José Maria da Fonseca Setúbal Moscatel Roxo DOC 20 Anos 2016
Author: Vasily Prytkov
Wine: José Maria da Fonseca Setúbal Moscatel Roxo DOC 20 Anos
Wine region: Setubal Peninsula, Portugal
Type: fortified dessert Moscatel
Classification: DOС Moscatel Roxo
Grape variety: 100% Moscatel Roxo
Vintage: a blend of 4 vintages aged 23 to 80 years
Bottle volume: 0.5 l
Alcohol content: 18%
Acidity: 5.7 gr/l (pH 3.5)
Residual sugar 217.8 gr/l
Production volume: 4K bottles annually
Recommended serving temperature: 16 °С
Development potential: does not develop in the bottle
Storage potential: exceptionally long
Dear friends, in this issue, the wine from our Single Bottle History section fully reflects the spirit of the name. It is not only a well-aged wine made from a blend of different fortified vintages of the rare Moscatel Roxo variety (the oldest of which is 80 years old). Indeed, it is first and foremost the top wine of the famous José Maria da Fonseca, the founder of which, legendary winemaker José Maria da Fonseca, was a true trendsetter who in the first half of the 19th century took Portuguese wines to a new level.
Today, this family company is run by its sixth and seventh generations, who manage the business and make their own wine under the direction of Domingos Soares Franco, one of Portugal’s most respected winemakers.
The Setubal wine region
José Maria da Fonseca Setúbal Moscatel Roxo DOC 20 Anos is a unique dessert wine made on the Setubal Peninsula to the south of Lisbon. The coast is the most appealing tourist area of the peninsula: it is a favorite weekend getaway for Lisbon citizens with its country houses, beaches, golf courses and the picturesque wooded hills of the Serra da Arrabidá national park rising above the Atlantic coast.
Picturesque meadows with pastures for sheep whose milk is used to make the wonderfully delicious Azeitão cheese (Queijo Azeitão DOP) are nestled in the wooded hills of Arrabida. Vineyards with different Muscat (Moscatel) varieties also call this area home. This grape is used to produce one of the world’s most famous and respected Portuguese wines: fortified Moscatel.
Peering into the depths of the centuries, we notice that in ancient times, the Setubal peninsula was the first region in Portugal where people discovered wine. The peninsula and its nearby territories were inhabited by the Celtiberians, a unique mix of Celts and the native local Iberian population. In the 7th century BC, Phoenician merchants arrived to these areas by the Mediterranean Sea to trade local bronze for various goods, including Muscat wine and olive oil (shipped in amphorae). The Celtic people deserve an A+ for how well they learned their lesson: today, it is hard to imagine Portugal without olive oil and Moscatel, and amphorae winemaking is still a popular technology.
The Setubal Peninsula has an excellent climate for the production of fortified Muscat wines. Under the influence of the Atlantic Ocean and Sado and Tejo rivers, the climate is Mediterranean with many dry and sunny days in summers. Towards the end of summer, it frequently rains at nights, and winters are quite warm without heavy rain. The majority of the peninsula has flat and sandy soil.
The Serra da Arrabidá slopes on the southern coast where various Muscat grapes are grown are an exception. The limestone and clay-limestone soil of Arrabida is an ideal environment to cultivate Muscat. Its climate also varies from what is common for the region in general, with chilly winters and higher precipitation due to its elevation and proximity to the sea. All this combined with limestone soil give Muscat grapes everything they need to thrive.
Classification of Setubal wines
Setubal Moscatels are classified as Setúbal DOC (or DOP) if they contain at least 67% Moscatel de Setúbal or any other rare and unique Muscat variety, such as red Moscatel Roxo, which is used to make José Maria da Fonseca Setúbal Moscatel Roxo DOC 20 Anos.
These varieties are grown in the limestone soil of Serra da Arrabidá. Apart from the mentioned varieties, Moscatels Setúbal DOC can contain up to 33% white Antão Vaz, Arinto, Fernão Pires, Malvasia Fina, Moscatel Galego Branco, Rabo de Ovelha, Roupeiro Branco, Verdelho and Viosinho for wines based on the Moscatel de Setubal grape. Setúbal DOC wines based on Moscatel Roxo can contain up to 33% of the following varieties: Aragonez (a.k.a. Aragonez and Tinta Roriz), Bastardo, Castelão, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira.
There is also a special category of premium Moscatels, which includes José Maria da Fonseca Setúbal Moscatel Roxo DOC 20 Anos. These wines do not qualify for the first category of Setúbal DOC due to a high percentage of the main variety (not less than 85%). In this case, the variety is denoted on the bottle and the wines are classified as Moscatel de Setúbal DOC and Moscatel Roxo DOC. José Maria da Fonseca Setúbal Moscatel Roxo DOC 20 Anos is made from 100% Moscatel Roxo.
