Quinta da Serradinha Baga 2013

Photo by Mike Healan.

Photo by Mike Healan.

If you know your Portuguese wine appellations, you surely are familiar with Encostas d’Aire, right? If not, don’t worry. Most wine drinkers — even in Lisbon, just an hour and a half to the south — have never heard of it either. To be fair, most of the wine made today in Encostas d’Aire is entirely forgettable, but it has a long history and some terrific terroir of rolling clay-limestone hills separated from the Atlantic by a ribbon of forest.

It is here, near the small city of Leiria, that you will find António Marques da Cruz, the fifth- generation winemaker at his family’s estate, Quinta da Serradinha. The estate, and particularly António, have long marched to their own beat.

The estate has been farmed organically since 1994, when practically no one else in the country was doing so. In the nineties, when every other Portuguese winemaker was rapidly adopting new technology to make soft, fruit-forward wines, Serradinha’s wines featured firm tannins, high acidity, and often a bit of rustic “farmy-ness.” They were an acquired taste that few people were acquiring any more.

The vintage was only recently released, at six years of age; António told me that he simply didn’t think the wine was ready until now. Time has been kind…

António cares deeply about history and legacy, and his winemaking is deliberately old-fashioned. In modern winemaking, time is money, and there is a tendency to rush things. Winemakers aim for quick, reliable fermentations, short macerations to preserve fruitiness, bottling as soon as the wine is stable, and getting the product to market ASAP.

This is often the case even in the world of natural wine, where the current fashion is for light, “crushable” wines to be drunk young, and where micro-producers operating on a shoestring budget can’t afford to hold wine back for maturation. As an old wine pro once said to me, too many of the currently fashionable natural wines taste “raw and unfinished.”

At Serradinha, time is treated as a crucial part of the process. The macerations are relatively long, there are no technological shortcuts, and the wines are allowed to develop and breathe over several years in large oak barrels and in bottle.

The 2013 Baga is a good example of this approach. The vintage was only recently released, at six years of age; António told me that he simply didn’t think the wine was ready until now. Time has been kind: it has tamed the tannic bite that is a hallmark of the Baga grape, and complex, savory, smoky flavors have moved into the foreground.

This is a wine to enjoy with earthy, meaty dishes. Mushrooms with smoked paprika would be a great match. So would chouriço and roasted potatoes. And as good as it is now, it will be even better in a few more years – if you’ve got the time.