Visit to Porto and Douro Day 5: Winding up at Quinta de la Rosa

Sophia Bergqvist’s great grandfather was a port shipper, and Quinta de la Rosa was given to her grandmother as a present in 1906. Financial difficulties caused the shipper to be sold in the thirties, but the family kept the quinta and sold the grapes to Sandeman. In 1988, when the laws for production of Port were liberalized, Sophia and her father decided to make their own Port. “We were one of the first to take advantage of the new regulations,” she says. “And then in the 1990s we were one of the first to into red table wine. The initial driving force was an excess of grapes that couldn’t be used for Port.” The red was sold as a house wine to Berry Bros. Today production is two thirds red wine to one third Port. Grapes are purchased (especially for entry level wines) to supplement sources. There’s now a guest house with 19 rooms attached to the winery.

RosaQuinta da la Rosa is nestled between the river and the vineyards

Sophia describes her aim for tables wines as “to maintain balance and equilibrium, not to over-extract. It’s terribly important to control acidity because otherwise we end up with Port-like dry wines. The style of the Douro is fruit-driven wines with the minerality we get from schist soils, using old oak and not new oak.” In Port, the style goes for precision, you might almost say tight, with a sense of mineral restraint to the finish. Here are my favorites:

Douro, La Rosa, 2012

A little spicy on the nose, perhaps more peppery really. Palate is still a little tight, with a mineral impression to the finish. Tannins are fine but still a little bitter on finish. Needs another year to let its precision show on palate.

Tawny 20-year

Nose shows both mineral influences and hints of raisins. Sweetness on palate blends with coffee and caramel, again with that sense of minerality coming back on finish. Very good balance.

LBV, 2011

Restrained nose with tight sense to black fruits. Sweet, tight and precise on the palate. A linear impression on the finish. Will broaden with time.


Visit to Douro and Porto Day 5: Quinta Vale D. Maria (at the top of the mountain)

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.

Zeller3The winery finally hove into view

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.

Zeller1The view from the winery

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.



Visit to Port and Douro Day 4: Tasting with Duorum

The Duorum project tries to make world-class wine in Portugal’s region from Alentejo to Vinho Verde. The winery and vineyards in the Douro were established in 2007 by João Portugal Ramos and José Maria Soares Franco, at Quinta Castelo Melhor in the Douro Superior (the hottest and driest part of the region, extending to the Spanish border). I wasn’t able to make it all the way to the end of the Douro, so José Maria Soares Franco very kindly stopped off at Pinhao on his way to a dinner in Porto so that we could taste the range.

José Maria was in charge of production at Sogrape (Portugal’s largest wine company) from 1978 to 2006 (his responsibilities included Barca Velha, the iconic red wine), so he has a very detailed knowledge of the region. Duorum is producing mostly table wine, but also some Port. The high level wines come only from estate grapes, but grapes are purchased for the entry level wines. “We use only indigenous varieties,” he says, “we think consumers will get tired of the similarities of wines made everywhere from Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.”

DuorThe arid area of the Douro Superior

It’s dry and hot in Douro Superior, so it might seem counter-intuitive to base table wine production there. “The most important tables wines at Sogrape came from Douro Superior, so I know the area well, and I know that conditions are more reliable. We can irrigate there (this requires an application to the authorities each year) and we harvest 2-3 weeks earlier. Keeping alcohol down is a good reason to go to Douro Superior. We think that more than 13.5% kills the aromas and quality of the wine, this is very important in our style.”

The range includes Tons (and entry level wine), Colheita (I was a bit surprised that this term is allowed for table wine as it is also used to describe a tawny port from a single vintage), a reserve, and O. Leucura (a play on words which loosely means astonishment, and is a top flight wine in the European tradition), and both LBV and vintage Ports. Robotic lagares are used for the initial maceration of all the wines; table wines are transferred to vats after three days. “We want to extract tannins in the absence of alcohol,” José Maria explains. Aside from the entry level wines, these are really wines that need some time to come around. Duorum would like to hold on to them longer before release, but “our agents are always asking for young wines.”

The Reserve gives a good impression of the potential of Douro Superior for making table wines with a signature character.

Douro, 2012, Reserve

The Reserve is produced with grapes only from the slope, that is, low altitudes, that give high ripeness. It is matured for 18 months with 70% new oak. There’s a concentration of blackberries and other black fruits on the nose with an impression of acidity. Palate is quite concentrated but tannins are gripping the finish, although quite chocolaty. Needs time.


Visit to Porto and Douro Day 4: Up the River to Quinta de Roriz – Tasting Chryseia

My visit to Taylor Fladgate in Port on Monday was followed by a visit to Quinta da Bomfim near Pinhao in the middle of the Douro region. Recently expanded by the purchase of neighboring vineyards which are now being reorganized, Quinta da Bomfim is the heart of Dow’s Port. We stayed overnight in the old family house in the middle of the property and next morning took a trip up the river with Rupert Symington in his boat to the Quinta de Roriz.

