvarinho is the most citric and bracing (as well as the most famous), Loureiro is slightly broader, more textural, and headily aromatic. Avesso, meanwhile, the least well-known (but best-regarded locally after the other two varieties) produces wines with the most heft and structure, which makes it a compelling blending partner in the Escolha bottling.

The Muros Antigos wines are all unoaked and see long, slow fermentations at low temperature with indigenous yeasts. The lees contact is relatively short– around four months– making for crisp, lively wines that, while demonstrating some of the best quality/price rapport in the region, nonetheless bring a serious amount of concentration and varietal character to the the table, all in the fizz-free, bone-dry idiom Anselmo helped pioneer. (And the Alvarinho in particular will age, too– a recently-tasted 2012 was showing beautifully complex– Chablisian, even– evolution while staying fresh as a daisy.)

Escolha ‘Muros Antigos’, Anselmo Mendes

  • 40% Avesso from Baião, 20% Loureiro from the Lima Valley and 20% Alvarinho from Monção e Melgaço
  • Granite subsoils throughout
  • Hand-harvested
  • Fermented with indigenous yeast in tank with a 4-month elevage on the lees
The 2019 Muros Antigos Escolha is a blend of 40% Loureiro, 40% Avesso and 20% Alvarinho, unoaked and notably crisper and lighter than last year’s (1.5 grams of residual sugar, 7.2 grams of total acidity) and 12% alcohol. Each of the grapes comes from the subregions most famous for them—Alvarinho from Monção e Melgaço, Loureiro from Lima and Avesso from Baião. This is where the lineup gets fruity as well as fresh. This is delicious, not merely well constructed. Yet the acidity beautifully lifts the fruit, so it always seems serious. It is long on the finish, a bit tense and chock-full of flavor… this seems pretty fine right now…90 Pts, Mark Squires, Wine Advocate

Loureiro ‘Muros Antigos’, Anselmo Mendes

  • 100% Loureiro from choice, south-facing parcels on granite in the Lima Valley
  • Hand-harvested
  • Fermented with indigenous yeast in tank with a 4-month elevage on the lees
The 2019 Loureiro Muros Antigos Escolha, in bottle about two months when tasted, comes in with 1.5 grams of residual sugar, 6.7 grams of total acidity and 12% alcohol. Continuing a trend, this seems just a bit fresher and crisper than last year’s version. The grapes are all sourced from the Lima Valley, the area most famed for Loureiro… I hate to just keep repeating myself in scoring, but Anselmo is pretty consistent with this bottling…90 Pts, Mark Squires, Wine Advocate

Alvarinho ‘Muros Antigos’, Anselmo Mendes

  • 100% Alvarinho from granitic soils in Monçao e Melgaço
  • Hand-harvested
  • Fermented with indigenous yeast in tank with 4-month elevage on the lees.
The 2019 Alvarinho Muros Antigos comes in at 12.5% alcohol, 6.8 grams of total acidity and 1.7 grams of residual sugar. Sourced mostly from Melgaço, higher altitudes and sandy soils, this is a somewhat nervier version of the 2018… It is impressive, though, how this grips the palate. The long and juicy finish is exceptional for the level. Ultimately, I liked this a lot, even though it is not particularly fleshy. It shows the ability to develop and hold as well… the laser-like focus and crispness will make it a warm-weather star.90 Pts, Mark Squires, Wine Advocate