Dry wines are also produced on Setubal and divided into two categories: Palmela DOP (mostly dry red wines from the Castelão variety) and VR Península de Setúbal (regional wines in different styles including from international varieties). Palmela DOP white wines are dry and fresh with a predominance of Fernão Pires and Moscatel de Setúbal.
José Maria da Fonseca bought his first Setubal property in the 1820’s. In 1834, he founded a winemaking company and began making wine. In 1849, Moscatel de Setúbal won Grand Prix at a show in Paris. Although history attests to the fact Moscatels were supplied from Setubal to England back in 1381, the modern standard of excellence for Moscatel de Setúbal wines was set by José Maria da Fonseca.
José Maria da Fonseca is known for making the first bottled red wine in Portugal. It was Cova da Periquita from the Castelão variety, the rootstock of which José Maria da Fonseca brought himself from the neighboring region of Ribatejo. The exact production date of the first bottle is unknown; the only known fact is that in 1850, the company was already producing wine. Periquita wines are still a part of the company’s assortment.
Since its foundation, the company has had a custom of investing in new production methods and combining innovation with tradition. For example, the José de Sousa winery, which is located in the Alentejo region and owned by a parent company, combines traditional production methods of aging wine in clay amphorae with a number of innovative technologies.
Nowadays, the company is run by the descendants of José Maria da Fonseca and the company’s leading winemaker Domingos Soares Franco (from the sixth generation), who supports the company’s reputation as an arbiter in the sphere of Portuguese winemaking. His experimental wines are included in the special Domingos Soares Franco Private Collection.
Today, José Maria da Fonseca is the oldest and one of the largest winemakers of Portugal producing dry wines, Ports and Moscatels. The company owns a total of 650 hectares of vineyards in different regions of Portugal: Vinho Verde, Douro, Dão, Alentejo and Setubal.
Its production assortment includes over 30 wines. The company exports its wines to more than 70 countries, with an export share reaching 75%. In Moscow, José Maria da Fonseca wines are available at the Palais Royal wine boutique, Winehelp store and Wine Style chain.
Domingos Soares Franco studied in Davis, California, and started his career at José Maria da Fonseca in the 1980’s. Since then, he has introduced a number of changes to the winemaking process and became one of the most innovative new-generation winemakers in Portugal. His father, Fernando Soares Franco, was the first to influence Domingos as a winemaker, and is also the namesake of the company’s modern winemaking complex.
Among his many achievements, he was also the author of José Maria da Fonseca Lancers, one of the most famous Portuguese wines and the first international bestseller of José Maria da Fonseca.
The Fernando Soares Franco winemaking complex
In a testament to its commitment to combine innovation with tradition, the José Maria da Fonseca company began construction of a new ultra-modern wine production complex in 1999. The Fernando Soares Franco winery (named after the father of the company’s current winemaker) was opened on September 14, 2001 by the President of Portugal, Jorge Fernando Branco de Sampaio.
The winemaking complex is included in the world’s top 50. At 9,000 square meters and with 513 tanks of various sizes, its annual production capacity is 6.5 million liters. Production is fully automated, where cutting-edge technologies co-exist with such traditional methods as old vertical wooden presses dating back to the start of the previous century.
According to some researchers, Muscat is the world’s oldest grape and the basis for all modern varieties of Vitis Vinifera (the common grape vine). No matter how you look at it, this is an ancient variety with rootstock brought to the continent long before the Common Era. It is related to the East-Mediterranean group of grapes, with the Muscat of Alexandria as its oldest variety. In Portugal, it is called Moscatel de Setúbal (the Setubal Peninsula was the first region where this grape was planted). This variety is easily recognized by its distinct aroma and wide range of flavor notes, from raisins and pear, to flowers, lemon and even litchi.
In the north of Portugal, there is another variety of this grape: Muscat Petits Grains. In Portugal, it is called Muscat Galego Branco, and in France, Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains. The name makes it clear that the berries of this variety are smaller than common Muscat. They are also yellowish green.
The Moscatel Roxo variety (which literally means Purple Muscat, or sometimes Pink Muscat) used for making José Maria da Fonseca Setúbal Moscatel Roxo DOC 20 Anos is the result of a natural genetic mutation of Muscat à Petits Grains. Compared to Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains, the clusters of Moscatel Roxo are even smaller, and their round berries have an exotic red-pink color.
This is an extremely rare grape with very few vines in the Setubal region. This variety is almost extinct, and exists only in a small microzone of Azeitão near Setubal. Moscatel Roxo is used to make wines with complex aromatics, which when aged develop a depth of taste you can hardly expect from a fortified dessert wine. Fortified wines from Moscatel Roxo are sweeter, but at the same time have deeper, «drier» aromatics (compared to Moscatel de Setubal) with an amazingly long aftertaste and balanced acidity.
