Casas do Côro: exciting white wines from the cusp of the Douro & Beira Interior
I’m swanning off to a very special event at Vintners’ Hall on Friday. It marks the long association between the Vintners’ Company, the Vintners’ Scholarship award and the Vintners’/Rouyer Guillet Cup. The Vintners’ Company has invited award and cup winners back to 1945 (I won the cup in 2003) – a real ‘where are they now’ opportunity! On which note today I’m heading off to Portugal, my love of which was sparked by a trip which was part of my Rouyer Guillet cup prize. So I have much to thank the Vinters’ Company for because the trip has led me on an exciting and ongoing voyage of vinous discovery, not least my recent visit to Casas do Côro.
Located in the remotest pocket of the Douro Superior in Marialva’s mountainous lunar landscape, it is on the cusp of the Douro and Beira Interior regions. A new, highly unusual find, or so I thought until discovering that Niepoort sources grapes for his flagship white Coche from here! Portugal, always full of surprises as the distinguished troupe of sommeliers I am leading on a tour this week will no doubt discover. And I’m very sure they would have admired the fine collection of decanters at Casas do Côro’s restaurant (with a 24 room rural hotel, its principal business is hospitality). I coveted them, though wielding them I would definitely leave to the professionals!
Although Casas do Côro is located in an extremely pretty and well preserved medieval viillage (of which you will find many dotted around Portugal), the seamlessly integrated granite stone hotel which fronts onto the square was built from scratch by owners Paulo and Cármen Romão. Nattily attired Paulo’s background is textiles but he and his wife were keen to promote Portugal’s different region’s, foods and wines and, in Marialva, they can kill two birds with one stone – Douro and Beira Interior. Here are my notes on the wines. Mostly reserved for the hotel’s clientele, they are one of many good reasons to visit and stay in this rural retreat which also makes it own extra virgin olive oil.
Casas do Côro White 2013 (Beira Interior)
The Romãos initially just bought grapes from elderly growers’ old vines (they buy around 90% of Marialva’s grapes) and have now also planted their own 10 hectares of vines. The wines are made by Douro winemaker Rui Madeira (who recently launched his very own very good old vine Beira Interior Beyra label). Casas do Coro White features Beira Interior’s leading varietal duo of Siria and Fonte Cal but additionally – thanks to the location – grapes more readily associated with the Douro, including Codega, Rabigato and Viosinho from old vines. Attractively flinty, as in gunsmoke, it’s quite reductive on the nose and has great energy and citric line with a classy dash of roasted hazelnut nutty oak to its well-defined firm white pear fruit and a mineral undertow. I liked it very much though decanting is a good idea, else it might seem a bit pinched.
Casas do Côro Rosé 2013 (Douro)
Niepoort made this vintage of the rosé from a blend of Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. The couple tell me it’s quite different from the previous vintage (a 100% Touriga Nacional) made at CARM, which was in a heavier style. The Niepoort version is pale and, slowly fermented on the lies in tank, it’s a very gently textured, creamy but delicate, dry style with a fresh, clean finish. Gastronomic as they say. Good.
Casas do Coro White Reserva 2012 (Douro)
The grapes come from very low production small parcels (around 0.3ha) at 600m above sea level. Without detracting from the purity of fruit or mineral expression, this star bright white has the poise and polish which come from time in fine French oak. Very silky with a lovely purity of fresh and poached pears. This wine also made by Niepoort.
Casas do Coro Red Reserva 2011 (Beira Interior)
This old vine blend of Rufete, Alfrocheiro, Touriga Nacional and Mourisco is smoky, yet also very perfumed with a markedly sweet talc and garrigue character (rosemary and lavender) as well as more delicate violet top notes, all of which characters follow through on the palate. Unusually for a red wine, indeed quite possibly uniquely in my history of tasting red wine, it has a core of fleshy grapefruit! Dark chocolate and violets not to mention (very typical for Beira Interior) firm, firm tannins remind you it’s a red. I think it might have helped if I’d eaten kid like my fellow diners! Here is my Blend colleague food and wine writer José Silva’s account of the meal (and his take on the wines).