vallado

First taste: The New Douro 2011 reds & 2012 whites & a decade on, 2004 Douro reds

Brave new world – Quinta da Leda

The annual New Douro tasting which celebrates the latest 2011 red and 2012 white Douro wines takes place next Thursday, 20 February. Now that this trade tasting is held later, at the start of the year (not in the autumn), I am granted a sneak preview of the latest vintage releases to tie in with my work on Hugh Johnson Pocket Wine.  If there is a vintage which, once and for all, firmly trashes any idea that Douro wines are made from Port left-overs it’s the 2011 vintage.

It has produced equally exciting red wines and Port, both of which exude freshness and minerality in spades. Like the 2011 Vintage Ports (reviewed here) the wines are classic in their concentration of fruit and structure and modern in their elegant, pure expression of said fruit and structure.

So there’s good reason to attend the New Douro tasting for the glimpse it affords of the latest vintages (the 2012 whites impress too). But also because the tasting provides an invaluable insight into the evolution of quality and style which has taken place. As this multi-faceted mountainous region has gone under the microscope, its winemakers have refined their techniques and honed their grape sources.

I should also flag that this report focuses on the wines from established participants of the New Douro tasting. This year five more estates join the fray whose wines I shall review independently. They are Quinta do Passadouro, Quinta dos Murcas, Quinta da Touriga (wines already reviewed here), Quinta Nova and Duorum.

I’ve divided my report into the following sections:

  • Background to the New Douro tasting
  • Vintage summaries
  • Key trends
  • My top ten 2011 top tier reds
  • My top five 2011 middle tier reds
  • My top five 2011 entry level reds
  • My top five 2012 white wines
  • My top ten 2004 ten years on performers
  • Tasting notes, 2011 reds & 2012 whites

[NB – My subsequent report on 2012 & 2005 Douro reds and 2013 whites is published here].

Background to the New Douro tasting

 

Co-founder Cristiano van Zeller gamely provided me with the following replies to my questions about the birth and evolution of the New Douro event.

When did the tastings first commence? The New Douro happened in November of 2004, showing various different vintages from the group from the 2002 and older vintages. It happened at the Portuguese Embassy. It was such a success that we decided to do another one (two in fact, one in London, at Tate Modern and another in Manchester) in early September of the following year, in 2005, then focusing on the newly released vintage, the 2003 vintage, Douro and, of course, the newly declared, 2003 Vintage Port.

Who founded the New Douro initiative and what was their aim when the tastings first started? It was Dirk Niepoort, Paul Symington and myself, Dirk and I on behalf of the Douro Boys, that took then the initiative to create this tasting. By the beginning of the 2000s, in our normal conversations, we thought on how we could expand more the image of the Douro in a larger way and how we could show, even in a small scale, what was so special happening in the Douro. We came out with a very simple concept to be applied in the country that is the show place of the wines of the world. The UK.

What is the criteria for producers showing at the New Douro tasting? When we three sat together and talked about it, all of us made a list of which producers we thought were producing high quality wines in the Douro, actively, effectively, intensively, in a very committed way and continuously promoting them around the world (it was not enough to produce one very good wine once or twice and certainly not enough not having been or perceived of not becoming, in the future, very active on the market for the Douro and Port; it was also important to have producers that had a real team and cooperation spirit in their way of working). It was then easy to create a good list.

Since then some producers have decided to opt out of this tasting for their own reasons, otherwise the list of producers is still the same today. For the 2014 we decided to complete the initial number of around 18 producers (we were down to something like 12 or 13 of the initial ones) by inviting in a few that started showing themselves as quality producers after the first The New Douro and that we thought fell in the above mentioned not written “rules” (not really decisive rules, in reality just informal guidelines).

Do the founders of the New Douro tasting still think the Douro is “new”? One top French producer once said about making a real brand statement in the very high quality wine market that the most difficult years are the first 250 years, then it becomes a bit easier. The Douro has now existed and produced extraordinary wines alongside “classic” Port for less than 15 years (it all really started only in 1994 / 1995 and we only started to get any sort of recognition with the 2003 vintage in 2005). So we will be New for many, many decades to come.

Vintage summaries

2011 reds

A wetter winter than normal (36-50cms of rainfall versus an average of 25- 35cm) and timely showers in late August/early September provided the water reserves for the vines to weather the long hot summer.

During harvest it was sunny and dry but mild, with cold nights, which allowed for the different varieties and sites to be harvested at optimum maturity. Fruit was received in perfect (ripe and healthy) condition.

An outstanding low yielding vintage which produced powerfully concentrated wines of great structure and balance. Many of the winemakers whom I spoke with reckon it is among the Douro’s best by reason ofits textbook balance of sugars, phenolics and acidity.

Harvesting at Quinta do Vale Meão: even the Douro’s flatter vineyards are hand harvested

2012 whites

Although the region suffered from the driest winter in 40 years and a dry spring, low yields and a mild July and August resulted in a slow, balanced maturation of white grapes. Fruity, balanced wines with good aromatics.

2004 reds

Below average winter rainfall and a warm, dry year. Hot weather in August and September resulted in a fast maturation. Fruit was ripe and healthy. A powerhouse vintage.

Key trends

X marks the spot: terroir under the microscope – Quinta do Vallado’s oldest vineyard parcel now produces flagship wine Quinta do Vallado Adelaide

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.

Allied to the foregoing trend, a growth of single parcel/single vineyard wines.

Better picking decisions – in line with international trends, there is a shift away from overripe fruit in favour of better balanced brighter fruit.

Looking beyond the top cinco grape varieties – Niepoort are evangelical about old field blend vineyards; overlooked traditional varieties are attracting renewed interest

Greater diversity of varieties beyond the “top cinco” plantings of the 1980s – this is work in progress.

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.

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).

The rise of well made middle and entry level tiers of red wines.

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 2011 red top tier wines

In alphabetical order:

Niepoort Batuta 2011

Niepoort Charme 2011

Poeira 2011

Prats & Symington Chryseia 2011

Quinta do Crasto Maria Teresa 2011

Quinta do Vale Meão 2011

Quinta do Vale Dona Maria 2011

Quinta do Vale Dona Maria CV 2011

Quinta do Vallado Adelaide 2011

Wine & Soul Pintas 2011

My top five 2011 red middle tier wines

In alphabetical order:

Lavradores de Feitoria Tres Bagos Reserva 2011

Niepoort Vertente 2011

Po de Poeira 2011

Quinta do Vallado Sousão 2011

Van Zellers VZ 2011

My top five 2011 red entry level wines

In alphabetical order:

Altano Organic 2011 (Douro)

Casa Ferreirinha Papa Figos 2011 (Douro)

Churchill’s Estate Red 2011

Lavradores de Feitoria Tres Bagos 2011

Prazo de Quinta de Roriz 2011 (Douro)

My top five 2012 white wines

In alphabetical order:

Lavradores de Feitoria Meruge 2012

Niepoort Coche 2012

Quinta do Vallado Reserva 2012

Van Zellers VZ Branco 2012

Wine & Soul Guru 2012

My top ten 2004 ten years on wines

In alphabetical order:

Alves de Sousa Abandonado 2004

Casa de Casal Loivos 2004

Casa Ferreirinha Barca Velha 2004

Casa Ferreirinha Quinta da Leda Vinha da Ribeira 2004

Churchill’s Quinta da Gricha 2004

Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Reserva Especial 2004

Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional 2004

Quinta do Crasto Vinha da Ponte 2004

Quinta do Vale Dona Maria 2004

Wine & Soul Pintas 2004

(Quinta do Vallado Reserva Branco 2004 – the only white wine submitted – warrants special mention here).

 Tasting notes

The view from The Yeatman, Vila Nova de Gaia to Porto old town

Wines were tasted during the first week of December in Vila Nova de Gaia, once in the morning with producers, then toute seule in the afternoon and over the following day or two in some cases.

