Knowing that its importer labels Aphros as “Gods of the Foam,” or that today’s offer is the greatest sparkling Portuguese value I’ve ever tasted by a long shot, still won’t justify its $25 price point to most of you. And yet, despite the glowing praise, I have a feeling it still isn’t enough to entice you either, and a lot of that blame is on us: When it comes to sparkling wines, week in and week out, our subscribership is entrenched in Champagne, and while we occasionally highlight other regions, their immediate appeal and desirability seem to fall short.
Today’s offer will turn that all around. This sensational bottle of Aphros is light years ahead of its Portuguese neighbors and on par with the greatest pioneering minds in Champagne. Quite a shocking statement even I would struggle to believe had I not witnessed it for myself: At Aphros, located in the northern Minho region of Portugal (Spain’s Rías Baixas is just across the border), pure, biodynamic practices are paramount, along with extended lees contact, single-variety expression, and a low dosage. Sound familiar? Like the new wave of trendy Champagne producers that are charging two, three, even five times the amount of today’s wine? Well, other than grape of choice, terroir, and their hard-to-believe low price, the similarities are striking!
Before I left for Portugal last year, a close friend of mine said, “Make sure you go to Aphros—just trust me.” It ended up being the highlight of my trip, and there will forever be one scene that remains firmly planted in my memory. As we wound up one of many verdant valleys deep in the heart of Vinho Verde, a centuries-old, church-like quinta came into view and we pumped the brakes to absorb the view. Little did we know that that very building was our destination! Turns out, it was one of several historic buildings owner Vasco Croft was utilizing to produce his trendsetting biodynamic wines. He truly is a leader in the Portuguese ‘natural’ movement, which was made vividly clear as we toured wildly lush vineyards with grazing animals, a room dedicated to biodynamic treatments, and a dark “medieval” cellar with only a few watts of electricity. In short, they craft natural, old-school wine—like in the days before industry.
Now let’s highlight the grape of choice in Aphros’ Reserva Bruto: Loureiro. Racy, citrusy, ebullient wines typically emerge from this variety, which is the most planted grape in Vinho Verde. I’m sure most of you think of Vinho Verde as a spritzy, somewhat insipid quaffer, but you can erase those notions with Aphros. This is a FULLY sparkling wine, crafted by experts in the vineyard and cellar, that undergoes the traditional method à la Champagne. After hand harvesting in mid September of 2014, the Loureiro crop saw a short maceration before a delicate pressing and four months of aging on lees following alcoholic fermentation. The wine was then transferred into bottle, where it underwent its second fermentation (méthode champenoise) and aged for 16 additional months on lees. It was then disgorged and dosed with a light ~5 grams per liter. Less than 500 cases were produced.
After releasing the cork with a soft sigh, Aphros’ “Reserva Bruto,” made from 100% Loureiro, reveals an impressive deep yellow hue with soft accents of silver. From color to nose to palate, it’s all very reminiscent of a vintage Champagne. Aromas of yellow apples, acacia, Meyer lemon, lime blossoms, freshly cut Anjou pear, buttered bread, and honeysuckle pour out of the glass and only continues enhancing as the wine opens up. The palate is broad, creamy, and stunningly textured, which, again, pushes you out of Portugal, past Spain, and into the realm of Champagne. Ripe yellow fruits and piquant citrus play into the wine’s nutty accents and superabundant freshness, which wonderfully highlights the rock/oyster shell minerality on the finish. This wine is the real deal, and for $25, it is impossible to pass up. It will, without hesitation, stand up to far-more expensive Champagne labels and delight anyone who considers him/herself a sparkling wine connoisseur. Pour into all-purpose stems around a steady 50-degree drinking temperature and serve alongside seafood—Aphros is only 20 miles from the ocean, after all! Check out the attached recipe for mussels in a rich cream sauce for a delightful experience, and be sure to also have a bottle of champagne beside Aphros. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the close comparisons. Cheers!