The Douro Boys are a group of 5 grower-winemakers who clubbed together in 2003 to promote the wines of the Douro valley, upriver of Porto in Northern Portugal. Though this promotional intent does include highlighting the Port wines that the Douro is famous for, their efforts have a bigger focus on the unfortified, dry red, and more recently white, table wines that the Douro also produces. In essence, they’re saying that the Douro has passed the Port.
Since 1990, when João Nicolau de Almeida of the Ramos Pinto Port house launched table wines under the Duas Quintas label, Douro red and white wines have built in volume, in producer know-how, and ultimately in reputation and consumer interest.
Moreover, table wines have provided an important layer of economic value to a region whose core Port wines have seen declines in total sales volumes over recent decades, as consumer tastes have gravitated to lighter-alcohol and drier wines.
In many ways, table wines provide much needed cash-flow for the Port producers to invest in the costly vineyards and viticulture, winery facilities and labour, not only to make better table wines, but also to make ever-better Port wines. In fact, as João Nicolau de Almeida explained to me in 2014, table wine gave a use for grapes that had been grown, but which fell outside the Port wine beneficio – the annual Port production limits, set by regulatory body, the IDVP.
But back to the Douro Boys.
Part of their efforts are doing joint dinners and events – one of which I attended at 67 Pall Mall in March 2018. Another part is organising education trips to the Douro for journalists and sommeliers. I was kindly invited to join a trip for sommeliers in (including Terry Kandylis, Head Sommelier at 67 Pall Mall and all-round good lad), in May.
This was a great opportunity to re-visit a region as absolutely stunning as the Douro valley – it is almost unmatched by any other wine region in beauty – and to explore how the red and especially white table wines are evolving, keep a finger on the pulse of Port wine development. And of course get to know the 5 Douro Boys estates more deeply: Quinta do Vallado, Quinta do Crasto, Niepoort (at Quinta de Nápoles), Quinta Vale Dona Maria (often shortened to Quinta Vale D. Maria) and Quinta do Vale Meão.
Over 3 days, we visited each estate. This gave an opportunity for representatives of each estate to give an overview of their estate, vineyards, winemaking and so on. But this also included a sequence of 5 tastings of with 2 wines per estate.
Each tasting was designed to explore specific issues or aspects of the Douro and its wines. All tasting notes below are by day and theme, rather than by estate. Additional wines were then served with lunch or dinner on each day, typically from the individual estate hosting. I have also woven in the additional tasting notes from the March 67 Pall Mall dinner, marked as such.
- Great table wines: Douro wines can achieve excellence in both red and white, even if there is plenty more to go as winemakers learn their craft and build consistency
- Stylistic variations: within the Douro Boys (and by extension, the region at large) a range of styles exists from riper to earlier-picked; more oak to less; more extraction to more suppleness. These styles are also evolving. This means there will be a style for most palates, though does also mean greater consumer complexity
- Regions don’t necessarily translate to styles: climate broadly progresses from rainier / cooler to hotter / drier, from western Baixo Corgo to Cima Corgo to eastern Douro Superior. However, the 45,000Ha over the twists and turns of the myriad, steep-sided valleys generate huge variations in aspect and altitude (80-800m) that can reverse expected styles. Specific site and its varieties matter as much or more
- Block-planting vs inter-planted: different schools of thought exist and this remains an open debate. For example, Vale Meão favours block-planting of single varieties for control while Dirk Niepoort believes that mixed planting is proven by history. Vale D. Maria did block-plant, but now believe this was a mistake, and is switching to mixed plantings for new sites
- Earlier picking: broadly, lighter styles with brighter acidity and lower ABV are coming through, with somewhat earlier picking across the board. This is particularly true for Dirk Niepoort’s wines, but not exclusively
- Return to lagares: not only for Port winemaking but for aspects of, if not all of, quality red winemaking, lagares are making a comeback, with many plans to install new granite lagares
- Less new oak and bigger barrels: consistently across the Douro Boys, the broadly-Global trend to restraining the flavour influence of oak is in evidence on both reds and especially white table wines
- 2015 Vintage Port and 2016 vs. 2017: the Douro Boys (and others) believe that 2015 is a classic Port Vintage and should have been declared as such by the big Port houses. There is broad agreement that the 2016 is high quality, though perhaps for earlier drinking than 2011…but that 2017 looks very good, so will the big houses declare 2017 back to back with 2016. Dirk Niepoort intends to declare 2017 (and disagrees on 2016 as a great vintage…)
Tasting theme conclusions (with links to skip to each main section):
- Individual varieties and blends: Touriga Nacional is a fine, standalone grape variety. Sousão is interesting, though its rustic tannins suggest to me that it is better as a blend component, as is generally the case for Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo). The red blends are great though, and show commonality
- Port wines: when Port is great, it is very hard to beat for ageworthiness and for value-for-money – including aged Tawnies / Colheitas, and aged White Ports, not just Vintage
- Freshness and acidity: earlier-picking, plus site and varietal selections for whites and reds, means pH levels can be surprisingly low (pH 3.15) and acidity high (7+ g/L TA), giving more juicy or mouthwatering freshness than might be expected. Further, avoidance of baked fruit means fruit character can also be fresher
- White wines as rising stars: there is some real class emerging, such as Quinta do Vallado 2012. Primarily relatively lower aromatic, minerally, brisk wines with judicious oak overtones
- Long-living Douro reds: 2011 is a very fine vintage for table reds as well as Port wines. Moreover, wines of a decade and more bottle age showed how these can develop well. Touriga Nacional again showed longevity as did the old vine blends
Douro Boys estates thoughts:
- Quinta do Vallado: Baixo Corgo. Aiming high, with a fine boutique hotel and restaurant, and good branding. But fine wines too. The 2012 Quinta do Vallado Branco was particularly memorable
- Quinta do Crasto: Cima Corgo North bank. Lovely wines, both white and red, derived from significant and thoughtful vineyard investment. I was already a fan of the purity and clarity of their varietal Touriga Nacional, and the 2015 is another classy one. Their old vines, single vineyard Maria Teresa is pretty special as well
- Niepoort: Cima Corgo South bank, opposite Crasto. Stylistically distinct, driven by Dirk’s strong desire for freshness, lower alcohol and early picking, coupled with older oak use. Willing to experiment, to disagree and to upset his own status quo, if it is no longer valid. Excellent Ports. And an excellent winery dog, Batuta
- Quinta Vale D. Maria: Rio Torto, Cima Corgo. Single vineyard expressions reflect their interest in the vineyard over variety, and it shows through in the resulting quality
- Quinta do Vale Meão: Douro Superior. Generally higher ripeness levels, reflecting the Superior, but again, location can be confounded by site and variety selection. The 2011 Quinta do Vale Meão tinto has quite rightly been lauded, as it is a fine, complex wine – albeit at prices now driven to 3 figures by a 4th in the Wine Spectator Global ranking
Day 1: Quinta do Vale Meão: Individual varieties and their role in Douro blends
We were hosted by Luisa, from the owning Olazabal family, who runs sales. Luisa’s brother Xito makes the Vale Meão wine, while her father, Francisco (Vito), was a senior manager at Ferreira, the Port house that the family ultimately bought the estate from in 1994. Joana Pinhão, one of the winemakers at Quinta Vale D. Maria also joined us for the tasting. At the 67 Pall Mall dinner, it was Vito who presented the wines.
Quinta do Vale Meão was founded in 1877 by Port wine doyenne, Dona Antónia Ferreira of the eponymous Port house. Given its location on a large bend in the river, in the Douro Superior in the Vila Nova de Foz Côa municipality – then well beyond the Pinhão railhead – it was a remarkably foresighted move. The family are direct descendants of Dona Antónia have been involved with the estate for 125 years.
The estate was built from scratch, with the first vines planted in 1888 in mixed-plot field blends. However, most of the Quinta was replanted in the 1970s by Vito, and they moved towards block-planting of selected varieties, given that advances in viticulture meant that the diseases and challenges that originally led to mixed planting could now be overcome or managed.
At the time, early results of grape variety vineyard trials across the Douro, which were completed in the 1980s, were available and Vito focused on those varieties showing promise. This including identifying that Touriga Nacional could mature even under extremes of heat and drought, both of which are absolutely true of the Douro Superior. They now have 15 block-planted varieties that are vinified separately, then blended as needed.
That process of variety evaluation and selection has continued as they have learned more. For example, Xito, who hates Tinta Amarela, has just pulled up their plot of it to be replaced with other, preferred varieties.
Like most of the Douro Boys, the Quinta stopped selling grapes to Port houses and began bottling their own table wines in the 1990s – 1999 in the case of Vale Meão. These began with the two blends – the top Quinta do Vale Meão bottling and a second wine, Meandro.
The first unfortified, table wine in the region came from here – Barca Velha in 1952. Luisa’s grandfather was on Ferreira’s winemaking team. He had travelled extensively including studying in Bordeaux and elsewhere, saw the potential for the Douro to make unfortified wines and suggested the concept to the Ferreira Board.
This was then made from Vale Meão fruit plus and another, higher altitude quinta to give acidity. Temperature control was seen as key by his winemaking consultants, but this was hard to do at the time, without electricity, so he had to bring large blocks of ice 150+km from the Porto docks to do that. They still have a winery named Barca Velha at the other end of the Quinta.
