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Douro 2012 Reds & 2013 Whites plus, a decade on, 2005 Douro Reds

The universally acclaimed, charismatic 2011 vintage (reviewed here) is a tough act to follow.  Yet there are some great Douro reds in 2012, especially for those who admire elegance and freshness and/or who have neither the desire, patience or facilities to stash away wine for the long haul.  The best are beguiling, broachable reds of detail well worthy of your attention, while 2013 Douro Whites are particularly fresh and mineral. In this report I review 98 new Douro releases (red and white) and 22 2005 reds a decade on; tasting notes for my top wines are emboldened.

My report focuses on those wines from the New Douro group which I tasted and re-tasted in Vila Nova de Gaia during the week commencing 24 November and (where noted) subsequently in London at the Annual New Douro Tasting on 26 March.

While a few wines lacked a bit of stuffing (entry level wines especially), many of the reds which I taste year in year out had an elegant intensity and freshness to their fruit in 2012.  A quality which more and more Douro producers are seeking to accentuate in their wines where ripeness is generally a given (and no bad thing given my take on the 2005’s I reviewed a decade on).

For whites, no doubt about it, 2013 is a special year which produced some truly fabulous examples of this growing niche Douro category; even Quinta do Vale Meão have joined the fray!

I’ve divided this report into the following sections:

  • Vintage summaries
  • Key trends
  • My top ten 2012 top tier reds
  • My top five 2012 middle tier reds
  • My top five 2012 entry level reds
  • My top five 2013 white wines
  • My top ten 2005 ten years on performers
  • Tasting notes, 2012 reds & 2013 whites

Want to find out more about what makes the world’s largest mountainside vineyard tick?  Check out my nutshell guide to the Douro Valley’s fortified and Douro DOC/Duriense VR wines which has a link to all my Douro posts.  Or why not visit the Douro with me this June?

Vintage summaries

Raining grapes!

2012 Reds

2012 was a tricky year with a very dry winter – the driest in 40 years. Fortunately, the drought conditions and a poor fruit set resulted in very low yields which, together with unusually moderate weather during July and August, mitigated the risk of hydric stress. As Pedro Correa of Symington Family Estates puts it “it [low yields] is always a very good news for the winemaking team – we guarantee that we have a very good, very even maturation… all the best years for quality have small yields – 1kg per vine is very good as an average.” 

In September, hot weather accelerated the ripening process.  Reds and whites retained good acidity.  Reds are spicy, fresh and very charming.  Like the 2010, they have upfront appeal but, thanks to low yields of thick-skinned, small berried fruit, 2012s are better concentrated.  They also have riper tannins than 2008s’ similarly spicy, fresh wines.   

2013 Whites

Good winter rainfall (and in January through to March) replenished soils; yields were significantly up on 2012.  A cool start to the year was followed by high temperatures and a dry spell from June into September.  Heavy rainfall during late September made this vintage a game of two halves.  Quality depends on whether white wine grapes were picked before the rain, for top wines, well beforehand (given the preceding hot weather).  Whites picked before the rain showed excellent minerality and acidity. 

2005 Reds

A second very dry winter followed on from a dry (2004 Autumn) and, to compound matters,  the growing season was very dry and the summer very hot – challenging conditions for Douro DOC wines with hydric stress, overripeness and berry shrivel an inevitable consequence.  Light rain in early September helped redeem matters to a degree and, of course, the Douro’s mountainous terrain and multitude of grape varieties offers a hatful of blending options.  However, the consequences of a year so patently marked by heat and drought were visited on a very significant number of the 2005 wines which I reviewed; suffice to say the hit rate for the 2004s I reviewed a decade on last year was much higher.  Especially with time in glass, a significant number of 2005s became “thicker,” less fresh, with a fuggy burned toast character with a bitter edge.  The oak/char had out-run the fruit/juice.  Shame.

Key trends

It’s great to see producers stepping up their efforts to express not only in the bottle but, just as importantly, to the public the terroir-driven diversity of Douro DOC wines.   I have also noticed that more emphasis is being placed on the importance of Douro DOC wines to the region as a whole.

Going forward, if Douro DOC production is to be sustainable, there are fundamental issues to be resolved around the economics of making wine in this remote, low yielding, mountainous region, not least given that the traditional beneficio system only rewards (with higher prices) suppliers of grapes destined for Port wine.  Moreover, the focus must be on premium and premium plus wines (see my comments below about entry level wines).

A very good example of New Douro Rosé  – dry, with delicate fruit & minerals

Otherwise, save for a teeny tiny ripple of interest in rosé (and 2014’s wet vintage will be a good year for them), the developments which I identified in last year’s report continue to be pursued, namely:

  1. Greater sensitivity around individual sites – both in terms of identifying them and using them to best advantage (taking into account factors like elevation and aspect), also expressing them better through more restrained winemaking.
  2. Allied to the foregoing trend, a growth of single parcel/single vineyard wines.
  3. Better picking decisions – in line with international trends, there is a shift away from overripe fruit in favour of better balanced brighter fruit.
  4. Greater diversity of varieties beyond the “top cinco” plantings of the 1980s – this is work in progress.
  5. Less gilding the lily – winemakers are extracting less (and extracting better tannins), also using less toasty oak, less new oak and/or bigger format oak.
  6. Greater digestibility & refinement – as a result of all the foregoing efforts, the more established producers are making wines which are broachable earlier without compromising their ability to age (among some newer producers, the less is more philosophy has yet to sink in – there are still some out and out blockbusters designed to make a splash and, to be fair, there is still a market for them).
  7. The rise of well made middle and entry level tiers of red wines.
  8. The rise of white wines – the inevitable consequence of the increased focus on vineyards best suited to table wines (and not Port). Whites are generally sourced from higher vineyards, from 400m up.

My top ten 2012 red top tier wines

In alphabetical order:

  • Casa Ferreirinha Quinta de Leda 2012
  • Churchill’s Quinta da Gricha 2012
  • Niepoort Charme 2012
  • Niepoort Turris 2012
  • Poeira 2012
  • Prats & Symington Chryseia 2012
  • Quinta do Crasto Tinta Roriz 2012
  • Quinta do Passadouro Reserva 2012
  • Quinta do Vale Dona Maria CV 2012
  • Quinta do Vale Meão 2012

My top five 2012 red middle tier wines

In alphabetical order:

  • Lavradores de Feitoria Meruge 2012
  • Niepoort Vertente 2012
  • Quinta do Vallado Reserva 2012
  • Van Zellers VZ 2012
  • Wine & Soul Manoella or Pintas Character (a tie – equally impressive in different styles)

My top five 2012 red entry level wines

In alphabetical order:

  • Altano Quinta do Ataide Organic 2012
  • Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande 2012
  • Quinta do Passadouro Passa Tinto 2012
  • Quinta do Vallado Tinto 2012
  • Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Red 2012

N.B. It’s important to emphasise that the costs of production in the Douro mean that, with a few valiant exceptions (Duorum Tons de Duorum springs to mind), top producer’s entry level reds are unlikely to cost under a tenner (£).  To put that in perspective, Paul Symington has compared and contrasted the average costs of production in the Douro versus Chile:

Land cost: Chile – 1205€/hectare, the Douro 3315€/hectare

Yields: Chile 12,000kg/hectare, the Douro 4300kg/hectare

Grape cost: Chile 0.10€/kg, the Douro 0.77€/hectare

My top five 2013 white wines

In alphabetical order:

  • Lavradores de Feitoria Meruge 2013
  • Niepoort Coche 2013
  • Niepoort Tiara 2013
  • Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Reserva 2013
  • Wine & Soul Guru 2013

My top ten 2005 ten years on wines

In alphabetical order:

  • Casa Ferreirinha Quinta da Leda 2005
  • Churchill’s Quinta da Gricha 2005
  • Niepoort Redoma 2005
  • Niepoort Vertente 2005
  • Quinta do Vale Meão 2005
  • Quinta do Vale Meão Meandro 2005 (magnum)
  • Quinta do Crasto Maria Teresa 2005
  • Quinta do Vale Dona Maria CV 2005
  • Quinta do Vallado Reserva 2005
  • Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Reserva 2005

Tasting notes

Symington Family Estates

While the focus of the Symington Family’s joint project with Bruno Prats focused on making a super-premium wine, their own projects initially revolved around entry level wines under Symington Family Estate’s Altano brand.

The Vilarica Valley, Douro Superior

The brand has expanded with the introduction of upper tiers and a white wine. All reds are now sourced from the Symington’s three organically cultivated Vilariça Valley vineyards in the Douro Superior (pictured) – Quinta de Ataíde (94ha), Quinta de Assares (29 ha) and Quinta da Canada (23 ha), which were acquired specifically with the Altano brand in mind. Inevitably, with quality control at source over all fruit going into Altano reds, the quality of the wines has increased (as has the white, though it is sourced from bought in fruit).

Plans are afoot to introduce a reserve white. More white grapes are being planted this year at 550m (initially 10 different varieties) with varietal and oak experimentation (French oak, Hungarian oak, acacia) underway.

A more recent addition to the Symington Family Estates’s table wine portfolio (since 2007) are the red wines from Quinta Vesuvio, an estate famous for its Vintage Ports. Perhaps because my expectations are set so high by the the showstopping Vintage Ports (which must represent a tiny proportion of its output), I’ve yet to get really excited by the Vesuvio table wines, though 2012 is, in my opinion, the best yet.

Altano White 2013

A blend of Malvasia Fina, Viosinho and Moscatel Galego sourced from cooler, elevated vineyards (up to around 500m) including Peter Symington’s estate at Quinta da Fonte Branca near Lamego and selected growers in the Alijó and Favaios areas. From 2013, the must has been clarified by flotation with nitrogen as opposed to statically, which enables the winemaking team to clarify and inoculate to start the ferment on the same day. As always, the Moscatel component brings lift to the citrine palate which has prickly pear and salty green olive nuances; a trace of bitterness/phenolics to the finish is perhaps the product of a touch of skin contact/reduction (the latter holding back the fruit).   12.5%

Altano Quinta de Ataíde Organic 2012

Red wines for the Altano brand are sourced from the Symington’s three organically cultivated Vilariça Valley vineyards in the Douro Superior – Quinta de Ataíde (94ha), Quinta de Assares (29 ha) and Quinta da Canada (23 ha). Although all are certified organic, this wine from Quinta de Ataíde is the only cuvee actually to be labelled organic because it’s the only one which is made in accordance with the rules which govern organic winemaking. It’s a favourite from the Altano range on account of its garrigue/dried herb-scented fruit. Deep crimson/purple with a distinctly spicy, liquorice accent to the nose.  In the mouth it has a lovely depth of fleshy plum and juicy Satsuma, with garrigue, dark chocolate, salty minerality and velvety tannins. Delicious. 13.5%

Altano Quinta de Ataíde Reserva 2012

Made from 100% Touriga Nacional and aged for 10 months in 400l American oak barrels, c. 50% new. Bright purple with pronounced oak to both nose and rich, slightly coconutty palate on day one.  By day three, the oak subsides, allowing the creamy black berry, currant and plum to come to the fore. Slinky sweet tannins show the benefit of American oak but I’d keep this a few years before broaching to allow the oak to integrate.

Quinta do Vesúvio 2012

The seven hills of Vesuvio

A blend of around 70-75% Touriga Nacional (from the top of the estate, at 400m), the balance Touriga Franca from a vineyard planted in the 1980s.  A very deep hue with attractive orange peel/bergamot lift which follows through on the palate together crystallised ginger.  So far, so exotic!  Plentiful black cherry, plum and intense blackcurrant puts me in mind of this estate’s inky Port.  Fine tannins are nost definitely Douro DOC.  Very well made.  The 2011 vintage has only recently been released, so this wine is on a slower release cycle than many of its peers.  No bad thing at all for these ageworthy wines.

Prats and Symington

Bruno Prats with Chryseia vertical

The Prats & Symington label is produced jointly by the renowned Port producers the Symington family and acclaimed Bordeaux winemaker Bruno Prats (pictured). Chryseia, its flagship (and maiden wine) was first made in 2000.