Prats and Symington

The Prats & Symington label is produced jointly by the renowned Port producers the Symington family and acclaimed Bordeaux winemaker Bruno Prats. 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 a feature I wrote for Decanter magazine following interviews with Paul Symington and Bruno Prats.

For me the acquisition of Roriz, whose vineyard produces particularly mineral, structured wines, has resulted in a more emphatically terroir-driven, exciting wine.

Prats & Symington Prazo de Quinta de Roriz 2011 (Douro)

The goal for this entry level wine (priced at around £11 at The Cooperative) is an easy drinking, fruit-driven style. Accordingly it’s aged in second and third use large format (400l) French oak barrels for a short period of time, before completing the ageing process in tank. It’s a classy wine for the money, with intense, persistent and perfumed red and black fruits of the forest and a good salty lick of schistous minerality. The oak lends a toasty mocha creamy note.

Prats & Symington Post Scriptum 2011 (Douro)

Grapes (56% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca, 7% Tinta Barroca, 7% Tinta Roriz) were sourced from Quinta de Roriz (picked 9th September to October 5th) and Quinta da Perdiz (picked September 23rd to October 5th). Following a berry by berry triage, the wine was fermented in tank (no lagares) and aged for 13 months in second and third use large format (400l) French oak. As always, a particularly elegant, perfumed wine, with expressive rock rose and minerals to nose and palate together with a touch of spicy, toasty oak. In the mouth it shows ripe but bright, well-delineated red and black fruits – the emphasis very much on the red fruits. A charge of fine tannins combined with its chiselled minerality lend poise. Very good; broachable but medium-term cellaring potential too. 13.9% abv

Prats & Symington Chryseia 2011 (Douro)

 

The vintage began at Quinta de Roriz on September 16th with the Touriga Nacional (65% of the blend) and was concluded with the late-ripening Touriga Franca (the balancing 35% of the blend), which came into the winery on September 30th. Fruit from Roriz first went into Chryseia in 2009 and, in 2011, it comprises around 90% of the wine, the balance coming from neighbouring Vinha Velha. I love the salty, schistous minerality of this vintage, which positively jumped out of the glass and remained pronounced over three days. With 100% new oak (15 months in large format 400l French oak; Taransaud, Boutes and François Frères), though the minerality is very much to the fore, its sweet scented oak brings fragrant lift and spice to its tightly-coiled black fruits. Firm tannins – a touch grippy – and a lively vein of mineral acidity bring great energy and length to its taut finish. A more imposing, vivid style than previous vintages – less polite, without losing the polish. Excellent, with surely a long life ahead of it. 14%

Prats & Symington Chryseia 2004 (Douro)

A Bordelais savoury bloody/meat pan juices hint to the nose and palate, together with sweet oak. In the mouth the fruit is sweet and opulent, verging on overripe with some raisin/fruitcake as well as framboise and kirsch notes. The Douro asserts itself in the eucalypt, gum cistus and salt lick minerality as it opens up, revealing a very spicy, dark yet animated thread of liquorice too (which is quite pronounced on day 2). Ripe but firm tannins lend good support, though it lacks the acidity to really hold its shape. A quality which I strongly suspect is likely to be overcome by sourcing fruit principally from Roriz. 14%

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 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).

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.

Altano White 2012 (Douro)

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. The latter is particularly well known for its Moscatel, which imparts its classic grapy, musky, slightly spicy aroma to nose and palate. Nice concentration of melony and citrine fruit with textural, chalky acidity. A well made easy drinking white. 12.5% abv

Altano Organic 2011 (Douro)

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. This vintage has some nice floral lift too to its round, fleshy plum and baked red cherry fruit. With ripe but firm tannins, supple oak (10 months in 50% new French oak) and good freshness it’s a well-balanced wine. Another good value choice at around £10. 14%

Altano Quinta de Ataíde Reserva 2011 (Douro)

 

Made from 100% Touriga Nacional and aged for 10 months in 300-400l American oak barrels, 50% new (Canton, Damy, Saury), this is not a shy wine. There’s concentrated sweet, ripe black fruits behind its lavish toasty mocha and sweet ‘n spicy gingerbread oak. Good freshness and a firm backbone of tannins too. Needs a year or so for the oak to integrate and the fruit to come up. And then it’ll be a real crowd pleaser. 14%

Altano Bloco 62 2011 (Douro)

Also sourced from Quinta do Ataíde, the only real difference between this varietal Touriga Nacional and the Reserva is the oak treatment. Bloco (from one parcel) sees 18 months in 225l French oak barriques (50% new, Seguin-Moreau). It’s an altogether sleeker wine, with finer, seemingly longer chain tannins and sweet cinnamon spice which really compliments its concentrated but succulent black cherry core of fruit; lovely freshness. 14% abv.

Pombal do Vesúvio 2011 (Douro)

This second wine features the same varieties but spends less time in oak (10 months) of which only 15% is new (Taransaud, Boutes, Seguin-Moreau, François Frèrès, Radoux, Saury). As you might expect, it is more forward than the top tier Vesúvio, with a good concentration of cinnamon-edged plum and black berry and currant fruit wed to a firm but fine schistous backbone of tannins. 14.1% abv

Quinta do Vesúvio 2011 (Douro)

 

This blend of Touriga Nacional (from the top of the estate, at 400m), Touriga Franca and Tinta Amarela spent 14 months in 60% new French oak (400l and 225l barrels, Taransaud, Boutes, Seguin-Moreau). It’s an inky wine whose dark flavour profile, which is centred around concentrated, juicy blackcurrant and berry fruit and minerals, seemed a little at odds with its creamy, smoky oak. One to review. 14% abv.

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).

Although they still sell 40% 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 last year. It’s a mark of their success that they are in the process of constructing a new winery and cellar at Quinta da Gaivosa.

Where, in Domingos’ words, “our philosophy is bottle late and release later,” there were no finished 2011 reds to show me in December. They are still being fine tuned in barrel and the plan is to hold them back for another year. Samples of the 2011 wines will be shown at the New Douro tasting. Still, Tiago was able to show me the final blend of Memórias which non-vintage wine has just been released to celebrate their 20th anniversary, also another anniversary wine – 10 year old Abandanado – the first release of this (80+ years) old vine cuvee from a small, elevated parcel at Quinta da Gaivosa.

Alves de Sousa Memórias (Vinho)

 

Bottled (in 1500 handsome magnums), it’s just about to hit the market at around €150 a pop. The collectors among you may wish to note that this will be Memórias mark 1 – the plan is to make this cuvee every 10 years. Next time it will be the story of 30 harvests. But sticking very much with the present (the last 20 years at least!), how does Memórias mark1 taste? No doubt because its component parts, which come from three vineyards, span six vintages* – the best in the last decade – it’s a very complete wine, drinking beautifully now. Mouthfilling yet lithe and elegant with good focus to its plush but bright layers of eucalypt-edged black and red forest fruits. Inkier, spicy, toasty depths too, which became particularly, deliciously apparent over lunch when the wine was served in a wider bowled burgundy-style glass. The finish is firm, very persistent. Excellent. *The component parts came from the 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008 & 2009 vintages. The project was conceived in 2005 after the 2003 vintage had already been bottled. Bottles were emptied for the base blend which, from 2004, was largely made solera-style by the addition of new wines each year.

Alves de Sousa Abandonado 2004 (Douro)

 

Tiago reckons that, with its elevation and location in the cooler Baixo Corgo, Quinta da Gaivosa shows at its best in extreme vintages. Sure enough, though it’s a full on flavoursome wine – one of the Douro’s most individual to boot – there’s no hint of overripeness. Rather it’s the perfect synthesis of cool and hot with its distinctive menthol eucalyptus edge, hot smoked chilli pepper and warm, dusty, earthiness wed to a concentrated core of well-defined blackcurrant and sweeter cassis. Well supported by a powerful backbone of tannins, it remains positively and glossily youthful. 14.5%

Sogrape

Sogrape, Portugal’s biggest producer, 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.