Given the table winemaking heritage, as table wines grew during the 1990s, it was a logical move for Vale Meão to launch their own.
100Ha are planted out of the estate’s 300Ha, all of which are red. White varieties are new to the company, as of 2013, when they acquired a different, nearby quinta that provides Rabigato, while Arinto is bought-in to complete their white blend. Some grapes are still sold to Port producers, but this proportion is reducing, while grapes are no longer sold to Sogrape’s Casa Ferrerinha for Barca Velha.
Granite lagares are still used, but with a combination of foot-treading initially, followed by a robo-lagar treader for Port wines. When the estate was bought, the main winery was in good repair, but the lagares were not being used at the time, so needed restoration and they reduced the sizes of each to get smaller vinifications.
Unfortified wines are made in stainless steel, temperature-controlled vats, with cool fermentation at around 24°C for the reds. Fruit is picked in the early morning or late evening, then a cold maceration takes place first for 5 hours. Peristaltic pumps are used for gentle pumpovers and moderate extraction during fermentation. Lagares are not used as they believe these would risk higher extraction and temperature control is harder.
White unfortified wines are relatively new to the Quinta, following the 2013 acquisition. They press directly to stainless steel vats and cool-ferment.
Niepoort Projects Bastardo 2010 (16.5 / 20)
100% Bastardo. Cima Corgo fruit. 14% ABV. Projects portfolio. Lighter variety, lighter colour, red fruit. Selected picking through old vine (20-70 year old), mixed vineyards, as it is early-ripening. Cooler vintage. Bottled 2012.
A: Pale-medium garnet, with a broad rim
N: Pot pourri, dried wild strawberry fruit, flinty / schisty. Hint of red cherry skins. Subtle cinnamon. Tobacco tones and some mulch and earth touches.
P: Supple, silky tannins. Spicy, fresh earth. Flint mineral – lots of savouriness and not so much overt fruit. Bright acidity. Warming finish with decent length.
Quinta do Vale Meão Monte Meão Vinha dos Novos 2014 (17.5 / 20)
100% Touriga Nacional, single Vinha dos Novos, 100% granite vineyard. Granite gives more acidity than schist. Douro Superior fruit. 14% ABV. First bottled 2009. Since 2011, more significant production runs. Initially focused on blended wines, but started to see that this block, now 17 years old, was generating very distinctive wines that were then influencing the character of Meandro and Quinta do Vale Meão. Therefore started to bottle this Touriga Nacional single block separately. 14-16 months in second use oak, mostly barriques, but now some 500L tonneaux.
A: Deep ruby-black
N: Violet floral lift. Orange peel. Dusty, rocky minerality. Cedar oak notes, but very well integrated. Beefy tones
P: Supple, silky, polished blackberry fruit. Very fine, quite silky, moderately firm tannins; very well handled. Saline touch. Brisk acidity. Long
Quinta do Vale Meão Monte Meão Cabeco Vermelho 2014 (16.5+ / 20)
100%, 40 year old Tinta Roriz from a single, Cabeco Vermelho plot. Vermillion-reddish, alluvial pebbly soils. Douro Superior fruit. 14% ABV. Traditionally high-production clones locally, so can be hard to work Tinta Roriz and deliver high-quality wines – hence Crasto only bottle in the best years. Tends to reduction, so have to control nitrogen in the vineyard to make a clean fermentation.
A: Deep ruby, with a broad rim
N: Beefy, meaty reduction. Nutty oak. Smoky, earth. Some orange peel and tea tones to ripe red cherry. Opens up somewhat in the glass
P: Polished red and black cherry. Firm, peppery tannins. Saline. Medium concentration of fruit. Rocky, salty mineral. Smoky. Medium-long, chewy finish
Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional 2015 (17.5+ / 20)
100% Touriga Nacional, selection of best grapes and barrels from across the Quinta, but all on schist soils. Cima Corgo fruit. 14% ABV. Foot-trodden in lagares, then finishes fermentation in stainless steel. 20 months in a mix of new and older oak. Just announced as Best Single Varietal in Portugal, in a Portuguese national competition. Despite being such a warm year, acidities were relatively high across the region.
A: Saturated black-purple with a narrow rim
N: Lifted, powerful violet scent, with vanilla-mint oak tones. Slightly jammy, polished blackberry fruit
P: Rich, dense, blackberry fruit, then spice, violets and firm, fine tannins. Bright acidity. Juicy orange peel tones. Schisty mineral and spiced mid-palate. Long, tight finish
Quinta do Vallado Sousão 2015 (16+ / 20)
100% Sousão. Gives a very deep colour as it is a semi-Teinturier variety, generally having red flesh, though sometimes can be white fleshed. Also known as Vinhao in the Vinho Verde region. Being planted now. High acidity (Vale D. Maria often harvest at pH 3.3 and 8+ g/L TA; can be difficult to get through MLF) and tight tannins (Vale D. Maria use 100% lagar fermentation to oxidate and soften tannins), so normally used to blend. Baixo Corgo fruit. 13.5% ABV.
A: Saturated black, with a narrow, vivid purple rim
N: Grilled meat reduction. Crushed rock. Fresh leather and bitter almond. Baked blackberry beneath
P: Mid-body. Blackberry. Spice. Smoky rock. Firm, grainy tannins. Crisp acidity. Medium-long
Quinta Vale D. Maria Vinha do Rio Douro Red 2015 (17.5 / 20)
42% Tinta Barroca. Oldest, 90 year old, vineyard and lowest in altitude, at 160m; South-facing. Schist only in the Quinta. 1Ha field blend, with varietal composition identified in 2015. 28 varieties, but Tinta Barroca the backbone. Gives volume, velvet texture to Port blends. Early-ripening variety, so is at 15% when others are at 12% potential ABV. Once they knew the proportion of Barroca, they aimed to pick earlier, for freshness. Rio Torto, Cima Corgo fruit. 14.5% ABV. 100% lagar fermentation and 21 months maturation in 50% new and used oak. 2,500 bottles total production. Oxidises quickly.
A: Mid-deep ruby
N: Floral-creamy vanilla over broad red fruit. Clove and caramel tones
P: Medium-full bodied, broad red fruit. Layered. Spice touches. Rounded, velvety tannins and gives a sense of sweetness. Rich. Creamy red fruit through the long, floral finish
Quinta Vale D. Maria CV-Curriculum Vitae Douro Red 2015 (18+ / 20)
25% Touriga Franca. Rio Torto, Cima Corgo fruit. 15% ABV. Bought vineyard in 2003 and have made this wine since. Oldest vineyard owned, but separate from the main Quinta, of over 100 year old vines. North-facing, but in a warm, enclosed valley that can exceed 50°C. 19 varieties in addition to Touriga Franca. Touriga Franca is more reductive than Touriga Nacional, giving a lot of dark, blackberry fruit and spice. More austere tannins than Touriga Nacional. 100% lagar and foot-trodden fermentation to oxidate and polymerise tannins. 21 months in new and used oak, with 70% new.
A: Deep ruby-black
N: Cedar oak. Spice. Some floral rose tones. Rich plum and blackberry. Some orange peel and clove spice; dark chocolate
P: Blackberry, plum fruit entry. Dense and smoky. Firm, fine-grained tannins. Tight and young. Bright acidity. Warming finish
Quinta do Vallado Reserva Field Blend 2015 (16.5 / 20)
Field blend. Up to 80-90 year old vines. Tinta Amarela, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barroca mainly. Baixo Corgo fruit. 14% ABV. 2015 was good for Baixa Corgo, due to lower rainfall reducing disease pressure and giving more ripeness. Stainless steel fermentation, then almost 2 years in 60% new oak. Tinta Amarela (aka Trincadeira) is difficult to farm as it has thin skins, compact bunches and high yield, so is sensitive to botrytis rot. Lighter variety with earthy aromatics, that oxidises easily.
A: Deep black-ruby-purple
N: Fresh leather and baked touches to slightly jammy black fruit. Schisty-dusty minerality. Savoury. Not so overtly aromatic. Some oak spice tones
P: Fresh acidity. Medium-full bodied, smoky-spicy blackberry. Dusty mineral mid-palate. Peppery-dusty, slightly chewy, firm tannins. Medium-long to long, with fresh leather tones
Quinta do Crasto Reserva Old Vines 2010 (16.5 / 20)
Field blend. Over 70 year old vineyards with 25-30 different varieties. Cima Corgo fruit. 14.5% ABV. Cooler vintage in Cima Corgo. 15% American and 85% French oak.
A: Deep black-garnet
N: Dried plum and blackberry. Tobacco and black tea. Maturity notes of fresh earth. Subtle clove oak and vanilla tones
P: Brisk acidity. Dried red and black cherry. Tobacco. Cedar and hints of clove. Chewy, peppery, firm tannins. Chocolate tones to the finish with some graphite minerality. Decent length
Niepoort Charme 2015 (17.5 / 20)
Field blend including Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca. Rio Torto, Cima Corgo fruit. 13.5% ABV. Made in their Port winemaking winery. Partial lagar fermentation, then early-racked off skins, into older oak barrels for the rest of fermentation, to avoid over-deep colour and concentration from the old vines.