In 2002 a second wine, Post Scriptum, was added and, following the acquisition of Quinta de Roriz (pictured) in 2009, a third (entry level) tier added – Prazo de Roriz.

You can read more about Quinta de Roriz and the history of the project here in a report of my visit with winemakers Pedro Correia and Luis Coelho and here in my Blend, All About Wine report on a recent vertical presented by Prats in London.

Quinta de Roriz

For me the acquisition of Roriz, whose vineyard produces particularly mineral, structured wines, has resulted in a more emphatically terroir-driven, exciting wine and I was delighted to see that one of last year’s top ten – Prats & Symington Chryseia 2011 – went on to take the number three spot in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2014.  Quite a coup.

Prats & Symington Prazo de Quinta de Roriz 2012

Re-packaging in the house style reflects a shift in commercial strategy where this wine will be focused at the on trade.  With a softer, less extracted profile it’s mostly comprised of Tinta Roriz (44%) and Tinta Barocca; 76% of the grapes come from Roriz, the balance from Perdiz which is a more elevated vineyard (and undergoing major replanting).  The Roriz comes across strongly in this wine’s relatively pale, plum hue, red fruit and fleshy plum, rhubarb acidity and food-friendly fine, chalky tannins.  A touch of tomato plant too; liquorice as it opens up.  Quite elegant.

Prats & Symington Post Scriptum 2012

This blend of 53% Touriga Franca, 45% Touriga Nacional and 2% other varieties was aged for 13 months in one year old 400 litre French oak barrels.  A milder summer (thankfully with low yields owing to the drought) produced a more delicate wine with red rather than black fruits, slinky tannins and fresh, persistent acidity.  A markedly mid-weight palate reveals sweet-vanillin-edged damson and plum fruit, graphite and fruit (not oak) spice; it has a pronounced lively riff of crushed coriander seed.   Though not as charismatic as the 2011, the 2012 has an elegant, ready charm.  13.3%

Prats & Symington Chryseia 2012

Winemakers Luis Coelho & Pedro Correia

A blend of 72% Touriga Nacional and 28% Touriga Franca sourced from Quinta de Roriz, Quinta da Perdiz and Quinta da Vila Velha.  It was aged for 15 months in 100% new 400 litre French oak barrels (Tonnellerie du Sud-Ouest, Boutes, François Frères).  Again the emphasis is on red fruits, here more concentrated with a very seductive sheen of perfumed oak (chocolate, cinnamon and cedar).  Bergamot, coriander seed and a hint of pipe tobacco bring additional lift and layer to this wine’s sweet core of raspberry, black cherry and forest fruits.   Fresh acidity makes for a very poised, persistent, schist-sluiced finish; its fluidity is under-scored by ultra-fine tannins.  Very classy. 13.7%

Prats & Symington Chryseia 2005

A very sweet confit/baked plum nose and palate with spicy coriander seed, lots of esteva and chocolate orange.  Very open knit with quite low acidity.  More developed than I expected, especially on day 2.

Niepoort

Fifth generation Port producer Dirk Niepoort is one of Portugal’s most dynamic winemakers. He was at the vanguard of making table wines in the Douro (red and white) and his spiralling range can make one feel quite giddy and disoriented. Not least since his latest projects include an excellent Bairrada Baga and a Dão wine.  Next up a side project, aptly named “Sidecar” – Dirk Niepoort is the first of a revolving roster of winemakers to work with Susana Esteban on this new Portalegre addition to her eponymous label.

But even within the Douro, the innovation at Niepoort continues at a relentless pace, whether it’s tweaking the core range (which shows increasing restraint thanks, among other things, to less new oak and bigger format oak) or introducing new wines, notably the single parcel Bioma and Turris or Coche, the only Niepoort white wine until 2013 (see below) to undergo malolactic fermentation.

130+ year old field blend vines produced Niepoort’s new single vineyard red, Niepoort Turris 2012

Carlos Pinto da França Raposo, Niepoort’s right hand man since 2012, presented the wines, remarking “we harvested very early in 2012 so we got all the freshness, minerality and spice from the vineyard…and we were working with less oak – more older oak, bigger format.”  For whites in 2013, which he regards as an “amazing year” [Niepoort started harvesting on 18 August and finished before the rain on 21 September], there was also a shift with oak – less oak and no battonage either.  Apparently more whites than Dirk Niepoort wanted underwent a maloactic fermentation in 2013 (previously, only Coche did the malo and, Niepoort told me, he knew he was “in trouble” as soon as he made Coche [it introduced lactic bacteria to the winery]); still, wines seem more shapely and gentle for it and, in 2013, the acidity was at the high end of the spectrum so it was not at the expense of freshness or persistence.

No Redoma Tinto was made in 2012 because Niepoort is shifting towards more extended aging, first in barrel, then in large format wooden vats (with no new oak).  The 2012 effectively fell between two stools (2011 & 2013).  I tasted a sample of the 2013 vintage in March this year which hails from very identified vineyards around Napoles, was fermented with 50% stems and, said Dirk Niepoort, underwent “almost no extraction.”  It looked very promising – bright fruited, with plum and fruits of the forest to the fore, salty mineral, floral and earth notes.  Niepoort told me he is very excited by the 2013 Douro Reds.  Watch this space for more!

Niepoort Drink Me White 2013

Always sourced from old (+70 years) high altitude vineyards, says Raposo, this vintage was partly aged (15%) in old barrels, is naturally fermented and undergoes no acidification.  It has quite a funky nose with a creamy vegetality which comes through on the palate.  A roundish, textural palate, a little wandering, reveals white asparagus, salty green olive, talcy minerals and a nutty penumbra. Gentle.  12.5%

Niepoort Tiara 2013

This Códega do Larinho dominated white is sourced from several old field blend parcels aged between 40-100 years and located at 600-800m above sea level.  It was naturally fermented then aged for 12 months in large old oak toneis. Strikingly pretty and perfumed, unlike many wines of that ilk it has a very slow, shapely delivery, reflecting the fact yes, it’s from a cool spot in the Douro, but the Douro is warm and dry.   Saline with fresh, summery cucumber, bath and celery salts lift. The shapely, vegetal palate is teased out by lingering, pebbly acidity.   Cool as a cucumber.   Drier profile than the 2012. 13%

Niepoort Redoma Branco 2013

Raposo likens this wine to a shy person who doesn’t reveal much at first.  Sourced from 40-100 year old vines at 400-600m it has some stories to tell and unfolds beautifully on the palate revealing a wonderful minerality and pretty notes of fennel/pastis as well as earthier brassica undertones and sweet/savoury nutty lees for mouthfeel.  Well-integrated but pronounced acidity lends great energy – lovely glow – to the whole. It was aged for 10 months in French oak barrels, a fair few 500l, with just a touch – perhaps 5% new oak.  12.73%

Niepoort Redoma Branco Reserva 2013

The Reserva is sourced from 80-year old field blend vines planted at an altitude of 600-800 metres and aged for 10 months in 228l barrels.  This wine is markedly less oaky than previous vintages.  It has a very crystalline, mineral nose and palate with a gentle creaminess through the mid-palate and a savoury, nutty brown seed undertow.  A very atheletic wine – sleek and persistent, with a long finish. 12.5%

Niepoort Coche 2013 

First produced in 2010, Coche’s silkier texture is informed by its malolactic fermentation. It sees a little more time (14 months) in French oak 228l barrels (no batonnage), some new.  Both nose and palate are very smoky/flinty and lemony, with lifted lime zest and spicy toasty oak.  But it’s the intense minerality of expression which dominates – an almost steely, gravelly, pebbly sucking stones’ minerality with an edge of struck match.  It drives a very long, perfectly sublime puff of smoke finish.  12.5%

Niepoort Vertente 2012

Vertente is made from grapes from the 25 year old vineyards of Quinta de Nápoles and old vines planted on the slopes of the river Pinhão, where Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz are predominant; the altitude ranges between 150-500m. Very complete, it would seem that it represents the best of both worlds.  It has a youthful, rat-a-tat-tat peppery exuberance to its dancing, fresh red and black berry, cherry and juicy plum fruit; lovely freshness.  Coriander seed, orange/sweet tangerine blossom and waxier lily notes add to its liveliness of expression and lift, while a pronounced seam of schistous minerality reminds you it is of the earth after all. Aged for 18 months in 228l barrels, some new, it has velvety, chocolatey tannins. Oozes easy charm, but has the bones to age well into the medium term.  13.5%

Niepoort Bioma 2012

Bioma is produced solely from young vines (c. 25 years old, at 100-360m) from Niepoort’s Quinta de Nápoles, which is certified organic. The aim is to follow through the non-interventionist approach in the winery (no fining/filtration). Ageing took place in a recovered 5000 litre old Port Wine wooden vat.  When tasted in November I found it earthy and lacking fruit. I queried if brettanomyces was the culprit but Raposo informed me that this wine’s analysis confirms that there is no brettanomyces. Rather, he attributed the earthiness to a rusticity which is imparted by the old wooden vats.  Over the two days I tasted it I couldn’t make friends with it, finding it too rustic, earthy/mushroomy with a lack of fruit/detail/precision/vibrancy. Though Dirk Niepoort told me I was not alone in my reservations (the IVDP would not certify it DOC Douro) I’m pleased to say that, when I re-tasted it with him in March this year, the fruit had come up so, while it had an earthy character, this did not dominate the wine which has quite firm, fresh acidity and a distinct saltiness to its plum fruit.  Still I’d not agree with Niepoort’s technical fiche which states “the barrel gives its fruity character purity and precision.” To conclude, I no longer believe that Bioma is faulty but it is a more hands off rustic, savoury, earthy expression of the Douro – quite a contrast with, say Batuta, which I also re-tasted with Niepoort which has great fruit purity and vibrancy. 13%

Niepoort Batuta 2012

The main source of grapes for Batuta is Quinta do Carril whose vines are over 70 years old and situated on a north-facing slope. The grapes come also from other old vines (around 100 years old), near Quinta de Nápoles, which rise to 750m! This vintage spent 22 months in French oak barrels (25% new). It’s a deep purple hue, with flinty, smoky chiselled minerals, for me always a signifier of this wine, as its tightly concentrated, firm stone-washed black berry and currant fruit.  The tannins are firm but refined.  Wilder fruits of the forest and menthol/medicinal forest floor notes emerge on a long finish with a curl of smoke and hint of orange peel.   Re-tasted in March I’m struck by this wine’s tremendous fruity purity, vibrancy and precision.  13.5%  

Niepoort Charme 2012 

Sourced from very old vines (70-100+ years), the freshest and most sheltered of the Mendiz Valley, in the heart of the river Pinhão valley at 300-350m. In this (and the last vintage) I see a closer approximation to Dirk Niepoort’s goal of Burgundian (specifically DRC) aromacy and finesse.  Charme 2012 is taut, well-defined with crunchy red fruits, subtle plum skin tartness, a very subtle hint of mint and pronounced minerality. Fluid tannins accentuate the fine, long finish. 14%

Niepoort Turris 2012

A very special wine – every bottle hand-labelled, each label hand drawn & unique

Since I first tasted this wine a year or so previously (my review here), Turris has shed some of its rawness, but it remains a wonderfully singular wine of exceptional intensity.  Plus all 3000 bottles now have their very only label, each directly drawn on paper by the artist João Noutel.  From among the Douro’s oldest vines (+ 130 years old freestanding bush vines), it hails from a single, steep, south-facing  vineyard at 450m.  Talk about sense of place, it has wonderful pine needle lift to the nose and forest floor/minerals sluiced palate.  Crunchy, pithy, peppery, translucent red fruit finds support from a bony frame of tannins.  Fermentation was in stainless steel tanks, with 25% of stems, following which it underwent 5 weeks’ of post-fermentation maceration with a very light, limited extraction.  It was then aged for 15 months in two 60+ year old 1000-litre barrels from the Mosel, Germany and bottled without fining or filtering. With no attempt to smooth out the character-building wrinkles which give this wine such great force of personality, it is a completely different animal from highly polished reds.  Great inner beauty.  13%

Niepoort Vertente 2005 (magnum)

Gosh, this was a good buy, showing well – very consistently – over three days.  I particularly liked the mushroomy/sous bois balancing edge to its sweet, richly concentrated (still holding their colour and animated) fruits of the forest.  Saltlick and esteva notes place it firmly in the Douro.  Smooth tannins make for a long, fluid, balanced finish.  Very good.  13%

Niepoort Redoma 2005

Very long and composed of delivery thanks to its creamy wild berry fruit, ripe, sweet tannins and persistent, mineral acidity. As it opens up it reveals complexing pine needle and esteva notes.  Lovely structure and balance.  13%

Niepoort Charme 2005

Seemingly more developed than Redoma and Vertente, though the use of stems would also account for its pronounced savoury nutty/brown seed nose and sous bois.  Still, it’s a little ‘baggy’ and doesn’t hold its shape/fruit as well as the other two Niepoort 2005s over the three days in which I tasted it.  Elbowy alcohol too.  Disappointing.  13.5%

Churchill´s

Churchill Graham was founded in 1981 by Johnny Graham.  It was the first British Port Wine company to have been established in over 50 years; as of around four years ago, the Phipps family also have an interest in the estate.

