Quinta da Boavista: aiming high
When I visited last May, the prow of Quinta da Boavista’s mighty terraced walls and its bulwark of Grade A, steeply raked vineyard put me in mind of a battleship. Fitting then that owners, Brazilian Marcelo Lima and Brit Tony Smith of Lima & Smith (Smith pictured below, middle), have wheeled in the big guns to create some noise.
The big guns
To consult, Bordeaux’s Jean-Claude Berrouet, no less (pictured left) – a veteran of 44 vintages at Château Pétrus. While day-to-day winemaking is in the hands of esteemed Portuguese winemaker Rui Cunha (right), who makes two favourite Vinho Verdes – at Lima & Smith’s first property, Quinta de Covela and for Vasco Croft at Aphros.
As if further signal were required of Lima & Smith’s high flying aspirations, the four maiden 2013 Douro reds were launched earlier this month at Mayfair’s temple of fine and rare wine, Hedonism. And The Ambassador of Portugal, João de Vallera (pictured, facing) swung by.
The 2013 vintage
I’d had a sneak preview of the Touriga Nacional and one of the two Vinhas Velhas cuvées (the temporary label didn’t specify which) last year. I have to admit, overall I’ve found 2013 a tricky vintage – late September/early October rains followed a period of drought, which delayed the ripening process. Based on a week’s tasting last December and those wines submitted for judging at last month’s Decanter World Wine Awards, it seems to me (and to my panel) that, in consequence, many Douro 2013 reds lack a bit of fruit intensity and tannin development. Perhaps some will snap out of their sulk and the fruit will come up and tannins resolve with time in bottle.
As for Boavista, I’m told that, in 2013, the grapes were picked before the end of September. The sample Vinhas Velhas cuvée looked super-promising – very mineral and fresh, the latter being a positive characteristic of the year. You’ll find my notes on the four finished wines (all reds) below. First, a little background (though I can do no better than refer you to Lima & Smith’s website for details about its Port wine fame during the 19th century when it is thought Baron Forrester – the man who famously mapped the Douro’s quintas – leased the property).
Lima & Smith go Douro
When we met in 2015, Smith told me that he and Lima had been keen to buy a Douro property from the beginning of their wine adventures, which started with the purchase of Quinta de Covela in the neighbouring Minho region in 2011. It was not the only property to fall victim to the global financial crisis of 2008. Apparently, Lima & Smith visited more than 20 Douro estates which were on the market, such was the depth of the crisis. The opportunity to acquire Quinta da Boavista – the spiritual home of Offley Port – came up relatively late in the day. At around the same time as they had the chance to acquire Douro brand Quinta das Tecedeiras from Global Wine/Dão Sul group.
Although Lima & Smith went on to buy Tecedeiras, Smith told me “I really believed in Boavista’s terroir.” Despite his concerns that its owners, Sogrape, might change their mind about selling the emblematic Cima Corgo estate (which is located just downstream from Pinhão), Lima & Smith took over the property in July 2013. Pretty bold given it was not long before harvest but, Smith said, they had “a certain safety net” in the shape of a deal to sell grapes to Sogrape from the younger vineyards. Indeed, the partners’ primary interest is in the property’s old vines (c. 9ha planted in or before 1930), for which they have great hope and ambition and are cultivating organically.
Jean-Claude Berrouet comes onboard
Having already met Berrouet in Burgundy, where Lima & Smith had recently acquired an interest in Maison Champy (Burgundy’s oldest négociant), the pair started talking to him about these plans in late 2013/early 2014; Berrouet oversaw the blending of the 2013s. As Smith put it, given Berrouet’s benchmark was Château Pétrus, “we thought we would have a pretty good chance of making a top tier wine.”
Having met Berrouet, the partners were also satisfied that, despite his initials being JCB, the man was no bulldozer who would wade in and impose his own recipe. In fact, Smith told me, “we hit it off because he asked question after thought-provoking question and made us think about and discuss what we wanted.” Refreshingly candid as ever, he added, “let’s be honest about it…when we launch the automatic curiosity around JC’s [Berrouet’s] involvement will open doors…we’re in the pursuit of beauty, but it’s a business not a hobby.”
When I met Berrouet at the launch, much as Smith had intimated, the Bordeaux consultant struck me as rather modest, making no bones about the fact he is learning about Douro varieties, field blends and lagares – “it’s Rui’s call” he said, because “nature punishes you if you are pretentious.” Plainly, he is impressed with the terroir of this 80 hectare estate, of which 40ha is under vine. As you can see from the above photo, though located north of the river and thus primarily south-facing, the site is an amphitheatre which means it is quite sheltered from (drying) winds, plus it has a variety of aspects and elevations. Overall, Cunha told me “when we think of the site, we think about freshness,” adding that it ripens early (so grapes hang for less time in the heat). In fact Sogrape planted three north-facing hectares at around 380-400m to the high acid white varieties Arinto, Viosinho.