A: Mid ruby
N: Dark, smoky-meaty spice, then dusty minerality. Subtle oak toast. Lots of spiciness over red cherry fruit
P: Brisk acidity. Crushed rock and spice. Peppery, fine, medium-firm tannins. Salty. Mostly savoury-mineral, but some red cherry beneath. Some stem tones. Medium body. Different, but in a good way. Spicy, long finish
Quinta do Vale Meão Meandro Douro Branco 2017 (16 / 20)
50% estate-grown Rabigato, 50% bought-in Arinto.
A: Pale lemon
N: Neutral, chalky aromatics, with some spice and crushed rock touches. Slightly reductive. Floral touches
P: Some sweetness to citrus and white peach fruit. More palate expression than aromatics. Chalky texture with schisty rock minerality and some salinity. Nutty touch to finish. Medium-long
Quinta do Vale Meão Vinha da Cantinha 2015 (16.5 / 20)
Granite soil, newly planted Baga. 12% ABV.
A: Mid-deep ruby-garnet
N: Flinty red cherry. Savoury. Nutty oak tones. Some stem and hints of floral notes
P: Savoury, fresh leather and chewy red cherry. Stony. Medium-firm, peppery tannins. Chalky-flinty red cherry style. Fair length
Quinta do Vale Meão Quinta do Vale Meão Douro Tinto 2011 (18 / 20)
Selection of oldest vines and best grapes. Quantity varies substantially by vintage. 55% Touriga Nacional, 34% Tinta Franca, 6% Tinta Barroca, 4% Tinto Cao. Rated 4th in the world by Wine Spectator magazine.
A: Deep black-ruby; garnet rim tinges
N: Crushed rock, old leather and graphite overtones. Cedar. Ripe, deep black and blueberry fruit beneath with some hints of orange and violets
P: Orange peel and blackberry. Fresh acidity. Violets, dark chocolate and crushed rock mid-palate. Spiced finish. Fairly fine, medium-firm tannins. Integral and long. Slightly warming finish.
Quinta do Vale Meão Vintage Port 2015 (16.5 / 20)
Neutral aromatic spirit character selected – which they buy from friends. Stainless steel maturation.
A: Deep black; narrow ruby rim
N: Orange peel, cream, violets, mixed, ripe but not jammy fruit. Berry fruit compote. Some stem-leaf and delicate fresh leather
P: Sweet, but not powerfully so. Bright acidity. Mixed, mainly black berry fruit. Slightly jammy. Dense fruit. Firm, but not high tannins; ripe nevertheless. Black cherry fruit and dark chocolate finish. Medium-long
67 Pall Mall dinner Quinta do Vale Meão wine
Quinta do Vale Meão Quinta do Vale Meão Douro Tinto 2010 (17+ / 20)
Tasted at 67 Pall Mall. Quinta do Vale Meão main wine comes from similar vineyards similar each year. 50% Touriga Nacional, 30% Touriga Franca, with the balance Tinta Roriz, then other varieties. Destemmed and crushed, then foot-trodden for 4-6 hours. Rack to wooden vats to complete fermentation and a few days post-fermentation maceration. 14-16 months in barriques. Looking to show a sense of the place the grapes come from.
A: Mid-deep ruby-purple
N: Torrified cedar oak. Vanilla. Ripe blackberry and raspberry. Smoky, flinty tones. Some violets, but not marked. Schisty minerality. Hints of stems? No, tobacco development
P: Savoury, stony / smoky minerality. Slightly stewed black fruit. Early tones of fresh leather. Some dried fruit and dark chocolate. Moderate, very fine-grained tannins. Warming finish, but with salinity and stoniness and well-integrated. Long
Dinner wines at Quinta de Nápoles with Dirk van der Niepoort
Niepoort 20 Year old Tawny Port NV (18 / 20)
Bottled in 1960s, so has developed without the concentration that takes place in barrel, and has developed with bottle character – ‘bottle sickness’ as Dirk refers to it.
A: Mid tawny-amber; olive rim tones
N: Mint lift. Caramel, rancio, old tobacco, mahogany, subtle fudge and hazelnut. Very mellow. Dried stone fruit
P: Medium sweetness. Very mellow and integral hazelnut and praline, milk chocolate, subtle spice. Caramel. Long and creamy, toffee finish
Niepoort Very Dry White Port NV (17 / 20)
Over 100 years old, but aged for a significant period in demijohns.
N: Dried stone fruit. Spice. Vanilla and toffee. Some hints of wood polish, but more gentle caramel and subtle rancio. Old but not aged
P: Brisk acidity. Caramel and roundedness, but not sweet. Chalky texture. Spice. Honey, caramel and rancio. Polished wood. Medium length
Maria Izabel Vinhas de Princesa Vinhas Velhas Branco 2015 (16 / 20)
Made by Dirk in conjunction with Maria Izabel. Field blend with likely Rabigato majority, but no Malvasia Fina. Dirk would like this to be 100% MLF but it was not. Moderate must oxidation through non-protective pressing. 500L & 225L barrels for 12 months; 50% new oak. 13.5% ABV.
A: Pale lemon-gold
N: Struck match reduction. Subtle nutty oak. White peach and citrus
P: Lean citrus. Crisp acidity. Chalky minerality. Nutty-toasty oak finish. Moderate length only
Niepoort Redoma Douro Branco 1996 (16.5 / 20)
A: Mid-deep burnished gold
N: Toasted almond and hazelnut. Creamy tones. Lean white peach. Buttered hazelnuts emerge
P: Fresh and dried melon and white peach. Toasty – almost struck match – tones, with brisk acidity and toasted almond complexity. A little chalky. Youthful for 22 years of age
Niepoort Batuta Douro Tinto 1999 (16.5 / 20)
First vintage. 14.5% ABV. Mostly older oak. 2001 has 12.5% ABV and somewhat better quality barrels, so Dirk prefers the 2001.
A: Deep garnet-black
N: Fresh mushroom. Some subtle soy. Mellow old tobacco. Background dried black fruit
P: Brisk acidity. Mushroom, soy, dried black cherry, subtle spice and dark chocolate. Moderate, chalky tannins left, with good resolution. Fairly long, chocolate finish
Niepoort Redoma Doura Tinto 1991 (17.5 / 20)
Difficult year. Mostly older and larger barrels. No new wood.
A: Medium-deep garnet; sediment
N: Dried black fruit. Pot pourri. Subtle toast. Nuttiness. Dried herb touches. Fresh leather development.
P: Crisp acidity. Light-medium, fully-refined tannins. Elegant. Milk chocolate tones. Dried red cherry. Long. Lovely balance
Niepoort Bastardo Projectos 2016 (17 / 20)
13% ABV. Latest vintage.
A: Pale-medium ruby; broad rim
N: Gunflint, scented, floral cranberry and blueberry. Primary
P: Crisp, chalky, moderate tannins, cranberry fruit. Scented rose finish
Niepoort Bairrada (16.5 / 20)
Magnum. Baga. Chalky soil. >80 year old vines. 60% whole bunch fermentation. Some in lagares. 50% held on bunches / stems.
A: Mid-deep ruby
N: Clay-earth and chalk minerality. Smoky flint. Bright, ripe red cherry fruit. Some hints of brett meatiness. Some leafy-stem background touches. Nutty
P: Crisp acidity. Medium-firm, chalky tannins. Scented, red cherry and cranberry. Nutty touches to finish. Good length, with plenty of minerality
Day 2 am: Niepoort: Uniqueness of a wine that can be matured for 100 years – Port
Carlos Raposo hosted us for a tour of the Nápoles winery. Carlos had been winemaker and Dirk’s right-hand-man in the winery for 7 years, with this being his final week at Niepoort. The new winemaker, Luis joined us for the tasting, on his first day at work! Dirk also joined for the tasting, including giving a speech to thank Carlos publicly, and to welcome Luis. We then stayed for lunch, when again, Dirk opened some remarkable bottles, including two Garrafeira ports:
Garrafeiras are neither Vintage nor Colheita Tawny, but a vintage-dated category in their own right. The 1948 was aged for 4 years in pipes like a Tawny, then ‘bottled’ into 7L squat, dark glass demijohns and aged for 21 years in a manner not entirely unlike Vintage, yet different, until being ‘decanted’ into 75cl bottles in 1973. A further 45 years in bottle obviously added a 3rd dimension!
Niepoort began in 1842 as a negociant Port shipper. They have also been making wine since 1987, after buying Quinta da Nápoles. Dirk pushed to make table wines as well as Ports, so had his father buy Nápoles. They now have 5 estates. Dirk favours co-planted vineyards over block-planting as this has the track record of history.
The also have an excellent, large and excitable winery dog, Batuta:
Initially, the Nápoles winery was cramped and run down. In 2007 a new winery was built into the hillside, permitting a gravity-fed model. 1m kg grapes are processed at the Nápoles winery to make table wines, white Port and some experimental red Ports. Across the company, 2.5m bottles are produced, of which 600,000 are Port (including 200,000 White Port).
At the roof, grapes are received and weighed, then sorted on a vibrating table. This feeds down to 6 auto-lagars – open, cylindrical, stainless steel tanks with an in-built auto-pigeage mechanism, for making Port wines. Quality reds are made in mainly stainless steel, closed, steeply conical vats. These compress the cap at the top, reducing skin to liquid ratio and slowing extraction. They also have some wooden vats.
