During my week in the Douro, I met several producers who come from families long involved in Port, but whose companies or quintas have been sold or absorbed into larger companies during the ups and downs of production. Often they have started out again with a vineyard that was retained in the family. The Van Zellers owned Quinta da Noval until it was sold in 1993 as the result of problems in the family, and the eponymous production company, van Zellers, was sold with it. Cristiano van Zeller managed to buy back the name of van Zellers in 2006 when it had become more or less moribund, and this is now his negociant arm. Quinta Vale D. Maria has been in his wife Joana’s family for several hundred years, and had been leased to Symingtons until Cristiano obtained ownership in 1996.
I admit to a loss of confidence that there would be a winery at the end of the road as I drove up the single track unpaved road that hugs the edge of the mountain, but there near the top was Cristiano waiting at the winery. Built into the hillside, it’s larger than it appears from the outside, and is stuffed with equipment, but Cristiano is hoping to build a new underground winery some time soon. There’s a mixture of granite lagares and stainless steel fermentation vats, but the plan is to replace the vats with more lagares as Cristiano feels this gives more subtle results in the wine. Production is focused on table wines, both white and red, but there is also a range of tawny and vintage Ports.
Wines under the van Zellers label include at least some purchased grapes, but the tendency is to depend more on sources within the estate. The wines of Quinta Vale D. Maria range from the entry level Rufo to single vineyard wines that highlight parts of the quinta. The one word I would use to describe the wines is sophisticated. Displaying silky textures, the whites have a definite trend towards minerality, especially when you go above entry level. The reds are elegant and silky with a lovely sense of precision to the black fruits on the palate. Although alcohol is high, it’s never evident on the palate. The style is subtle.
Several vintages of the eponymous wine, labeled just Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro, which comes from the center of the quinta, reinforced my impression that it’s a mistake to drink the red wines soon after release, because with an additional year or so, the aromatics really come to life. The single vineyard wines show the properties of different blends and locations, from Vinho de Francisca (named for Cristiano’s daughter who now works with him) to Vinho do Rio, which comes from the lowest altitude vineyards, close to the river, and offers the most dense impression of all.
The one word I would use to describe the wines is sophisticated. Displaying silky textures, the whites have a definite trend towards minerality, especially when you go above entry level. The reds are elegant and silky with a lovely sense of precision to the black fruits on the palate. Although alcohol is high, it’s never evident on the palate. The style is subtle. Some favorites are:
Quinta Vale D. Maria, Douro white, CV, 2015
This comes from a single vineyard of just less than a hectare at an altitude of 400-500 m. The vines are 80-90 years old, with a huge mix of varieties. Slight smoky spicy nose from oak. Smooth and silky on palate with mineral impression. Very fine and elegant.
Quinta Vale D. Maria, Douro, 2010
Slightly lifted black fruit aromatics on nose.Very fine, elegant ripe fruits fill a smooth palate with layers of black fruit flavors just coming out, supported by silky tannins on the finish. The main difference with younger vintages is not so much softening on the palate as the development of broader flavor variety.
Quinta Vale D. Maria, Douro, Vinho do Rio, 2014
This comes from the vineyard at the lowest altitude, by the river; it’s about 1 ha and has 29 grape varieties, although 47% is Tinta Barroca. The nose conveys a sense of density. Dense black fruits dominate the palate and are spicy on the finish, which shows velvety tannins. Quite reserved at this point, time is needed for the tannins to resolve to show the underlying smoothness of the palate.
Quinta Vale D. Maria, Port, Vintage 2009
Not so much sweet on the nose as slightly perfumed. Dark and sweet on palate but cut by lovely piquancy on finish, which is sweet with that touch of perfume coming back retronasally. Very good intensity.