João BarbosaJoão Barbosa

Agricultural Society Theodosius João M Barbosa

& Sons Ltd

Alto do serra 2040-063

Rio Maior 

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João Barbosa is one of the few Portugues producers I’ve met who understands classic

wine styles from Sancerre, Burgundy, The Rhone and their New World equivalents. His two Sauvignon Blancs are easily among the most compelling I’ve tasted in Portugal.

barbosa's Ninfa vineyard from sideHe has come a long way. João first apprenticed in his family’s large old winery in Rio Maior, which introduced bag-in-box to Portugal in 1984. Leaving in 1991 to seek his own fortune in another business, he went on to produce 19 million litres of wine for supermarkets. After selling that business, he’s settled down to a more modest 2 million litres a year.

Now he splits his time between quintas in Alentejo’s high country and Tejo.  But it’s clear the Rio Maior vineyard is the love of his life. He returned there specifically to grow on a site his grandfather remembered as producing the ‘best white wine in the region.’ Free of debt and full of knowledge, Joao now has that same potential.

Rio Maior basin from upper Ninfa slopesHis impressive modern adega looks like something from Napa or Mendoza or Barossa. Gravity fed, it is kitted out with the best gear a small artisanal winery could want. But not everything is new. The carved wooden face of an old 10,000 litre barrel hangs on the wall. Deepening the wedding of past to future, his wines are named after a marble statue found at the local Roman villa, Ninfa Fontenária de Rio Maior.

Six hectares of vineyard straddle the slopes below the adega. Barbosa only growsgrapes he likes: five reds, Aragonez, Touriga Nacional, Pinot Noir, Syrah, and a white, sauvignon blanc. He is planting Baga, Touriga Franca, Afrocheiro, Barroca, and Trincadeira to see what their potential is in Tejo, with high hopes for all.

First exposed to South African Syrah in 1984, he pledged he would make his own syrah someday. After analyzing his soil, he found active calcario, and planted Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, two other grapes that thrive in limestone in their native French regions.

Ninfa vineyard's active limestone slopesBy Portuguese standards these wines aren’t cheap, but they are both interesting and stylish, all showing focused attention to quality. I’m normally not a fan of French grapes grown in Portugal, but the sauvignons here are very good, with Syrah and Pinot needed more vine age to show their potential. I admire Barbosa’s willingness to pull in grapes from other regions that might suit his local terroir and climate. Baga and Alfrocheiro should deliver something special eventually. In the cases where Barbosa has blended Portuguese and French varieties there seems to have been a degree or foresight into marrying assets to liabilities intent on creating something greater than its parts.

Ninfa Sauvignon Blanc 2011 is finely textured stainless steel fermented style with beautifully balancing acidity. Aromas are textbook sauvignon: subtle fresh aloe vera and green olive notes without a hint of overt, grassy unripe herbal characters.

 

Ninfa Escolha 2011 is barrel fermented in neutral 2nd year oak. Slightly nutty, fresh green bean aromas and concentrated flavors slide through an ultra slick texture that tapers off into a long, fine melt-away finish.

Ninfa espumante is a ‘blanc du noir’ from 100% Pinot Noir. It offers respectable malty, biscuity, vitamin-B driven ‘autolytic’ characters derived from 1.5 years contact with yeast lees. Pricy, but classy bubbles.  

Ninfa Single Vineyard 2007 is a smart marriage of Touriga Nacional, Syrah and Aragonez. This wine is all about florals and roasted red fruit aromas, silky polished textures and fine tannins.

Ninfa Touriga Nacional and Syrah 2010 is a peppery mix of red and black fruit characters, firm dusty tannins, good flavor length and super aging potential.

Nifa Escholha 2009. A barrel fermented blend of Touriga Nacional, Syrah and Aragonez, with a touch of funky, reductive gun powder and red fruit aromas, terrific fruit depth, grippy tannins and firm acidity. It needs further cellaring but will reward in time.