Stainless steel temperature controlled regular vats are used for whites, alongside some barrel fermentation. Some whites go through MLF. Dirk imports François Frères barrels and has a close relationship with the cooper, so he mainly uses these, with some Taransaud and Radoux barrels, of varying ages and up to 500L. Reds are matured in barriques and also some larger, old casks of 1-3,000L.
They have also experimented with large, old amphorae, applying Georgian methods of burying them, filling them with whole bunches, both white and red, and leaving them for several months, sealed, to ferment and mature. Two vintages showed encouraging results, but the 3rd caused the amphorae to crack. They will be replaced and perhaps commercial wines made and released in future.
For Ports, Dirk chills the fortifying spirit before fortifying, to avoid burnt or baked characters resulting from the thermochemical reaction caused by mixing, which can over-heat the part-fermented must. Likewise, they fortify at the same time as removing the must from the lagar, with very slow additions, to ensure even mixing and no ‘hot spots’.
Wines are tasted, selected and classed into each label after maturation, at blending / bottling, rather than pre-selecting for Redoma, Batuta etc either at harvest or during fermentation.
To be able to monitor fermentation and maturation closely, they have an in house testing lab, which also covers QC activities. Most required testing is done there, including biological testing, apart from some advanced analyses requiring large and expensive equipment.
Dirk believes Port is finer than fortifieds from other areas that he has made wine in, and believes the Douro is special. Baixo Corgo is the most important area due to its production size – the train arrived there first – with Régua surrounded by the largest vineyard area.
In commercial terms, he thinks Port houses are still working too hard to sell basic Ports to supermarkets and to compete on price. Dirk believes a higher proportion of red and white table wines, with less, but better Port will position the fortified wine more powerfully and distinctively – let the top-end LBVs, Vintage, Tawny and Colheitas show the fine class and finesse of the region, and step away from the coarse, fiery entry-level wines.
He feels too much effort was put into democratising Port and making it easier to appreciate, particularly to increase the appeal of Vintage Port to the US market. But its potential is for long-lived, more complex and challenging wines, which should be retained and celebrated – ‘be a bit snobbish about it’.
Given Niepoort’s historic pioneering of the Colheita vintage-dated Tawny category, he is also happy to see these now growing well, driven by the marketing power of Taylor and Symington, even if these houses tried to crush the category some years ago.
Adding specialist, wine-lover tourism growth to all of these directions, and he has a lot of faith that the region will be well-placed to make its distinctiveness known and he has a lot of optimism for it commercially.
Part of this is showing that there are other foods for Port than cheese – such as very young Vintage Port with pepper steak. He is also a big fan of White Port.
Quinta do Vale Meão Vintage Port 2015 (17 / 20)
Douro Superior fruit. 19.5% ABV. Dirk believes this is the best Vintage that Vale Meão have ever made, as the estate is returning a little to Port, since the best Port grapes are not as good for unfortified wines. The acidity needed to make good red wines is not so necessary in Port, whereas flavour concentrated is. Dirk believes 2015 should have been a classic Vintage. A hot year, but not too hot or overripe. Meão tend to be fruitier and less firmly structured.
A: Deep purple
N: Blackberry. Some scent. Slate mineral. Cool sense.
P: Rich black fruit. Juicy. Pepper spice. Moderate length, but well balanced
Quinta do Vallado Vintage Port 2015 (17.5 / 20)
Baixo Corgo fruit. 19.5% ABV. Stainless steel maturation only.
A: Deep black-purple, with a narrow rim
N: Chocolate, fresh earth touch, some floral touches, meaty savoury tones. Not as fruity, but raspberry emerges
P: Sweet-spicy entry. Black cherry and blackberry. Firm, fine tannins. Good length
Quinta Vale D. Maria Vintage Port 2009 (17.5 / 20)
Rio Torto, Cima Corgo fruit. 20% ABV.
A: Deep black ruby-purple
N: Prune, fig, spice, smoky-slate and graphite.
P: Graphite, prune and plum. Peppery, firm tannins, with the structure expected of a longer-living Vintage Port. Warming, powerful finish
Quinta do Vale Meão Vintage Port 2008 (17 / 20)
Douro Superior fruit. 20% ABV. Cooler vintage.
A: Deep ruby-purple
N: Fresh leather, black pepper, dried blackberry and blueberry
P: Moderated sweetness. Blackberry and subtle spice. Old leather development
Quinta do Crasto Vintage Port 2004 (15.5- / 20)
Cima Corgo fruit. 20% ABV.
A: Mid-deep garnet
N: Fully-developed mushroom, old leather and tea.
P: Sweet-savoury flavour. Dried red fruit. Spice. But still very firm, chalky tannins
Niepoort Vintage Port 1982 (17 / 20)
Cima Corgo fruit. 20% ABV. Declared 1982 and 1983.
A: Mid ruby-garnet
N: Gentle smoke, dried red fruit, touches of brandy, some old leather
P: Dried red fruit, subtle pepper, spice, cream and peat-smoke finish
Niepoort 10 Year old White Port NV (17 / 20)
Cima Corgo fruit. 19.5% ABV. In the last 10 years, better fruit has gone into the white Ports and made in a more traditional style. Mostly foot-trodden in lagares and 10 years in wood.
A: Pale-medium amber
N: Peach melba, almond and hazelnut, honey, vanilla, subtle spice
P: Svelte entry, then chalky texture. Honey, cream, almond and peach melba. Good length
Quinta do Crasto Colheita Tawny Port 1998 (17 / 20)
Cima Corgo fruit. 20% ABV. Bottled 2018. Has some Douro ‘bake’ as matured in the Douro, not in Gaia. American ex-red wine barrels used as they didn’t have enough old pipes.
A: Deep tawny-garnet; slightly cloudy
N: Mellow tobacco, hazelnut and cakebread, milk chocolate, fresh leather, coconut, vanilla. Some baked plum
P: Tobacco, spice and wood polish. Rounded. Warm, baked red fruit. Cinnamon and nut finish
Quinta Vale D. Maria Colheita 1980 (17.5 / 20)
Rio Torto, Cima Corgo fruit. 20% ABV.
A: Mid-deep tawny; bright
N: Fudgy cinnamon, some raisin and fig, old tobacco, dried cherry
P: Bright acidity, subtle spice, cherry kernels. Some tannins. Caramel, spice and chocolate through the elegant finish
Quinta do Vallado 40 Year old Tawny Port NV (17.5 / 20)
Field blend. Baixo Corgo fruit. 20.5% ABV.
A: Deep tawny-amber
N: Milk chocolate, cakebread and treacle tones, walnut fudge. Dense. Some fig and raisin
P: Rich and full-bodied. Chocolate, walnut, cakebread. Bright, balancing acidity. Wood polish. Good length
HM Borges 3 Seco Madeira NV (15 / 20)
Likely a basic-aged, 3 year old Tinta Negra. Probably bottled in the 1950s or 1960s.
A: Pale-medium amber
N: Mushroom and cream bottle age touches. Honey and toasted almond. Cooked stone fruit rather than citrus
P: Dry, nutty, dried stone fruit. Brisk acidity. Warming alcohol. Not the most complex, but refreshing. Touch of finish spice
Niepoort Coche Douro Branco 2016 (17+ / 20)
Barrel fermented in 225L and 500L 40% new French oak, then MLF and ageing on full lees for 1 year. Racked after one year and bottled without filtration. Order from Macau high end casino for 3,000 bottle, limited-edition wine. Made this and it was rejected as too acidic and not oaky enough. Made anyway. Now sells all 2,000L on allocation before it is bottled.
A: Pale gold
N: Ripe lemon, melon and nutty vanilla. Chalky-stony minerality.
P: Chalky, mid-density, lemon. Some nut. Not giving a huge amount on the palate yet. Some stony minerality. Medium-long initially. Delicate and elegant. Builds through the finish. Brisk acidity
Niepoort Barber’s Vineyard Dão Branco 2016 (16.5 / 20)
Mostly Encruzado in a mixed plot, with Arinto and others. Just bottled.
A: Pale lemon
N: Struck match reduction then nutty oak. Some cinnamon spice. Ripe melon and white peach. Fleshy fruit with chalky notes
P: Crisp acidity. Green apple and melon flavours. Chalky minerality. Some nutty tones to the medium-long finish. Well made
Niepoort Redoma Douro Tinto 2008 (17 / 20)
A: Deep ruby, with garnet glints; some sediment
N: Pot pourri, scented floral notes and dried red / black berries. Vanilla and spicy oak tones
P: Bright acidity, smoky oak and dusty minerality. Blackberry and dried red cherry. Moderate, chalky tannins. Good length
Niepoort Charme Douro Tinto 2015 (17 / 20)
A: Pale-medium ruby-purple
N: Smoky, nutty spice. Blackberry, raspberry and crushed rock mineral. Clove touches
P: Brisk acidity. Ripe raspberry and blackberry. Spice. Creamy touch. Perfumed, floral finish. Moderate, peppery tannins. Long
Niepoort Clos de Crappe 2013 (16.5 / 20)
Deliberately made wines with winemaking mistakes, to challenge winemakers to think differently. Not as ‘crappy’ as it used to be, now that the reduction has come down with bottle age. 12.5% ABV.