The first Douro table wines were made in 1999 but the Churchill’s Estate range was not launched until 2004 (with the 2003 vintage). It encompasses a white, rosé and red wines, including Quinta da Gricha, a single vineyard wine from the 50 hectare Grade “A” Cima Corgo estate which Churchill’s acquired in 1999.  “Hard cheese,” which I’ve never tasted is, says Graham, the “safety valve” for wines not good enough to make the cut for the Churchill’s Estate range.

Quinta da Gricha

 

I met with winemaker Ricardo Pinto Nunes who updated me on recent developments at the company’s flagship estate, Quinta da Gricha, which has doubled in (vineyard) size since 2008. With around 40ha of vines it has a high proportion of Touriga Nacional (c.14ha), with Sousão and Touriga Franca.

The house and winery have been re-modelled.  The first harvest in the new facility took place last year.  Although 95% of the Ports are still foot-trodden, a new cooling system has been introduced to the lagares.  A new tasting room and laboratory opens this year.

Churchill’s Estates White 2013

Nunes says Churchill’s first white emerged in 2009 and, in common with other Douro winemakers “it’s still about adjusting and learning and finding specific spots for whites.”  This blend of Rabigato and Viosinho was mostly fermented and aged in stainless steel; just 20% was aged in old casks.  It’s a well focused, quite clean, crisp style with salty green olive, zippy pippy lemon notes and chalky minerality.  Relatively simple, but well done.

Churchill’s Estates Red 2012

Deep plum hue with fleshy plum, star anise fruit and toasty oak (about 30% is aged in new and old French oak). This approachable blend of 40% Touriga Nacional, 20% Touriga Franca and 40% Tinta Roriz  has good freshness and persistence.  Well made entry level wine.  13.5%

Churchill’s Estates Touriga Nacional 2012

Recognising that Touriga Nacional “can sometimes be too much of a good thing,” Nunes ages this popular single varietal wine (first made in 2007) in old oak barrels.  It is 100% sourced from Gricha and has attractive lift and character to nose and palate with its violets, spicy esteva and juicy raspberry, cherry and plum fruit.  Smooth, fine tannins go hand in hand with its easy going fruit; nice persistence.  Classic 2012 charm.  13.5%

Churchill’s Estates Grande Reserva Red 2012

From Gricha and another quinta, this is sourced from 100% old field blend vineyards (+50 years old).  Plenty of savoury, spicy oak here, with herbal hints and saltlick minerality to its fresh, sappy even, red and black berry and plum fruit, the tannins youthfully firm.  Though the finish is spiciliy persistent, it’s a touch hollow on the mid-palate. I suspect fruit and oak will meld together better with another year or so in bottle and it will become more seamless.  14%

Churchill’s Estates Quinta da Gricha Red 2012 

This single vineyard wine from old, north–facing field blend vines is not made every year.  I was surprised it didn’t make the cut in 2011 but Nunes tells me they experimented with skin contact on a small parcel.  Perhaps enough said that they didn’t try this is 2012!  The 2012 is a deep, opaque crimson and packs plenty of punch with spicy esteva lift, well integrated toasty oak and great depth and layer to the palate.  A savoury, sinewy chassis of old vine tannin and pronounced vein of minerality runs beneath its focused, concentrated, juicy black and red fruits.  Violets, esteva, eucalpyt and liquorice spice bring lift.  Terrific structure and juicy length. 14%

Churchill’s Estates Quinta da Gricha Red 2005

Gricha shows its pedigree again.  This 2005 has lovely balance and focus to its sweet cinnamon-kissed, bergamot-edged confit and singed plum.  Savoury layers of toasty oak, spice, esteva, eucalyptus and, just developing, mushroom notes build without overtaking the fruit. Salty minerality and ripe but present tannins underscore a firm finish.  13.5%

Sogrape/ Casa Ferreirinha

Quinta da Leda, the Douro Superior, principal source of Barca Velha

Sogrape, Portugal’s biggest producer (and still family-owned), acquired the prestigious A.A. Ferreira company in 1987 and, with it, Douro icon Barca Velha. Since the 1980s, it is sourced predominantly from Quinta da Leda in the Douro Superior (pictured top), which Ferreira had acquired in 1979. Ferreira initially planted 20ha of vines on land initially intended for rye. Today, there are almost 160 hectares of vines dedicated to Douro DOC wines together with a state-of the-art gravity-fed winery which was built in 2001 (pictured below). Grapes are also bought in from local producers.

The current custodian of Barca Velha, Chief Winemaker Luis Sottomayor

For Chief winemaker Luis Sottomayer, the Douro Superior makes the best table wines (the Cima Corgo, he says, the best Ports), mostly because of the climate. He explains, “within the Douro, it’s the driest sub-region, with extreme temperatures promoting strong maturations that result in wines with great structure and complexity, but with high thermal amplitudes that allow a lovely harmony and balance.” Moreover the estate is planted with different grape varieties at different altitudes (150-400m) and with varied sun expositions.

Perhaps taking their lead from Barca Velha, Casa Ferreirinha wines tend to have a more traditional bent – they’re less about sheer fruit power and more focused on elegance – gastronomic wines, you might say. Characteristics which were beautifully showcased at a recent lunch with Sottomayor at which he presented Reserva Especial 2007 and mature wines from top to bottom of the Casa Ferreirinha portfolio – Esteva to Barca Velha (my report here).

Casa Ferreirinha Planalto White Reserva 2013

Despite the Reserva tag, this is an entry level Douro white (it retails for c£8).  It shows clean, fresh melon fruit and has the region’s salty tang.  Simple but well done.  It is a blend of Viosinho, 20% Malvasia Fina, 15% Códega and 10% Gouveio. 12.5%

Casa Ferreirinha Antonio Adelaide Ferreira Branco 2012

This new release is a best barrel selection (c 40% new French oak) of 60% Viosinho and 40% Arinto from Quinta do Sairrão, which rises to several hundred metres.  It’s a very polished wine and, unusually for a Douro premium white, very focused on the fruit, classic Arinto lemony citrus fruit, here sweet and sharp like lemon meringue pie.  Though lees stirring brings a silky/pillowy texture, there is no disguising Arinto’s taut acid backbone; it will be interesting to see how it develops.  It certainly has the acidity and fruit intensity to age; for now it lacks a little complexity and layer.  14.5%

Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Rosado 2014

A pale 100% Touriga Nacional rosé from the highest point of Quinta do Sairrão (i.e. at c. 650m).  Closer to the 2012 than the 2013 (which, for me, lacked intensity), it reveals delicate hints of red cherry and cranberry fruit cut with a very gently nutty, savoury leesiness.  Fresh, mineral acidity – a hint of oyster-shell  – makes for a clean, crisp finish. Pretty and very food friendly. 11.5%

Casa Ferreirinha Callabriga 2012

Callabriga is the only wine in the range with US oak because, says Sottomayor, “Callabriga is more New World in style.”  The 2012 is a blend of 40% Touriga Franca, 35% Touriga Nacional, 25% Tinta Roriz matured for 12 to 18 months in used oak barrels of French and American origin (75% and 25% respectively). It’s a very deep colour with a nice concentration of ripe, jammy but juicy black fruits, grainy tannins, a lick of vanilla and plenty of liquorice to its spicy finish.  Well made.  14%

Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande 2012

A blend of Cima Corgo and Douro Superior fruit (35% Touriga Franca, 30% Tinta Roriz, 30% Touriga Nacional, 5% Tinta Barroca) which was aged for 12-18 months in used French oak.  It reveals deep-seated floral notes to its vivacious, juicy black berry, cherry and currant fruit.  Mineral-sluiced acidity lends it an attractive translucency/drinkability (very 2012), while a touch of ‘pippy’ bright and fruity tannic grip underscores its food friendliness.  Slips down all too easily but has the bones to age into the mid-term.  13.5%

Casa Ferreirinha Quinta de Leda 2012

This single quinta wine is a blend of 55% Touriga Franca, 30% Touriga Nacional, 10% Tinta Roriz, 5% Tinto Cão.  It was aged for around 18 months in 225-litre oak barrels, 50% new, 50% used. An inky deep hue provides an indication of its concentration and intensity – this wine just kept building over 3 days, revealing bergamot and tangerine blossom notes and sweet cinnamon and star anise spices as it opened up.  I particularly loved its juicily persistent, mineral-sluiced black currant, cherry and berry fruit and charge of fine, sooty tannins. With seamlessly integrated oak, it is very refined and elegant – a terrific example of the vintage which, though broachable, will age for a good decade.  14%

Casa Ferreirinha Touriga Nacional 2005

The Touriga was sourced from Quinta do Seixo Vau vineyard and aged for 16 months in 50% new, 50% used French oak.   Sweet violet perfumed raspberry/framboise fruit, toasty oak, a hint of esteva and sucrous tannins.  Though it has well integrated acidity, it’s a little too sweet for my palate.  Too much of a good thing to quote Churchill’s Nunes!  Still, impressive concentration of (primary) fruit.

Casa Ferreirinha Quinta da Leda 2005 

Harvest at Quinta de Leda, 2014

In an exceptionally dry year, this blend has more Touriga Nacional than usual (it is very resistant to hydric stress); it was aged for 12 months in 50% new oak, 50% used French oak.  It is a deep plum hue with a lovely, perfumed nose of sweet-scented red fruits and flowers (bergamot) which notes follow through on an elegant, very poised palate, together with juicy black berry. A myriad savoury notes bring great balance and complexity – kid glove leather, bayleaf, Berber tea, linseed, balsamic and mushroom.  Woodsmoke builds on a mineral-sluiced finish; fine-grained tannins ease the flow – very long.

Wine & Soul

Jorge Serodio Borges & Sandra Tavares, makers of one of the Douro’s very best white wines, Wine & Soul Guru

Founded in 2001, Wine & Soul is the joint project of Sandra Tavares da Silva and Jorge Serôdio Borges, who cut their teeth in the Douro at Q Vale d Maria (Sandra) and Niepoort and Passadouro (Jorge).

Their first wine, Pintas red 2001, was made from bought in grapes. In 2003, they acquired 2ha of very old (now 80 year old) mixed vines and made their first Pintas vintage port.

The next year, they produced the maiden Guru – perhaps the Douro’s top white wine, from a 46-year-old vineyard planted with indigenous varietals Gouveio, Viosinho, Rabigato and Códega do Larinho.

In 2005, they started to make a “second” red wine Character which, since 2007, has been 100% sourced from their own fruit.

In 2009, Jorge inherited Quinta da Manoella, a 12 hectare vineyard neighbouring Pintas.  It has mostly centenarian (field blend) vines and some younger vines which were planted in the 1980s.

The acquisition of Manoella (historically a Tawny Port vineyard which lends itself to fresher, more elegant wines) coincided with a shift away from waiting for concentration towards picking earlier for elegance, extracting less and reducing the amount of new oak. Balance and complexity are the priority.  Still, if you want to experience the Douro’s subtly different microclimates, it is fascinating to compare and contrast the red wines of Pintas and Manoella.  Tavares da Silva says even from the moment of crushing “the colour, everything looks and smells so different.”  For Borge, the forest nearby is a major influence – “there’s always a breeze, even on warmest days and it affects Manoella more.”

