Know This Grape

Reviving Baga, the Star Grape of Portugal’s Bairrada Region

While Baga has been on the radar of wine professionals for many years, a new crop of grower-producers is driving change in the region and helping redefine the grape for U.S. drinkers  

A photo of Baga grapes on the vine
The Baga grape is native to the Bairrada region of Portugal. Photo courtesy of Nuno Mira do Ó.

Portugal is home to more than 300 native grapes. Fortunately, it has finally started putting more of them to good use. Long synonymous with sweet, fortified port wines, the country has transcended those associations and reframed its potential around a number of little-known indigenous varieties that have entered the modern spotlight.  

Among the most exciting discoveries of this revolution comes not from the storied banks of the Douro, or even verdant Vinho Verde, but the relatively remote coastal region of Bairrada, located at the north end of the country between the chilly Atlantic and the mountains of the Dão. Historically known as Portugal’s leading producer of metodo classico sparkling wines, until recently the area would have seemed like an improbable birthplace for what some consider the country’s next star grape. But to a small but growing handful of industry insiders, that’s exactly what Baga—Bairrada’s flagship red—has become. 

In little more than a decade, the thin-skinned, late-ripening variety, which often draws comparisons to fellow finicky grapes like Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo, has slowly but surely acquired a cult following. Though famously difficult to grow, when handled with just the right attention and care, the grape delivers complex, age-worthy reds of uncommon elegance, transparency, and cool-climate freshness.

“It’s structured, it’s mouthwatering, it’s pure—and no matter the style, there’s always this salty, mineral finish,” explains Eduardo Porto Carreiro, the vice president of beverage for the Atlanta metro area’s Rocket Farm Restaurants. An early Baga champion, he currently positions it on the same trajectory that launched the careers of previous “it” grapes such as Spain’s Mencía or Italy’s Pelaverga and Nerello Mascalese

“Everything is in play for Baga to have an even bigger tipping point in the next few years,” says Porto Carreiro. In fact, given the noticeable uptick of expressions now available in the U.S. market, that process appears to be well underway, offering stateside audiences an even greater opportunity to get acquainted with the grape.

The Arrival of New Styles and Expressions of Baga

In 2018, New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov lamented that “not that many Bairrada wines are available in New York.” That’s partly because, at the time, Baga’s reputation rested almost entirely upon the shoulders of a single family. 

Anyone familiar with Bairrada wine will already know the famously long-lived reds of Luis Pato, the family patriarch who rescued the grape from obscurity in the 1980s. Carrying forward his vision today are his two daughters, Filipa—of Filipa Pato and William Wouters Wines—and Maria, with her playfully titled Duckman project. Along with Douro legend Dirk Niepoort, who purchased Bairrada’s Quinta de Baixo estate in 2012, the Patos played an instrumental role in defining the grape’s identity for a generation of U.S. wine professionals.

Increasingly, however, they’re not alone. According to Lewis Kopman of New York’s Grossberg/Kopman Selections, one of the standouts among a recent crop of importers specializing in small-production Portuguese wines, it’s no surprise that a wider selection of Baga-based wines has arrived on U.S. shores. 

Black and white headshot of Lewis Kopman who poses with an empty wine glass in front of a large body of water.
Lewis Kopman, pictured above, advocates for Baga-based wines as high quality alternatives to more expensive products. Photo courtesy of Lewis Kopman.

“As so many of the more traditional fine wine regions have grown so astronomically expensive, more importers are looking for other wines that provide a similar experience,” Kopman says. “Baga from Bairrada is not the same thing as Burgundy or Barolo, but it’s high quality in all the same ways, with that ethereal mix of fruit and savory complexity found in the great red wines of the world.”

No longer limited to a few niche reference points, the selections found on shelves today speak to the birth of a fully-fledged category, containing an array of aesthetic and commercial camps. In addition to the large négociant firm Caves São João (with its Frei João and Poço do Lobo labels), that spectrum includes generations-old family estates such as Quinta das BágeirasSidónio de Sousa, and Casa de Saima, plus a rash of grower-producers driving change in the region today—among them, such talents as Tiago Teles of Gilda, Luís Patrão, and Eduarda Dias of Vadio, Luis Gomes of Bairrada’s up-and-coming Giz label, Nuno Mira do Ó of Mira do Ó Vinhos, and the Vinho Verde legend Anselmo Mendes, creator of the Kompassus project, to name just a few. 

