A visit with Quinta de Maritávora, the Douro Superior

My first report following my March visit to the Douro Superior (here) focused on Duorum, who have planted one of a rash of new vineyards on the elevated reaches of the Douro river’s left bank between the river Côa and Spanish border.

Quinta de Maritávora, on the other hand, was established around 1860 by Joseph Junqueiro Jr, father of the famous poet Guerra Junqueiro.  The White Reserva, which hails from the 13ha estate’s most aged vines (a half hectare parcel interspersed with olive trees, pictured), is poetic!  You may recall it blew me away when I tasted in Lisbon in November – see here – so I was thrilled to visit with Junquiero’s great great grandson, Manuel Gomes Mota.


Mota explained that, in Junqueiro’s day, each of family’s several estates had a small winery.  He jokes that the one at Maritávora (pictured) is quite possibly the smallest in the Douro.  I can believe it!

Back then, of course, the grapes were sold for port and, between 1870 and 2003, sold to Cockburns.  In 2003, Mota inherited the estate.  Though he describes the estate as “my sail boat, my hobby – for my retirement,” the former navy officer has wasted no time changing tack, shifting production from port to unfortified.

A cool climate

Quite aside from adding value to the estate’s produce by making his own wine, Mota says that the vineyards are better suited to unfortified production (though he is making a port in 2009).  Located at an average altitude of about 500 m and away from the river, it’s a cool site with pronounced continentality.  At night, temperatures can plummet from between 30, even 40 degrees in the summer to 15 degrees.  He says he harvests three weeks later than Rozés do at Quinta do Grifo to the south, by the river and, while their almond trees were in full blossom, it’s early days at Maritávora.

From port to wine

The move from port to wine has led to changes in canopy management, vineyard layout, head grafting (to switch over varieties) and 4ha of new block plantings; Mota is retaining the oldest vineyards which, ranging between 60 to over 100 years old, are varietal field blends.

Naturally, with his own private equity business in Lisbon, he has invested wisely when it comes to technical input. His consultant is gifted winemaker Jorge Serôdio Borges, of Pintas and Passadouro fame.  Cockburn’s advised on his newer plantings (pictured), on twist your ankle rock strewn schistous soils (pictured).

Thinking long term (this is after all a family business), the vineyards are in conversion to organic production.  Indeed, Mota already produces a wonderfully fruity organic olive oil (pictured) from the estate whose oldest trees (pictured) are perhaps 500 years old. He says “it’s my conscience – it’s the only way to keep the estate for as many years as before and it makes sense because we are in a national park.”

The wines

The pocket-sized winery houses three old lagares (pictured) where the reds are foot trodden.  Temperature controlled plates are inserted into the lagares.  Next door, stainless steel tanks are for blending and there is a small barrel room, from where we taste samples.

Mota has just changed the classification of his wines to reflect a new (third) junior red wine.  As of 2010, the Reserva wines have all been “upgraded” to Grande Reserva status.

The wine labels reflect the design of the enamel plaques of the estate’s port barrels – “P” is for pipa.

Maritávora Branco Grande Reserva 2011 (barrel sample) – to be bottled in a couple of months, this barrel sample is incredibly fresh, pure and mineral with bright citrus and perfumed, stony quince fruit.  Terrific promise – loved its purity and precision.  This wine, from vines over a hundred years old, always see new French oak, is barrel fermented (inoculated yeasts) and aged (for several months) on the lies, which are stirred regularly during the first 3 months, then just once a month.

Maritávora Branco Grande Reserva 2010 – with bottle age and, no doubt reflecting the vintage, this wine has a little more density than the 2011, but it shares the 2011’s chiselled minerality and quince fruit, here with pear, pear skin and cinnamon notes, plus a salty note to the long, persistent finish.  With all natural acidity, the wine makes its own shape – just lovely, not at all pushy – just bright and beautiful. Wow.  12.5%

Maritávora Branco Reserva 2008 – on the nose, this vintage has a greener, vegetal quality –green almond.  A flintiness too.  In the mouth it’s wonderfully textured and nuanced, revealing leesy, tangy, nutty, smoky, flinty layers to its muscular quince and pear fruit, citrus zest too.  There’s a mature Hunter Semillon-like oilskin note to the finsh too.  Super complex – a medidative wine.  12.5%

Maritávora Branco Reserva 2006 – this vintage was challenging for reds – a huge hailstorm devastated the crop but fortunately, the whites had been harvested 2 days earlier.  This wine is riper, nuttier and broader with a good girth of white peach and apricot fruit and hints of sweet talc and oilskin.  There’s a sweetness and a creaminess to this wine with salty, lemon zesty/lemon thyme notes for counter-point.  Lots to like but not as interesting as the others.  14%

Maritávora Touriga Nacional 2011 (barrel sample) – this is the first vintage made from 30 year old Tinta Cão vines which were head-grafted over to Touriga Nacional just the previous year (click here for an explanation of head grafting and a video of a vine being head-grafted at Quinta de Leda).  Amazing how quickly the Touriga Nacional has settled down – this deeply coloured sample is very floral and fruity – who would know?  Compared with the next wine (vinified in the same way), the oak seems more overt.

Maritávora Touriga Nacional 2011 (barrel sample) – this wine comes from older Touriga Nacional vines which provided the cuttings for the head graft.  This sample shows more depth of flavour, elegance and freshness.  The quality of tannins is much better.

Maritávora Touriga Franca 2011 (barrel sample) – wonderfully scented with lifted rock rose  and lavender to its sweet ripe fruit, well balanced by fresh acidity and a firm but ripe backbone of acidity.  Elegant and intense.  Very promising.

Maritávora Touriga Franca 2009 – the variety doesn’t appear on the label because the wine was not officially declared as a single variety wine early enough (the Douro is a hyper-regulated region!)  Just 500 bottles were produced, all destined for Brazil.  It reminds me of a Loire Cabernet Franc with its smoky coal dust-edged firmish tannins and bright pomegranate fruit.  There’s a herbal quality too though, unlike the Loire, it’s riper dried herbs – sage or rosemary?  Black plum fleshes out its core of tight, bright red fruits.  Good balancing freshness and depth – needs time to unfurl.  Promising. 14%

Maritávora Tinto Grande Reserva 2009 – this blend comprises around 40-50% old vine material and, Mota reckons, is at least 60% Touriga Nacional.  It’s very deep in colour with deep seated fleshy plum, black berry and currant fruit and layers of rosemary, sage and minerals, some smoky oak too.  Though powerful it’s possessed of a lovely freshness.  Long, and persistent with ripe, well integrated tannins.  Very good. 14.5%

Maritávora Reserva 2008 – a blend of Touriga Nacional (50%) Touriga Franca (20%), Tinta Roriz (20%) and others (10%).  In this milder vintage, the 2008 is fleshy and fluid, with juicy, succulent plum and raspberry fruit and lifted rock rose and sage notes.  An attractive smoky, mineral (rather than wood) vein runs through it – pervasive and persistence.  A backdrop of powdery, ripe tannins lends subtle texture.  Plenty of body and length.  Very good.  Fermented and foot trodden in traditional stone lagares.  Aged in new (90%) French oak barrels for 18 months.

Maritávora Reserva 2005 – from the very even keel 2005 vintage, this is in languid form, fleshy, with ripe plum and brambly fruit and fine, sooty, smoky tannins. Terrific balance – a hallmark of this vintage. Lovely.  14%

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