All the fruit for their red wines comes in the Vale de Mendiz in the Pinhâo Valley, Cima Corgo. In 2013, Guru was sourced from 6 old vine elevated parcels in Porrais on transitional schist to granite soils.

Wine & Soul Guru 2013

Woweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, this is an energetic wine.  On day three it was still looking fabulous – taut, flinty/cordite-ful and salty with lime peel, pith and oil and smoked hazelnut, the latter emerging on day 2.   Tavares da Silva & Borges told me they’ve significantly reduced the new oak, just 50% this year and it gives this racy, mineral wine – always a favourite – even more verve and finesse, not to mention truly exceptional purity, line and length.  I reckon it’s the best yet.  If you’re a fan of top Aussie Chardonnays Oakridge 864 or Penfolds Reserve Bin A bag yourself a bottle of this! 12.5% abv

Wine & Soul Manoella 2012 

The entry level wine from Manoella is made from younger 30-40 year old vines (south west exposure).   An elegant expression of the vintage with fleshy, really approachable, cinnamon-dusted fresh blood plum, plum skin, raspberry and cherry fruit.  Svelte tannins and persistent, mineral acidity make for a long, rolling finish with a subtle herbal hint and more effusive violets.  Lovely balance sees it cruise into day three. Abv/oak

Wine & Soul Pintas Character 2012 

The entry level red from Pintas vineyard’s 50-70 year old vines is, as expected, bigger, darker and firmer, much more on the black fruits and tighter-knit.  Though concentrated, the fruit – black and red currant and berry – is very well delineated, pure and persistent.  On day 2, it is opening up a tad and the oak looks quite flashy.  By day 3 it has hit its stride, revealing juicy black currant, berry and plum – expansive, yet still precise with a mineral, very persistent finish.  A lot of wine! Abv/oak

Wine & Soul Quinta da Manoella VV 2012

Old vine fruit delivers a very different experience once you get beneath the veneer of toasty oak.  This is made for the long haul and has a pronounced pull of acidity and pithy tannins behind its plum, black cherry and pomegranate fruit.  Coriander seed and saltlick adds lift and elegance.  Finishes long and precise. 14.5%

Wine & Soul Pintas 2012

A single vineyard wine made from 80 year old vines, a field blend of some 30 different grapes. Again, the oak dominates the wine at the moment, though there’s no doubting the concentration of blackcurranty fruit below.  Closed and hard to read, both in November and when re-tasted in March.  One to review.  14.5%

Wine & Soul Pintas Character 2005

Still a deep hue (crimson/aubergine), though the palate is quite broad, toasty and warm on the finish.  Disappointing. 14.5%

Wine & Soul Pintas 2005

A very deep hue, still opaque.  Overripe Porty in the mouth with raisin, black olive and leather fruit.  Lacking animation which seems to be a vintage issue – certainly the 2004 tasted the previous year showed much, much better.  14%

Quinta do Passadouro

Like Wine & Soul, Quinta do Passadouro is situated in the Vale de Mendiz, Pinhão Valley in the Cima-Corgo sub-region of the Douro valley.  This historic Quinta dates back to the 17th century. But it’s probably seen more change in the last 20 years than the previous 200. The catalyst for change was the late Dieter Bohrmann, a Belgian-based businessman, who bought the estate in 1991.

Though Passadouro had a venerable reputation for port, Bohrmann was keen to explore its potential for red table wines. Initially, his vision was realised through Dirk Niepoort who bought the grapes, making port and wine under the Niepoort brand. But in 2003, Bohrmann went his own way, employing Niepoort’s talented former winemaker, Jorge Serôdio Borges, to make wine for him. Already familiar with Passadouro’s terroir, Borges, since 2008 a partner in the business with the Borhmann family, has helped drive Passadouro forward.

Quinta do Passadouro itself comprises 20 ha of vines (mostly old vine, field blend) plus 5 ha of olive trees.  The producer also owns a 20ha south-facing vineyard – Quinta do Sibio in the Roncao Valley (where Noval also have plantings).  It was block plated some 25-30 years ago and is the source of Passadouro’s recent additions to its red portfolio, a single varietal Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca.

In recent years, the winery was modernised but port wines are still made 100% foot trodden in traditional granite lagares.  Douro reds are fermented both in  lagares and stainless steel.

Grapes for the white wines (the first made in 2009) are sourced from the Murça region from elevated vineyards at 500-600 metres on schist.

Passadouro Passa Branco 2013

An unoaked, entry level white with a reductive, flinty, salty nose with lime and green olive notes; good freshness, persistence. 12.5%

Passadouro Branco 2013

This wine undergoes around 5% barrel ferment for structure, body and complexity.  With its leafy (bay leaf) edge and citrus/mineral notes this wine always puts me in mind of a Loire Sauvignon.  In this vintage, the emphasis is on its citrus (lemon/lime) fruit; attractive rock saltiness too.  Subtly chalky in texture with nice line and restraint.

Passadouro Passa Tinto 2012

A super-drinkable red with very juicy black and red cherry fruit, close to the stone, saltlick schistous minerality and a lively peppery edge.  A classy entry level red. Shame it’s not in the UK! 14%

Passadouro Tinto 2012

This is a 50:50 blend of foot-trodden and tank fermented fruit, mostly aged in 2nd and 3rd use French oak. It shows bouncy, juicy black and red berry fruit with spicy, toasty oak to the finish.  A touch of sour plum and salt lick minerality underscores its freshness.  Well done. 14.5%

Passadouro Reserva 2012

A very deep hue with beguiling floral and coriander seed lift to its deep-seated black currant/cherry fruit and truly delightful freshness in this expressive vintage, which makes it much more an each way bet (more approachable, but will keep) than other years.  Still, it retains the palpable chiselled minerality which I so often find in this well-structured wine and the firm but fine charge of powdery tannins.  On day three it’s still fresh as a daisy, spicier perhaps, with a hint of esteva.  Terrific with surely a long life ahead. 14.5%

Passadouro Touriga Franca 2012

This is Passadouro’s first single varietal Touriga Franca.  Borges tells me he really loves the variety which he rates as “the most important red in the Douro, especially the old vines.”For that reason, he felt it was really important to make this wine “to show what Touriga Franca really is.”  It is sourced from Quinta do Sibio (c. 30 year old vines) and is aged in used French oak barrels. It fits with my idea of the grape, specifically, this is an elegant red, with seamless tannins, very good acidity and line, delicate florals, liquorice spice and red fruits and fleshier plum (raspberry, pomegranate). 13.5%

Passadouro Touriga Nacional  2012

Deeper in colour than the Touriga Franca, broader in frame, more robust too.  It has concentrated if succulent black berry and cherry fruit, cherry almond pie, blackberry jam, liquorice and eucalypt, toasty, creamy oak and powerful ripe tannins.  Generous.  14%

Passadouro Reserva 2005

Powerfully structured with toast, rich but vibrant blackcurrant/cassis and just a hint of gaminess to nose and palate.  Amplified toastiness on day two detracts a little from its purity and focus.

Ramos Pinto/Duas Quintas

Quinta de Ervamoira

 

The dynamic hub of Ramos Pinto’s table wines is pioneering vineyard Quinta de Ervamoira (at 150 meters altitude) in the Douro Superior which, for the Duas Quintas range, is blended with fruit from Quinta de Bons Ares (at 600 meters altitude, also in the Douro Superior).

Ervamoira was the first Douro quinta to be block planted (i.e. with single varietal parcels), also vertically planted (a break from the tradition of contoured, horizontal terraces). In many respects, it marks the birth spot of a new viticultural era in the Douro. You can read more about its history and evolution in an earlier report here.

And experimentation continues apace. It’s always fun to catch up with Chief Winemaker João Nicolau de Almeida (pictured) and his winemaker (and daughter-in-law) Teresa Ameztoy to find out what’s in the works.  As a result of dropping the Reserve Especial, Collecion and Bon Ares cuvees the range is now solely focused on the Duas Quintas label which has been treated to a makeover.

Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas White 2013

This blend of 50% Rabigato, 40% Viosinho and 10% Arinto was fermented in stainless steel vats at low temperature (90%) and in French oak casks (10%) and bottled in February 2014.

Gently round, but with good freshness (ripe integrated acidity), it has a salty, mineral nose with a herbal edge to its juicy apple fruit, which notes follow through in the mouth together with hints of bruised apple and pear skin.   Balanced, long and persistent.  13%

Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Reserva Branco 2013

A blend of 70% Rabigato, 10% Arinto, 10% Viosinho and 10% Folgazão, the latter of which de Almedia describes as a “new toy for body/sunshine but with freshness,” adding “it’s bright without specifc florals.”  Only 25% of the wine was fermented and aged in oak of which 10% was new; the balance (15%) was aged in larger formats (500l, 600l, 700l and 225l foudres).  Unshowy, it wears the oak very lightly, revealing layers of poached pear, pear skin, celery salt, schistous minerals and wild blossom/honey. Seamless fresh acidity teases out a long finish. 13%

Duas Quintas Red 2012

A blend of Touriga Nacional (45 %), Touriga Franca (35%), the balance being Tinta Roriz, Tinta da Barca, Tinta Barroca, Sousão, Tinto Cão, Tinta Amarela.  Twenty percent of the wine was aged in French oak barrels, 30% in toneis and the rest in stainless steel vats for 14 months. Bright crimson with very direct, fresh picked, juicy, exuberant red and black cherry and damson fruit, dusty minerality and a gentle rub of tannin. Lovely freshness and, on day two, spice to its persistent finish.  Nice energy/vivacity. 13.5% vol

Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Red Reserva 2012

This blend of Touriga Nacional (60%), Touriga Franca (30%) and Tinta Barca (10%) was fermented in granite lagares, wood, concrete or stainless steel vats depending on plot prior to being aged for 20 months in new and one- and two-year-old barrels. Dark burgundy with pronounced bergamot and sweet tangerine lift to nose and palate.  A well-defined, very digestible palate has dark berry and currant fruit, fleshier plum/plum skins layered with spice (clove, liquorice).  Firm acidity and taffeta tannins suggest it will age rather well. 14%

Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Red Reserva 2005 

A blend of Touriga Nacional (80%), Touriga Franca (15%) and Tinta Barroca (5%).  It was vinified in granite lagares and small stainless steel vats then aged for 14 months in in French oak barrels (new and of one fill) and hogshead casks (6,200-litre capacity). A rich aubergine skin hue with a ripe, sweet nose and palate with delicious savoury complexity to its still juicy blackberry and mellower dulce de membrillo fruit – star anise, clove, cinnamon, hints of leather, linseed, orange peel and eucalypt to its juicy blackberry and  fruit. Very long, with firm but ripe integrated tannins.  On song. 14%

Quinta do Vallado

Old terraces & the oldest field blend vineyard at the very top of the quinta

Like Alves de Sousa, Quinta do Vallado is based in the Baixo Corgo. Overlooking both the Corgo and Douro valleys the estate was founded in 1716 and belonged to the legendary Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira.

It still remains in the Ferreira family who, until 1990, sold their grapes to the port house of that name. The Quinta do Vallado brand was launched in 1995, initially focusing on red and white table wines. As part of this transformation the vineyards (70ha) were restructured and today comprise around 50ha of block planted vineyards aged between 25-30 years old and 20ha of very old (80+ year old) field blend terraced vineyards perched at the top of the estate.  No less than 33 different red varieties and 13 whites have been identified.  Although Vallado are re-grafting white varieties to red and re-grafting Mourisco, the aim is to maintain the typicity of the vineyard by replanting it to existing varieties.

A new up-to-the-minute more capacious winery and cellar was built in 2009, which coincided with the acquisition of Quinta do Orgal, a 40ha estate in the Douro Superior which, since 2011, is progressively being planted.