A small amount of white wine was made in 2015 and I gather some Port has been made too in a nod to this estate’s heritage, though Smith asserted Douro reds are the focus. He and Lima will next renovate the old winery and a reception area where they plan to receive future visitors. Pinhão is becoming quite the tourist hub – Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim and Croft now have tourism centres there, while Croft’s owner, The Fladgate Partnership, has re-acquired Vintage House hotel. Let’s hope they work some The Yeatman magic on it!
When we met, Smith was in talks with possible UK importers. Prices are based on likely Portuguese RRPs. [Post script – Portal Wines and Spirits will be bringing in Boavista and Covela to the UK as of September 2016].
Boa-vista Touriga Nacional 2013 (Douro)
Grapes for this cuvée come from the younger Brulha section of the vineyard, which dates from 1982 and is composed of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz. Smith told me they’ll make a mono-varietal every year “for the hell of it…a more geeky wine.” In 2014, it will be a Tinta Cão (lesser spotted than Touriga Nacional varietal wines, but I like the grape very much – Lavradores de Feitoria, Muxagat and Quinta de Cottas make lovely exanples). Medium-bodied and fresh but for the sinewy tannins, this Touriga put me in mind of the Dão. It reveals juicy red fruits, blood plum, raspberry, blackcurrant and inky florals and has an earthy gout de terroir and marked saltiness to the finish which I recalled from the sample. Graphite tannins – a mark of this vintage – add to its sense of minerality/coolness. The new oak (100% French 500l barrels) in which this wine was aged for 13 months is by no means obvious; going forward, the amount of new oak will reduce (Lima & Smith preferred to start their new project with new barrels, which come from a range of coopers and with different toasts). 13.5% €22
Boa-vista Reserva 2013 (Douro)
The Reserva is a blend of old and young vines and is part fermented in lagares, partly in stainless steel – Berrouet is not a fan of fermenting more oxidative varieties in lagares and he and Cunha agree that Touriga Nacional is better in stainless steel, because there is no need to beef up its structure. Like the Vinhas Velhas cuvées, this wine spent 18-19 months in barrel, this time 225l barriques. The oak seems much more pronounced. Smoky too. Beneath the oak and quite assertive if fine-grained tannins I sense an interesting wine – fresh, inky, spicy and brooding with bitter chocolate. Needs time. 14% €38-40
Boa-vista Vinha do Ujo 2013 (Douro)
The Ujo parcel, meaning Eagle Owl, was planted in 1930. Apparently this long, thin, north-facing, steep parcel of old vines has protruding ‘ears,’ like the owl. At 180-210m, this parcel is higher up than Vinha do Oratório and on poorer soil. Unusually, the grapes were fermented in large, 500-litre French oak barrels and, after a period of maceration, transferred to 225-litre barrels, also made of French oak, for 16 months of ageing. It’s a tight knit, austere wine with an assertive, powdery, quite astringent charge of those graphite tannins, savoury, nutty oak and dark spices – clove, liquorice. Formidable structure. While Cunha is particularly excited by this wine, I found it rather inscrutable – I’d like to see a little more of it! But what I did like about it is the common thread of freshness, minerality, spice and structure which is evident across the range – these are very serious, terroir-driven, firm, dry wines. “Just under €100,” says Smith.
Boa-vista Vinha do Oratório 2013 (Douro)
Oratório’s vines face mostly north-east and form an altar-like shape – hence the name. From richer soil (and I’m sure that’s relatively speaking – we’re in the Douro and it’s schist!) lower down the slope between 80m to 175m, the schist terrace walls here are particularly high (supposedly the Douro’s highest) which, being heat-retentive, no doubt helps with the ripening. More expressive than Ujo, Vinha do Oratório really floated my boat! It has the presence of Ujo, but a real sense of impetus too, while Ujo still feels a little caught up in itself – tannin-tramelled. Though tight, firm and mineral on the nose, a core of juicy but very well-defined, pure red fruits animate the palate – crushed raspberry, redcurrant and plum; there are floral hints too. The oak is well integrated – mopped up by the fruit – so while Oratório is expressive, there’s little doubt about its concentration. Graphite-edged tannins are fine but plentiful, tapering, but also building in the mouth, which suggests this wine has a long life ahead. Indeed, there is no shortage of structure. With great freshness, Oratório has great persistence and minerality – that saltiness I found in the Touriga. Super-promising. “Just under €100,” says Smith. The Oratório grapes were fermented and foot-trodden in open granite lagares and aged in French oak barrels for over 18 months.