Do you need to pay a lot for good wine? Quinta do Monte d’Orio will let you know (updated in March 2019)

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on 07 May 2018
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In today's article, I want to share my opinion about the question: Does one outstanding wine really cost that much?

Based on my experience, I say: yes. You can buy wine at every discount market, but is it good wine? Probably not. The expression “good” means “quality”, and high-grade wine should cost more money. Good wine is the result of the use of specific methods for vine growth and the production and ageing of wine, the use of high-quality materials (for example, new oak barrels and natural cork stoppers), the work of talented winemakers, and the prestige of a brand/winery.

The Holy Grail is finding a good bottle of wine for under €5. I’m not just talking about a wine that is drinkable, I’m talking about a wine that you genuinely enjoy, and that you want to drink over and over again. The problem is, for the most part, wines under €5 tend to be non-oaked or over-oaked, to be over-sugared, or simply taste like something that was mass-produced – which it probably was if it ended up in the "under €5 section" of the store.

Consequently, very cheap wine can't be good. Cheapness is a signal of low quality. The production costs of an inexpensive wine stem from cost reductions throughout the entire process of vine growth and wine production. In fact, cheap wine is probably full of sugar and contains the minimum amount of grapes necessary to place the name of the famous region on the label.

For instance, let's have a look at the situation in the UK that will clear up this matter. With the recent announcement of the UK budget, tariffs on spirits, beer and cider will be frozen, but wine will rise with inflation on 1 February 2019 to £2.23 per bottle! Given the average selling price of £5.39 per bottle of wine in the UK, only 53p pays for the wine itself. Not only will you get better quality for your money if you spend more, but this value also rises much faster with the bottle price. When it comes to the £20 bottle of wine, the quality of the wine increases 23 times, although it is four times the amount of £5 bottles.

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Of course, exceptions to this rule exist. Sometimes we find diamonds in the rough. Some great bottles under €5 are wonderful to drink, and are made with care and quality. As I mentioned in my first post, in Portugal you can buy awesome reds or whites for under €5. In 2016, the American magazine “Wine Spectator” published a ranking of the 100 best wines in the world. Each year, “Wine Spectator” editors survey the wines the magazine has reviewed over the previous 12 months and select the “Top 100” based on quality, value, availability and excitement. This annual list honours successful wineries, regions and vintages from around the world. In 2016 four Portuguese wines earned a place on the list; among them, Quinta de Cabriz 2014 (from the Dão region) was number 46 and cost an unbelievable €3,99! However, this phenomenon is uncommon.

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As for the whites the big players are Encruzado which are delicate with complex aromas. On occasion they can be a bit rough in a dynamic and pleasing way. My opinion is that this grape is a huge monster ready to be unleashed upon the wine world. When oaked to the right degree it is similar to a costly California oaked Chardonnay. I have had some oaked varieties under €5 that can kick ass with $40 Chardonnays - Robert Stephen, food and drink writer, wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators in Washington, DC Click to Tweet

You can find white wines that are cheaper. Many white wines never see oak and spend very little time from grape to glass, compared to reds that can age for years. Therefore, you’re much more likely to find a quality white wine for under €5, especially if you’re looking for something light, bright and refreshing. The wine is cheaper because you aren’t paying for the cost of the time it took to make the wine. Someone has to help cover the cost of that cellar.

Let’s go back to the main question: Why should we pay more for good wine? To clarify that matter, I asked some experts, from partnership wineries. They know what they’re talking about! Let’s consider the example of Quinta do Monte d’Orio, which is one of the best Portuguese wineries without an assortment of cheap wines. There's no compromise between cost and quality! They produce only good wines. Why?

Monte d’Oiro translates to “Mountain of gold” and refers to the golden colour taken on in the early evening by the hills on which many of the vineyards grow. The vineyard is in the Alenquer sub-region, with the Atlantic 20 km to the west and Lisbon 50 km to the south. The climate is a Mediterranean one, with the moderating influences of cool breezes. The area is quite windy. The combination of a lime and clay soil, a Mediterranean microclimate with an Atlantic freshness, and a permanently blowing wind, creates the unique conditions for grapes that have a moderate alcohol level, natural acidity and smooth tannins.