Latterly, the family has also developed a range of Port wines, starting with tawny Ports (10,20,20, 40-year old), now vintage Port; their ambition in this field was underlined by the release of pre-phylloxera Very Old Tawny Port Adelaide Tributa (reviewed here).  Francisco Ferreira told me they are increasing Port production and may add Colheitas to the range.  He also let slip that they have acquired another 500l cask of 19th century Tawny Port (“too goo an opportunity to miss) which they can use either for blending with age dated Tawnies and/or for a Tributa Very Old Tawny Port marque two.

They have also invested heavily in their tourism offer – you can now choose to stay at the homely sympathetically restored manor house or in the strikingly contemporary rooms of a new architect-designed building.  Construction of a new six-room hotel is underway in the Douro Superior.

The estate is managed by Joâo Ferreira Alvares Ribeiro, Franciso Ferriera and Franciso Olazabal (also winemaker at Quinta do V. Meão ).

Quinta do Vallado Branco 2013 

An unoaked blend of 40% Rabigato, 25% Códega, 15% Viosinho, 10% Gouveio (Verdelho) and 10% Arinto.  A fresh, lemony nose and palate with lemon pips’ zing and steely, grapefruity acidity. 12%

Quinta do Vallado Moscatel Galego 2013

The last of the old labels – the Moscatel will be branded Prima from the 2014 vintage

In this productive year, the 2013 vintage was sourced from Vallado’s own grapes – a 50 year old parcel and two 15-20 year old parcels. Spicy, gingery, even a little wild on the nose, this is no prettified powder puff Muscat.  Rather, it has sorbet-like clarity.  A super-precise, bone dry palate reveals hints of orange blossom, orange peel and fresh ginger to its spicy pear and pink grapefruit.     Long, tight, persistent and mineral, it finishes firm and focused. Very good.  12.5%  N.B. As from 2014, Vallado’s bone dry Moscatel will be called Prima.

Quinta do Vallado Branco Reserva 2013

A blend of 35% Gouveio/Verdelho, 30% Arinto, 25% Viosinho and 10% Rabigato fermented and aged for 7 months in 500l French oak barrels (40% new, just for the Gouveio) with batonnage.  A nutty nose and palate with zesty lemon and lime and persistent, salty minerality.  Firm acid to the finish is a little elbowy.  Seemed better integrated when re-tasted in March.  13%

Quinta do Vallado Red 2012

A vivid hue with with inky florals, vibrant cherry, blood plum, persistent acidity, silky tannins and schistous minerality.  A thoroughly charming entry level red with clever character building use of old oak (30%) and old field blend vines (30%) with 25% Touriga Franca, 25% Touriga Nacional, 15% Tinta Roriz and 5% Sousão.  13.5%

Quinta do Vallado Sousão 2012

Sousão is the premier red grape of neighbouring Vinho Verde, where it is known as Vinhão. In the Douro where plantings are on the up, especially in the Douro Superior, Sousão is particularly valued for its high acidity and the deep colour its skins bring to wines. It has firm rustic tannins too which Vallado seek to ameliorate by foot-trodding in lagares for the first four hours of days one and two (for a gentle pre-fermentation maceration), then taking it off skins before the end of the ferment and ageing in barques (50% new).  It’s an inky wine with bitter chocolate and violets to the nose and palate which has a firm acid line fleshed out by sour plum, tangy black cherry, tart rhubarb.  Savoury balsamic and animal notes too; the oak does not ratchet up the sucrosity, despite the new oak quota.  The 2012 is more challenging than 2011 where perfect fruit and tannin ripeness kept the tannin and acid in check, but it’s probably a truer example of the variety; give it 2-3 years in bottle and enjoy with food. 13.5%

Quinta do Vallado Touriga Nacional 2012 

This 100% Touriga Nacional red was aged in French Oak barriques (30% new, the balance first or second use) for 16 months.  Fruit is sourced from Vallado and a rented vineyard (10ha) in the Douro Superior. Sweet black plum with plush, velvety tannins, violets, tangerine and cinnamon lift.  Persistent, with quite firm acidity.  Mid-weight, quite forward. 14%

Quinta do Vallado Reserva 2012

In this approachable vintage, the old field blend component was racheted up a notch to 90% which accentuates the savouriness of its ripe, supple tannins.  The balance comprises Tourigas Nacional and Franca.  It was aged for 18 months in French oak barrels (55% new).  Really juicy mineral-sluiced blackberry, red cherry and berry saturate the palate.  Long, elegant and mineral with orange blossom lift to the finish; a lovely example of 2012’s finesse. 14.5%

Quinta do Vallado Adelaide 2012

Adelaide, the flagship red, was first introduced in the 2005 vintage. It is sourced from the fruit of a single very old vine parcel, the best performer in any given year. Sourced from vines more than 90 years old with an average production of 500g per vine, aged in 225 litre 100% new French Allier Oak barriques for 20 months (“90% Taransaud because it preserves fruit and terroir”]. A very deep hue with a bright pink rim – young! As it is on a rich but oak-dominated spicy palate with a hint of eucalypt.  On day two it’s starting to open up a little more and roll out its blackcurrant and berry fruit; there’s a hint of balsamic too.  Plenty of old vine structure – sinewy, savoury tannins and fresh acidity – make for a long, precise finish, still somewhat impenetrable.  Needs time.  One to review (not shown at the March tasting). 14.5%

Quinta do Vallado Red 2005 

Still showing a good concentration of sweet, confit fruit with hints of mushroom and toast.  OK.

Quinta do Vallado Sousão 2005 

With a decade of ageing, the variety’s angular tannins and acidity have been tamed.  But this, only the second vintage, suffers from a heavy hand with the oak – too much sucrosity and char gets in the way of the fruit/freshness, which is a shame because there is attractive black cherry beneath.  A lick of cinnamon and eucalypt too.  I’m told back then this wine would have been aged in 100% new oak with a higher toast; it’s good to see the shift away from new/higher toast oak.

Quinta do Vallado Reserva 2005

Continuing on the theme of restraint Francisco Ferreira confirms that, in the last 5-10 years, experience has taught them to take more care to avoid overripeness.  Admitting that he loved the 2003 vintage in the beginning, he says looking back it was completely over-mature and jammy.   Still, this 2005 acquits itself quite well.  It’s dark, spicy and rich – nice concentration – but long, balanced and very vinous.  Savoury tannins, an attractive bloody/gamy tang and hint of mushroom do not detract from its line or length.  Nor do they mask its saltily fresh minerality.

Quinta do Crasto

Located in the heart of the Cima Corgo and owned by the Roquette family, Quinta do Crasto, a 130ha estate is among the Douro’s most famous for table wines. Predominantly south-facing slopes extend from the banks of the river up to an altitude of nearly 600 metres. Aged vines (+70 years) whose grapes are vinified separately produce fabulously concentrated single vineyard flagship wines Vinha Maria Teresa and Vinha da Ponte, also the Vinhas Velhas Reserva which offers particularly good value for money in those years when Maria Teresa and Vinha da Ponte are not made.

Beneath this top tier, Crasto’s range has at least as many rungs with three reds and a white. Their Port range is also increasing, the vintage and LBV having been joined by Finest Reserve, a Reserve Ruby.  The family are just starting now with Tawny Ports and plans are afoot to release a Colheita, starting with the 1997 vintage.

This expansion reflects the fact that the Roquette family are now among the Douro’s top 10 vineyard owners, having almost doubled their holdings following the purchase of the 145ha Quinta da Cabreira in the Douro Superior (a piecemeal process, which started in 2000 – see my report here, where they already owned an established vineyard, Quinta Canado do Reu in Muxagata.    With the advent of a new oaked white (Superior Branco), the Roquettes are now planting the upper part of Cabriera to white varieties.

Ninety-five per cent of red grapes are now home grown.

Quinta do Crasto Branco 2013

A blend of Gouveio, Viosinho and Rabigato from 20 year old vines, planted on granite and schist soils. Around 20% of this vintage was barrel-fermented and aged for just five weeks to add a bit of texture and dimension. There’s an attractive touch of reduction – struck match – on the nose.  Pillowy lees and sweet oak bring some complexity and body to the palate which has fresh citrus and golden delicious apple fruit.  A little short relative to the other New Douro whites at this level. 12%

Crasto Branco Superior 2013

Quinta da Cabreira

Winemaker Manuel Lobo tells me that, ever since Tomas and Miguel Roquette first pressed him to make a white wine 8 years ago he had been thinking about a wine which was fermented and aged in barrel.  He says 2013 was the time to make it.  Why?  Apart from 2013 being a highly regarded year for whites on account of acid rentention, two other factors were at work.  Like its red “Superior” counterpart, the fruit comes from the Douro Superior from the upper reaches of Quinta da Cabreira and from more elevated vineyards (up to 620m) in Muxagata.  Technology is also on Lobo’s side since the winery recently installed OXOline® barrel stacking modules which, fitted with rollers, allow his team simply to rotate the barrel to stir the lees in situ without taking out the bung, helping to retain freshness.  Another winery innovation aimed at freshness is to use a small proportion of acacia barrels.  From a 60:40 blend of Viosinho and Gouveio vines (average 18 years old) aged for 6 months in oak and acacia barrels (70% new), it has an attractive sweet citrus (pink grapefruit and  tangerine) and orange blossom character to nose and palate with nutty lees and vanillin oak.  The Viosinho adds a hint of bayleaf.  The finish has good focus and underlying mineral acidity.  It feels a little constructed/self-conscious, but it’s a good first effort for a premium white.  12.5%

Quinta do Crasto Red 2013

A well made entry-level blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barroca sourced from younger Cima Corgo and Douro Superior vineyards with an average age of 25 years. A tiny proportion (5%) was aged in seasoned oak for 12 months. It’s not as vibrant as the 2012 vintage but has round black and blue berry fruits with fleshy plum and smooth tannins. 14%

Crasto Superior 2012

First made in 2007, Crasto Superior is sourced from Quinta da Cabreira in the Douro Superior, with around 20% from another older Douro Superior vineyard owned by the family average vine age 20 years).   It is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Sousão with old field blend fruit and was aged for 12 months in French oak barrels (c. 35% new).  This is a nice svelte, juicy example of the vintage with sweet spices – lifted star anise and cinnamon to its ripe raspberry, black cherry and plum fruit.  Great balance; very drinkable. One of my favourite vintages of this wine so far.  14.5%

Quinta do Crasto Reserva Old Vines 2012

No less than 42 old field blend vineyard parcels of 25-30 different grapes are vinified separately and, in 2012, were aged for around 16 months in oak.  Lobo usually works with around 85% French oak and 15% American oak but reckons the US oak was a little lower given that this vintage was relatively forward.  It reveals sweet, toasty, vanillin oak, esteva and ripe but vibrant crushed red and black currant and berry fruit with fleshier, juicy blood plum. Savoury old vine tannins and rolling acidity anchor and extend the fruit making for a long, sinuous palate which delivers plenty of pleasure now but also has lots yet to give.  14.5%

Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional 2012

Aged for 16 months in lightly toasted 225 litres French oak barrels this Touriga was sourced from three blocks of 31 year old vines (a selection massale) facing east, south east and north.  The 2012 is certainly very pretty.  Pronounced orange blossom dances around the edges on day 1 and intensifies on day two, when it has a spicier bergamot edge.  It brings attractive lift to this wine’s creamy but succulent black plum and cherry fruit.  Svelte tannins and fresh if firm acidity make for a relatively open knit wine – especially compared with the 2011 which had a good deal more heft.  Though I think Touriga Nacional is a variety which can easily be over-worked, this lacks a bit of conviction at the price point. 14%

Quinta do Crasto Tinta Roriz 2012 

Fruit from 32 year old vines is similarly aged for 16 months in new French oak barrels (225 litres), yet the Tinta Roriz is much the better performer in 2012.  Terrific purity, saturation and length of cinnamon-kissed succulent damson and blackberry fruit.  Very firm but fine mineral/sandy tannins bode well for ageing and, together with fresh acidity, lend great finesse.  14.5%

Quinta do Crasto Vinha da Ponte 2012

Vinha de Ponte, a single vineyard wine, is only made in top vintages; the vines are 97 years old.  For Lobo, it’s a trickier wine than Maria Teresa, the sister flagship old vine red which comes from a bigger vineyard (4.7ha versus 1.9ha).  While Maria Teresa can be picked in up to four tries (different stages) Ponte, he says, has to be picked on one day.  No pressure then!  No doubt about it, Ponte 2012 is a sumptuous, sweet scented wine with super-fine tannins and a bottomless pit of muscular black berry and currant fruits.  Effortlessly mopping up its new French oak (100% new, 20 months), it has outstanding fruit purity or, as Lobo engagingly puts it, “the wine runs the barrel, the barrel never runs the wine.” Yet in an oxymoronic way, the seamlessness which derives from its unwavering fruit is, for me, its undoing.  Undoing is super-harsh because this powerhouse is beautifully balanced, yet I’d like to see a bit more nuance and edge to its long, so long on fruit, finish.   It’s early days, of course, so this will come with time (see my note here on the 2004 tasted last year, I’m noting my ‘bottomless pit’ reference!) but, while the fruit overwhelmed me, the wine itself did not and this is what I expect of Ponte (and Maria Teresa), even at the point of (youthful) release.  But lest there be any doubt, it is a hedonist’s delight.  14.5%

Quinta do Crasto Reserva Old Vines 2005

Lots of sucrosity to nose and toasty palate make for a rather plodding, stolid palate.