As a result, it’s now possible for Baga fans to encounter the grape in a far more diverse spectrum of styles than ever before. Baga, it turns out, has a range, leaning from bright, easy-drinking wines that welcome a chill to old-school, classically structured reds capable of aging for decades—and, of course, the time-honored sparkling versions (both blanc de noirs and rosé) that pay savory homage to Bairrada’s chalky limestone soils.

“There’s not exactly a consensus on the right way to make Baga,” Kopman says, highlighting what he considers the grape’s intrinsic chameleon-like quality. “Producers tend to approach the grape with an open mind and there’s a lot of experimentation taking place. But I think that’s what makes Bairrada such an exciting place.”

Baga as a Prism for Bairrada’s Terroir

Baga’s frequent comparisons to Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo assume a deeper significance in the context of the variety’s historic role in the Bairrada region. Every bit as sensitive to the subtleties of site and soil as its Burgundian and Piedmontese counterparts, the grape offers a crystal-clear prism for translating the minute particularities of place. 

In a country with such an entrenched culture of grape blending, Baga from Bairrada offers the rare example of a region telegraphing its identity through a single variety. According to Filipa Pato—a progenitor, like her father, of site-specific, single-vineyard Baga wines— the next chapter of the Bairrada’s evolution will entail a further delineation of the region’s diverse subzones and microclimates. “You can see the differences in the way the grape expresses itself from one village to the next, and also between individual parcels in a single village,” she says. “It’s extremely important for us to show the different faces of Baga in order to understand our terroir.”

Headshot of Filipa Pato who poses amongst the grapes in a vineyard.
Filipa Pato of Filipa Pato and William Wouters Wines, pictured above, is one of the key winemakers behind the second wave of Baga’s revival. Photo courtesy of Filipa Pato.

Culled from a miniscule parcel of 160-year-old, pre-phylloxera Baga vines, her Nossa Missão exemplifies this mandate. To that end, she plans to introduce additional vineyard-specific bottlings in the future, having recently acquired several new sites that she’s in the process of converting to biodynamic farming. 

Today, Pato is just one of a handful of Bairrada producers who have made it their mission to redefine the region’s narrative around this soil-driven paradigm. Consider, for instance, the forward-thinking V Puro, a collaboration between longtime friends João Soares and Mira do Ó. More than an excavation of terroir, the pair’s efforts to preserve Bairrada’s rich treasure trove of centenarian vineyards—many of which have fallen into disrepair—represent a radical act of conservation. As Mira do Ó explains, with their older genetic material, these ancient parcels predate the modern clonal selection that befell Bairrada’s wine industry in the 1980s, when profit-seeking producers introduced the high-yielding, early-ripening clones of Baga that proliferate today.

“You see a huge difference between the wines you get from the old vineyards and those from the modern vineyards that were planted in the 1980s,” he says. “So when it comes to the future, I believe we need to reestablish the vineyard heritage of Baga in Bairrada. When that happens, we’ll see even more producers gravitate to the region.”

With V Puro’s lineup of three Baga-based reds, each a unique ode to Bairrada’s ancient heirloom vineyards, Mira do Ó and Soares are doing their part to catalyze that revival. In the meantime, with the grape’s growing industry fanbase in the U.S., Baga wines of the future look set to expand their audience on this side of the Atlantic.


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Zachary Sussman is a Brooklyn-based wine writer whose work has appeared in Saveur, Wine & Spirits, The World of Fine Wine, Food & Wine, and The Wall Street Journal Magazine, among many others. A regular contributor to Punch, he was formerly selected as the Champagne Louis Roederer Emerging Wine Writer of the Year. He is the author of The Essential Wine Book (2020) and Sparkling Wine for Modern Times (November, 2021) from Ten Speed Press.

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