A: Pale-medium ruby
N: Funky reduction notes of grilled meat and sulfur. Ripe strawberry fruit beneath
P: Strawberry and raspberry, with fresh acidity. Spice. Moderate, peppery tannins. Chocolate finish. Good length
Niepoort Tinta Amarela 2016 (16 / 20)
100% Tinta Amarela, destemmed but retaining whole berries. Cool fermentation around 10°C and soft extraction. 1 year in non-new barrels. Dirk will put this on the market as a single variety experiment.
A: Pale purple
N: Crushed rock, flint and scented cranberry. Some black cherry and leafy hints
P: Crunchy blue fruit. Some subtle spice. Moderate, furry tannins. Long, creamy finish
Niepoort Pinot Noir Douro Tinto 2016 (17 / 20)
Vines planted 1999, on a North-facing vineyard at 12,000 plants / Ha, with manual working. Produces small quantities of 7-20HL / Ha. 30% stems. Pigeage and some bucket remontage, but extraction by taste. No new oak.
A: Pale ruby-purple
N: Reductive tones then crushed anthracite, leafy stem tones, cranberry and ripe strawberry
P: Brisk acidity, fairly fine, moderate tannins. Ripe strawberry. Spice. Crushed rock mid-palate and some saline touches. Fragrant finish with good length. Convincing
Niepoort Garrafeira Port 1948 (17- / 20)
Neither a Colheita nor a Vintage Port. Aged in pipes for 4 years. Then ‘bottled’ in 1952 – meaning put into small, squat, 7-ish L demijohns until 1973. ‘Decanted’ from the demijohns in 1973 – i.e. blended and bottled.
A: Mid-deep tawny-brown
N: Spirity, smoky almost Mezcal tone. Mint lift. Delicate tones of old leather armchairs and pipe tobacco. Creamy stewed red fruit beneath
P: Rancio, peppery tones to caramel, old tobacco, milk chocolate, hints of fig. Long, slightly spirity finish
Niepoort Garrafeira Port 1987 (18 / 20)
Bottled 2 months ago from demijohns.
A: Mid-deep tawny; brown rim tinges
N: Expressive, floral, pot pourri and Demerara sugar. Mint spirit tone. Cheesy rancio touch
P: Beautifully integrated, nutty, ripe, dried strawberry fruit. Integral and subtle spice. Long and elegant, integrated alcohol finish. Fine
67 Pall Mall dinner Niepoort wine
Niepoort Colheita Tawny Port 1997 (17 / 20)
Bottled 2018, so 20.5 years old. Best served after Vintage Port.
A: M tawny; mid rim
N: Delicate brandy tones. Dried red fruit. Cakebread spices. Some rancio touches
P: Raisin, fig, spiced oak tones. Intense dried fruit. Lots of cakebread. Sweet but well balanced by juicy acidity. Warming alcohol. M+ to long. Complex but not so long. Fairly well integrated finish. Great with blue cheese
From Niepoort, we took a train ride to Quinta do Crasto. The stations carry plenty of characterful, historic features, including the famous tiling:
Day 2 pm: Quinta do Crasto: Hot Douro Valley – What’s the secret of freshness and acidity?
At 67 Pall Mall, I met Tomás Roquette, son of Jorge, the owner of Crasto (and Douro Boy), who explained that the estate had been in the family for over 100 years, but in fact pre-dates the demarcation of the Douro region in 1761, reaching back to at least 1615. Up to 1994, the wines were Ports, marketed under the Constantino’s brand.
After 1994, the Quinta do Crasto brand was adopted to lead the switch to table wines. That began with just 20,000 bottles of red, but they now produce 1.3m, including red, white and Port wines. Crasto export to 50 countries, with Brazil the biggest market, due to historic family connections, followed by the US, Canada and UK.
At the estate it was Manuel Lobo, head winemaker at the Quinta, who hosted us alongside Rita Magalhães Camelo, their European Export Manager. Our visit began with an entertaining truck tour of the vertiginous vineyards in an old, sturdy Bedford flatbed truck, followed by the masterclass tasting on freshness, and finally dinner.
At dinner, heavy rain set in, causing a power cut. More seriously, further down the road in Pinhão the storm was far more intense, causing flash flooding that blocked roads and some heavy hail. The following day we heard that crop-loss to top estate, Quinta do Noval, was believed to be 70%.
This deluge brought into focus the work that they are doing at Crasto, to re-engineer some terracing at the same time as replanting. With laser guiding to ensure a backward sloping angle on the terrace up to 3%, coupled with side-angle sloping, this should slow rainfall run-off and reduce erosion on this steeper slope.
Further, having previously planted 2 rows per terrace, they believe this was a mistake, because the back row, nearest the terrace face interfered with planting and managing grasses. With 1 row, they will be able to plant grass to reduce erosion further. Finally, they are also digging and turning the stone-soil up to 1.5m of depth and digging in neutral fertiliser, to ‘make’ soil.
At the top, up to 630m altitude, white varieties have been planted over the last 3 years, to expand white production. Flatter, these are planted using vinho ao alto vertical row planting, permitting mechanisation of many processes. Rabigato, Gouveio, Viosinho and others have been planted. Nitrogen-fixing cover crops, including clovers, have been planted as soil is essentially non-existent.
Overall, viticulture is relatively easy from the perspective of pests and disease, with 3-4 treatments per year. 2018 is showing a little more early-season pressure due to humidity.
By the winery are the oldest plots. At 120-180m is the Vinha Maria Teresa vineyard (pictured at the start of this post), planted 109 years ago. This is a 4.2Ha, 29,000-plant field blend. As plants were naturally dying and needed replacing, they wanted to retain as much genetic heritage as possible, so studied each plant.
This meant first a visual, ampelographic review of each plant, followed by more in-depth, isolation of each plant, tagging its GPS position and ensuring a sample was taken from that plant’s canes for DNA analysis to identify each vine variety. Subsequently, they have taken cuttings from the unique varieties and planted onto rootstocks in a separate nursery vineyard, to retain the genetic material and provide for replanting later. 49 varieties were identified across the 29,000 plants.
Their new, very smartly appointed barrel cellar includes an extensive barrel-rotation frame system. Unintentionally, but conveniently, this helped with white wine lees stirring, by rotating each barrels 4 times. That meant that bung-opening to stir wasn’t necessary, reducing oxygen contact and in turn yielding both better freshness and lower sulfite requirements at bottling.
For Manuel, achieving freshness in the Douro can be delivered through natural acidity, which itself derives from higher altitudes to reduce growing season temperatures, North-facing aspects to cut Sun hours and temperature, and also varietal selection, with Rabigato and Arinto particularly being higher acidity white varieties, whereas Touriga Nacional and Sousão, amongst others can bring acidity to reds.
Quinta do Vale Meão Meandro White 2017 (15 / 20)
Lowest altitude of all wines in the flight, at 200m, but 50% Rabigato, which has naturally high acidity, and Arinto also. 100% schist soils. Stainless steel tanks on less for 7 months. Douro Superior fruit. 13% ABV.
A: Pale lemon
N: Nutty touch and slight reduction. Melon and pear. Leesy tones
P: Rich melon and white peach fruit. Some brisk apple acidity. Lees richness to the mid-palate. Some chalkiness and a touch of salinity. Decent length. Straightforward
Niepoort Tiara Branco 2016 (16.5 / 20)
Magnum. Old, mixed vineyards on transition rock with granite, including Cordo do Larinho. Cima Corgo fruit. 13% ABV.
A: Very pale gold
N: Lemon-lime, chalky tones, white flower and white peach fleshiness.
P: Lemon peel, chalky-flint mineral, white peach. Tingly, textured acidity. Creamy mid-palate. Mineral depth that’s more a sensation than flavour
Quinta do Vallado Quinta do Vallado Reserva White 2016 (16 / 20)
Gouveio, Rabigato, Arinto. Baixo Corgo fruit. 33% new French oak with 2nd and 3rd fill the remainder. 12% ABV.
A: Pale lemon-green
N: Neutral, muted tone. Cool. Vegetal. Flinty. Gentle cream and nut oak in the background
P: Brisk, crisp acidity. Juicy pear and citrus. Energetic palate, compared with the nose. Mouthwatering. Some flint mineral. Decent length
Quinta Vale D. Maria VVV Valleys Douro Branco 2016 (15.5 / 20)
Cima Corgo fruit from field-blend old vineyards in 3 valleys. Granite soils at higher altitude, 500-600m. 10.9% ABV. TA 6.9 g/L, pH 3.15. 1 year, 225L mainly used French oak barrels with battonage for 7 months out of 11.
A: Pale lemon
N: Delicately scented white flower and resin herb tones. Creamy almond oak, with a touch of toast
P: Lean lemon – almost dilute. Delicate clove spice in the background. Crisp acidity, but not raw or racy. Subtle mineral. Butter touch to the finish
Quinta do Crasto Crasto Superior White 2014 (17 / 20)
600m altitude, granite vineyards. 60% Viosinho, 40% Verdelho. Douro Superior fruit, so Burgundy bottle shape. 13% ABV. 8 hour skin contact in the press before fermentation. Barrel fermented in 50% new oak, mainly French oak but with some acacia heads, and matured with barrel-rotation lees stirring. First trials 2007 but 2013 first release. Needs bottle age.