 

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.

Casa Ferreirinha Planalto Vinho Branco Seco Reserva 2012 (Douro)

A simple white (it retails for around £8) which, in Douro-speak, doesn’t mean fruity. Douro whites are rarely that. Also, according to Sottomnayer who says “the 2010 is perfect now”, it can age. This blend of 55% Viosinho, 20% Malvasia Fina, 15% Códega and 10% Gouveio is round but dry and a little textural (it sees a bit of skin contact), with restrained melon’ish fruit, a nutty oxidative twang and the region’s signature salty edge. More of a food wine than a quaffer. 13%.

 Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Branco 2012 (Douro)

Sourced from the cooler heights of Quinta do Sairrão in the Cima Corgo, which rises from 140m to over 650m, this blend of Viosinho, Arinto, Gouveio and Rabigato has much more about it (and watch this space for a new, impressive, yet-to-be-bottled higher tier still, of which I received a sneak preview). The Arinto’s distinctive lemony thrust of acidity combined with sensitive oaking brings greater palate weight, presence and persistence to this wine’s gentle fruit. A lick of salty minerality to the finish adds to the lipsmacking finish.

Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande Rosado 2012 (Douro)

My panel at Decanter World Wine Awards frequently despairs about the quality of Portugal’s rosés, let alone the interest factor. Well this seriously pale rosé ticks both boxes – quality and interest. Sourced from 100% Touriga Nacional from the highest point of Quinta do Sairrão (i.e. at c. 650m), it’s delicately fruity, with a textured (gently creamy), spicy, savoury (nutty), mineral palate. A lovely unshowy yet sophisticated rosé, with finely balanced acidity. 12%

Casa Ferreirinha Papa Figos 2011 (Douro)

This was one of the first 2011 Douro reds I tasted and it confirmed just how good this vintage is, with its swathes of glossy but animated fruit, rock rose and schistous minerality. Lovely freshness and fruit definition (just 25% is aged in used oak for 12 months). It’s comprised of 15% Touriga Nacional, 25% Touriga Franca, 35% Tinta Roriz, 25% Tinta Barroca. 14%

Casa Ferreirinha Callabriga 2011 (Douro)

A deep, vibrant hue with an equally vibrant palate of bright, pure, briary fruit/fruits of the forest coulis. Ripe but present and plentiful tannins anchor the flavours well. Very direct.

Casa Ferreirinha Vinha Grande 2011 (Douro)

A vivaciously fruity wine, very fresh and vinous with bright, sweet-scented briary fruit, wild bilberry and blueberry. Again a very pure, direct character to this wine, especially its “pippy” fruit tannins. A thread of mineral acidity and smoky oak make for a long, lingering finish. Sottomayer expects it to age well; apparently older vintages (the oldest from 1975) showed very well at a recent vertical of Vinha Grande. Very good.

Casa Ferreirinha Quinta da Leda Vinha da Ribeira 2004 (Douro)

 

In 2004 two one off single parcel wines were made at Quinta da Leda (the principal source of Barca Velha, which was also made in this excellent vintage). I’m told Quinta do Pombal was the more powerful of the two, while Vinha da Ribeira the more elegant and harmonious. Vinha da Ribeira is indeed unusually, exceptionally fine for the Douro (especially back in 2004, when oak and extraction was a little more gung ho) – pale garnet like a Burgundy, with great acidity too. An expressive, lifted nose reveals incense spice, a hint of camphor and sweet plum and red berry notes, which follow through on a very fresh, elegant, juicily persistent palate, with fine, silky tannins and great line. A lovely, unshowy style with subtle hints of this vineyard’s oyster shell/iodine minerality to its lingering finish.

Casa Ferreirinha Barca Velha 2004 (Douro)

 

Since 1952, Barca Velha has only been made 17 times, including 2004. Casa Ferreirinha’s potent flagship wine – a blend of 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca, 20% Tinta Roriz, 10% Tinta Cão – aged for 16 months in 225-litre French oak barrels (75% new) – is much deeper in colour (albeit still in a garnet spectrum) than the Vinha da Ribeira, even though it is mostly sourced from the same vineyard, Quinta da Leda. And so it should be for a wine built for longevity – Barca Velha is only released after several years’ bottle ageing (it was launched in May 2012). In the mouth, it’s much denser – more mouthfilling – than the silkier Vinha da Ribeira. Yet it has terrific balancing freshness, which has a leavening effect on its layers of spice (caraway and cedar), esteva, sweet plum and mellowing, mature red fruits. A firm but very well integrated backbone of tannins lends great line and length to a finish whose incipient oyster shell, linseed oil and leather nuances afford a glimpse into its likely future development. Dignified and impressive, as befits a national treasure. 13.5%

Ramos Pinto/Duas Quintas

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.

Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas White 2012 (Douro)

With only 10% barrel ferment in aged French oak and ageing on the lees this the junior white (a blend of 50% Rabigato, 40% Viosinho & 10% Arinto) is pleasingly textural with a direct, natural feel to its flinty palate and a savoury nutty edge to its citrus fruit. Crisp acidity makes for a persistent finish. 13.5%

Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Reserva Branco 2012 (Douro)

A weightier, more complex wine with a bigger proportion of Rabigato (70% Rabigato, 10% Arinto, 10% Viosinho) also 10% Folgazão – a “new toy for body/sunshine but with freshness,” says de Almeida. 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 2000l foudres). A low pH (3.1) and all natural acidity lends good length, freshness and line and it’s an interesting journey, with delicate notes of celery salt and fennel to its funky, nutty, leesy citrus and stone fruit layers. More to give; lots of potential. 13%

Duas Quintas Red 2011 (Douro)

A blend of 45% Touriga Nacional, 35% Touriga Franca, 5% Tinta Roriz, 5% Tinta da Barca, 4%Tinta Barroca, 2% Sousão, 2% Tinto Cão and 2% Tinta Amarela. It shows a nice concentration of fruit with sappily fresh, bright red and black cherry fruit and a lick of toasty oak (only 25% of the wine was aged in French oak for 14 months). Well done and, with smooth, ripe tannins, ready to go. 14%

Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Red Reserva 2011 (Douro)

This inky blend of 50% Touriga Nacional, 40% Touriga Franca and 10% Tinta Barca is a quantum leap in terms of structure, concentration and complexity. Firm and densely hewn with chiselled minerals and ripe but present quite mouth-coating tannins it is full-bodied yet perfumed and vibrant with a very balanced finish. On day two, it seems surprisingly complete already – generous in its expression of dark waves of black currant, berry and cherry fruit. 14.5%

Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Reserva Especial 2004 (Douro)

This wine is quite different from the Duas Quintas range. First, it is sourced from two different older quintas in a different subregion – 80 year-old vines at Quinta do Bom Retiro and Quinta da Urtiga in the Cima Corgo. Second, it is foot trodden in granite lagares with stems old school style. After ageing for 18 months in second and third use French oak casks, it is also bottled (after 3 years not 2) and released later (the 2007 is the current release). Spicy to the nose, the well-structured Reserva Especial shows a lovely depth of blackberry and plum fruit wed to a firm, savoury backbone of tannins. Despite its rich baked fruit and mocha oak notes it retains good freshness, making for a very long, balanced finish. Lots of life in this yet (the 1994 vintage tasted over dinner bodes well for this wine’s future ageing capacity). Power with sophistication. 14%

Wine & Soul

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 with mostly centenarian (field blend) vines and some younger vines which were planted in the 1980s. The acquisition of Manoella (a 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.

