Morais Vineyards & Winery

Most of my wine blogs are easy to write, mostly because the format is the same. I visit, try some wine, and write about what I liked (or more rarely, what I didn’t). In that respect my visit to Morais vineyards was a success. It helped I also got to caught up with a friend I hadn’t seen since pre-COVID.

But what makes this visit different is any discussion of Morais would be incomplete without talking about owner José Morais and Portugal’s distinct style of winemaking, because these things are intertwined. So let’s start at the beginning.

José is the definition of a self-made man. Born in Portugal, he came to the U.S. at the age of 17 and made his fortune in the construction industry. For years he acted as a liaison between Portugal’s American consulates and the Portuguese government. This led their President to award him the title of “Comendador” – an honor only bestowed upon those who perform great acts of service.

Little did I realize Manassas has an active Portuguese community, complete with its own Community Center. For José, everything seems to circle back to this community and his Portuguese roots, and his winery is no different.

Morais is inspired by the wines and winemaking styles of Portugal (although with a Virginia twang). Portugal makes a refreshing style of wine called Vinho Verde; Morais has its Battlefield White. Portugal is famous for fortified Port wines; Morais has its own Port-style. Even their winemaker, Vitor Guimarãis, is from Portugal.

They likewise use several grapes found in Portugal, including Touriga Nacional, Verdelho, and Alvarinho (call it Albariño and you’ll likely be corrected). While Morais has almost 7 acres of vines they also use fruit from outside Virginia, oftentimes blending it with what they source locally. I’m admittedly skeptical of the use of non-VA fruit at a Virginia winery, but it made sense here since many Portuguese grapes aren’t cold hardy enough for Virginia’s climate.

GM Alexandria Chambers and I caught up on life while enjoying a few flights. Until then I never realize exactly how many wines Morais makes; the must have brought out several club wines because I definitely felt like a VIP during this visit.

For whites we started with Battlefield, a light, bright 50/50 blend of Alvarinho and Vidal with a touch of carbonation. It wasn’t a sparkling but it did give it a bit of zest that I liked.

From there we went to the Verdelho, a grape native to Portugal and famous for use in Madeira. It had lime and grassy notes on the nose but apple on the palate. I enjoyed it and don’t think I’ve ever had one before to compare it with.

I would have been disappointed not to try their Alvarinho, and they didn’t let me down. It was made in stainless steel tanks, with lemon notes on the palate. We finished the whites with a Chardonnay that you could tell benefited from the restrained use of oak, and a dark, dry Cab Franc/Cab Sauv rosé made in the Portuguese style.

Moving to the reds, when I saw the “2018” vintage on their Merlot I privately despaired but was soon impressed. 2018 was a wet, difficult year for Virginia, so good reds were an exception and this was one of those exceptions. It was fruity but not overly so.

Next up was another pair of 2018s; the Comendador (red blend) and Cabernet Franc. The first is a Cabernet Franc/Merlot/Touriga blend that had a hint of vanilla, while the later had a spice note.

The last of the regular line up was a 2018 Touriga that was a real standout, and one of the favorites of the day. Medium to full bodied, earthy, and big tannins.

I thought the tasting was finished – but then they brought out the big guns. Have I mentioned how wonderful Alex is?

Part II started with the Touriga/Syrah “Manassas City” blend which was young but still drinking nicely. We went to try three more red blends; a cellared 2017 Comendador, the 2019 Souzão, and a 2019 Tourão.

I liked Comendador but loved the last two. Both use grapes native to Portugal, so there likely isn’t anything close to them in Virginia (the fruit was mostly west coast). The Souzão was a little spicy while the Tourão had an amazing nose and great complexity, blending Virginia and non-Virginia fruit. As overflowing as my wine cabinet is, I had to take the Souzão home.

But wait – there’s more!

Finishing the lineup was a series of dessert wines, including their ruby port-style (Touriga & brandy), Jeropiga (Vidal & Chambourcin), Moscatel, and (my favorite) a cherry wine. I’m a sucker for a great presentation and the cherry wine has one of the best methods of delivery – they pour it into a tiny chocolate cup and you devour it whole.

For as many wines as I tried, there was actually more in the works I never got to sample. Vitor is collaborating with John Davenport of Three Crosses Distilling Company and both have products using the other’s barrels.  John is aging his rye whisky in barrels used to make port-styles wines. Vitor is aging his 2021 Ruby port-style in Three Crosses’ rye barrels.

It was a great visit, which I finished sitting on the patio looking at their park.

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