A new find: Quinta do Couquinho, Douro Superior
Today, the judging process kicks off for Decanter World Wine Awards. Once again I’m Regional Chair for Portuguese table wines and, this year, I’m delighted to welcome two illustrious new judges to the panel, leading Portuguese wine writer, João Paulo Martins and Master Sommelier, João Pires.
We have a record five whole days of tasting before Trophy judging next Monday – a reflection of the rapid growth and dynamism of the category and, no doubt, I’ll make some new discoveries. Speaking of which, here are my notes on a new find, Quinta do Couquinho.
I met with owner Prof. Eduardo Trigo on my recent Douro Superior visit, together with Vitor Rabacal, his resident winemaker and export director Jose Rafael (pictured). The talented João Brito e Cunha is consulting winemaker.
The quinta, which has been in Trigo’s family for two centuries, is located in the Vilariça Valley, which is also home to Symington Family Estate’s Altano brand (click here for a report of an earlier visit there). Unlike the Symington’s vineyards (Quinta do Atayde, Quinta de Assares and Quinta da Canada), Trigo told me that Quinta do Couquinho is on the schistous slopes of the valley, not the valley floor, rising from 50 to 350m.
The estate comprises 22ha of vineyard, as well as olive trees – Trigo and his three brothers who co-own it also make olive oil. Twelve hectares of vines are around 30 years old and the other ten are several years old. Originally, the estate was just (block) planted to the five recommended varieties – Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barocca, Tinta Cao, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. More recently, a small block of Syrah, also Sousao, has been planted.
Wines were first produced under the Quinta do Couquinho marque in 2003 and, with swift validation (a gold medal), a winery was built the following year. Prior to that, Couquinho was one of the original members of Lavradores de Feitoria (established in 1999) and, before that, wines were sold to the local cooperative at Vila Flor (which closed down four years ago).
Production is around 50,000 bottles, which are principally sold in the home market. Couquinho is not currently exported to the UK, but I reckon these wines deserve a wider audience. They certainly meet the brief which is, as Rabacal says, “all about balance – our wines are not over-extracted, or over-wooded.”
Quinta do Couquinho 2009
This wine is a blend of 15% Sousao, 5% Tinta Cao, 50% Touriga Nacional and 30% Touriga Franca. I’m struck by its freshness, especially in this warm year. Around half of the wine is aged in stainless steel to maintain freshness (the rest sees 2-3 year old barrels) and, with its high acidity, Vinho Verde’s Vinhao (a.k.a. Sousao in the Douro) lends a helping hand too. There’s a cool minerality to its fruit too, which lends definition and elegance to its sweet and pure raspberry fruit; the tannins are ripe but powdery and present. Though it weighs in at 14.5% , it’s very fresh and pure. Very good.
Quinta do Couquinho Grande Reserva 2009
The Grande Reserva is not made every year and, in those when it is, no Reserva is made. This Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Sousao blend is aged for 12-14 months in new oak. The best grapes are foot trodden in stainless steel lagares (smoother tannins), the rest fermented in closed stainless steel vats (for aroma). It’s an expressive wine, perfumed and open-faced with a good depth of vibrant, juicy raspberry, red berry and cherry fruit behind and a dusty, schistous minerality. Very good – wears its oak and 14.5% lightly.
Quinta do Couquinho 2008
Aged in 1-3 year old, this blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca is perfumed and spicy with coriander seed, esteva and bergamot hints. In the mouth, there’s a subtle undertow of schistous minerality. The tannins are fine and, with good freshness, this is a polished but very drinkable red. 14%
Quinta do Couquinho Reserva 2008
This wine is a blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca aged in a mix of new and used oak. It’s quite typical of the 2008 vintage in its juicy black fruits and spiciness. With more Tinta Roriz, it has an edge of dried herbs and a more expansive mid-palate, though there’s a firm, powerful frame of tannins behind. Well done.
Quinta do Couquinho 2007
This blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz was aged for 12 months in 2nd and 3rd year French oak. It combines the best attributes of the spicy 2008 and fruity 2009 vintages to great effect. It’s both rich and fresh with spicy, fleshy plum, juicy red and black fruits; dried herbs and violets bring lift and complexity. Velvety tannins carry a long, very well balanced finish. Very good. 14.5%
Quinta do Couquinho Grande Reserva 2007
The Grande Reserve ( a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz aged for 16 months in new French oak) reinforces the classiness of the 2007 vintage. This is a big but elegant wine – very complete and with attractive complexity. Dense black and red berry and cherry fruit is interwoven with layers of dried spice and herbs. Well framed by powerful pomegranate pithy tannins, it’s long with good breadth and depth – satisfying and classily poised, though broachable now, it’s still at an early stage of its development. 14.5%