Jorge’s inheritance included a stash of very old tawny port, 300 bottles of which were released last year labelled 5G Five Generations Very Old Port (my review here).

All fruit for their red wines comes in the Vale de Mendiz in the Pinhâo Valley, Cima Corgo.

Wine & Soul Guru 2011 (Douro)

 

This impressive barrel fermented and aged blend of Viosinho, Rabigato, Códega and Gouveio from 51 year old vines seems to get better year on year. Picked in the first week of September, in 2012, it’s possessed of remarkable energy. On day one, the energy is all about structure. A tension, between the tight knit fruit, classy veneer of 100% new French oak and salty minerality, which brings great line and length, but an austerity too. On day two, its intense, stony fruit becomes more assertive. Yet the palate remains perfectly precise. With that piquant saltiness, a herbal edge and echo too. All told, an impressive blend of power and refinement with signature Douro minerality and that hard to define edge of greeness which, for me, keeps the fruit in check. Unique and exceptional in its complexity and precision thanks to the very sensitive oak handling. It may be 100% new, but following a one month barrel ferment, the wine spends just five months in oak (buffered by the lees with battonage). 12.5%

Wine & Soul Manoella 2011 (Douro)

The entry level wine from Manoella is made from younger 30-40 year old vines (south west exposure) and comprises 60% Touriga Nacional, 20% Touriga Franca, 15% Tinta Roriz and 5% Tinta Francisca. The wine was foot trodden in stone lagares and aged for 16 months in old French oak barrels. It’s an expressive, elegant red bursting with bright red and black berry, currant and cherry fruit underscored by minerals. Great freshness and vinosity makes for a lithe, persistent wine. 14.5%

Wine & Soul Pintas Character 2011 (Douro)

Fuller-bodied with plusher, fleshier, portier ripe plummy fruit and juicy blackberry underpinned by compact, chiselled tannins which, together with a pronounced vein of schistous and piquantly saline minerality, brings balance, as does its sweet lift of cinnamon and, on day two, bergamot and floral notes. 14.5%

Wine & Soul Quinta da Manoella VV 2011 (Douro)

Aged for 20 months in French oak barriques, this field blend of 100+ year old vines has a toasty, spicy veneer of oak, beneath which lies a really juicy, persistent seam of predominantly red but also black berry fruits. Fine powdery tannins make for a refined red with an elegant minerality – less forceful than the Pintas, though it still needs time to really knit together. Great potential. 14.5%

Wine & Soul Pintas 2011 (Douro)

A single vineyard wine made from 80 year old vines, a field blend of some 30 different grapes. It was also aged for 20 months in French oak barrels but my, how very different it is with its tidal waves of dark, coal black, spicy fruit, chiselled minerals and firm, sinewy, savoury tannins. It’s a force of nature and yet marvellously balanced for such a generously hewn, rugged wine. 14.5%

 Wine & Soul Pintas 2004 (Douro)

Ten years on and the Pintas still impresses with its deep reserves of black berry and currant fruit – the fruit concentration is really striking, as is its unexpected freshness and imposing tannins. Riffs of mocha oak and eucalpyt ripple through, as do portier notes on day two. Great solidity and structure with vitality. Very good indeed. 14.5%

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, the net is cast wider – fruit is sourced from various aged plots, albeit still in the Torto Valley. The Van Zeller range is made with bought in fruit, as is Rufo, the new entry level red, now white (the latter first made in 2012 and already sold out, so I didn’t get to taste it!)

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.

Van Zellers VZ Branco 2012 (Douro)

 

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) in the Murça district. Fermented then aged in new French oak barriques on lies with batonnage for nine months. A really well-structured, very poised white, tight, mineral, salty and firm with lovely lemony acidity, even a squeeze of more exotic lime juice. The oak grooms this wine very well – indeed it’s still very tight and super-focused on day two. Very good; an exhilaratingly structured, fresh and intense wine. 13.9%

Rufo do Vale D. Maria Red 2012 (Douro)

A blend of Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional 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 this is the perfect entry-level wine with really bright, bouncy fruit – suitably wild I might add, as befits the Douro – so think bilberry, bramble and forest fruits. Good freshness and persistence. 14%

Van Zellers Red 2011 (Douro)

A blend of several grapes, including Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Sousão, Tinta Francisca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Rufete from 5 year old to 35 year old vineyards in Loureiro (Baixo Corgo), Pinhão valley and the Torto valley (Cima Corgo). It was aged for 17 months in a mix of one, two, three and four-year-old French oak barriques. Although initially quite tight, it soon finds it feet, opening up to reveal a good concentration of ripe, fleshy black cherry and plum fruit with characterful bergamot, floral, earth and mineral notes. Persistent acidity makes for a well-focused finish. 14.5%

Van Zellers VZ 2011 (Douro)

A single vineyard blend from a steep (40% gradient) south-facing Torto Valley site comprised of Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz from 35 year old vines and grapes from old field blend vines (over 50 years old). It was aged for 21 months in one year old French oak barriques. The VZ is noticeably riper, more concentrated, than the Van Zellers. A sweeter-fruited nose signposts the lovely weight and concentration of baked cherry, juicy plum and tarter rhubarb to follow. Interwoven with layers of dried herbs and salt-lick minerals and well supported by fine but palpable chalky tannins, it finishes long and fresh, belying its 15% alcohol. Very accomplished.

Quinta Vale d Maria 2011 (Douro)

Grapes used for Quinta Vale D. Maria come from the oldest field blend plots of the quinta (averaging some 60 years of age) which 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). Pure-fruited and suave, it’s very typical of the quinta. Insinuating, fleshy and succulent cinnamon-edged black cherry fruit wraps itself around a firm but fine backbone of savoury tannins and sweetly lingers through a long finish which is beautifully balanced by an undertow of piquantly fresh salt-lick minerality. 15%

Quinta Vale d Maria Vinha da Francisca 2011 (Douro)

In 2004 when Van Zeller’s daughter (pictured) Francisca 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’s prettily perfumed on the nose, with sweet cinnamon-edged black cherry like its predecessor, though the sinewy tannins are firmer, with some peppery grunt which, combined with its less generous concentration of fruit makes for a slightly angular wine, for now at least. It struggles to contain the alcohol too, showing some warmth on the finish. Perhaps a function of lesser vine age. 15%

CV-Curriculum Vitae 2011 (Douro)

 

Grapes were plucked 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. Though it shows lashings of toasty oak on the nose, it is mopped up with ease by a seemingly bottomless pit of swirling, ripe, concentrated fruit – well-defined black currant and berry fruit and headier, perfumed kirsch. It could so easily teeter over but for its underlying freshness and fine but powerful charge of tannins which so gamely maintain poise (and subtly) keep it on track. As buffed as they come. A very stylish modern interpretation of the Douro with terrific balance and length. 15.5%

Casa de Casal Loivos 2004 (Douro)

 

Casa de Casal Loivos is situated 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). This wine was aged in 225 and 300 litre French oak barriques, at least 50% new, for an average period of 18 months. It displays the quinta’s signature ripe raspberry fruit/framboise, with milk chocolate and baked cherry, hints of esteva and earth. On day two, the fruit seems even purer, distinctly red, with lovely persistence and line. It lingers deliciously. Excellent; great to see the estate shine through so clearly. 14.5%

Quinta Vale d Maria 2004 (Douro)

This wine was among my 50 Great Portuguese Wines’ selection of 2010. I was thrilled to see that it’s still in great form. Aged for 21 months in new Allier French oak (225 and 300 litre barrels), it reveals sweet, confit almost, but still succulent cinnamon-edged black cherry with toasty oak and quite pronounced esteva and herb notes which bring lift and complexity. On day two, it’s really hitting its stride. Energetic rolling acidity and a swathe of ripe velvety tannins bring length and line to the fruit. A very persistent finish is tinged with mineral oyster shell notes. An accomplished, brilliantly balanced wine. 14.5%

Quinta Do Vallado

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.

