Winemaker Marco Montez expects the unexpected now that he runs two wineries — one in New Bedford and another in the Portuguese hinterlands.
Recently, his phone rang at 6 in the morning. His father was calling from Portugal to tell him that several inches of rain had made a muddy mess of the family's vineyards. Montez had already spoken with the vineyard foreman, so he had a plan in motion to shore up the damage. "It's up to me," he says with a good-natured shrug. "For good or for bad, I'm responsible."
When Montez first arrived in Massachusetts as a teenager, he could not have guessed that two decades later he would be running both Travessia Urban Winery, in downtown New Bedford, specializing in Massachusetts-grown grapes, as well as the family estate in the tiny village of Loivos, in northeastern Portugal, where he spent most of his childhood.
"One of my earliest memories was picking grapes," he says, recalling how family and friends harvested the fruit, carted full baskets back to the house, and dumped the clusters into a concrete tank his father had built. "Then we got in there, bare legs and all," he says. The squishy berries would slip out from underfoot as they were trod into a juicy slurry. "That was just how you did it back then," he says. "It wasn't about being cute," as the old-school practice might be viewed today.
His family's vines grow in Tras-Os-Montes, which translates as "beyond the mountains." Montez hopes wine enthusiasts will get to know the region through his new line of blends, called "Ensaio," under the brand Penada, named for the mountain where his grapes grow. His bottles are crafted from indigenous Portuguese varietals, including touriga nacional, tinta amarela, and fernao pires, cultivated on terraced hillsides at an elevation of 1,600 feet. His winery is one of about 40 independently owned wineries in the region that market their wines. Home winemakers and growers who sell their fruit to government-run cooperatives make up the balance of production.
Among enthusiasts, Montez observes a growing awareness beyond iconic styles like port and vinho verde, and openness to indigenous grapes. "People are realizing that Portugal is a phenomenal country for quality table wines," he says. In addition to the bottles he himself crafts, he recommends two from other producers — a red blend from the Alentejo region in the country's sunny south, and a single varietal white, made from alvarinho, hailing from Vinho Verde in the northwest.
Nowadays, the revamped Loivos winery uses all modern equipment, but Montez still loves the feel of crushing grapes barefoot. Last year, he introduced the grape-stomping tradition to his 12-year-old daughter, for whom the old-timey practice is cute. "She thought it was crazy!" he says with a chuckle. Her reaction was not entirely unexpected.
Penada "Ensaio" Vinho Branco 2013 Sprightly and fresh with a whiff of mineral, sweet citrus, and green herbal notes, this pleasing pour sports an off-dry (subtly sweet) profile balanced by bright acid. Serve with creamy goat's milk cheese and a crusty loaf. Around $17. At Sudbury Wine & Spirits, Sudbury, 978-443-1300; Social Wines, South Boston, 617-268-2974.
Penada "Ensaio" Vinho Tinto 2013 This lithe-in-weight red offers spiciness on the nose plus notes of blue flowers and a hint of dried citrus peel. Flavors of red plum and plum skin combine with lively acidity. Perfect with a warming bowl of caldo verde, kale soup with potatoes, and chourico. Around $17. At The Cheese Shop of Salem, Salem, 978-498-4820; The Spirited Gourmet, Belmont, 617-489-9463.
Muros Antigos Alvarinho 2013 Clean, citrusy scents and notes of white flower petals lead to a tart palate full of lemon pith, green herbs, and the tang of saline and white pepper. A winner with shredded Brussels sprouts salad with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. Around $19. At Marty's Fine Wines, Newton, 617-332-1230; Wollaston Wine & Spirits, Quincy, 617-479-4433.
Cortes de Cima Vinho Tinto 2011 This deep-hued pour (a blend including syrah, aragonez, and touriga nacional) offers appealing aromas and juicy flavors of berries, plum, and sweet oak. Tannins are plentiful yet soft, an easy pairing with pork tenderloin. Around $25. At Inman Square Wine & Spirits, Cambridge, 617-945-2902; Jerry's Liquors, Somerville, 617-666-5410.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at email@example.com.