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This is the project of José Bento dos Santos, a metal dealer who fell in love with food and wine. Mr Bento dos Santos had always a strong bond with wine, which he inherited from his father. Throughout his career as a chemical engineer and metal trader, he had the opportunity to visit some of the best producers in the world and to taste some of the most exquisite and iconic wines. He bought the Monte d’Oiro estate and planted it chiefly with Rhône varieties, especially Syrah, Viognier and Marsanne. Find out more about Mr Bento dos Santos from this unputdownable interview

Take a look at the beautiful landscape around Quinta do Monte dOiro view of the mountain Serra de Montejunto.

We have two lungs and two kidneys, but only one liver. You cannot destroy it drinking ordinary wines, so these days I am very select about the quality of the wines I drink and, for me, a great meal is one wine and one dish - José Bento dos Santos, founder of Quinta do Monte d'Oiro winery Click to Tweet

QMdO José Bento dos Santos and son Francisco

Now, what affects the price of a good wine?

1. Winemaker
Graça Gonçalves winemaker
The resident winemaker is Graça Gonçalves, a specialist in many areas as well as one of the most prominent and influential winemakers in Portugal. She is among the "Top 10" famous Portuguese female winemakers. She has been working for Quinta do Monte d'Oiro for the last 10 years, overseeing the process of converting the estate from a conventional to an organically certified vineyard. She counted on the support of Gregory Viennois, former head winemaker at Maison Chapoutier (Cote du Rhone, France) and actual technical director at Domaine Laroche in Chablis, who is still the wine consultant and part of the team. He is at the vineyard quite a bit and takes an active role in creating premium wines.

Wine is roughly 14 percent alcohol and 85 percent water, so there is only one percent for the fruits of the vine to create emotion - Graça Gonçalves, winemaker of Quinta do Monte d'Oiro Click to Tweet

2. Grapevine cultivation
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The whole area of the vineyards (20 hectares) has been certified organic since 2015; that is, all the grapes grown at Quinta do Monte d'Oiro are organically certified. It was a long process of conversion that began in 2006 with a strong investment in mechanical means to eliminate the use of pesticides and herbicides, as well as hard work on the soil to return it to a lively structure.

The winery produces around 80.000 bottles, mainly from Syrah for the reds and Viognier for the whites. It also produces wines from other varieties, such as Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Petit Verdot for the reds and Arinto and Marsanne for the whites.

3. Level of sulphites
sulphites levels in wine
European and Portuguese maximum levels for sulphites are the same: 160 mg/l for red wines and 210 mg/l for white and rosé wines.

Quinta do Monte d'Oiro’s level of sulphites can vary from one year to another but are usually below 100 mg/l for reds and below 150 mg/l for whites and rosé.

The term “sulphites” is an inclusive term for sulphur dioxide (SO2), a preservative widely used in winemaking (and most food industries) for its antioxidant and antibacterial properties. SO2 plays an important role in preventing oxidization and maintaining a wine's freshness. Wines without any SO2 generally have a shorter shelf life – about six months – and must be kept in perfect storage conditions. Given that a winemaker has very little control over the wine's storage conditions from the time the wine leaves the winery until its consumption, it is little wonder that SO2 is so widely used to help guarantee that the bottle of wine you open will be fresh and clean, and taste as the winemaker intended.

While the figures I have stated are the maximum SO2 levels, my discussions with many winemakers over the years would lead one to believe that, in practice, sulphite levels are generally well below the maximum permitted limits. This is the case with Quinta do Monte d'Oiro.

4. Natural cork stoppers
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Natural cork enables the wine to “breathe” and breathing allows the wine to age and gain complexity. However, cork is much more expensive than cork alternatives such as screw caps. For quick consumption and cheap wines, screw caps (or even plastic corks) have become the choice of many producers.