In 1866, esteemed Portuguese agricultural scientist João Ignacio Ferreira Lapa wrote about Moscatel that «Moscatel Roxo is much like Moscatel de Setubal, though surpasses it with the sweetness and finesse of its aroma. Like many other delicate varieties, it has a low yield and is highly demanding. When aged, the purple color grows paler, similar to Moscatel de Setubal, but this is compensated by the rich aroma and richness of flavor acquired that unfolds on the palate.»
The ratio of vineyards with Moscatel de Setubal and Moscatel Roxo can be most clearly seen by the fact that the production volume of the José Maria da Fonseca Alambre base wine with a minimum aging period from Moscatel de Setubal amounts to 440,000 bottles, and from Moscatel Roxo, only 21,000 bottles. As for 20-year Moscatels, their production volume from Moscatel de Setubal is 14,000 bottles, and only 4000 from Moscatel Roxo.
As for the age of Moscatel Roxo vines in the vineyards of José Maria da Fonseca, the company finds it difficult to provide an exact answer. It is only known that they are over one century old.
Moscatel Roxo is fermented with skins and stopped by adding brandy. Maceration with skins lasts for five months to obtain a richer aroma. After that, the wine is drained and aged for at least 18 months. At this stage, Moscatel de Setubal is yellow with sweet floral and citrus notes. Moscatel Roxo is darker with a rose aroma.
Only a small amount of wine ages for up to 20 years or more. Once reaching true maturity, the wine transform into a dark-colored nectar with a complex and intense aroma featuring notes of nuts and dried fruits, citrus fruits and honey. These wines are among the world’s best fortified Muscats.
José Maria da Fonseca Setúbal Moscatel Roxo DOC 20 Anos 2016 is a blend of 4 vintages, where the youngest wine is 23, and the oldest 80. Each year, a limited number of bottles is produced, never exceeding 4,000. Domingos Soares Franco says that «each time we produce this wine, we try to maintain the same quality we had in past years. Therefore, each new blend has a new composition of different vintages. The idea is to keep the wine’s style unaltered.»
Aging takes place in used oak barrels, as the main result sought is oxidation, not an oaky aroma. This way, the wine stays stable when making its first contact with oxygen. After the bottle is opened, the wine is not oxidized, and can maintain its quality for many years when properly stored.
Amber color with greenish tints; aroma of caramel, orange and spices. Round, fruity and very soft on the palate. Notes of figs, an intense spicy aroma and a very concentrated and fruity palate. A very long aftertaste.
What makes this wine unique? With all its sweetness, it still creates an exceptionally complex, «voluminous» impression thanks to a rare balance of sweetness and acidity, the complexity of its bouquet and flavor notes, from flowery to ripe fruits and something more subtle, ineffable, yet providing for a phenomenal experience. This wine is excellence in a glass.
Enogastronomic pairing and serving recommendations for sommeliers
This is undoubtedly a special occasion wine, and not just because of the price (although at EUR 100 a bottle, the winery is definitely looking to attract some special attention). The fact is that even though it is a sweet wine, it is not entirely a dessert wine: thanks to its complexity, the wine provides much more than your typical aperitif or digestif.
Thus, the sommelier is challenged to break the stereotype claiming Moscatel is strictly a dessert wine. The most appropriate place to introduce this wine is a haute-cuisine restaurant where people seek a special energy over large portions. Here, they are interested in enjoying the moment and experiencing the nuances of taste.
We can present this wine by pairing it with food with a prevailing sweet taste or neutral notes like mascarpone cheese. But in this case, it is not the wine that should accompany food, but the cuisine which should stand up to the complexity of the wine, posing a challenge for the chef. If it is a dessert, its quality should be exceptional and have a moderate sugar content. For instance, Moscatel-baked pears, aged honey of the highest quality or rice pudding with cashews and dried fruits.
This wine is ideal for celebrating a special day or unique event in the closest circle of your family and friends. This wine can be pictured as an accompaniment to a romantic night, where you don’t really want to eat in order not to «dull your feelings.» Or perhaps you’ll prefer not sharing this treasure with anyone, which is also quite understandable!
As for serving temperature, here we have another stereotype worth challenging: Moscatel must be served at 9–12 °С. Keep in mind that this is a complex wine with numerous flavor notes that only open up at 16 °С.
Store horizontally at 12 °С and 60% humidity. In terms of the best-before date, these wines undergo natural oxidation when they age in barrels. As far as the process stops after bottling, the wine does not develop in the bottle. Instead, the wine quality remains intact for many years if properly stored after opening.
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