Quinta do Crasto Vinha Maria Teresa 2005

A deep hue with great richness to nose and palate.  Maria Teresa 2005 has dense layers of supple cassis and blackcurrant fruit, black olive/tapenade (a touch of overripeness), kid glove leather, linseed, toasty oak and, on days two and three, pronounced esteva.  Though fine, the tannins are firm with a mineral/iodine edge which, together with its well endowed fruit, suggests there’s plenty of life in it yet.  In fact I think this wine has yet to peak. 14%

Alves de Sousa

Long term Port grape growers the Alves de Sousa family own seven quintas in the cooler and wetter Baixo Corgo (now one in the Cima Corgo too which, out on a limb has been christened Adoptado).  The wines, initially made with consultancy from Anselmo Mendes, are among the region’s most characterful; rusticity is a hallmark and yet reds and whites can be very fine.  Elegant single varietal reds hail from younger vines (c. 20 years old) at Quinta Vale da Raposa and include a Touriga Nacional, Sousão and, occasionally, Tinta Cão (the last in 2004).

As for their growing range of Ports – Vintage and Tawny – they have a delightful freshness which reflects the sub-region.  Caldas White Port is an exceptionally rich, characterful, drier style of White Port made in a deliberately oxidative style (one which, I think, works very well for Port but which I personally find more challenging with the white wines).

Although they still sell around 50% of their grapes to Taylor’s for Port, Domingos Alves de Sousa and his son Tiago celebrated 20 years of making estate wines under their own label in 2013. It’s a mark of their success that they are in the process of constructing a new winery and cellar at Quinta da Gaivosa which comes onstream this year.  The gravity-fed winery will be equipped with seven small (maximum 3000 litre) lagares with robotic foo-treading for Vintage Port, perhaps some top Douro DOC wines too.

Where, in Domingos’ words, “our philosophy is bottle late and release later,” there were no finished 2012 reds ready to show me in November; instead I tasted a couple of finished 2011 reds and, with Domingo’s son Tiago, subsequently tasted 2012 samples of the same wines this March.  As for the whites, while there was new to me 2013 (Berço) to taste, Alves de Sousa also believe in bottle-aged whites so I have written up the just released Reserve Pessoal Branco below.

Alves de Sousa Berço 2013

Berço is the name of the quinta (estate) where Domingos was born.  It is located at between 500-600m in the Baixo Corgo and looks out towards the Serra da Marão mountain, which separates Vinho Verde from the Douro.  Unsurprising then that it’s a blend of Avesso and Arinto from 10-15 year old vines – grapes more closely associated with Vinho Verde.  First made in 2011, in 2013 the fruit underwent 24 hours skin contact prior to fermentation and it was aged for 12 months in new oak.  The pungent nose and a certain firm, stony minerality to the back palate speak of skin contact.  With its pronounced resinous quality (and assertive acidity) it’s closer to the Dão than the Douro in style.  This fresh, very persistent acidity is accentuated by menthol (peppermint/eucalpyt) riffs and mountain pond/wetland boskiness.  Both acidity and menthol notes animate a creamy, very textural, rich citrus palate with nutty/salt caramel oak.  Not a consensual style, but it’s very good and very long/energetic. 12.5%

Alves de Sousa Branco da Gaivosa 2013

This blend of Arinto, Gouveio and Malvasia Fina was aged for 2 months in new oak barrels.  Though round and creamy it has deliciously tangy, saline acidity to its tangerine, white asparagus, fresh fennel and celery salt palate; a well balanced, long finish has a pebbly minerality.  Good palate presence and weight with freshness. 13%

Alves de Sousa Reserve Pessoal Branco 2006

Sourced from +60 year old vineyards at Quinta da Gaivosa (so a blend of Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Viosinho and other traditional Douro varieties). With skin contact, a hyper-oxidative approach to vinification and several years in barrel I should be upfront and say this is made in a style which is not  generally not my cup of tea; too challenging for me.  It has a varnishy, aldehydic edge and earthy undertow to its cidery/bruised apple fruit with nutty oak and spicy, rather bitter medicinal vegetal notes.

Alves de Sousa Vale da Raposa Reserva 2012

This blend of classic Douro varieties is not, as Tiago puts it, a “classic Douro firework.”  It’s a yielding, fleshy wine with juicy plum and blackberry fruit threaded with garrigue-like dried herbs.  Has the solidity and completeness of a blend (where each grape has a role/‘plugs the gaps’), yet also a restraint.  I suspect, like the 2011, it was aged in old oak barrels for a short period to let the freshness and primacy of the fruit do the talking.

Alves de Sousa Vale da Raposa Reserva 2011

Sweeter and riper than the 2012, more complex too though, to a degree, this is a function of a bit more bottle age.   The 2011 has a sweet core of ripe but persistent and fresh red berry and plum fruit with a lift of spice and curl of smoke.  Savoury tannins and an earthy undertow add to its complexity.  It was aged for four months in old oak barrels.  14%

Alves de Sousa Vale da Raposa Touriga Nacional 2012 (sample)

The vintage and the (cooler) region work well to produce a very elegant Touriga Nacional with bright and glistening red fruits, juicy plum and salty minerality; very promising.

Alves de Sousa Vale da Raposa Touriga Nacional 2011

A deep hue with flashes of garnet.  Very fresh and lively in the mouth whilst also a little rustic with its savoury clove edge to the tannins and peppermint riff to its juicy plum fruit.  With such a persistent, elegant finish I’m surprised it comes in at 15%abv!

Alves de Sousa Abandonado 2005

I have a big soft spot for this particularly singular, quite rustic cuvée from an aged (+ 80 year old vineyard).  Initially very wild and savoury on the nose with smoky bacon, clove, charry wood (not sweet wood smoke) and pine needles which notes leaven a palate of great depth, with earthy sweet plum and juicy – very persistent and fresh – blackberry.  The whole is well supported by bony, sturdy tannins.  With air, classic Abandando notes of eucalyptus and smoked parika emerge.  Plenty to engage and maintain your interest from tip to very big toe.  Very good, if a touch bitter on the finish.

Alves de Sousa Quinta da Gaivosa 2005

A tighter, more groomed nose and palate with a very cool, refined, persistent delivery of black and red currant and berry fruit with a subtle vegetal edge.The tannins are as fine as soot and a little sooty (bitter) too.  On day two it’s a good deal looser knit, with much less clarity to the palate which is muddied by notes of woodsmoke, toast and confit fruit.  Much better on day 1…curiously so?

Alves de Sousa Quinta da Gaivosa Reserva Pessoal 2005

The bottle I tasted seemed very developed with meaty Bovril, brown seed/brown liquorice notes – premature oxidation from a rogue cork?

Quinta do Vale Dona Maria

When Cristiano van Zeller’s family estate, Quinta do Noval, was sold in 1993 he started casting around for grapes and ultimately a vineyard to pursue his own projects. Quinta Vale D. Maria, which belonged to his wife Joana’s family, was acquired in 1996. It is is located in the heart of the steeply terraced Torto Valley (Cima Corgo), with a south / south-east exposition.

Since then Van Zeller has increased the orginal footprint of 10ha to over 30ha by purchasing or taking out long-term leases of neighbouring properties. He has also built a pocket-sized gravity-fed winery on site, where all reds are foot-trodden in lagares.

Van Zeller makes a bewildering array of wines here, including single vineyard/parcel wines from Quinta Vale D. Maria and and Casa de Casal Loivos. For CV-Curriculum Vitae red, the net is cast wider – fruit is sourced from various very aged, predominantly north-facing plots, albeit still in the Torto Valley. I add the description red for the first time because, in 2013, Van Zeller introduced a CV White, just 600 bottles which is a barrel selection from the same vines that produce VZ White.  The Van Zeller range is made with bought in fruit, as is Rufo, the new entry level red, white and, depending on the year, rosé.

In common with other Douro wine pioneers, as he has come to understand the full potential of his estate, Van Zeller has started to release single parcel wines from Quinta do Vale Dona Maria. Hand in hand with this development comes a steady reduction in the amount of new oak.

VZ only old vineyards- when Cristiano at Noval and kept with the grower – in 2006 bought grapes and still buy. 80 yo, 600m martis facing north, filed blend…

Winemaker Joana Pinhão who started working at the quinta in 2007 presented the wines.

Rufo do Vale D. Maria White 2013 

The fruit for this unoaked 50:50 blend of Códega de Larinho and Rabigato came from young (c. 12 year old) vineyards at 600m in Sobreda and Candedo in Murça. For Pinhão it’s not just elevation which brings freshness but also the Rabigato.  This is an easy drinking, very approachable, fresh white.  Simple, but well made.  12.5%

Van Zellers VZ Branco 2013

A blend of Viosinho, Rabigato, Codega and Gouveio from two elevated (c. 600m) old field blend vineyards (average age between 50 and 80 years old) around the villages of Porrais and Candedo, in the north-eastern part of the Douro in the Murça district.  Fermented then aged in French oak barriques on lies with batonnage for nine months.  A yellow hue with vanillin, mineral and citric hints on a tight nose.  In the mouth it is very citrusy with intense lemon pip bite, pink grapefruit, lime rind and lime oil.  A hint of bayleaf spice and very slatey minerality shine through on a measured finish which seems to me less oaky than previous years – though the fiche refers to 100% new oak (as was the case in 2012), Pinhão says that this wine was aged in roughly 50:50 new/used French oak.  13%

Rufo do Vale D. Maria Red 2012

A blend of around 60% Touriga Franca, 35% Touriga Nacional and a splash of Tinta Roriz from 5 year old to 35 year old vineyards in Loureiro (Baixo Corgo) and the Pinhão valley and Torto valley (Cima Corgo). Aged in a mix of two, three and four year old French oak barriques for 12 months, then in stainless steel for another year.  I tasted it last year and, a year on the final blend was still work in progress.  It remains juicy with good acidity to its red and black fruits.  Again, a well made solid red.