Did you know that Portugal is a leader in the manufacture of natural cork? Portugal accounts for about 55% of the world’s cork production; Spain provides about 30%, and other countries (including Algeria, France, Italy, Morocco and Tunisia) account for the remaining 15%. The next time you remove a cork from a bottle of wine, take a moment to appreciate it. You hold in your hands a natural, biodegradable, renewable object. Its use also protects the environment. What more could you ask for from a tree?

Still don’t believe that a natural cork stopper wins out over a screw cap? The "Times of London" reported that two bottles of wine were discovered in the rubble of a London building destroyed in 1682. The cork of one had decayed, and the wine inside had turned to vinegar. The other cork, held in place by wire and wax, had maintained a perfect seal. At a special wine tasting staged by the Museum of London, wine experts sampled some of the centuries-old libation, which was drawn from the bottle with a syringe. They concluded that it was likely a dry Madeira, and they pronounced its taste “fresh, clean, lively and well-balanced”.

I have seen corks removed from bottles that were over a hundred years old, and the wine had been effectively preserved! Cork is the ideal stopper - Miguel Elena, Institute of Cork, Spain Click to Tweet

5. New oak barrels
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A French oak barrel of 225L costs around €800€ - €1000, depending on the producer. Why?

The most highly valued barrels start life in the oak forests of France. Because of the quality and abundance of the timber, about 45% of all wine barrels are made in that country. After lumberjacks fell trees that are between 100 and 200 years old, a mill saws them into logs and splits them carefully along the grain, producing rough boards called staves. The staves must weather from one to four years before a cooper will use them.

Oak is the only timber that has both the strength to make sturdy barrels and the ability to improve the flavour of the wine. As wine ages in a barrel, the vessel acts like a lung. Oxygen slowly seeps through the timber into the barrel, causing the wine to oxidise. This process stabilizes the wine’s colour and softens its flavour. Meanwhile, the barrel transpires alcohol and water, which evaporate into the atmosphere. The lees, or yeast sediment, settle to the bottom of the barrel, and sugars and tannins from the oak slowly leach into the wine, imparting their distinctive flavour characteristics. Depending on the style of wine, the batch may be aged in the barrel for 18 months or more before bottling. All these options for American and French oak barrels – the type of oak used, the toast level, and the amount of time the wine is kept in the barrel – are like a winemaker’s spice rack, allowing him to alter the flavour of the final product.

The next time you enjoy a glass of quality red wine, contemplate not only the time and effort that went into producing the wine but also the skill involved in building the barrel that nurtured the vintage Click to Tweet

6. Prestige of a brand/winery
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Quinta do Monte d'Oiro’s wines have received international recognition, collecting up to 94 points in “Wine Enthusiast magazine” and up to 95 points in the ranking of Robert Parker. In March 2018 the reds QMdO RESERVA 2013 and QMdO SYRAH 24 (2013) won the Portuguese award “The best wines of 2017” from "Grandes Escolhas" magazine. Wines from Quinta do Monte d'Oiro have an organic splendour.

Many thanks to Sophie Mjeren, a sales manager of #QMdO. She is a really nice person and subject matter expert!

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Well, what do you think? Do you need to pay more for a good wine? Definitely, yes. A good wine is rare and often manufactured in limited editions. It is grown in organically clean soil, is carefully prepare by an “on-the-ball” winemaker with only the necessary quantity of sulphites, and is made using natural resources such as oak barrels and cork stoppers.

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Madeline Puckette, who is an influential wine blogger and a certified sommelier, has a similar view on this matter. In the video below, she presents a comparison of wines of the Merlot grape variety. What are the real differences between a $7 wine and a $75 wine? This cheap vs expensive wine taste test delivers some sweet berry knowledge that's going to change your approach to what wine to choose.

If you love oaky wines you should expect to spend more on a bottle of wine - Madeline Puckette, Click to Tweet

I wait for your comments, as well as through social networks @myPortugalWines and LinkedIN.


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