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 is progressively being planted.

Latterly, the family has also developed a range of Port wines, starting with tawny Ports, now vintage Port; their ambition in this field was underlined by the release of pre-phylloxera Very Old Tawny Port Adelaide Tributa (reviewed here). 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.

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 2012 (Douro)

An unoaked blend of 35% Rabigato, 25% Códega, 20% Viosinho, 10% Gouveio (Verdelho) and 10% Arinto sourced mainly from younger estate vineyards but mostly from the elevated vineyards of Favaois and Murça in the Cima Corgo. The emphasis here is on freshness and minerality rather than structure. A vibrant nose leads onto a plate with good fruit and aroma intensity. A simple wine but well done with good regional typicity. 12.5%

Quinta do Vallado Moscatel Galego 2012 (Douro)

This wine comes from three different parcels: one more than 40 years old, the others around 15 years old. This dry Moscatel shows great varietal typicity with its super-expressive Turkish delight/rose petal and talc lift to nose and palate. There’s good fruit weight and interest on the palate with honeydew and lemon notes, which neatly counter-balance the perfume. Persistent mineral acidity too, which becomes more pronounced when I re-tasted the wine after some hours. It gives nice line and structure to this pretty but intense, dry wine. A fine example of the grape. 12%

Quinta do Vallado Branco Reserva 2012 (Douro)

 

Since 2010, the proportion of Gouveio has been increased to improve body and palate weight. It represents 40% of this blend alongside Arinto (35%), Viosinho (15%) and Rabigato (10%). The Reserva is aged on the lies for 7 months in 500l French oak casks (35% new – just the Gouveio, 65% one year old), with batonnage. Perhaps surprisingly, the fruit comes from younger vineyards, planted between 1993-95. The amount of new oak has been reduced over time and here, both fruit and oak are backdrops to a broader mineral canvas. With attractive complexity – a hint of sulphides and vegetal notes to its lemony fruit – this wine is ready to go but also has the freshness and structure to age as the impressive 2004 vintage so ably demonstrates. Very well done. 13%

Quinta do Vallado Branco Reserva 2004 (Douro)

I wondered if this deep gold 10 year old Douro white would have lasted the course. In the event, the courage to show it was amply rewarded. Particularly impressive when one considers that this was the very first Reserva produced. It reveals high tone toast and rich, slightly oily brazil nuts to the nose – the torrefaction a clue to the higher proportion of new oak used back then – probably 100% new 225l barriques reckons Ferreira. Esteva hints too, which follow through on the palate bringing lift and a sense of place to the wine. The fruit – most likely Gouveio and Viosinho – is ripe and lemony, with surprising persistence/acidity, which helps this rich wine retain structure and tension. Impressed! 13%

Quinta do Vallado Red 2011 (Douro)

Only 25% of the entry level red sees oak (3rd and 4th use French oak barrqiues for 14 months) in the interests of fruit and freshness. It is a blend Touriga Franca (25%), Touriga Nacional (25%), Tinta Roriz (15%), Sousão (5%) mixed vineyards (10%) and mixed old vineyards (20%). It’s an approachable, smooth tannined red with an attractive melange of fresh berry and baked cherry and plum fruit. 14.5%

Quinta do Vallado Sousão 2011 (Douro)

 

Both Vallado and Alves de Sousa make very good varietal Sousão. It 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. And, having been foot-trodden in lagares, this is an inky wine. With ripe but present tannins and lipsmackingly fresh yet just round enough ripe fruit (it was aged in French oak, 50% new, for 18 months) I reckon this is the best Sousão I’ve tasted from Vallado. It’s an intense wine with slightly rustic, savoury, spicy tannins – a sense of the stems/wood. But this doesn’t interfere with the purity and drive of the wine. Singular, compelling stuff. 14.5%

Quinta do Vallado Touriga Nacional 2011 (Douro)

This 100% Touriga Nacional red was aged in French Oak barriques (30% new, the balance first or second use) for 16 months. Where the aim is to show the fruit and perfumed character of Touriga Nacional rather than making a super-extracted wine this red has impressive delicacy, perfume and freshness. Good minerality too. Both nose and palate are very lifted, with musky hints of dried rose and more exotic, herbal and orange peel bergamot notes. The fruit is juicy, red and black, the tannins fine. What’s not to like. A very well excuted Touriga Nacional from a region where this expressive grape can easily become overbearing. 14%

Quinta do Vallado Reserva 2011 (Douro)

The Reserva is sourced mostly (80%) from old field blend vineyards, the balance coming from 20 years old vines of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca. With its fine yet firm tannins it shows exceptional restraint and elegance in 2011. From the expressive inky, bergamot and floral inflected nose to the long mineral finish – the bookends to its well-focused, very fluid black and red berry fruits. Great balance and poise, with subtle savoury wood notes (it was aged for 17 months in French oak, 70% new). 14.5%

Quinta do Vallado Adelaide 2011 (Douro)

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, inevitably it’s possessed of a deep yet to be mined seam of tightly coiled and concentrated black cherry and berry fruit. Very much designed for the long haul. However, concentration doesn’t come at the expense of balance. With its classic proportions – a firm buttress of tannin and acidity – this is a terrific interpretation of the vintage. A long, layered palate is leavened with floral hints and underscored by a pronounced minerality. On day two, glimmers of fruit and fruit-buffing fine French oak emerge, but it remains fresh, tight and mineral – full of promise. A really exciting wine with a great future ahead, it was aged aged in 225 litre new French Allier Oak barriques for 20 months. 14.5%

Quinta do Vallado Red 2004 (Douro)

For a modestly priced unoaked entry level red this is very impressive, still very much in the game with its rich ripe fig and bruleed ripe black plum. Hints of oyster shell and iodine too – a quality I often find in mature Douro reds.

Quinta do Vallado Sousão 2004 (Douro)

This was the first vintage of the Sousão. It’s typically inky in hue, with a markedly spicy nose and rustic woody notes which follow through on the palate. Although fresh on the attack and finish with a still bright flash of pomegranate fruit it’s a tad hollow going through, which makes for a rather unforgiving firm, lean wine. The path to redemption may lie with food but, that said, I suspect the 2011 was better balanced from the off and will prove the more rewarding wine for the duration. 14%

Quinta do Vallado Reserva 2004 (Douro)

This Reserva would have been made from 100% old vineyard fruit so it has less Touriga Nacional than more recent cuvees. It’s a bit of a bruiser – more than a little blunted by the oak and its rather dense pan forte dried fruit. Lacks motility, layer and a sense of place.

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.

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

Quinta do Crasto Branco 2012 (Douro)

A blend of Gouveio, Viosinho and Rabigato from 20 year old vines, planted on granite and schist soils. Just 15% of this wine was barrel-fermented in oak to add weight to the mid-palate. The whole was aged in stainless steel. Though initially fresh with some leesy, nutty nuances and a crisp finish, when re-tasted in the afternoon, the palate is a little wandering and lacking focus. 12.5%

Quinta do Crasto Red 2012 (Douro)

A very well-executed entry-level blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barroca sourced from younger vineyards with an average age of 25 years. A tiny proportion (5% in 2012) is aged in seasoned oak for 12 months which helps to anchor its bouncy sweet black cherry fruit and adds a lick of cinnamon. Juicy and fresh. Very good. 14%

Crasto Superior 2011 (Douro)

