Visiting Quinta do Crasto’s Douro Superior outpost, Quinta da Cabreira, plus latest releases

Located in the heart of the Cima Corgo, Quinta do Crasto is among the Douro’s most famous estates for table wines. Aged vines produce fabulously concentrated single vineyard flagship wines Vinha Maria Teresa and Vinha da Ponte, also Vinhas Velhas Reserva which I’d venture to suggest is one of the Douro’s best buys, offering stunning complexity and concentration for a shade under £20. The latest 2009 release made the cut for Julia Harding MW’s 50 Great Portuguese Wines, while I selected the 2004 for my 50 Great.

Beneath this top tier, Crasto’s range has at least as many rungs with three reds and, not to be forgotten, a white which is really starting to hit its straps (see my review of the 2011 below). 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, today, the Roquette family are among the Douro’s biggest 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 below). Miguel Roquette told me as a result of “large investments (over 10 million Euros) in the last 12 years, 2008 was officially the first harvest where we did not buy a single grape from other growers / producers.  We have a tremendous choice of fruit and do not depend on any one else for the quality of our wines.”

Quinta da Cabreira

During my February visit to the Douro Superior I visited Quinta da Cabreira at sunset which, as you can see from the photos, is a magnificent property, as schist strewn and steep as any vineyard in the Cima Corgo. Terraces and vertical plantings rise from river level to nearly 400 metres altitude. The varieties planted include Touriga Nacional (more than 50 % of the plantings), Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Amarela, Francisca and also Sousão. The latter isn’t planted at Crasto but, in the Douro Superior’s drier, generally warmer climate, it’s valued for its colour and high acidity. Another difference between the Crasto and Cabreira quintas is that Cabreira is drip irrigated in order to cope with the drier conditions (average rainfall in the Douro Superior is 500mm compared with 650mm in the Cima Corgo).

Miguel’s father Jorge hosted the visit and, for this keen hunter, the benefits of its remote location (the so-called “silence of the Douro” is even more palpable in the Douro Superior) became immediately apparent when, much to his excitement, our arrival spooked some partridges. With its immaculate schist walled terraces, Cabreira’s polish and scale is deeply impressive and one cannot help but ponder the cost of planting this virgin site. I asked Jorge what prompted the family to take on this massive new commitment. He told me having long been friends with Vito (Francisco Javier de Olazabal) of Quinta do Vale Meao, he always knew that the Douro Superior produced very good wines. In fact Xisto, the family’s joint venture with Jean-Michel Cazes of Château Lynch-Bages, is 90% from the Douro Superior. So Crasto have been involved in the region for some time, having first bought 5ha of old vines at Quinta Canada do Rev near Muxagata.

As for Cabreira, the site was recommended by Ramos Pinto’s winemaker, João Nicolau de Almeida, one of the Douro Superior’s great champions. Under multiple ownership, Roquette told me it was gradual process to pull together the patchwork of over 100 small plots which today comprises Cabreira. At the outset, land was cheap and he paid 500€/ha, however the last parcel cost 7500€/ha. Still, it’s a snip compared with today’s prices where, according to Roquette, virgin land fetches 10,000€/ha while land with mature vines costs €60,000/ha – similar to Cima Corgo prices. Not, he adds, that there’s any land to be had near the river in either sub-region now. Planted between 2004 and 2009, Cabreira comprises some 100ha under vine.

Latest releases

Crasto White 2011

Crasto White (first released in 2007) is really getting into its own skin and, in this unhurried vintage, the long maturation period translates into an accessible wine of lovely depth and balance. Chalkily leesy with just a hint of spicy bay leaf, this blend of Verdelho, Codega de Lourinha, Viosinho and Rabigato shows ripe, round, leesy, chalky lemony citrus fruit cut with a salty green olive tang and mouthwatering, well integrated acidity. My favourite release so far. 12% RRP £10.99

Flor de Crasto 2009

This unoaked red doesn’t make it to the UK. For Miguel Roquette, Cabreira’s young vines are perfect for this style and, sure enough, it’s youthfully bright and clear-eyed, with berry and cherry fruit and just a touch of baked cherry/fig. Good. 14%

Crasto Red 2009

Fruit for Crasto Douro Red is 100% estate fruit but, because it comes from both Crasto and Cabreira, it cannot be called a “Quinta” wine (i.e. it’s named Crasto Douro Red and not Quinta do Crasto Douro Red). Unoaked with fresh, pippy red and black fruits to the fore, there’s a touch of grip to its bony (fruit) tannins and an attractive ripe, earthy raspberry quality. A good food wine. 14.5%