Douro1The view from the Douro approaching Quinta de Roriz

This is the center of Prats & Symington, founded by Rupert together with Bruno Prats on a shoestring to produce table wines in the Douro. Starting by purchasing grapes, it proved so successful that they bought their own vineyards, most notably Quinta de Roriz in 2009. The dilapidated buildings are being restored and extended and all the wines are now made here in what will become a modern winery. A team was furiously working at reshaping the land and planting new vineyards when we visited.

RorizSQuinta de Roriz before the work

Three wines come from Quinta de Roriz. The top wine, Chryseia, has rapidly become an icon, and the 2013 vintage shows what the Douro can do in the way of a wine that will compete in the international area. Post Scriptum (a clever name) is a second label, roughly an equal blend of lots that were matured in new oak but which weren’t ultimately used for Chryseia, and lots that were set aside at the outset to be matured in two year oak. “Post Scriptum is very much a second wine of Chryseia,” Rupert says, “we don’t say a lot will be one or the other until a final tasting.”


Laying out the new vineyards

Prazo de Roriz is a third wine based on the varieties that don’t make the cut for Post Scriptum and Chryseia, which are usually virtually exclusively Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, with around half of each. Touriga Nacional gives structure and breed, softened by Touriga Franca (“Touriga Franca is our Merlot,” Rupert says).

The objective with these wines is to get purity of expression. “It’s easy in the Douro to think that new oak will flatter your wine, but I think Douro wine is all about purity of fruit,” Rupert says. “There’s no Portiness. It would be easy to get lots of extraction and alcohol, but that’s not what we want.” Indeed, the wines are notable for their moderate alcohol (usually around 13.5% compared with typical levels for the region over 14%).

Chryseia, 2013

Dark inky color. More sense of fat and pluminess on nose than Post Scriptum. Lovely balance with elegant, well delineated black fruits giving a good sense of precision on palate, yet that sense of fat is poking through. The character is explained by the vintage, which was a difficult year that gave a much higher proportion of Touriga Nacional than usual. There’s a tang at the end a bit reminiscent of Côte Rôtie, although aromatics are more blackberry fruits and not as lifted as Syrah.



Visit to Porto and Douro Day 3: Afternoon at Quinta do Vallado

Francisco Ferreira is an enterprising fellow. Quinta do Vallado has belonged to his family for almost two centuries. It provided grapes for the family Port house, but was not included in the sale of Port Ferreira to Sogrape in 1987. Francisco has been building it up as an independent business since then, acquiring another quinta (in the Douro Superior), and expanding into a chic boutique hotel that now sits besides the new winery at Vallado. Typical of the new independent producer in the Douro, production of table wine is greater than Port. He produces both varietal wines and blends.

QV1The old winery

Over lunch followed by a tasting we went through many of the table wines and Ports.

Francisco is enthusiastic about Touriga Nacional. “Some producers have reservations about Touriga Nacional, because they feel that too much dominates a blend. I don’t agree because even if it does, it improves the quality.”

The difference between Quinta do Vallado’s Touriga Nacional and the Reserva is really illustrative of what you gain and lose by blending. I don’t think one is better than the other, but there is a clear trade-off: Touriga Nacional shows the precision and elegance of the variety in a relatively lean style, while the Reserva tends more to breadth and generosity in a fuller style.

Reserva, 2013

This is a field blend from old vines, up to 100 years of age. Soft palate has fruits in the background, with tannins trending towards chocolaty but still a little fierce on the finish. With more breadth of flavor, this shows more dimensions than Touriga Nacional.

Touriga Nacional, 2014

Allowing for some bite from youth, there is a smooth layered palate of black fruits, currently showing some tannins at the end. A tighter impression than the Reserva, with higher-toned aromatics, more refined but not as generous in its flavor spectrum.

Previously I had an older vintage which gave some indications of the path of evolution.

Touriga Nacional, 2010

Quite a mineral impression with more of a red fruit nose than black. This is quite a lean style for the variety, more towards elegance than power, reinforced by good acidity. Hints of spice and vanillin show on the finish.

The Port is also very good. I particularly liked the Adelaide Vintage Port (named for his ancestor Dona Antonia, who really built up the business and at one point owned 30 quintas).

Vintage 2014, Adelaide

With 98 g sugar, this is not too sweet. Intense perfumed nose is reminiscent of the vineyard, carrying over to a palate with black cherry and more exotic fruit flavors. Aromatics are quite delicate, this is really all in its own style.

QV3The new hotel.