Van Zellers Red 2012

A blend of at least 7 grape varieties (including Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Sousão, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Rufete) from the same vineyards as Rufo with 20% old vine fruit from Quinta Vale D. Maria for complexity and depth/structure.  It was aged in 1-4 year old French oak barriques for 17 months.   Very fresh and (coriander seed) spicy on the nose and palate with very precise red fruits and a touch of pomegranate syrup.  Well integrated fine tannins combined with its persistent acidity give length and line. Approachability and finesse. 14.5%

Van Zellers VZ 2012 

In this vintage the fruit was sourced from a single west-facing vineyard next door to Quinta Vale D. Maria which Van Zeller acquired in 2009.  It is located at 150m with old field blend vines (c. 80 year old with over 30 grapes; at least 20% Tinta Roriz in this wine).  The grapes were co-fermented in one lagare, foot trodden and then aged for 22 months in one year old oak better to communicate the character of the vineyard. It’s another elegant wine with red, slightly herbal, berry fruit, a touch of tarter rhubarb too as well as juicy black berry and cherry. Fine, chalky tannins and mineral salt lick acidity make for a long, fluid mineral-sluiced finish.  Very good.  14%

Quinta Vale d Maria 2012

Grapes used for Quinta Vale D. Maria come from the oldest field blend plots of the quinta – the original 10 hectares – which average around 60 years of age) and comprise over 40 different traditional grape varieties. The wine was aged for 21 months in 225l and 300l barriques (75% new and 25% one year old French oak).   Relatively skeletal for this usually fleshy red on day one yet with its classic cinnamon-kissed black cherry fruit; herbal hints too in 2012.  On day two, it has opened up a little more, revealing juicy blackberry and more pronounced schistous minerality.  In London, it shows fleshier plum on the mid-palate. A shy, restrained Vale D. Maria. Lovely structure (fine tannins) and freshness.  14.5%

Quinta Vale d Maria Vinha da Francisca 2012

In 2004 when Van Zeller’s daughter Francisca (who now works for her father) celebrated her 18th birthday, Vinha da Francisca (4.5ha) was planted with several different grape varieties, including Tinta Francisca, a very traditional Douro variety, Touriga Franca, Sousão, Rufete and Touriga Nacional. The wine was aged in 75% new/25% one year old French oak barriques for 21 months. It displays firm, fresh redcurrant and sweeter red berry fruit with a herbal edge and nice minerality.  As it opens up on day two, notes of black cherry and violets chime in.  Like the 2011, it has an angularity to its acid and  tannin structure which sets this wine apart from the others.  But I like its definition.  14.5%

Quinta Vale d Maria Vinha do Rio 2012

The name is a give away.  This single parcel wine (first made in 2009) from the the oldest and lowest parcel (1.7ha) edges the Rio (river) Torto.  Twenty-seven grape varieties have been identified among the centenarian field blend vines, but the parcel is predominantly (40%) Tinta Barocca with around 10% Rufete, a significant amount of Tourigas Franca and Nacional, then it’s a melting pot.  South-facing as well as low so warmer, the Vinha do Rio parcel is always harvested first (no doubt also because sugars rise fast with Tinta Barocca, an early ripener).  It was aged in new French oak for around 22 months.  Vinha do Rio 2012 is a very deep colour and, true to that Barocca component, it is very fleshy and expansive with a generous mid-palate of cinnamon-flecked black cherry/berry and plum fruit and a touch of leafiness/spicy coriander seed (plus an attractive lift of violets when re-tasted in London).  Smooth if a little (attractively) skinsy of tannin and big/soft of body it contrasts quite starkly with Vinha da Francisca.  The finish is a little warm; not quite the definition of the other reds.  15%

CV-Curriculum Vitae 2012 

Grapes come from predominantly north-facing, very old vineyards (+ 80 years) in the Torto Valley. The wine was aged in new (75%) and one-year-old (25%) French oak casks for about 22 months. I expect bold fruit and finesse from CV and it really delivers on both in 2012 – I particularly enjoyed its slow burn delivery.  Powerful but polished, like Crasto Ponte, it has a tremendous concentration of supple, oak-mopping black currant and wild berry fruit which means the wine runs the barrel, the barrel doesn’t run the wine. Said fruit is wed to pithy, mineral tannins which, palpably present, give this wine great palate presence and gravitas.  It’s an exciting energetic synergy for fruit, tannin and acidity. 14.5%

Vinha de Casa de Casal Loivos 2012

Casa de Casal Loivos is perched at the top of the hill above Pinhão overlooking the Douro river (the estate’s 17th century manor house is now a small country hotel). For many generations, its vineyards were the source of top notch grapes for Quinta do Noval, which used to be owned by the van Zeller family. Around 1998, Van Zeller and Manuel Sampaio Pimentel agreed it was time to make a Douro red and the first wine was made in 1999 from a select grapes from the older part of the vineyard (with an average age of well over 50 years) at 350m; the vines have a high proportion of Tinta Roriz. This wine was aged in a combination of new to four year old French oak barriques for an average period of 18 months. With the CV parcels, Casal de Loivos is always one of last vineyards to be harvested.  It has the estate’s signature slinky sweet earthy raspberry and milk chocolate notes – v delicious, in 2012, with a hint of mint. Fine of frame it has fresh acidity and chalky tannins to eke out the fruit.  Elegant with an attractive mineral undertow.  Carries its 15% abv very well.

Quinta Vale d Maria 2005 

A burgundy hue with kid glove, confit plum and raisined fruit.  Baggy and a little warm it is by no means the first 2005 to be more developed than I expected.

CV-Curriculum Vitae 2005 

The CV, on the other hand retains good colour and brightness to its fruit.  On day one, a tight nose displays sweet vanillin and cedar oak and a rich undertow of fruit which unravels on a supple mid-palate of sumptous juicy plum and darker, juicy black berry and currant.  On day two, mocha notes mingle in.  Impressive fruit power and presence still, the tannins powerful and ripe.  Very good. 14.5%

Quinta dos Murças

Quinta dos Murças belongs to the Roquette family, who are related to the Roquettes of Quinta do Crasto fame.  However, José Roquette who made his first entree into the wine industry when he invested in Esporão, a super successful pioneer of the modern era of Alentejo wines.

In 2008, the Roquettes acquired Murças.  It is located in the heart of the Cima Corgo, near Crasto on the north bank opposite Rui Paulo’s famous restaurant, DOC, which is moored to the south bank of the Douro river.  The 155 hectare estate has 58 hectares under vine (ranging from 15-65 years old) and rises steeply from 50 metres above sea level at the river to around 450m.  In addition to its traditional terraces, the estate is home to the Douro’s first ‚vinha ao alto‘ (vertical row) vines.

When I first visited in the rather wet winter of 2009, Esporão’s Chief Winemaker David Baverstock was super-excited to be making wine once more in the Douro after a 15 year interlude.  The Australian winemaker and long term Portugal resident had a hand in some of the Douro’s first modern table wines at Quinta de la Rosa, Quinta do Fojo and Quinta do Crasto.

Though work was underway to restructure the vineyards and renovate the winery, Baverstock was very clear about the style he wanted to pursue – “classic, elegant – not another big, sweet Douro red.”  You can read my report on these first tentatives steps and the first wines from the 2008 vintage here.  Based on my notes below, Baverstock is proceeding as intended.  I like the freshness and restraint of the wines, though I’d like to see a little more personality come through.

Incidentally, when I re-visited last September, I discovered the winery transformed with robotic lagares and gleaming stainless steel conical vats.

Quinta dos Murças Assobio White 2013

An unoaked simple but fruity blend of Gouveio, Rabigato, Viosinho sourced from 15 year old vines in the Baixo Corgo at 350m.  It has a clean, crisp, fresh, fruity (citric) nose and palate; I detected just a hint of oxidation to the finish.  Drink young. 13.5%

Quinta das Murcas Assobio Red 2012

A blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca from vines averaging 20 years old at 350m.  Around 30% of the blend was aged in oak for 12 months (new and 2/3 year old 225 litre French and American oak barrels),  It’s clean, fresh and fruity with juicy blackberry and smooth tannins.  Very sound.  14%

Quinta dos Murças Reserva 2012

This vintage is due to go to market next year.  Up until 2011, this cuvée comprised old vine fruit but, from this vintage, grapes from the higher, oldest vineyards (at 450m, c 60 years old) were hived off for a new Vinhas Velhas.  From lower vineyards at 100-150m near the river (predominantly c. 40 year old Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional) this has a solid core of juicy, spicy blackberry fruit and ripe but present tannins.  14%

Quinta dos Murças Vinhas Velhas 2012

This foot-trodden wine is also scheduled for release in 2016 and comprises around 50% Touriga Franca.  It’s a deep hue, most definitely more concentrated, precise and persistent than the Reserva – the benefits of a few hundred feet and another 20 years‘ vine age are readily apparent.  That said, true to Baverstock’s word, this is no blockbuster (and I’d describe the saltily elegant and mineral 2011 Reserva and brambly juicy 2010 Reserva I tasted in March with Baverstock as mid-weight).  The Vinhas Velhas 2012 reveals sweet spices to nose and palate and leans more towards red fruits as well as juicy blood plum.  The tannins are firm but fine grained, the oak sweetly vanilla perfumed (sweet vanilla).  Good length/persistence.  Well done.  14%

Quinta do Vale Meão

Quinta do Vale Meão may have been the legendary Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira’s final acquisition, but it was far from an afterthought. Located in the easternmost Douro Superior, the canny operator held back until she could be sure that the train line would be extended to this hitherto barren outpost a stone’s throw from Pocinho, the last stop. A canniness which paid off down the track when this fine estate went on to produce the Douro’s most iconic wine, Barca Velha in 1952 and, since 1999, estate wines under the Quinta do Vale Meão label.

Francisco (Xito) de Olazabal, Luísa de Olazabal, Francisco (Vito) Javier de Olazabal

The 270ha estate which she purchased in 1877 is now owned by her great-great grandson Francisco Javier de Olazabal (Vito), whose son, Francisco Olazabal Nicolau de Almeida (Xito), is in charge of the winemaking. Eighty-four hectares are under vine.

Low lying and relatively flat (at around 150m), the original vineyard is unusual, also because the vines are planted in a range of different soils types – not just schist, but also granite and alluvial gravel.

The vineyards are block planted (the oldest over 50 years old) to the following varieties: Touriga Nacional (40 %), Tinta Roriz (25 %), Touriga Francesa (20 %), Tinta Amarela (5 %), Tinta Barroca (5 %) and Tinto Cão (2 %) Sousão (2 %) and others (1 %). Thirteen hectares of new vineyard were planted in March 2008 at 350m on granite slopes with outcrops of schist.

Like other established producers, there is a shift away from new/high toast oak, also towards single parcel wines (which show off the property’s different soil types). Again in line with emerging trends, the new vineyard is planted to a broader range of varieties, including Tinta Francisca where Vito says the older vineyards were planted 50 years ago to a handful of varieties “but that was a temporary measure and we must now move on to other varieties.”

A large new purpose built cellar (with more humidity control) and a new tasting room was completed in 2012. The latest development is the launch of a white wine (Meandro).  Xito told me he wanted to make a white wine from nearby vineyards having successfully made a Douro white from high altitude vineyards at Quinta de Porrais at 600m (reviewed here).  The first Meandro white, from the 2013 vintage, sold out in 15 days.   Which perhaps explains why the family have bought one of the two vineyards from which it is sourced!

Plans are also afoot to extend the Port range to include Tawny Ports.

