First taste: Quinta do Vallado Adelaide Tributa, a pre-phylloxera (1866) Very Old Port
Last year I reported on a flurry of esoteric and very exclusive wood-aged Port wine releases. At €2,500, Taylor’s Scion set the pace. This pre-phylloxera Very Old Port dates back to the 1850s and was only acquired by the Port shipper from a grower the previous year (2010).
When I recently asked Taylor’s Adrian Bridge if the recession had seen more such rarities see the light of day he said, surprisingly not. According to Bridge, rather the crisis has led to a rash of quintas (vineyards/estates) being placed on the market.
However, bucking this trend, João Ferreira Alvares Ribeiro and Francisco Ferreira of Quinta do Vallado continue to invest heavily in the Douro (€12m in 2012 up from €2.5m in 1995). Their latest investments? A new wine hotel (featured in my Douro/Oporto wine and travel feature in this month’s Decanter) and, launched this Monday, Adelaide Tributa, their very own pre-phylloxera Very Old Port.
Priced at €2,600, Quinta do Vallado Adelaide Tributa is a limited edition of 1.300 75cl “bottles” (it’s bottled in crystal decanters). According to the family who have cellared it, Tributa’s two 600 litre barrels represent all that remains of a stash of five chesnut barrels believed to have been produced in 1866. (The other three were used to top up the barrels which became Tributa).
Speaking at Monday’s launch of Adelaide Tributa, Ribeiro said that now table wine production (for which Vallado’s Douro Boys are best known) was “more stabilised,” the family wanted additionally to focus on Quinta do Vallado’s traditional strength, Port wine production. (Founded in 1716, during its first 200 years, the estate exclusively produced Port wine, which was shipped by Casa Ferreira, which then belonged to the family.) The name is a tribute to the Douro’s formidably successful 19th century landowner, Dona Antonia Adelaide Ferreira, who owned Vallado and from whom João Ferreira Alvares Ribeiro, Francisco Ferreira and winemaker Francisco Olazabal are descended.
For Ribeiro, “Port wine has a strong international recognition and, in some categories, is one of the wines in the world with more prestige. However, it is a ‘mature’ product, whose image must be preserved with creativity and endeavor, in order to keep its future”. Tributa, he said, represents Vallado’s aim to reinforce this segment – a very rare product (they specifically wanted to launch a pre-phylloxera Port), which has been dressed in the trappings of luxury. Its bespoke wooden box was designed by Francisco Vieira de Campos (the architect responsible for Vallado’s new winery and wine hotel). The shape takes it cue from the new barrique cellar (pictured below) and, like the new schist-clad winery and hotel, has a stripy appearance.
Saying it took a year to unearth the barrels (they were acquired earlier this year), Ferreira explained “it was a big privilege to make Tributa, so it had to be really good.” They talked to lots of producers who had bought grapes from the Baixo Corgo and Cima Corgo (the cooler of the Douro’s three sub-regions) and, he said, it became apparent that not many kept wine for a long time. Moreover, some wines had clearly been “refreshed” and others were not in good condition, “toasted, or with burned rubber.”
In contrast, according to the reports provided, Tributa’s barrels had not undergone any filling or refreshment for at least forty years. Its high degree Baumé (13.7) – it’s sugar concentration – was a clear indication of its old age. Yet the wine had been stored in a “fresh area” of the Cima Corgo, so had good acidity too. According to Olazabal, “it was the easiest wine to make” because, after the first tasting, it was decided that the wine should not undergo any correction or “refreshment.” It was bottled exactly under the same condition as it was in the casks.
So how was it for me? The concentration was undeniable – this wine is so clearly the work of time with its very deep varnished mahogany brown hue and glass-gilding saffron penumbra. On the nose, it’s very rich, with dates, fleshy tamarind spice, black cardamom and palm sugar/molasses notes – lots of complexity, deep-seated fruit too. In the mouth, the flavour profile (dates, burned toffee, salted caramels, dried figs, cloves and mocha), sheer concentration and viscosity put me in mind of tasting 1910 Seppeltsfield Para 100 year old Vintage at the Landmark Tutorial in Australia a couple of years back (click here for my notes), for my Spanish neighbour, an old PX Sherry. It’s not as viscous, not least because of its surprisingly fresh acidity and a touch of “vinagrinho”, which most definitely sets it apart. A wine of contrasts and one which I’d loved to have sat with and contemplated for longer. But really, I can’t complain! It’s not often one has the chance to taste a slice of history.