A: Pale-medium, green-gold
N: Some cedar-vanilla oak tones, but nicely integrated into the rich, somewhat tropical fruit, with ripe lemon beneath
P: Rich, ripe lemon and yellow peach tones, with creamy oak, subtle spice and brisk acidity. Chalky phenolic texture. Some salinity. Long
Quinta do Crasto Quinta do Crasto Reserva Vinhas Velhas 2011 (17.5+ / 20)
Cima Corgo fruit. 14.5% ABV. Separate vinification of 42 plots in the Quinta. Vinha da Pont in, but Maria Terese was bottled on its own, because it was good enough. 20 months in 65% new French oak.
A: Deep ruby-black
N: Torrified tones to rich, dense, herb-tinged blackberry and black cherry fruit. Old leather touches of development. Heady ripeness. Dusty, rocky mineral. Toffee and clove oak spice. Some chocolate tones
P: Rich, ripe but not overripe blackberry, dark chocolate, lots of peppery spice. Polished, then firm, but resolving tannic grip. Warming alcohol tones through the finish detract a little, but plenty of density, depth and length. Some saltiness
Niepoort Batuta 2014 (17 / 20)
Cool, fresh, rainy year. Vinha do Carril in Nápoles, in Cima Corgo. 12.5% ABV. Stainless steel and oak vat fermentation. 20 months in 25% new French oak.
A: Deep ruby-purple
N: Lifted violets and some leafy herbal character. Red cherries and berries. Slightly wild. Flinty
P: Brisk acidity. Textured, supple, yet peppery and firm tannins. Sour cherry, in a Sangiovese style. Leafy herb. Chalky minerality. Long finish
Quinta Vale D. Maria VVV Valleys Douro Red 2015 (17+ / 20)
Vineyards over 35 years of age. Cima Corgo fruit. 14.5% ABV. 21 months in 1, 2 and 3 year old French oak.
A: Deep ruby
N: Cedar-cinnamon oak. Ripe red and black mixed fruit. Some schist. Some blueberry
P: Sweet black fruit. Smoky mineral. Firm, but fine tannins. Just a twist of bitterness at the finish. Espresso and dark chocolate
Quinta do Vale Meão Monte Meão Vinha da Cantina 2015 (16.5 / 20)
Recently-planted Baga – actually a historic Douro variety, despite its Bairrada origins. Open fermenter with temperature control. 16 months in old oak. Douro Superior fruit. 12.5% ABV.
A: Mid ruby
N: Chalky overtones to ripe cranberries. Clay earth. Chilli spice. Dried herb overtones
P: Crisp acidity. Red cherry and cranberry. Firm, chalky tannins. Good length
Quinta do Vallado Vinha da Coroa 2015 (16+ / 20)
High altitude, field blend old vines. Baixo Corgo fruit. 13.5% ABV. 50% stems to add freshness. 14 day maceration. 18 months in 2nd use French oak.
A: Mid-deep ruby
N: Slightly stewed forest berry fruit. Violet lift. Dark chocolate and clove oak spice. Cedar
P: Blue and blackberry fruit. Smoky, flinty mid-palate. Chewy, firm to high, furry tannins. Powerful tannins with some green bitter tinges. Warming touch to fairly long finish
Quinta do Crasto Crasto Douro White 2017 (16.5 / 20)
Stainless steel fermentation. Rabigato.
A: Pale-medium gold
N: Lees, flint, ripe greengage and star fruit – green-tropical. Cool ferment tones. Saline rockiness. Has some depth
P: Medium-full body. Brisk acidity. Saline freshness. Ripe lemon and greengage. Chalky texture with some spice and nut. Decent length
Quinta do Crasto Syrah Vinho Regional 2015 (17 / 20)
3% Viognier, co-fermented.
A: Deep purple
N: Scented violets, ripe blackberry and syrah black pepper. Integral toast. Good complexity
P: Supple tannins – medium-firm and rounded. Bright acidity. Rich and rounded. Dense and long. Great value
Quinta do Crasto Crasto Douro Tinto 2005 (16.5 / 20)
A: Deep ruby-garnet
N: Tea, spice, dried red cherry, fresh leather, cinnamon
P: Bright acidity. Spicy, black, smoky fruit. Moderate, resolved, well-balanced tannins. Somewhat warming finish, but well assembled
Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional Douro 2010 (17 / 20)
100% Touriga Nacional from an old vineyard. Oak used to fill-out the mid-palate, but need to avoid over-oaking.
A: Deep ruby
N: Toasty, cedar oak. Spice. Dried blackberry. Smoky, schisty mineral. Not so floral
P: Fresh, brisk acidity. Ripe black cherry and raspberry fruit. Gentle, rounded, silky tannin. Schisty minerality. Spice. Long
Quinta do Crasto Vinha Maria Teresa 2011 (17.5+ / 20)
Mixed vineyard of 49 varieties.
A: Deep black-purple
N: Vanilla, clove and cinnamon, with ripe, slightly liqueur blackberry fruit. Broad, with dried herb overtones
P: Blue and blackberry liqueur fruit. Spice. Fresh leather development. Crushed rock minerality and cordite. Fairly firm, but nicely fine tannins. Chocolate finish. Long
Quinta do Crasto Vintage Port 1994 (16.5 / 20)
Rare to find any longer as it is the first vintage labelled as Quinta do Crasto.
A: Mid-deep garnet; brick rim tinge
N: Brandy spirit, kirsch, schist mineral, dried red berries, old leather, hints of mushroom
P: Mushroom tones, to sweet, dried red berries. Black tea and dark chocolate. Spice. Medium-firm, fine tannins. Warming finish. Good but not a top example. Decent length though
67 Pall Mall dinner Quinta do Crasto wine
Quinta do Crasto Tinta Roriz 2009 (16.5 / 20)
2009 was the 100th anniversary of the family’s ownership of the estate. Mixed, 30-40 year old vines in the main. Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz from 3 plots are selected to produce single variety wines in top years. 100% Tinta Roriz, aged for 16 months in French oak and if the wines are good enough, bottle separately.
A: Deep ruby
N: Integrated, creamy vanilla. Rich, deep, slightly baked blackberry and black cherry. Cedar oak tones. Some crushed rock. Some floral aromatic tones
P: Sweet red and black cherry. Sweet oak. Ripe fruit. Some flintiness. Moderate, fine tannins. Creamy. Integrated c. 14% ABV. Medium-long to long
Day 3 am, part 1: Quinta Vale D. Maria: White wines as rising stars
After being met by Maria, doyenne of winery dogs Maria, Francisca van Zeller, daughter and winemaker, gave us a tour of the winery. We were then joined by Cristian van Zeller, her father and the founder / MD of the Quinta, for two back-to-back masterclasses. They were also accompanied for the masterclasses by Francisco Ferreira, owner-winemaker at Quinta do Vallado.
The Van Zeler family were originally in the Port shipping trade. Francisca’s mother’s side of the family owned Quinta do Noval. In the 1990s they began to focus on Douro DOC table wines, so switched estate production from supplying Port shippers to their own DOC wines.
Cristian bought Quinta Vale Dona Maria, in the renowned Rio Torto sub-zone of the Cima Corgo, from his wife’s family in 1996. Then the estate was 10Ha, with 41 varieties but has now expanded to 45Ha. In 2017, they merged with major Vinho Verde producer, Aveleda, gaining substantial Douro Superior estates in the process.
Originally they bottled in a Bordeaux bottle, reflecting their estate nature, but now use a Burgundy shape as they look to represent the vineyard, rather than blends that may be varied to represent the estate – reflecting the vineyard-specific philosophy of Burgundy.
The began making single plot wines with Vinha do Rio, a 1.8Ha, 29 variety plot with 49% Tinta Barroca. CV-Curriculum Vitae was added, coming from a 3.3Ha, 25-30 variety, North-bank, North-facing plot, bought in 2003 and vinified separately. Their white, high altitude single vineyard, Vinha Martím, is named after the location of its nearby village in Douro Superior, adopting the Burgundian village-labelling model.
As they have understood the old method of co-planted vineyards amongst their old plots, their new plantings are reverting to the co-plantation model. Having been planting at 3-5,000 plants / Ha with single varities per row, and different varieties at different altitudes – as in the Vinha Francisca vineyard, planted in 2004 – they are now reverting to traditional, high-density planting at c. 7,000 plants / Ha, with multiple varieties they believe make the best Ports. They have just planted a new vineyard in that way, with 16 varieties randomly planted in each row, choosing varieties that should co-ferment well.
At the Quinta, they process 150t of red grapes, yielding 50-60,000L of wine across reds and Ports.
100% lagar fermentations are favoured both for top Ports and single vineyard red wines. They start with Rio as the earliest-maturing (warm, plus high proportion of Tinta Barroca) vineyard. That is followed into lagares by Ports, and if possible, they finish with VVV red wines (otherwise fermenting these in conventional stainless steel tanks). They intend to expand lagar capacity in the next 1-2 years, and completely replace their tanks, to give enough capacity for lagar-fermentation of all their red wines.
5t-capacity granite lagares are used. They destem, then foot tread, then add stems back as this makes the initial crushing more efficient. Temperature control vanes are used but mainly to cool the must initially, to 18°C for 2 days of cool soaking. Fermentation follows, with control being used only to avoid occasional big temperature peaks, with higher temperatures extracting tannins better.
They tested Touriga Franca from the same plots, picked the same day, but fermented in lagares vs stainless steel tanks. Universally, critics brought in to test them have consistently preferred the lagar-ferment results, which are less fruity, but more complex.