Crasto Superior is sourced from Quinta da Cabreira in the Douro Superior. First made in 2007, the red will be joined by a Douro Superior Crasto Superior white with effect from the 2013 vintage (all being well!) The 2011 was an exacting vintage at Cabreira, with higher than average winter rains followed by an exceptionally dry spell and a July heatwave in which 35% of the Barocca production was lost. Two days of rain at the beginning of September made a big of difference says Miguel Roquette, as did the next 40 days which were sunny and dry, resulting in “very, very small berry size – the lowest all the varieties – with a great relation of skin to pulp.” The small berries increased the perception of tannins while cool nights brough freshness and balance he adds. A fruit-centred-wine with a solid core of fleshy black cherry and berry fruit and ripe, round tannins. Attractive floral notes emerge with time in glass. Well done but, in this line up, I miss the depth, definition and mineral cut of the Cima Corgo wines. 14.5%

Quinta do Crasto Reserva Old Vines 2011 (Douro)

No less than 32 old vineyard parcels are vinified separately and the wines selected for this cuvee were aged for around 18 months in French oak barrels (85%) and American oak barrels (15%). As always, the Reserva is broad shouldered but with great minerally depth, layer and lift of esteva and bergamot. For winemaker Manuel Lobo the American oak plays a key role in bringing forward its deep reserves of glossy black currant and cherry fruit and brings balancing sweetness to a big boned wine which has no shortage of sinew and heft. The tannins are ripe, powerful and present. It’s an imposing wine with plenty of character for mid-to-longer term drinking. 14.5%

Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional 2011 (Douro)

Sourced from 25 year old vines (a selection massale) this formidably concentrated Touriga Nacional was aged for 16 months in lightly toasted 225 litres French oak barrels. On the nose and initially in the mouth, its intense concentration of sweet, creamy raspberry, black berry, cherry and plums is palpable but, made for the long haul, as its powerful (ripe) frame of tannins inserts itself into the picture, it closes down. On both days tasted, it finishes youthfully tight and firm, revealing just a hint of bergamot. Yet to come together but, given its tannin/(fresh) acid structure, it will be worth the wait. 14.5%

Quinta do Crasto Tinta Roriz 2011 (Douro)

Fruit from 31 year old vines is similarly aged for 16 months in new French oak barrels (225 litres), however the Tinta Roriz is a completely different kettle of fish from the Touriga Nacional – much less iron first in velvet glove. Although it is youthfully tight, it seems more translucent, readily revealing a herbaceous riff and floral edge to its ripe plum, red berry and rhubarb fruit. Chalky fine tannins and fresh acidity bring refinement and length. On day two it has fleshed out and mocha oak chimes in, especially on the finish, but the fruit remains juicy and succulent, really persistent, with mineral, quite gravelly acidity. Surprisingly it weighs in at 15%. If it’s anything like the still vigorous ’97 I tasted in June (the maiden vintage), it will cellar very well. For Lobo, the key to the low pH and higher acidity which mark out ageworthy Tinta Roriz is low yields of smaller bunches, so poor soils (like Crasto’s degraded schist) are very important.

Quinta do Crasto Vinha Maria Teresa 2011 (Douro)

 


Maria Teresa, a single (4ha) parcel selection from Quinta do Crasto’s oldest (centenarian) vines, has been subjected to uncommon scrutiny lately. A genetic map revealed that it has at least 47 different varieties, six of which are white, three rosé. For the first time in 2011, as a result of this heightened consciousness around varieties (also those periods during which the east-facing vineyard is shaded), Maria Teresa’s grapes were harvested no less than four times over three weeks. “We wanted to know the vineyard like the back of our own hands,” said Miguel Roquette, “and to pick at optimal maturity.” A phrase which strikes fear into my heart for, in my experience, it can mean too darned ripe! But not so here. Maria Teresa 2011 has an effortless balance. Yes, in this powerful vintage, its black berry, cherry, currant and plum fruit is undeniably concentrated. But it’s perfectly exquisite of delivery – sublime even. Of such fluidity, perfume and sheer vital energy that it seemingly explodes – aromatises – directly on the back palate, creating an impression of (reverberating) intensity, not density. An impression reinforced by its ultra-fine sheen tannins. With its long, bergamot and gum cistus nuanced gravelly, mineral finish, first impressions (its burnish of Rioja-esque oak, optimal maturity) are perfectly misleading. A fabulous, terroir-fuelled wine.

Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional 2004 (Douro)

This deliciously ripe but balanced, muscular Touriga looks and tastes youthful with its energetic rippling plums and raspberry fruit and sweet, toasty, chocolatey oak (if too much oak, for my taste at any rate). Super-supple tannins aid the flow, which it maintains very persistently through a long finish. As it opens up in the glass and on day two, it reveals pronounced esteva notes which give it a stronger sense of place, as does its mineral undertow. With impressive persistence, it has lots more to give. 14%

Quinta do Crasto Vinha da Ponte 2004, magnum (Douro)

 

From magnum, this is initially perfectly sulky, really tight on the nose. Once it starts to open up there is no stopping it. Building quite voluminously in the mouth it reveals layer upon layer of succulent black currant/berry fruit and riper baked fruit interleaved with toasty oak, esteva, spices and dried sage. It’s a seemingly bottomless pit of pitch black fruit. There’s a slightly hard, pushy acid edge which detracts slightly from the balance, but this is an undeniably impressive, enormously concentrated wine with plenty yet to give. 14.5%

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 2012 (Douro)

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. It has a fresh, slightly leafy (a Viosinho characteristic for me), mineral, lemony nose and palate. A well made easy drinking white with a bit of character. 13%

Lavradores de Feitoria Tres Bagos White 2012 (Douro)

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 though its lemony, melon and soft apricot fruit is rounded, this wine has a fresh, tingly, saline vein of acidity. Very well made. 12.5%

Lavradores de Feitoria Tres Bagos Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (Duriense)

This wine is labelled Duriense because Sauvignon Blanc is not an approved DOC grape. The grapes come from Casa de Mateus/Palacio de Mateus near Vila Real (which originally supplied the grapes for Mateus Rosé and is pictured on its bottles). Because of its location at 500m and its particularly pronounced diurnal temperature variation, even during summer, Dirk Niepoort (one of Lavradores’ share members), suggested that it might be a good spot for Sauvignon Blanc back in 2002. Unbeknownst to him owner Fernando Albuquerque, a huge fan of Sauvignon Blanc, had planted cuttings from France over 20 years ago, but never vinified the Sauvignon separately! In 2002, the first Sauvignon was made and following the wine’s successful reception, a further 2ha were planted in 2009, also Riesling. Yellow gold in hue with a leafy, blackcurrant bud and elderflower nose and palate, fleshed out with creamy peach and sweet ripe bruised apple. Nice weight in the mouth with freshness. Very good. 13%

Lavradores de Feitoria Meruge 2012 (Douro)

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. I tasted the maiden 2009 three years ago and was immediately impressed (better than the Sauvignon, I thought). And this vintage is terrific too – like the 2009, really characterful with plenty of structure and interest. Yellow goldish in hue with an oaky, slightly resinous, lemony nose which flavours follow through on a creamy palate well buttressed by firm acidity. Really good freshness and minerality with that Viosinho leafy edge/lift going through. It remains very vital and fresh on day two with its lemon and leaf notes to the fore (the oak is already a receding into the background). Unique and very good indeed. 13%

Lavradores de Feitoria Red 2011 (Douro)

The unoaked entry-level red, a blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and 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), it’s a very balanced, juicy wine with bright fruits of the forest and fleshier plum. 13%

Lavradores de Feitoria Tres Bagos 2011 (Douro)

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.” Darker in hue with a good concentration of black and red fruits, Tres Bagos is fruitier with ripe but firm, anchoring tannins, good freshness and lifted spice and dried herbs/esteva notes. Very well done. 14.5%

Lavradores de Feitoria Meruge 2011 (Douro)

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 style, with bright, very fresh red berry, cherry and plum fruit, precise chalky tannins and creamy, spicy oak to the finish. It 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 barrel where it is aged for 14 months. I’m pleased to hear that Ruão is looking for greater restraint because I sometimes find the oak a little overbearing. Here it is quite pronounced (toasty, spicy) on the nose but better integrated on the palate, especially on day two when its core of sweet, creamy raspberry fruit really opens up. 14%

