As you no doubt know, we’ve taken great pleasure over the past ten years in championing unusual grape varieties and growing regions, as well as obscure producers. It’s here you tend to find the axis point of deliciousness and excellent value. The majority of the bottles that I take home definitely fall under this purview. In a retail environment, however, these wines are almost always a ‘hand sell’: what we in the industry call a bottle that usually requires some explanation, or gentle goading, to persuade a customer into trying something so different. Without these conversations, the unusual gems would languish on the rack, collecting dust. My current off-the-beaten-path obsession, fittingly named after the sea-foam from which Aphrodite was born, is Aphros.
Aphros, formerly named Afros, is a biodynamic estate based in the Vinho Verde DO’s Lima sub-region, in Northern Portugal. Vasco Croft started the estate in 2003 using land that has been in his family since the mid-17th century. Croft and his team truly believe that great wine starts in the vineyard; they eschew synthetic chemicals and administer biodynamic preparations, encouraging cover crops, biodiversity, and meticulously working the land by hand.
Although white wines dominate production in Vinho Verde, a handful of reds can also be found, most produced from the overly productive, indigenous grape, Vinhão. Sparkling versions, of course, are even rarer. Aphros’s sparkling Vinhão is special—a perfect example of how limiting the vine’s production, farming organically, picking by hand, and shunning gimmickry in the cellar can result in an exceptional bottle. In tasting through Aphros’s wines, both white and red, we’ve found they are another world from the large, bulk production wines you may be accustomed to in the region and throughout much of Portugal.
Croft’s Vinhão is light-to-medium bodied, but high in both acid and tannin. The wine is a deep, vibrant crimson, blooming with dark notes of bramble fruit and freshly-applied asphalt. Immediately upon tasting, I imagine this as an offspring of Gamay and Cinsault, without any doubt, their favorite child. It’s immensely enjoyable, and I wasn’t surprised to see Jamie Goode write, after tasting the Aphros, “I don’t know why the Portuguese are so apologetic about Vinhão.”
But still, no matter how much I love it, this bottle is not a wine for everyone. It’s a dry, sparkling red without Lambrusco’s burst of bright-berry fruit. You could call it a wedge wine: either you’ll enjoy it as much as I do, or you’ll chalk it up as an interesting experience, worth having, but perhaps not to be repeated. If you hedge your bets a bit by matching Aphros’s Vinhão espumante with the perfect food—hamburgers straight off the grill (an ideal foil for the wine’s bright acidity and tannin)—chances are you’ll understand my current obsession.
If you end up enjoying Aphros as much as I do, then why not be further rewarded with a 15% discount on six bottles? Here's hoping you will!