All whites made at Quinta Vale D. Maria are barrel fermented. However, Douro Superior fruit for their entry-level Rufo base white wine is mostly stainless steel tank-fermented. This followed the Avaleda merger, where substantial Superior estates came along with a large scale winery for entry-level production. At the Quinta, whites are pneumatically pressed gently into barrel, using only the lightest juice. They monitor pH every few minutes until it starts to rise, then switch the rest of the crushed grapes to White Port production. That means that only c. 28% of the original bunch-weight ends up in the white wines. As a bit of a joke (and so labelled) they did make a little white wine from the must subsequently drawn off from White Port lagares, before fortification, just to see what kind of ‘semi-skin-contact’ wine they would end up with. We preceded the main tasting with a sample of that!
At the time of our visit, Cristiano was preparing to create a final blend and bottling of their 2016 Vintage Port, as well as the estate white wines.
According to Francisco Ferreira, white winemaking is changing significantly – due to more acidic varieties, higher and cooler sites for better acidity, earlier-picking in early to mid-August, and more accurate, lighter styles of winemaking. Winemaking has adapted more accurately to each variety, and they now have better knowledge of how to use barrels and for which varieties. For example, at Vallado Malvasia Fina and Códega do Larinho were originally planted, but didn’t work well at Vallado as neither had enough acidity and oxidised too quickly, so they field-grafted across to Arinto, Gouveio and Rabigato. They also moved from 225L to 500L barrels, and a much lower percentage of new oak.
Quinta do Vallado Prima 2017 (15.5 / 20)
100% Muscat Blanc / Moscatel Gallego. Baixo Corgo fruit. 13% ABV and pH 3.2. This wine is stainless steel fermented and matured. Some grapes bought in, but these are first picked in Vallado, hence Prima. €7.50 / bottle at local retail.
A: Pale lemon
N: Marked white peach and green melon. Big and broad. Flinty mineral core. Leesy overtones. White flower tones
P: Grapefruit and crisp lemon-lime. Cooler palate than nose. Some lees density. Chalky texture and flinty mineral. Medium-long
Quinta do Vale Meão Meandro White 2017 (15.5 / 20)
Douro Superior fruit, 5km from Vale Meão. 13% ABV. 7 months in old oak.
A: Pale-medium gold
N: Slightly baked stone fruit. Creamy tones. Touches of spice and lees. Perfumed
P: Rounded, stony-mineral white peach and cream. Slightly warming spice tone to finish. Bright acidity. Medium-long
Quinta do Crasto Crasto White 2017 (16 / 20)
40% Viosinho, 30% Rabigato, 30% Gouveio. East and North-facing, 600m altitude fruit. Cima Corgo fruit. 13% ABV. Stainless steel winemaking.
A: Pale lemon
N: Lime and lifted herbal tones. Some white flower
P: Brisk acidity, lemon and lime with some boxwood and tropical notes. Sweet fruit core with mineral savouriness and a touch of salinity
Niepoort Redoma White 2017 (16.5 / 20)
Mixed planting 70+ year old vines. Mainly Rabigato and Códega do Larinho. Cima Corgo fruit. 13% ABV. French oak barrel fermentation and 8 months’ maturation. No MLF.
A: Pale gold
N: Wild, broad toasty tones. Nutty oak. Cinnamon spice tones. Yellow melon. Vanilla
P: Crisp acidity. Nutty-cinnamon tones over saltiness and savoury stone fruit and melon. Good length
Quinta do Crasto Crasto Superior White 2016 (16 / 20)
18 year old vineyards. Mainly Viosinho and Gouveio. 50% new French oak maturation. Douro Superior fruit. 12% ABV.
A: Pale-medium lemon
N: Vanilla-cream, almond nut. Ripe white peach and apricot perfume. Chalk tones
P: Crisp, almost racy acidity. Steely palate. Chalky texture. Flint mineral. Lean lemon. Nutty oak touches to the finish
Quinta do Vallado Reserva White 2015 (16.5 / 20)
20 year old vineyards with 40% Gouveio, 30% Arinto, 30% Rabigato. Baixo Corgo fruit. 12% ABV. Separate varietal fermentations, starting in stainless steel at lower temperatures. In mid-fermentation, transfer to 33% new 500L French oak to finish fermentation and mature for 7 months. 3 times a week battonage, moving down to 1. Gouveio only wine into new barrels.
A: Pale lemon
N: Creamy vanilla entry. Then delicate peachy-tropical fruit. More barrel than fruit, but integral
P: Firm acidity. Linear white peach and lemon-citrus. Flint mineral. Some mealy oak through the mid-palate. Elegant integration. Medium-long to long
Niepoort Redoma Reserva White 2016 (17 / 20)
600m altitude vineyards in Nápoles and near Pinhão. Rabigato, Códega do Larinho and Arinto. Cima Corgo fruit. 12% ABV. 100% barrel fermentation and maturation.
A: Pale lemon
N: Gentle nutty tones, cream and almond. Peach perfume and melon fruit. Deftly used oak
P: Peach fruit entry. Delicate almond nut and white flowers. Yellow apple finish. Medium-long to long. Brisk acidity
Van Zellers & Co VZ Douro White 2015 (17+ / 20)
Made by Quinta Vale D. Maria, but labelled with the family name. First vintage 2006; 2015 10th harvest. Select fruit from different vineyards, North-east of Quinta. Buy from farmer they know well. 2,500-4,000 bottles a year. Fermentation in 50% new French oak, then maturation in the same barrels. Mix of 225L, 228L and 500L barrels. Baixo Corgo fruit. 12% ABV. €22-25 / bottle.
A: Medium gold
N: Exotic fruit coated in lifted vanilla cream oak. Flint tones. Cinnamon oak touches. Ripe quince touches
P: Ripe citrus, chalk, spiced oak tones. Some mandarin. Crisp acidity. Creamy oak and cheese tones through the finish. Some lemongrass to the finish
Quinta Vale D. Maria Vinha de Martím 2016 (17.5+ / 20)
1,500 bottles / year typical; 1,100 bottles in 2016. 90 year old vineyard. Cima Corgo fruit. 12.5% ABV. €70 / bottle.
A: Mid gold
N: Struck match and spice. Dusty minerality. Hazelnut oak tones. Stone fruit beneath
P: Pear and peach fruit. Chewy-chalky extract. Gentle hazelnut and cinnamon spice. Some lees richness on the mid-palate. Good length. Young and tight.
Quinta Vale D. Maria Branco “joke” 2017 (16 / 20)
Drawn off from White Port-making before fortification, then 6 months in barrel.
A: Mid-deep burnished gold
N: Creamy, rich lift. Orange peel and dried fruit. Camomile touch
P: Similar flavour. Moderate, rounded tannins. Decent length
Day 3, am part 2: Quinta Vale D. Maria: Long-living Douro Reds
Quinta do Vallado Touriga Nacional 2005 (17 / 20)
First 100% Touriga Nacional vintage. Vines planted 1994-1997. Baixo Corgo fruit. 14% ABV. 18 months in 225L barriques – then around 50% new French oak; now 30%. Believes wines being made now are better than then, due to improved winemaking know-how.
A: Deep black-ruby; narrow rim
N: Lifted eucalyptus and vanilla oak, with cedar spice. Focused dried black fruit (prune and black cherry). Pot pourri floral perfume emerges. Coal smoke. Fresh leather development
P: Spice. Chewy, peppery tannins. Old leather. Smoke. Coal minerality. Dried and liqueur black cherry. Pot pourri floral finish. Long
Niepoort Redoma Red 2005 (17.5 / 20)
Old vine, mixed planting on schist at 300+m altitude. First wine 1991. Very dry year following very hot 2003. Robust wines but with marked acidity. Magnum. Cima Corgo fruit. 13.5% ABV. Destemmed and 50% in lagares. 18 months in French oak.
A: Deep ruby
N: Gentle, nutty – almost popcorn tone. Some jammy and fresh, raspberry and strawberry fruit. Old leather and tobacco tones. Subtle spice and some crushed rock.
P: Bright acidity. Fresh. Dried raspberry and old leather development. Medium, peppery tannins. Still youthful and bright
Quinta do Vale Meão Quinta do Vale Meão 2008 (17.5+ / 20)
Up to 45 year old vineyards. Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca. Mild, cooler year. Douro Superior fruit. ??% ABV. €60-100 / bottle
A: Deep black-ruby-garnet
N: Intense, delicate, aromatic, floral tones with tobacco and toffee oak. Cedar. Scented raspberry. Vanilla-cinnamon lift
P: Rich, dense blue and black fruit. Polished. Smoky-spiced rocky notes. Fairly firm, slightly furry tannins. Good length and energy
Quinta do Vale D. Maria Quinta do Vale D. Maria 2008 (17.5 / 20)
60-80 year old vineyards around the cellar, with 41 varieties in the blend. Rio Torto, Cima Corgo fruit. 14% ABV. €40-50
A: Deep garnet with a black core
N: Toffee oak. Tobacco tones. More developed. Dried black fruit and chocolate
P: Brisk acidity. Dried, oxidative black and red fruit tones. Fine, fairly firm tannins. Refined, but ageing slightly faster. Salty mid-palate. Long
Quinta do Vallado Reserva Field Blend 2008 (17 / 20)
90 year old, field blend, planted at 7-8,000 plants / Ha. 34 different varieties. Baixo Corgo fruit. 14.5% ABV. 18 months in 70% new French oak.
