When Fortunato Garcia talks about his wine, Czar, he retains coming again to at least one phrase: insanity.
Nothing about his undertaking—which his father started on the island of Pico in Portugal’s Azores archipelago within the Sixties—makes a lot sense. The grapes are grown on a tiny volcanic island with a violent local weather in the course of the Atlantic. The wind and the salt don’t let up. The vines are previous, and their yields are tiny. They aren’t trellised however lie on the bottom as a substitute. The winery is a huge maze of black lava-stone partitions, constructed to maintain the vegetation heat. The harvest (performed by hand, naturally) is a serious enterprise.
This wine is aged for a really very long time in previous barrels, and the angels’ share is unusually excessive. After which some years—perhaps half of them—the grapes simply aren’t as much as snuff, after which there’s no classic in any respect. And but he retains doing it. Insanity.
By most methods of it, it’s a undertaking that shouldn’t work. However because the previous wine cliché goes, the tougher the grapes should struggle for his or her survival, the higher the wine tastes. And the extra Garcia persists together with his loopy undertaking, the higher his product.
The title would appear to say one thing in regards to the aspirations of his goal clientele, however in actual fact it’s a nod to Pico’s historical past. The vineyards of Criação Velha (the place Garcia grows his grapes) have been first planted in 1690. In 1797, Pico’s late harvest wine was served at a banquet for the Prince and Grand Grasp of the Sovereign Navy Order of Malta. In 1820, 23,250 liters of Pico’s late harvest have been despatched to Saint Petersburg, dwelling to the richest courtroom on this planet, and practically a century (and a few devastating wine plagues) later, “nice portions” of the stuff have been discovered within the palace cellars of Nicolau II, the final of the czars.
Now Pico wines are making a big-time comeback. However Garcia’s Czar is one thing sublimely completely different. It’s additionally unclassifiable. Maybe insanity—loucura—is nearly as good a phrase as any.
The opposite phrase that retains developing is licoroso, a kind of famously untranslatable Portuguese phrases. Possibly it may very well be liquor-ish? The wine isn’t fortified however it has a naturally excessive alcohol content material (round 18%), giving it depth and complexity, one thing fascinating.
Once I ask Garcia how he explains it in English, he throws up his palms. “Some folks name it a dessert wine,” he says, however he disagrees as a result of it’s not all that candy and will be loved as an aperitif or with a meal. “Candy wine” is inaccurate for a similar motive. “Late harvest” is nearer, because the grapes are harvested late, in October once they’re shriveled and candy, however as a wine time period it means one thing particular and completely different. “Raisin wine” sounds extra appetizing in Portuguese.
Anyway, it’s madly tasty.
That is the place I admit I’m not a wine critic. However I used to be lucky sufficient to have the ability to tag together with a number of professionals to pattern the brand new launch, the 2013 reserve. Solely 863 bottles have been produced, and each (minus the one we opened) sells for 490€. It’s a worth that displays the arduous work, low yields and loopy danger. Additionally, each classic is totally completely different from the final—it tastes like its time and its place, in addition to the goals of three generations of loopy dreamers. A part of the worth is the shock.
A kind of professionals described the new release as a fancy and stylish wine with notes of cedar, molasses and marine scents. Within the mouth, he wrote, it’s a ping-pong between caramelized oranges, molasses and raisins, in a register of nice finesse. I don’t disagree.
I might not be a wine critic, however I do know hospitality. And so does Garcia. Which is why (as is so usually the case), nearly as good because the wine tastes within the glass or seems to be within the bottle, it doesn’t examine with going to supply and sipping it with the winemaker himself.
Visiting the Czar vineyard isn’t a very opulent affair. From the skin, it seems to be like a relatively atypical home, surrounded by vineyards with the ocean simply down the hill. Inside, it’s…cluttered. A protracted desk sits within the center. Barrels line two of the partitions, with framed awards and newspaper articles (lots of which characteristic Garcia’s father) propped up in entrance of them. The professionals in my group identified their bylines. It’s a bit tough to flow into with out knocking one thing over. One other wall has bookshelves full of archival bottles, going again to the times (even the Nineties) once they recycled a hodgepodge of leftover wine bottles from native eating places as a substitute of shopping for their very own.
Garcia is relaxed as he hosts his guests, telling them in regards to the historical past of Pico wines and the tribulations of his grapes. He’s additionally a schoolteacher, so you’ll be able to’t simply roll up. However when you make an appointment, he’ll make it value your whereas.
Probably the most accessible is the straightforward tasting: a glass of the 2011 classic plus some snacks, in addition to his time and his tales. But it surely’s foolish to go all that manner and do solely that. Another choice is to purchase a bottle of the 2013 classic (for as much as ten folks), which might be served with Azores cheese that’s been aged greater than 5 years, which has an intriguing complexity all its personal.
Better of all is letting him prepare dinner you lunch. Garcia makes a imply caldeirada (Portuguese fish stew), with beneficiant lashings of Czar within the broth, plus a bottle of Czar for the group, in addition to some uncommon desk wines. It’s an expertise to recollect. The way you describe it while you get house is as much as you.