Lavradores de Feitoria Tres Bagos Grande Escolha 2011 (Douro)

In contrast with Meruge this single vineyard wine hails from a south-facing site (60% old, mixed vines) and is foot-trodden in lagares. Ruão describes it as “very Douro.” Lavradores fermented 20% in stainless steel in 2011 to preserve fruit and freshness; the rest is aged in new French oak. It’s a much deeper hue than the Meruge, with a firm schistous, mineral nose and a hint of reduction. In the mouth the fruit (black) is concentrated, as I expected, but svelter (creamier) too, more friendly. Which is not to say it lacks structure – the fruit retains definition and freshness, while the tannins are both supportive and supple. With time in glass, it becomes quite headily perfumed, with rock rose and violets, while its minerality – a gravelly minerality, really resonates on the back palate over a very long, juicy, balanced finish. Very good indeed. 14%

Lavradores de Feitoria Tres Bagos Grande Escolha 2004 (Douro)

Until 2011,Ruão reckons the 2004 was the best Tres Bagos ever made. It’s “very Douro” of its time in the sense that the 2004 vintage was aged in 100% new oak and, I sense, the fruit was picked riper and extracted a little harder. A ripe nose reveals dried, even a little cooked, fruit with balsamic and esteva notes. The rusticity follows through on a smoky, gamy, quite wild, woody, spicy palate with sweet/confit briary dark berry and currant fruit and rich but firm savoury tannins. Lots to chew on and yet it retains freshness and easily has another five years yet to give. 14%

Niepoort

In the shade, the grape reception area at Niepoort Quinta de Nápoles

 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 (click here for details) and a Dão wine (which I have yet to taste).

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 (the latter being from the 2012 vintage is reviewed here) or Coche, the only white wine in Niepoort’s portfolio to undergo malolactic fermentation.

130+ year old field blend vines produced Niepoort’s new single vineyard red, Niepoort Turris 2012 (reviewed here).

Following the departure of Luis Seabra at the end of 2012, Carlos Pinto da França Raposo is Niepoort’s new right hand man. He has worked at Niepoort since 2011 prior to which his impressive cv encompasses stints in Bordeaux for several years at Château Smith Haut Lafitte and Margaux, also at Dominio de Pingus, Spain and the Robert Craig winery in the Napa Valley.

 Niepoort Tiara 2012 (Douro)

The flute-shaped bottle for this Códega do Larinho dominated white has been passed over in favour of a shape midway between a flute and a burgundy bottle, but the change here is not just skin deep. Where previous wines were all tank-fermented, 100% of this wine was very slowly (naturally) fermented then aged for 12 months in 2500l oak toneis. And it still retains a just discernable 3-4g/l of residual sugar, which is defly balanced by its fresh acidity (the pH is strikingly low at 3.29) – a product of sourcing fruit from 60+ year old vines planted at 600 metres in altitude. Although it’s less expressive on the nose, in the mouth it’s more expessive in its prettiness, chalky minerality and precision, with a sorbet clarity to its sweet pink grapefruit. Like no other in the Douro, it’s a lovely, textural yet pretty wine. 13%

 Niepoort Redoma Branco 2012 (Douro)

Redoma Branco grapes come from old (40-80 year old) field blend vines on the right bank of the River Douro located at an altitude of between 400 and 700 metres. This vintage seems to have an indolent, relaxed quality. Taking its time to rouse itself Redoma Branco is really not trying to impress or dazzle you with fruit power or oak. Rather it makes its own shape, slowly unfolding its vegetal and brassica “fruit,” layered with lemon powder puff and mineral notes (the latter of which become more pronounced on day two). The finish is unhurried, unshowy and gently persistent. Very sure of itself. Very good. 13%

Niepoort Redoma Branco Reserva 2012 (Douro)

Sourced from 80-year old field blend vines planted at an altitude of 600 metres and aged for 10 months in 228l barrels, this more concentrated wine is quite different from its junior sibling. It has a sweet vanillin lift of oak to nose and palate, behind which lies very bright, mineral-sluiced fresh melon and cucumber fruit and an undertow of brassica and nutty vegetal notes. New French oak brings focus and poise as well as perfume and, together with its persistent lemony acidity, makes for a long, fine, linear finish. Very good, still very bright and tight on day 2. 13%

Niepoort Coche 2012 (Douro)

First produced in 2010. Raposa explains while Redoma’s vegetal textural notes are informed by its (Portuguese) grapes, Coche’s silkier texture is informed by its malolactic fermentation. Naturally imbued with higher acidity, grapes are sourced from two particularly elevated north-facing vineyards, Porrais and Pombal. With only 3,500 bottles, Raposa says “it’s the best of the best” and it sees a little more time (12 months) in French oak (no batonnage). It is a deeper colour than the Redoma Reserva with great sheen and polish to its fruit (Raposa’s silkiness). But most marked is its freshness and precision, an austerity even which, given it has undergone the malo says something about the structure/acidity of the fruit which went into it. On day two, while its French oak comes to the fore in its sweet vanillin perfumed nose and a spicy nuttiness going through, the tight, very long, precise finish is assertively mineral, lemony and pure. Very good. 13.5%

Niepoort Vertente 2011 (Douro)

The sea change of approach towards greater elegance and restraint is perhaps most evident in this, the entry-level wine of the premium wines. Raposa says Niepoort slashed volume by one half in order to achieve this level of quality. Fruit is sourced from 25 year old vines at Quinta de Nápoles and old vines planted on the banks of the Pinhão river, where Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz are predominant. The emphasis is very much on the red fruits – red cherry, with some cherry stone bite, rhubarb and pomegranate but still, rather than driving the wine, they work more in tandem with this wine’s (prominent) minerality and fresh acidity. On day two, riper black fruits emerge, some milk chocolate too but, with its textured, taffeta tannins, fresh acidity and long, mineral finish it seems perceptibly drier than previous vintages. All in all, more grown up and, I reckon, more ageworthy for it. 14%

Niepoort Bioma 2012 (Douro)

Made solely with younger vine organically cultivated fruit from Niepoort’s Quinta de Nápoles this doesn’t have the fruit concentration of Vertente and, aged in old 2000l and 5000l wooden vats, it has an earthy rusticity (a hint of brett on day two?) underlying its sweet red cherry and tarter rhubarb and plum fruit. The tannins are ripe and refined, silky even, making for a softly textured, unshowy wine with good freshness.

Niepoort Redoma Red 2011 (Douro)

Sourced from aged vines (70 years old +) this wine was aged for one year in 228l barrels and spent a second year (15 months in fact) in 10,000l oak vats. I tasted a cask sample in December and was concerned that both bottles showed signs of brett. A subsequent bottle (sent to me in London and tasted in January) seemed bell clear, with particularly well-defined, mineral-sluiced, pure red and black berry, cherry and damson fruits. Really persistent amd long with intense yet delicate of delivery fruit which was still going strong on day 3. Excellent. Beautiful restraint. 13.5%

Niepoort Batuta 2011 (Douro)

 

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! In this vintage only 25% new oak (228l barrels) was used. As always, Batuta is all tight-knit wild black fruits, fresh verging on austere acidity, fine but plentiful tannins and chiselled minerals. Its firmness and coiled energy make quite an impression, whilst long fingering the real action – lots more to come over the next decade or two. Indeed, on day two it remains tight lipped, though I pick up slivovitz plum notes (a characteristic which defines Niepoort’s new single vineyard Turris 2012) and toasty, spicy oak. Fabulous and fabulously consistent. 14%

Niepoort Charme 2011 (Douro)

Charme lives up to its name in 2011. Not that its silky smooth and yielding. For me it’s exciting for its salty, iodine edged and mineral red fruits, which have great immediacy and crunchy freshness. On day two it remains just as animated, with lovely intensity and energy to its small currant and berry fruit, the finish pithy, mineral, very persistent and precise. A very elegant, digestible wine whose fruit comes from old sheltered vineyards from Vale Mendiz in the Pinhão Valley. Terrific. 14%

Niepoort Charme 2004 (Douro)

The 2004 could not be more different, quite sluggish, with sweet, confit, chocolatey fruit and a tantalising hint of oyster shell minerality. On day too the toasty oak dominates. When I subsequently discussed the wine with Dirk Niepoort he said the bottle came from the Douro and had not been well stored (i.e. it had suffered from heat). Shame. 13.5%

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.