Crasto Red 2010

Though 2009 was the warmer vintage with an oak-aged element (10% spent 12 months in French oak), the 2010 is a little darker and rounder than the 2009. Still, it’s deftly done, without sacrificing Crasto’s juicy fresh ‘n fruity approachable style. An attractive nose combines schistous mineral and floral notes which follow through on a fleshy palate of succulent dark fruits of the forest, black cherry and currant fruit.  Subtle fruit tannins add just a touch of grip.  Good. RRP £10.33

Crasto Superior 2009

Like Crasto White, Crasto Superior was first made in 2007 and, similarly, is really starting to come into its own. The 2009 is darker and silkier than the 2010 (perhaps a reflection of age too) with a concentrated core of black raspberry and lovely balance, elegance and fluidity thanks to its supple tannins. Good length/persistence, the oak worn lightly and spicily. 14.5%

Crasto Superior 2010

A vibrant, bright ruby hue with sweet, ripe and juicy blackberry and raspberry fruit and gently ruffled tannins. There’s a toffeed, malty quality to oak which, once integrated, will allow its underlying minerality to shine a little more.  Well balanced acidity makes for a clean finish with a touch of saltlick. Good potential. 14% RRP £14.10

Quinta do Crasto Reserva 2009

Powerful, ripe, corpulent even, the Reserva bears all the hallmarks of this vintage. A glossy red with succulent fresh and baked black cherry, lashings of raspberry ripple and vanilla, chocolate and a hint of bergamot. Creamy yet with a great freshness too, it builds in the mouth. A very long, expansive wine. Positively indolent, it’s a touch de trop for my taste but no denying, it’s a hedonist’s delight. 14.5% RRP £19.99

Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional 2009

Last made in 2006 the single varietal Touriga typically comes from three single plots (block plantings).  The vines are around 25 years old and cuttings were taken from Crasto’s aged vines.  An intense floral nose and palate shows rock rose, violets and chocolate as well as minerals and a touch of salt lick – very Touriga, very Douro!  The tannins are quite bony and it’s yet to fill out in the mouth, but it’s all there and with the freshness to evolve into a beauty. Indeed, four days after opening, it started to open up, showing raspberry and chocolate to its well-structured palate. A keeper. 14.5%

Quinta do Crasto Tinta Roriz 2009

This wine comes from a unique south and east-facing vineyard in Roncão at 350m which, though around 100 years old, is planted almost excusively to Tinta Roriz – highly unusual given the Douro’s tradition of mixed plantings. I first tasted it in May last year when it was very seductive already, with a sweet raspberry scented nose and palate.  Though the vanilla oak was quite present, the wine has impressive underlying freshness for balance which is well-integrated with the fruit.  I reckoned it would evolve similarly to the youthfully plush but well balanced 2003 which I tasted (from magnum) in 2009 (see here). My second taste confirmed that this is a super suave but balanced beauty, its raspberry fruit creamy and chocolatey. I wasn’t surprised to be told that the Roquettes are big fans of Roda Cirsion…. 14.5%

Quinta do Crasto Maria Teresa 2009

Maria Teresa tends to be made more frequently than Vinha da Ponte because the parcel is bigger – 5ha versus Vinha da Ponte’s two. It’s always an immensely concentrated wine and, in this powerful vintage, its deep seated, tight knit fruit is palpably present but yet to unfurl. The tannins are dense yet refined – long, fine but firm. And key to its class, it’s possessed of impressive freshness, so wears its 15% abv with ease. With such terrific structure, it fair brims with potential. Do not broach for five years plus. 15%

Quinta do Crasto Finest Reserve Port

This is Crasto’s first reserve ruby and a colheita tawny (97) is in the wings. One hundred percent foot trodden (unusual for a ruby, even reserves), it’s plummy, peppery, rich, raisiny and smooth with dark chocolatey tannins. Ultra-(dangerously!)-drinkable and satisfying. 20% RRP £11.67

Quinta do Crasto Vintage 2009

A super chocolatey, supple-tannined Port, deep fruited and fleshy with plum and svelte black cherry, some baked cherry too. Bergamot, orange blossom and spicy gingerbread notes lend lift and layer. Attractive, very broachable  style.

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