Wine review: stinky Portuguese red from Luis Pato in Bairrada

Wine review: stinky Portuguese red from Luis Pato in Bairrada

Luís Pato – or “The Duck Guy” as I’ve come to think of him – is a solid Portuguese producer from Bairrada. He has been on the forefront of championing Portugal’s native grapes, like Baga, and focusing on quality over quantity. (Baga is a high-yielding grape so it has been used commonly for cheap bulk Portuguese wine.) I first discovered Luís Pato way back in the old days at deVine, circa 2006 or sometime around then. (Given that 2019 now feels like it was 50 years ago, the early 00s seem like a mythical era lost in the mists of time.)

It was almost certainly the first time I’d tried Baga, a native Portuguese varietal that I think of as the Nebbiolo of Portugal, not because it bears much resemblance to that grape (although Baga is pretty tannic, like Neb), but because what it gives you on the nose is totally different than what appears on the palate. In the same way that Nebbiolo floats like a butterfly with its ephemeral rose petal aromas and then stings like a bee with a tannin-punch to the tongue, Baga packs a wallop of earthy stank on the nose and then side-steps down a waterslide of vibrant acidity that ends in a gravel pit of grippy tannin. So like a vinous trip to the WEM waterpark, basically.

I’ve read that some Bagas are really fruit-forward, but my experience with this grape is that it’s pretty stinky – lots of funky earthy aromas with an undercurrent of plummy fruit. It’s also quite tannic when made as a single varietal wine, like Nebbiolo. As Google has just shown me, apparently I’m not the first person to make that connection between Baga and Neb, though I swear I came up with it on my own! You have to like earthy wines to drink Baga, and you should almost certainly have it with food. This is not a wine you want to break out on a Saturday afternoon when you just want to have a sip of something fun. 

a bottle of Luis Pato Baga Touriga Nacional
obligatory bottle shot: Luis Pato Baga Touriga Nacional 2015

This particular example of Baga – the Luís Pato Baga-Touriga Nacional 2015 – has a big dose of Touriga Nacional (aka Portugal’s king grape) to round things out and soften up the tannins. It’s a light/medium-bodied wine that emphasizes early drinking (as in bottle age, not the time of day or age of the consumer) and food friendliness, as opposed to Baga’s usual demand of “put me in the cellar and leave me there for 10 years.”

This wine reminded me a bit of American hybrid varietals like Baco Noir. It has that same wild animal aroma that I like to think is what a damp fox would smell like, not that I’ve had the opportunity to sniff a soggy vixen. (Not the animal variety, anyway.)

The Luís Pato Baga-Touriga Nacional is a fairly simple wine with some earthy tones to keep things interesting and a spritely, high-acid palate that wants to party with some kind of roasted wild meat. I paired it with venison sausage; not bad for a snowy Monday evening.

Name: Luís Pato Baga Touriga Nacional
Vintage: 2015
Region: Bairrada, Portugal
Grape: 60% Baga, 40% Touriga Nacional
Taste: stinky barnyard, wild animal, plummy fruit
Texture: slip-slide acidity with a firm tannic underpinning 
Rating: yes for meaty meals, no for casual sipping

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