Visit to Porto and Douro Day 3: Morning at Quinta da Noval

Quinta da Noval has always been an icon for me because of the Nacional vineyard, a tiny plot of 1.7 ha just below the winery, where the vines are all planted on their own roots. Apparently it was treated heavily against phylloxera, but as the present vineyard was planted in 1924, it’s not obvious why it wasn’t planted on rootstocks. Unfortunately I’ve never had the 1931, which some people consider the best Port of the twentieth century, but I was able to visit the vineyard and taste the latest vintage. It has a large number of different varieties, all mixed together, which is common in old vineyards in the Douro, and as vines die they are replaced by another of the same variety. It’s a mystery how the vines are able to survive on their own roots when all around it is necessary to graft to avoid being consumed by phylloxera.

NovalNacional2Quinta da Noval

Quinta da Noval is a lovely property high up above Pinhao, with about 145 ha of terraced vineyards. The Port is made in modernized lagares, modernized in the sense that they have heat exchangers to control temperature, but traditional in the sense that the grapes are still trodden by foot for the first three days, as winemaker António Agrellos considers this produces the best results. After that, a robot takes over. Since 2000, Noval has produced red table wine as well as Port. “When we took over, the vines were not in very good condition, and with 60-70 ha we didn’t have enough grapes to make table wine as well as Port, but we have planted and now we have enough,” António says. “We’ve tried foreign varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t work but Syrah is good, but mostly the wine comes from indigenous varieties.”NovalNacional4

An old vine in the Nacional vineyard

We tasted the range of red wines and Ports. Here are some highlights.

Labrador 2012 (table wine)

This is a pure Syrah. “This is not an authorized variety, but many people plant it and we’d like it to be authorized for the Douro,” says António. Aromatics and palate somewhat reminiscent of Northern Rhone, smooth somewhat along lines of Cote Rotie, just a faint touch of pepper on the finish. Still rather young, needs time.

Colheita 2000

This shows just a touch more complexity on the nose than the 20-year tawny Port, with the fruits cut by a vaguely herbal impression. Sweetness is subsumed by flavor variety and seems more subtle. Lovely combination of iron structure and elegant fruits, with lots of character.

Vintage 2013

“Our aim is to make a vintage Port every year,” says António. There wasn’t one in 2010, but since then there has been one for three years running. For me, the most recent, the 2013, is the most approachable at present. Restrained nose shows aromatic black fruits just poking out. Already wonderfully smooth with layers of flavor developing. A little spicy, a touch nutty, but not too spirity. Promises to become extremely elegant.

Nacional 2011

Silky smooth over and above the 2011 Noval. Layers and layers of structure underneath an elegant sheen of the fruits, iron fist in the velvet glove; concentration of old vines shows through, but without heaviness.Vinicide to drink now.

Noval2The lagares


Visit to Porto and Douro: Day 1 Tastings at Taylors and Churchill

At the start of a research visit to Porto, my first impression is how distinctly the styles of the individual houses come through their old tawnies and vintage Ports (even though some of the houses fall under the same management in large groups). More detailed reports of visits to each house will follow, but in the meantime, here is the most interesting Port (or table wine) tasted from each house today.

Taylors 30 Year Tawny

I always see a significant jump in interest going from ten year to twenty year tawny, but sometimes the next increment of increased concentration going to thirty year is outbalanced by increased oxidative character. Tasting Taylors 10, 20, 30, 40, and the Single Harvest 1966 (effectively a 50 year tawny), for me the thirty year beat out the twenty year by a whisker. There’s a great sense of precision to the nose, the palate is sweet and infinitely smooth, and there’s just a touch more sense of the supporting acidity to bring crispness at the end. (The 1966 is closer in style to the 30-year than to the 40-year, and is infinitely refined.)

Fonseca Guimaraens 2013

This is a blend from all three vineyards that would go into Fonseca when a vintage is declared, so in a sense it’s a second wine representing the best lots in a year that’s not declared as a vintage. It’s sweet, ripe, full and approachable on the palate with chocolaty tannins at the end. A very nice opportunity to get the full style of vintage Port in a young wine.

Churchill Vintage 1997

The first impression is just how refined this is for vintage port, with a lovely sense of precision to the fruits, almost a sense of minerality demonstrating the good bones of the structure. Fine elegant black fruits are beautifully delineated, showing a seamless surface with layers of flavor underneath. This is certainly ready to drink but it will surely age another couple of decades becoming if anything even more sharply focused.

Douro Red Table Wine

Quinta de Gricha, Churchill, 2007
This comes from a field blend of 60-year-old vines in the Quinta de Gricha, that is, it’s a single vineyard red wine from the same vineyard that contributes to Churchill’s vintage Port. A warm fruit impression is softer and more aromatic than the Gran Reserva (which comes partly from Gricha and partly from other locations), with furry tannins giving a chocolaty finish. Black cherry aromatics are backed up by some spice notes. This shows a more savory direction than the 2005, which is more perfumed. It’s a very fine demonstration of the potential for table wine in the Douro.