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 2012 (VR Duriense)

douro dec 001

This maiden release is 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. In 2012 he made 5000l of wine but bottled only 2500l – the balance showed a little too much new oak for his liking and was sold in bulk. The nose is fresh, tight and mineral, less aromatic than its Vinho Verde cousins from Monçao e Melgaço some 120km to the east, as is its relative body. Nonetheless its (just ripe) apricot and lively sherbetty citrus fruit is wed to a taut backbone of acidity which, together with its streak of minerality, makes for a very pure, tightly focused firm finish. This is a baby and, where in my experience Po de Poeira Branco took a couple of days to wind down and open up, this tensile Alvarinho will benefit from time in bottle to show at its best. Meantime, decant! 13.5%

Po de Poeira Red 2011 (Douro)

A classic 2011 – deep in colour with great fruit, chiselled minerality and freshness in equal measure. In a word, structured. Moreira says it was aged (all used barrels) for much longer than usual, in August not March, which explains why it’s only when I re-taste this wine in the afternoon that it starts to show its perfume (Po de Poeira is typically very perfumed from the off). Meanwhile, its bright, tight, juicy, spicy, toasty black and red berry and currant palate is youthfully firm. Very good. 14%

Poeira 2011 (Douro)

A very deep hue with great opacity and red flashes on the swirl. In the mouth it is very tight-knit, austere even, with a positively precipitous depth of very fresh small currant and berry red and black fruits yet to be mined. Supported by a terrific rearguard charge of ultra-fine tannins, Poeira 2011 builds inexorably in the mouth, putting me in mind of fine Bordeaux. The first time I can recall thinking that about a Douro wine. I share the thought with Moreira who confides “my big influence making wines is Bordeaux – that’s why I planted Cabernet Sauvignon [which goes into Poeira CS]”. A mineral-threaded finish is very firm, precise and long with a classy dash of spice rack toasty oak. Outstanding.

Poeira 2004 (Douro)

 

Where Moreira’s focus is on freshness this is an elegant 2004, with lovely poise to its black and red currant and cherry fruit. Fine tannins and its persistent thread of acidity delineate and tease out the fruit, making for a very long, finely honed finish laced with spice and minerals. Holds its shape and line very well indeed. Excellent. 14.5%

Quinta do Vale Meão

 

Last but not least, 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.

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.

Quinta do Vale Meão Meandro 2011 (Douro)

A blend of 35% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca, 27% Tinta Roriz, 3% Sousão, 3% Tinta Barroca and 2% Tinto Cão which was foot trodden in granite lagares and matured in second and third year French Allier oak barriques. From younger vineyards panted several years ago and more gently extracted than in the past it’s a very polished wine. Initially slightly reduced on the nose, which lends a note of restraint to its sweet but fresh chocolate-edged briar and creamy raspberry fruit. Juicy with fine grained tannins it has good line and length. Very well done and dirnking well already though has the structure to keep. 14%

F Olazabal e Filhos Monte Meão Touriga Nacional Granito 2011 (Douro)

This is the second single varietal Touriga made 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. It is a deeply coloured, very perfumed wine whose uber-expressive and exotic bergamot, orange peel and violet perfume belies this wine’s tight-knit red fruits and bony structure – a ripe but present backbone of tannins and fresh, firm acidity. This, together with its pronounced varietal character emphasises length and linearity. A youngster, with lots of potential. Very good.

F Olazabal e Filhos Monte Meão Tinta Roriz 2011 (Douro)

Only 2000l of this Tinta Roriz from alluvial pebbly soils was produced. The emphasis here is on the red fruits – a characteristic of Tinta Roriz but also, says Xito, alluvial soils. Its plum, rhubarb and red cherry fruit is framed by firm chalky tannins and edged with mineral, toast, herbal and pepper notes. Again very youthful and, as yet, quite lean, which seems to be a characteristic of young Tinta Roriz. Needs time. One to review. 14%

Quinta do Vale Meão Meão 2011 (Douro)

This blend of 55% Touriga Nacional, 34% Touriga Franca, 6% Tinta Barroca and 5% 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). A rich, weighty nose and palate reveal velvety layers of dark but sweet briary fruit, bergamot/earl grey tea, toasty oak and dark chocolate, with firm supporting tannins – iron fist in velvet glove. The finish is long and gravelly, with lovely minerality and no shortage of concentration. A powerful but very complex, artfully balanced wine. Consummate winemaking. Excellent. 14.5%

Quinta do Vale Meão Meão Meão 2004 (Douro)

Since this wine was made, Xito has moved away from Seguin Moreau and Francois Frere barrels to more neutral Taransaud barrels which he believes “respect the wine more and don’t give volume to the wine.” Though this is a generously proportioned wine with lashings of sweet ripe black fruits and toasty, charry oak it holds its shape very well thanks to its firm but grainy tannins and underlying persistent acidity. It retains Meão trademark bergamot lift, with balsamic and spicy esteva notes going through. A feast of a wine, but one which retains sense of proportion and balance.

Churchill´s

Churchill Graham was founded in 1981 by Johnny Graham, the first British Port Wine company to have been established in over 50 years. The first Douro table wines were made in 1999 and the Churchill’s Estate range was launched in 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.

Churchill’s Estates Red 2011 (Douro)

Around 30% of this blend of 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca and 30% Tinta Roriz was aged in a mix of new and aged French oak barrels. It’s an expressive red with a vivid violet and bergamot perfume and rich chocolate-edged raspberry and black cherry fruit with just a hint of esteva. With fine tannins it’s raring to go. A very well made sleek modern entry level red, yet with good varietal/regional character. 14.5%

Churchill’s Estates Touriga Nacional 2011 (Douro)

This wine is not only single varietal, it’s also 100% sourced from Quinta da Gricha. True to Gricha, it is a very well structured wine with a firm frame of ripe quite powerful tannins behind its silky red cherry and berry fruit. A tight finish reveals hints of spice, herbs, gun cistus and toasty oak (it was aged in 2nd and 3rd year French oak for 12 months). Good length and solidity. Will benefit from another year or two of bottle age. 14.5%

Churchill’s Estates Grande Reserva Red 2011 (Douro)

Sourced from old field blend vineyards (+50 years old) and aged in 100% new oak unfortunately the bottle I tasted seemed a touch oxidised and flat. I look forward to re-tasting it at the New Douro tasting because it is usually a very well-structured, characterful wine. 14.5%

Churchill’s Estates Red 2004 (Douro)

This entry level red is well into tertiary stage, it’s slightly thick, cooked fruit outpaced by esteva. Somewhat past its best.

Churchill’s Estates Quinta da Gricha Red 2004 (Douro)

On the other hand, the Gricha is impressively deep of hue and fresh still, with concentrated juicy black fruits, spice, minerals and toasty oak. Powerful ripe tannins make for a long, well-structured finish. Very good indeed.

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  1. David Cartier

    Delightful and perceptively informed writing Sarah! – and so good to find someone writing in English about the vast world of Portuguese wines. I am now a loyal fan.
    Thanks, David
    [if you plan on conducting any courses or tastings in Portugal, please put me on the mailing list.]


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