A: Deep black-garnet
N: Prune and dried tobacco leaf. Meaty tones. Rosemary hints and anthracite
P: Dried blackberry. Tobacco leaf. Green, dried herbs. Spice. Complex. Some soy development. Medium-long. Fairly firm, chewy tannins
Quinta do Crasto Crasto Superior Red 2010 (16 / 20)
North-facing, Douro Superior fruit along the riverside. Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca. 14% ABV. Stainless steel fermentation then 18 months in French oak. €15-18 / bottle.
A: Deep black-ruby
N: Overt spicy blue and black fruit. Baked tones. Nutty, clove oak.
P: Supple, juicy blue and black fruit entry. Slighty jammy. Peppery, medium tannins. Medium-long
Olazabal e Filhos Monte Meão 2011 (17+ / 20)
Made by Quinta do Vale Meão, but labelled with the family name. 100% Touriga Nacional on granite, in the Vinho Novo vineyard. Douro Superior fruit. 14% ABV. Rain until May, with 400+mm in Douro Superior, then warm and dry through the growing season.
A: Deep ruby-black
N: Slightly funky, inky black fruit. Deep fruit. Blueberry. Then orange peel and violet lift. Subtle nutty oak in the background
P: Bright acidity. Juicy raspberry and blueberry fruit. Inky. Firm, chewy, grainy tannins. Orange peel finish
Quinta Vale D. Maria Vinha da Francisca 2012 (17 / 20)
Single vineyard planted for Francisca’s 18th birthday in 2004. 4Ha at 3,000-5,000 plants / Ha, depending on altitude and slope. Different varieties by altitude, with row-by-row planting of 5 varieties. 50% Sousão in the vineyard, but typically 30% in the blend due to lower productivity. Touriga Franca and Tinta Francisca. Tinta Francisca is an unreliable producer, but family-owned Quinta do Roriz had a block planting of it, so could test a single-varietal Tinta Francisca. 5% Touriga Nacional. Rio Torto, Cima Corgo fruit. 14.5% ABV. 8-10,000 bottles / year.
A: Deep black-purple; ruby tinges to the rim
N: Floral raspberry and blackberry. Leafy tones. Jammy raspberry. Fresh and fruity. Subtle spice. Dried herb tones. Subtle oak spice
P: Juicy, rich raspberry and blackberry. Fine, medium-firm tannins. Polished fruit. Rich, medium-long finish. Finely made and attractive young
Quinta do Crasto Tinta Roriz 2012 (16.5 / 20)
Cima Corgo fruit. 14.5% ABV.
A: Deep black-purple
N: Pine needle, resin herb lift. Cinnamon-cedar oak. Rich black cherry and chocolate beneath
P: Black cherry, crushed rock. Spicy cedar-cinnamon oak. Vanilla lift. Chewy, Toro-like tannins. Decent length, but a little rustic. Barrel-cellar back-palate perfume
Niepoort Redoma Red 2015 (16.5+ / 20)
Magnum. Cima Corgo fruit. 12% ABV.
A: Deep ruby-purple
N: Leafy, scented violets and cranberries. Black cherry. Funky reduction. Stony mineral. Youthful. Good intensity
P: Brisk acidity. Funky reduction tones on the mid-palate. Blueberry and raspberry. Flinty mineral. Peppery, slightly rustic tannins. Chewy. Needs time. Medium-long to long
67 Pall Mall dinner Quinta Vale D. Maria wine
Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro 2009 (17.5 / 20)
Magnum. Presented by Cristiano. Rio Torto in Cima Corgo. 10Ha original vineyards used to make this wine, meaning a field-blend of 41 varieties. Very warm, low yield vintage. Foot-trodden then fermented in granite lagares. 14-20 months in new and used French oak.
A: Deep ruby with some blackness
N: Mellow, integrated cedar oak. Dusty mineral. Broad, mixed black fruit. Some spice tones. More subdued and savoury
P: Bright red fruit with sweet-sour undertow. Saline and crushed rock tones. Savoury. Moderate acidity. Medium, peppery tannic grip. Some cedar toast. Slightly warming, but integral
Day 3 pm: Quinta do Vallado closing lunch
Following the masterclasses at Vale D. Maria, Francisco Ferreira travelled with us to Quinta do Vallado, hosted us for lunch at their boutique hotel and restaurant, then took us on a brief tour of the winery, with its well-appointed visitor centre, tasting room and shop. Note that the orange-ochre Pantone® is not the same as the bright orange-yellow one that is © Veuve-Cliquot…
The view across from the Quinta was interesting, as it showed almost in a single frame the nature of Douro polyculture: stone terraced, patamares terraced and vertical planted vines, with interposed olive trees:
Lunch wines at Quinta do Vallado hotel restaurant
Quinta do Vallado Vallado Prima Douro Branco 2017 (15.5 / 20)
A: Pale lemon
N: Lime and ripe quince, creamy tones. Floral apricot
P: Crisp acidity. Apricot and orange tones to floral fruit. Good density. Bright. Medium length
Quinta do Vallado Quinta do Vallado Reserva Douro Branco 2012 (17.5 / 20)
Rabigato, Gouveio, Viosinho and Arinto. Magnum. Warm vintage, with some Viosinho in the blend. 100% estate fruit on schist. 13% ABV.
A: Deep lemon-gold
N: Ripe and exotic stone fruit. Aromatic vanilla and waxy lemon rind. Honey development. Gentle nut tones. Early maturity
P: Honey and conserved lemons, with some stone fruit tones. Gentle nutty spice. Waxy tones. Brisk acidity. Limey-stony, long finish
Quinta do Vallado Vallado Douro Tinto 2011 (16.5 / 20)
A: Deep black; narrow purple-ruby rim
N: Torrified, chocolate and cinnamon oak. Velvety matured kirsch and dried blackberry and black cherry. Slightly baked. Dried tobacco touches. Chalky mineral touches too
P: Brisk acidity. Dried black cherry. Dark chocolate. Spiced cinnamon. Kirsch fruit. Medium, resolving, chalky tannins. Quite long
Quinta do Vallado Vallado Organic Vineyards Douro Tinto 2015 (16.5+ / 20)
30Ha vineyard in Douro Superior. 60% Touriga Nacional, 37% Touriga Franca, rest Sousão. 5 year old vineyards. 2nd vintage. 225L used French oak barrels.
A: Deep black-purple
N: Floral blackberry. Violets. Dense and aromatic. Crushed rock minerality. Very expressive. Smoky
P: Brisk acidity. Floral violets and some hints of orange peel. Blackberry and damson. Fine, firm tannins. Smoky mid-palate with schist. Slightly bitter tannin finish detracts a little, but otherwise fine
Quinta do Vallado Touriga Nacional 2011 (17.5 / 20)
15 year old vines. Quinta fruit plus Douro Superior, both on schist.
A: Deep ruby-black
N: Bright violet tones. Aromatic. Some macerated blackberry and blueberry fruit. Mint touch. Vanilla-cinnamon oak tones, but well-integrated
P: Brisk acidity. Violets, blackberry, crushed rock, spice, some minty touches. Fine, medium-firm tannins. Long
Quinta do Vallado Quinta do Vallado Reserva Field Blend 2010 (16.5 / 20)
Magnum. Worst, rainy vintage in last 10 years, but old vines with deep roots and a mixed vineyard showed better performance than expected. Likely to be early-maturing.
A: Deep black purple-ruby
N: Brawny maturity tone. Cooked vegetal tones. Old tobacco. Old leaves and dried black fruit
P: Ripe black fruit with dried tones. Spicy black fruit. Some crushed rock. Fairly long length. Slightly grainy, medium tannins. Good freshness
Quinta do Vallado 40 Year old Tawny Port NV (18 / 20)
A: Deep tawny-brown; broad caramel-olive rim
N: Rancio creaminess. Caramel, treacle and dark chocolate. Cakebread. Raisin and fig. Cinnamon. Hint of wood-polish
P: Sweet and dense. Bright, preserved and dried red fruit. Fig. Chocolate, spice, cakebread and chocolate. Some tobacco tones through the long finish. Slight spiritiness detracts from a fine whole
67 Pall Mall dinner Quinta do Vallado wine
Quinta do Vallado Reserva Branco Douro 2011 (16.5 / 20)
Magnum. Presented by João Ferreira Álvares Ribeiro, co-owner of the estate. Moving from Port varieties with more alcohol and less acidity, to alternatives with more freshness. Blend of Gouveio (for structure), Rabigato and Arinto (for acidity), planted 1995-97. 500L barrel fermentation and aged separately. 40% new barrels, only for the Gouveio winemaking. Will be better in future as they learn more about the vines. Looking for structure, freshness, balance and capacity to age.
N: Marked toasty oak. Some vegetal. Maturing stone fruit – dried, mixed; broad. Flinty, smoky savouriness emerges from the oak cloak
P: Chewy, smoky oak entry with flintiness. Savoury. Lots of smoky minerality. White peach and dried stone fruit. Some salinity comes through the mid-palate and finish. Enriches on warming. Oak-led, but some minerality. Fairly brisk acidity gives some freshness
It just remained for some final pictures of the lucky sommelier group (and me), before we left for the airport: