Lima Valley in the north of Portugal is the birthplace of Loureiro – the wonderful white grape of Vinho Verde with the scent of laurel leaves. “Lima Valley has the best terroir for Loureiro” Dirk Niepoort once told me. He gets Luis Cerdeira of Soalheiro in Melgaço to make him an excellent varietal Loureiro called Dócil which I buy every vintage of. Unlike the rest of Vinho Verde where the soils are mainly granite, the schist based terroir of the Lima Valley produces finer, more aromatic wines.
Adega Ponte de Lima, founded in 1959 is one of the biggest wine producers in the Minho. The cooperative represents 2000 growers and has an annual output of eleven and a half million litres of wine. I met Rita, one of the winemakers of the Adega at the annual Vinho Verde tasting in London last April. “Come and see us when you are in the Minho next. I will arrange a tasting and a dinner for you in Ponte de Lima” she said.
Adega Ponte de Lima is massive. The sprawling site has an administrative building and a winery for white wines and another for red wines on the other side of the road. We drove there in the late afternoon from Palácio da Brejoeira. Rita met us introduced us to the directer or the cooperative and gave a quick tour of the winery before driving the short distance to the historic centre of Ponte de Lima for the tasting.
Ponte de Lima is a pretty place. It is a dignified and handsomely restored market town by the Lima River. It is said to be the oldest town in Portugal. “When the Romans first passed through here, the soldiers were convinced that Lima River was the River Lethe – the mythical river of oblivion – and that if they crossed it they would forget everything. It was only after their leader, Decimus Junius Brutus, plunged ahead and shouted back his legionaries names that they braved the waters. The Ponte Romana after which the town is named – part of the Roman road from Braga to Astorga in Spain – supposedly marks the very spot.”
We walked along Passeio de 25 Abril towards the Roman Bridge. A row of statues representing Roman legionaries stood at the edge of the river and the lone figure of their commander was on the opposite bank. Two crenellated towers, Torre da Cadeia Velha and Torre da Sao Paulo – part of the 14th century fortifications of Ponte de Lima – faced the river. Largo de Camoes – a pretty little square with a fountain at the Ponte de Lima end of the Roman Bridge – was the perfect spot to sit in the evening sun and sip coffee listening to soft, piped music.
We crossed the Roman Bridge to Arcozelo where the tasting was going to be. The bridge actually dates from the 14th century, when the original Roman Bridge was rebuilt and extended. Apart from the road surface, the segment on the north bank is original Roman work. The road leads on to the Spanish border and is part of the Camino de Santiago pilgrim way. The little Igreja Santo Antonio sits at the end of the bridge.
They were ready for us at Petiscas restaurant in Arcozelo. The table was laid and the wines chilled. Rita talked through them before and during the traditional Minho dinner.
- Vinho Verde Branco 2015: Loureiro, Trajadura and Arinto, 11%
- Vinho Verde Adamado 2015: Loureiro, Trajadura and Arinto,10%
- Vinho Verde Rose 2015: Vinhao, Borracal and Espadeiro, 10.5%
- Vinho Verde Loureiro 2015: Loureiro, 11%
- Vinho Verde Loureiro Trajadura Grande Escolha 2015: Loureiro and Trajedura, 11.5%
- Vinho Verde Loureiro Colheita Seleccionada 2015: Loureiro, 12%
- Vinho Verde Vinhao 2015: Vinhao, 10.5%
- Aguardente Velha: 40%
Vinho Verde is not what it used to be – thin, acidic and lacking fruit. Today, with sophisticated winemaking, it has become an aromatic, fruit laden and balanced wine which is a delight. Barrel fermentation and careful oak ageing in good hands produce wines of Burgundian quality. Despite production in an industrial scale, the wines of Adega Ponte de Lima were well made and pleasant to drink. The basic wines had high residual sugar levels (8.5 to 15g/l) but the better quality wines had sugar levels well under 4 g/l.
It was late when we left Petiscas. Outside, the coach was waiting. Rita walked back over the bridge to brightly lit Ponte de Lima and we drove home to Paco de Calheiros. It’s been a long day.
Adega Ponte de Lima
Rua Conde Bertiandos
4990-078 Ponte de Lima
Tel.: +351 258 909 700
Fax: +351 258 909 709