Text Sarah Ahmed
It’s a long time since I had lessons in Latin. And I cannot recall making a winemaker blush before, but blush Jorge Rosa Santos (junior) did as he explained that his family’s wine brand, “EXPLICIT,” is taken from the Latin explicare.
It means “to unfold” and thus also make visible. In this case, the unique terroir of his family’s steep, schist-strewn vineyard on the slopes of the Serra d’Ossa near Estremoz, Alentejo. So let’s get that straight from the start, it’s an esoteric not an erotic reference folks! And it’s a suitable moniker for the deadly serious terroir-driven wines of Jorge Rosa Santos e Filhos.
When he bought a weekend getaway in Alentejo, surgeon Jorge Rosa Santos did not set out to make wine. Rather, it was the inevitable consequence where eight hectares came with the house and three of his sons are winemakers – Frederico (Terras d’Alter), Vasco (Monte da Ravasqueira) and Jorge junior (Casal Santa Maria). The fourth, Ricardo, is an architect, like his mother.
When I met with Jorge junior he told me that the great strength of this family project is that “we do what we want and what we believe in…we wouldn’t be making wine this way if we were working for someone else.” For example, in 2004, the family ignored warnings that they were “crazy” when they planted their first two hectares of Syrah on virgin soils and, in the following year, another two hectares of Alicante Bouschet and Aragones (the Ribero del Duero’s small, thick-skinned clone, Tinta da Pais). Crazy, it was said, because with a 30% gradient and rocky schist soils to a depth of 20-30cm, the vineyard would never be economically viable.
The winemaking is somewhat unconventional too. Explicit Red is left un-sulphured on ullage for three months. Allowing oxygen to seep into the headspace explains its rusticity, sometimes a porty touch of volatile acidity (too much in 2008). As Jorge sees it, these qualities (together with the blistering concentration, high alcohol and formidable structure which the vineyard naturally delivers) “give us our own fingerprint.” Much needed, he reckons, where he points out Alentejo has lots of projects making good value quality wines but niche projects, like Explicit which “capture the vineyard inside the bottle,” were missing.
Ten years after being told they were crazy, the Rosa Santos family’s project is thriving. A vertical tasting of Explicit Red showcased this powerful red’s terroir-driven signature bony tannins and savoury, mineral qualities to great effect; the progressive reduction of Syrah, better winery conditions and the addition of Aragones appear to have paid dividends, producing a tighter, brighter wine (less porty). What’s more, Explicit Red has since been joined by Explicit White and the more approachable Implicit label (red and white), all of which are made from bought in grapes.
Here are my notes on the latest additions to the family’s range and my picks from the Explicit Red (2008-2012) vertical:
IMPLICIT White 2013 (Vinho Regional Alentejano)
An unoaked blend of 50% Alvarinho, 25% Viognier with 12.5% Rousanne and 12.5% Moscatel. Grapes were sourced from relatively elevated (+300 metres above sea level) vineyards across northern Alentejo. An aromatic, spicy, fruity (but by no means tutti frutti) white with good depth and balance and an attractive, salty piquancy. 13%
EXPLICIT White 2012 (Vinho Regional Alentejano)
From a one hectare old (80-100 year old) field blend vineyard in Portalegre located at 540 metres above sea level. It’s completely different in style from Implicit – as Jorge puts it, much more Old World in style because the fruit, while present, is not overt. Rather the dominant impression is of salty minerals and funky, creamy, nutty lees. There’s a pond-like vegetality too. Fermented and aged in oak barrels until early Spring, it wears its oak very lightly indeed. Though it lacks a bit of acidity, this broad, textured wine has no shortage of interest. I liked its un-pushy individuality very much. 14%
IMPLICIT Red 2012 (Vinho Regional Alentejano)
A blend of 50% Touriga Nacional, 40% Syrah and 10% Alicante Bouschet. Grapes were sourced from relatively elevated (+300 metres above sea level) schistous vineyards across northern Alentejo. The Touriga brings great floral lift – damask rose – to nose and palate, black cherry too – fresh and baked. Textured, ripe but present savoury tannins, a sooty minerality and fresh acidity, lend structure and balance. Very good – a serious junior label of which 6546 bottles were produced. 14%
EXPLICIT Red 2010 (Vinho Regional Alentejano)
A blend of Syrah and Alicante Bouschet from the family’s Serra d’Ossa vineyard at 352 metres above sea level, which was aged for 17 months in French and American oak barrels. Like the preceding vintages, the 2010 is a dark, savoury wine, with bitter chocolate-edged plum fruit fleshing out its firm backbone of chalky, bony tannins. Garrigue (Mediterranean herb) and smoky mineral notes bring a very attractive wild rusticity to this full-bodied red, which is all the more imposing for its extraordinarily long chassis of ripe but very present, mineral tannins (this wine underwent 15 days post-fermentative skin contact). This tannin structure, together with very well balanced (natural) acidity, allow this wine to carry its 15.5% effortlessly. Broachable now but still developing; will keep for another five years plus. 5962 bottles/20 barricas made.
EXPLICIT Red 2012 (Vinho Regional Alentejano)
A blend of Syrah, Alicante Bouschet and Aragones from the family’s Serra d’Ossa vineyard at 352 metres above sea level, which was aged for 24 months in French and American oak barrels. Though the oak and alcohol rule the waves on day one, when it opens up on day two an exceptional schistous/schist dust minerality suffuses this wine. Sweet fleshy plum fruit is held in check by its abundant swathe and backbone of tannins (this vintage also underwent 15 days post-fermentative skin contact). A very visceral, almost raw, wine with its skelton, not flesh, to the fore. I’d keep this for a least two or three years before broaching it and expect it will keep for at least several more. 15% 11,247 bottles/40 barricas made.