Fresh Take on Portuguese Brandy Comes to Paris

Quick Take: MAVEM is giving a facelift to the traditional Portuguese brandy aguardente vinica and introducing it to France.

While we’re all familiar with Port wine, one of its primary ingredients, aguardente vinica, is something relatively unknown outside of Portugal and worth exploring as a stand alone spirit. It’s distilled from wine – much like Cognac or Armagnac – and used to fortify port or sold on its own as a brandy. Don’t confuse aguardente *vinica* with aguardente *bagaceira*, which is also sold as a brandy but made from pomace, or the leftovers of grapes after they’ve been pressed.

Similar to Cognac and Armagnac in France, aguardente vinica has over the last few decades been thought of as something of a fusty drink for an older generation. Recently Cognac and Armagnac have been experiencing a revival of interest by younger drinkers with new approaches to production and consumption – and it looks like we might be seeing similar trends for aguardente.  And just as France has AOCs (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée/Controlled Name of Origin) for Cognac and Armagnac, Portugal also has its own AOC for their brandy with Lourinhã. It’s pronounced « lourignac » in a nod to its cousins from the north. These are the only three AOC designated for spirits distilled from wine in all of Europe.

Portugal on the map

Sibling team Liliana and Tiago Rocha, the fifth generation of a port and aguardente family, are offering up a fresh take on this traditional tipple and encouraging its (re)discovery both at home and abroad with their new aguardente vinica MAVEM, launched in 2017.

MAVEM employs some techniques and practices which are a little out of the ordinary for  aguardente vinica. While, historically, it may have been made from whatever grapes were on hand, this team selects specific grapes from various regions to impart a unique flavor profile that “celebrates the flavours discovered by Portuguese explorers in the 15th century.” Over their five generations of port and aguardente production, the family developed a “Dynamic Maturation” process which involves extreme temperature variations intended to bring out fruit and floral notes during the winter and vanilla and wood notes in the summer. Finally, MAVEM is triple distilled, something that is not done for any other wine based eau de vies. The result is an enjoyable product that can be sipped over ice or mixed into cocktails.

The entire concept has been well conceived and carried out.The bottle is a beauty with intricate designs on the label recalling Portugal’s Golden age of discovery with ships, seafaring mythical creatures and a banner proclaiming “Dream – Explore – Discover.” Even the name carries meaning with “MA” coming from words for the ocean (mar) and the wondering (maravilhoso) and “VEM” being the word for  “to come”.

For those who like to hunt for the hard-to-get, they will also be putting out a very limited edition of MAVEM Real, which is a blend of rare 40+ year aguardentes with notes of bergamot, tobacco, pepper, chocolate and salt. These 500 bottles will be hand filled and numbered. The release date is not yet certain but maybe keep an eye out for it around the holidays.

MAVEM has come to France via  L’Explorateur du Goût, a small independent importer and distributor of unique spirits with substance and story behind them. Founder, François Sommer explains why MAVEM is a natural fit for their portfolio « At L’Explorateur du Goût we have been immediately seduced by the subtle and delicate aromas, and the refinement of the packaging … MAVEM is a real invitation to a sensorial journey in the traces of the great Portuguese explorers!” And as the first serious aguardente entry into the French market, it will be interesting to see how it fares alongside the more traditional French brandies.

To get a first hand taste, I hear it’s on the menu at l’hôtel André Latin or you can pick up a bottle (about 45 Euros for 50cl) at Caves du Pantheon, Esprit, Et si Bacchus était une femme, Merci Vigneron, Ceres, Caves Paris Levallois or Cavanine.

Mavem website

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Cocktail Expert Forest Collins is the creator of 52martinis, an online guide to the best cocktail bars in Paris and other small batch spirits news from France. We've also recently launched an app so you can keep all that bar info in your pocket!