Quinta do Vale Meão Meandro White 2013

A 50:50 blend of Rabigato (20-25 year old vines) and Arinto (10 year old vines).  The Rabigato vineyard lies just 400m from Quinta do Vale Meão and is located on schist soils.  The Arinto vineyard is located on alluvial soil at the northern tip of the bend in the river (and across the river) in the Vilariça valley to the north. The vineyards are located at around 200m so they are not the obvious candidates for white grapes even in the generally less hot, wetter Cima Corgo and Baixo Corgo!  But, says Xito, they produce fruit with good acidity, especially the Rabigato, while the Arinto brings ripe pineappley fruit.  Each variety was vinified separately and the (save for one barrique unoaked) wine was aged on lees for seven months.  It reveals sweet lemony fruit with salty, nutty nuances, chalky lees and surprising freshness; though a bit one-dimensional, it’s pleasant.  When I re-tasted it in London in March it looked a little flat; the earlier picked 2014 vintage tasted alongside looked brighter with a good core of fruit and seemed funkier too – less one dimensional.  Luisa told me it was harvested earlier and, when we met in November, her brother said he felt the 2014 vintage was better now he knows the vineyards better. Work in progress.  12.5%

Quinta do Vale Meão Meandro 2012 

A blend of 38% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca, 20% Tinta Roriz and 12% other varieties which was foot trodden in granite lagares and matured in second and third year French Allier oak barriques. A very amenable Meandro – softly plummy and raspberry-scented – rolling, juicy fruit – with herbal, spice and mineral notes and fine but textured tannins. Lacks a bit of mid-palate concentration for Meandro but the trade off is that it’s very drinkable already.  14%

F Olazabal e Filhos Monte Meão Touriga Nacional Vinha dos Novos Granito 2012

As the names highlights, this Touriga Nacional comes from granite soils which, says Xito, “really changes the profile, even if you just add 5%.” The first was made in 2009 and none was made in 2010 because the Touriga did not attain the desired level of ripeness (harder to achieve in granite than schist, says Xito). Granite (the key soil type of the Dão where Xito also makes wine) results in perceptibly fresher wines which have a lower pH. This wine was foot trodden in granite lagares like Meandro but, where the Meandro was then fermented in stainless steel tanks, Monte Meão Touriga Nacional was fermented in small old french oak wooden vats (at controlled temperature) and then aged for 15 months in used French Allier oak barriques. (No Tinta Roriz was made in 2012).  The Touriga comes from a 4ha vineyard which is divided into 4 sub-plots.  This year, Xito vinfied each sub-plot separately.  One has a bit of schist because it’s where the schist transitions to granite; it produces more colour and concentration and, says Xito “a less refined wine.”  His theory is that the granite retains less water so sometimes the grapes suffer from a bit of underripeness which, from his point of view is not a bad thing – “it helps Bordeaux” he jokes.  The 2012 Touriga has a pretty orange blossom perfume with sweeter tangerine notes.  In the mouth it has a lovely purity of raspberry fruit which is animated and teased out by elegant, very persistent acidity; grainy tannins lend a bit of grip to the finish.  As it opens up it reveals darker plum and black berry fruit.  Not the longest of wines and a good deal less concentrated than the 2011, but it’s a classic 2012 in its charm. 14%

Quinta do Vale Meão Meão 2012 

This blend of 58% Touriga Nacional, 35% Touriga Franca, 5% Tinta Barroca and 2% Tinta Roriz was foot trodden in granite lagares and then fermented in stainless steel (each variety vinified separately). It was then aged in French Allier oak barriques (80% new and 20% second use). Deep aubergine in hue with an expressive, elegant nose and palate which showcases Meão’s signature exotic bergamot and woodsmoke to great effect.  In the mouth it’s very balanced with juicily fresh, mineral-sluiced blackberry fruit.  Fine powdery tannins enhance its fluidity; long and persistent, it’s a fresh, beckoning Meão with the lowest alcohol content ever at 13.8/9% abv.

Quinta do Vale Meão Meãndro 2005 (magnum)

Deep crimson with bergamot lift, rich red berry, cherry and plum fruit, dark chocolate/charry oak and just developing savoury meat pan juices.  Overall still impressively fresh, tight and firm if a little heavy on the oak; fine-grained tannins add to its polish.  14%

Quinta do Vale Meão 2005

A deep inky core with a crimson rim.  That core, it transpires, is chock full of tight knit berry and currant red and black fruits. Still quite closed, this wine has a long way to go (even though it wears its oak more lightly than Meandro).  Bergamot, eucalypt, liquorice and bitter chocolate notes bring lift and layer. Ripe but present tannins enhance this youthfully poised wine‘s line and length.   A pronounced vein of iron filing minerality lends gravitas. Very accomplished winemaking.  I would cellar this for a few more years yet before broaching and expect it to continue to evolve in a postive arc for another decade or more.  14.5%

Poeira

Jorge Moreira cut his teeth at Real Companhia Velha and, by the time he joined Quinta de la Rosa in 2002, had acquired his own estate, Quinta do Poeira in Provesende in the Pinhão Valley, which he bought in 2001. He makes wine at both estates and, since 2010, has juggled these roles with being Technical Director at Real Companhia Velha, where he is fast making his mark on the table wines (Quinta das Carvalhas Vinhas Velhas 2012 is one of my top reds of the vintage).

Moreira selected Quinta do Poeira for its steep, north-facing aspect (between 200-400m) which doesn’t receive any direct sunlight because it is shaded from the afternoon sun. Its relative coolness precisely informs the style of wine Moreira is after – “based on freshness not tannin and fruit not oak.”

Of the nine hectares under vine, 2.5ha comprise older (60 year old) vines. The balance, which has been progressively planted by Moreira, includes an experimental block of ungrafted teinturer Sousao (which produces next to nothing) and, more successfully, Alvarinho and Cabernet Sauvignon.

At harvest, the grapes travel a stone’s throw (literally) to the winery at the foot of the vineyard which Moreira built in 2005. The winery is simplicity itself, comprising four traditional granite lagares (pictured) and an old vertical press. Moreira emphasises that slowly fermenting the wine in temperature controlled lagares means he can really control the extraction process. From here the wines are aged in the cellar below, whose temperature never exceeds 16 degrees.

From the off, Poeira struck me as quite the most elegant Douro red I’d tasted and it remains so, though there’s a bit more competition on the elegance front these days since, as Moreira observes, “viticulture and tastes are changing – there’s better fruit purity with structure at the same time.”

Poeira Branco 2013

This is the second release of this 100% Alvarinho, a variety which is not permitted in DOC Douro wines, hence the VR Duriense designation. Moeira planted the first Alvarinho vines in 2004 and, until this vintage, it was blended with Gouveio (sourced from a neighbour) to make entry level Po de Poeira (a very structured white). He like the Alvarinho so much that, in 2007, he regrafted part of the old vineyard which was always in the shade from red grapes to Alvarinho. This wine is made from a selection of the best Alvarinho grapes though Moreira is quick to point out that he’s after an expression of site, not variety or, for that matter, oak. A very taut, intense, mineral Alvarinho with classic honeysuckle and apricot notes, a hint of greenness, which is part of its freshness and energy, as its distinct very salty tang.  Firm, focused and very persistent I suspect it will age rather well.  13.5%

Po de Poeira Red 2012 

With much less Poeira in 2012, production of this second wine was up 30%. I found this wine very reduced when I tasted it in the morning, then afternoon on my last day in Oporto. had intended to re-taste it in London but omitted to do so.  I shall track down a sample and add my note here soon.

Poeira 2012

A top 2012 trio all made by Jorge Moreira

Following a draconian selection in 2012, Moeira made less than half the amount of Poeira than in 2011 (25 versus 52 barricas).  The wine has yet to hit the market as Moeira wants to hold back vintages for longer where, he points out “my wines are much more acidic and austere than others so they need more time.”  Poeira 2012 is certainly tightly wound, especially in the morning, when you feel the structure (impeccable fine, firm tannins, terrific freshness) and minerality – as Moreira puts it the austerity – of the wine rather than the fruit or deep spice which broods beneath. By the afternoon it has started to sing from the glass if not yet in the glass!  Scents of fruits of the forest and blackcurrant spill over, the fruit present in perfume and a spicy pithiness, its juices yet to really flow.  But it exudes potential from every pore, open or not.  A very exciting, super-mineral, impeccably structured Poeira.  I am looking forward to re-tasting it this autumn on release already.

Lavradores de Feitoria

Lavradores de Feitoria is an innovative group of 18 Douro growers who pool their grapes, which are sourced from 20 quintas with some 800ha between them. Established in 1999, the name (Lavradores) comes from the old Portuguese word for a shared winery. Grapes are vinfied separately, which explains the multitude and range of vat sizes (pictured).

With so many locations, aspects and altitudes (from 200-500m) to draw upon, Lavradores have a strong portfolio of mostly (site) blended wines, currently all table wines, which are made by Paulo Ruão and Raul Pereira (pictured below).

Whites with 100% natural acidity are a particular strength. The winery is located in Sabrosa in the Baixo Corgo, the cooler, wetter, westernmost sub-region of the Douro from where most of the white grapes are sourced. Apparently white grapes have been planted in the vicinity since the 18th century and Sabrosa is where the first Viosinho was recorded.

Lavradores de Feitoria Branco 2013 

The entry level white (bottled under screwcap for the UK market) is an unoaked blend of Malvasia Fina (softness and fruit), Viosinho (minerality/freshness) and Codega (for flavour and length). Grapes come from the highest, coolest slopes at 450m-500m. As always, a well made easy drinking sweet, lemony white with a bit of talc and bath salts character; finishes crisp and fresh. 12%

Lavradores de Feitoria Tres Bagos White 2013

Twenty per cent of this white blend of Viosinho and Malvasia Fina is barrel fermented and aged (for 6 months). Ruão says an element of new oak provides tannin which improves the wine’s resistance to oxidation, structure and complexity. Sourced from the highest, coolest vineyards it has a good depth/richness of fleshy fruit- fruit salad – with honeysuckle lift.  Nice mouthfeel. Very well made. 12.5%

Lavradores de Feitoria Meruge 2013 

This wine came about because the growers wanted to make a single varietal white from a Portuguese variety to rival the Sauvignon. Gouveio and Viosinho were both considered and, in the event, Viosinho was selected because Ruão says it was the more aromatic of the two, sometimes producing Sauvignon-like aromas during ferment. The downside was a lack body, so Ruão experimented with different woods – French, Bulgarian, US and Hungarian, in the end opting for fermentation and ageing in untoasted new Portuguese oak barrels for 8 months. The maiden 2009 and every vintage since has impressed.  This is a very sophisticated wine with terrific texture and mouthfeel – weight without fatness.  It has the resinous nose I associate with this wine/Portuguese oak, together with rich toast and lemon oil oak overtones.  In the mouth, this is a savoury, incipiently nutty, leesy wine with sweet white asparagus and creamy white peach; ripe rolling acidity harmoniously extends the palate, teasing out sweet talc, pine needle and mineral notes along the way.  Very powerful, complex and long and, though very complete already, I am sure it will develop beautifully into the mid-term.  12.5%

Lavradores de Feitoria Red 2012

The unoaked entry-level red, a blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and a dash of Tinta Barocca, is also bottled under screwcap for the UK market. It is sourced from all 20 quintas and, with red grapes grown up and down the Douro valley – east to west and, well up and down (200-400m).  While it lacks a bit of concentration/definition in this vintage, it does offer easy, smooth, plummy drinking. 13%

Lavradores de Feitoria Tres Bagos 2012

Made from all 20 quintas but with more grapes from nearer the river (warmer sites), Tres Bagos sees a bit of oak. Explaing that this wine is “our face,” Ruão says “we try to represent the Douro Valley, with very well matured fruit and a good structure.”  It’s a solid enough wine but, once again, a little warm and woolly.  Not their best.

Lavradores de Feitoria Meruge 2012

As Crasto have shown, pick the right site and Tinta Roriz can perform exceedingly well. This wine comprises 80% Tinta Roriz and 20% old field blend grapes, all sourced from Quinta de Meruge near to the Rio Torto. At 400m, the north-facing site produces an elegant, fresh, mineral wine which is fermented in lagares with stems with a very carefully controlled extraction (Ruão says Tinta Roriz is the most tannic grape in the Douro) before completing its fermentation in French oak barrels where it is aged for 12-13 months (50% new).  Pale plum/garnet with lovely delicacy, definition and freshness to its red currant, cherry and berry fruit.  The oak brings a touch of creaminess, while the Roriz’s chalky, bony tannins bed down the delicate fruit on a long, lingering, well-focused finish. A beguiling Meruge which reminds Ruão of the 2009 which he says is drinking perfectly now.  14.5%

Quinta da Costa das Aguaneiras 2012

Another foot-trodden Cima Corgo single quinta wine which gets the new oak treatment – well the (single quinta) clue is in the name!  But it’s very different from Meruge.  First, because the blend comprises around 80% Touriga Nacional.  Second because the vineyard is south-facing and, being located down by the river, is lower (both factors of which make it warmer).   It’s a much deeper, plumier hue with a darker flavour spectrum too.  It reveals sweet vanillin oak on the nose and sappy blackberry and plum fruit in the mouth with ripe but present tannins, balsamic and membranillo spices (cinnamon and clove). It’s a little lighter than previous vintages I have tasted, but attractively juicy and drinkable for it, though I am sure it will put on a bit of weight with age and age quite well at that.

Lavradores de Feitoria Tres Bagos Grande Escolha 2005

Initially shows attractive black fruits with layers of liquorice, cinnamon, toast, tufa and minerals.  Re-tasted in the afternoon the palate seems to fall over, with the “thicker,” bitter burned toasty fugginess to which I referred at the outset of my report.  Shame.  13.5%

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