On Wednesday everyone seemed chipper at breakfast, after having sampled enough wine and Port to sate most mid-sized cities for a week. Just kidding. Now it was off for our last appointment in Oporto and a very special morning.
VINHOS DE QUINTA ... AVEPOD. The address is 39 Rua da Alegria. It is not easy to find if you are not looking for it specifically. It is at the end of the alleyway, just behind the Pestana Hotel in the Ribeira district.
We arrived at the AVEPOD wine shop and were greeted by our good friend Maria Teresa who is an absolutely wonderful ambassador for Port and the wines of the Douro. She is the General Manager of this chic and unique wine shop. Have a look at the article on our Oct. 2005 Tour and you’ll see a very thorough review of the shop and the scope and nature of how and why it is run as an Association. A fascinating place to say the least and a GREAT wine shop to find some outstanding, hard to find bottles of wine made by small family run, independent producers.
Earlier in the year Mario and I spent time with folks involved with the 250th Anniversary Commission, to discuss the organization of a very special seminar on the history of the Demarcation of the Douro Region, for our group. After meeting with an archivist and having a sensational open door to the archives of one of the historic Port houses, I began the work of creating the seminar. We were assigned a guest speaker Dr. Amandio Jorge Barros who is a college professor. We arranged to have our seminar at the AVEPOD shop and Maria Teresa was very gracious in her assistance. In addition to participating in the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the demarcation of the Douro region, we also had a tasting and lunch.
We were fortunate to get to meet Mario Braga Herdeira and taste his Ports from Quinta do Mourao (which go under the lable "S. Leonardo"). Quinta do Mourao was renovated back in 1999 and consists of 120 hectares spread over several vineyard sites. There has been some significant investment in this project and Mourao is trying to make inroads to the marketplace and gain more exposure. Read about his RIO BOM wines and you’ll find that this is a name to watch in the future. Our sincere thanks to Dr. Barros, as well as Mario Herdeira for an excellent morning of Port history and tasty wines. Maria Teresa, we’ll be seeing one another in May and I am very much looking forward to spending more time visiting your shop. Muito obrigado!
2002 Rio Bom Reserva Colheita Port - I wanted to save myself for the Ports that followed so I can not adequately evaluate this wine. I can report that it is about $8.50 USD and is supposedly in the USA, unless I am mistaken. 825 cases were produced from Roriz/Nacional/Franca grapes. 87 points (10-3-06)
Quinta do Mourao 20 Year Old Tawny Port - Mario Braga Herdeiros brought a few of his Ports for us to try. The 20 year old displayed an orange color and yellow rim. Impressive aromatics here, with cinnamon, almond paste and pralines. The palate is even more impressive and this full-bodied beauty possesses decadent toffee and caramel liquidity with a smooth but ultra-rich mouth presence. A solid acidity level equates to a finely balanced experience and the long lasting aftertaste drills an extra point home. Not bad for 33 Euros. 93 points (10-3-06)
Quinta do Mourao 30 Year Old Tawny Port - Another fine Tawny by Herdeiros, this appears in glass as a coffee color and yellow edge. A spicy nuance along with mahogany on the nose. Dense and seductive and this may have something to do with the fact that Mario keeps his Tawnies stored up in the Douro and tops them off 2x per year. The complex mid-palate adds to the fun as citrus and butterscotch meld to create something special in the glass. The main wine here is from 1972. The finish suggests 1942. What a great discovery and well worth 50 Euros. 94 points (10-3-06)
Quinta do Mourao 40 Year Old Tawny Port - The 40 year old has a distinctive appearance that is cola colored with a yellowish/green rim. The majority of the base wines is 60 years old. Although Mario’s father bought the winery in 1972, the purchase entitled him to the old stocks of wine in cask. There is a smoky, almost roasted flavor here with chestnuts, candied pecans and a zest of citrus included in this intricate Tawny. Although it is not as dense in the mouth, it is still quite round and concentrated. It finishes with a sweet caramel that is warm and inviting. I only wish I could find this in the USA. A steal at 80 Euros! 94 points (10-3-06)
Our next stop was the Sao Bento train station to catch the 12:40 up towards Pinhao and introduce our guests to the most beautiful wine region in the world!
We boarded the train at Oporto’s Sao Bento railway station heading towards Pinhao and the beauty of the fertile Cima Corgo area of the Upper Douro River Valley. Our 3+ days of fun and adventure in Oporto and Vila Nova de Gaia were a great prelude, now it was time for the kiss.
As planned, our group was going to expand, as two more guests were flying in from the UK to get their feet wet in the Douro. Double entendres aside, we were about to embark on the making of memories which will stay with us the rest of our lives, that we’ll all look back on as “the good ole days.” Not surprisingly, all ten Port explorers were members of the FTLOP’s Forum and “virtually” knew one another quite well. The rest as they say is history … and that is what you are about to read.
QUINTA DO CRASTO
It had been a year since my previous visit to this extraordinary property a few kilometers west of Pinhao, situated on the north bank of the Douro. The property offers a diversity of terrain and vineyards with field blends and newer block plantings of segregated varietals. They all enjoy South facing solar exposures with two exemplary “vinha velha” (old vine) vineyards, Vinha da Ponte and Vinha Maria Teresa, both of which are producing fantastic Douro reds and are gaining a world wide reputation, and in Portugal along with the mono-varietal Touriga Nacional, this trio has rightfully reached “cult” status.
Fortunately on the Harvest Tour, we arrived in the early afternoon and were able to explore the vineyards and walk around with Miguel Roquette. It was great to finally see the Feitoria from 1758, (a granite marker that designates part of the boundaries from the earliest demarcation) which is nearly 250 years old and sits on this property. Last time we arrived at dusk and darkness set in before we really had enough time to get to it.
We did not go for a swim but the legendary “infinity pool” pictured here was unique and the pictures speak louder than words. After meeting the winemaking team of Tomás Roquette (finally!) as well as Susana Esteban and Dominic Morris, we took a walking tour of the property with Miguel. We began by hiking down one of the steep inclines in a vineyard planted in the vinha ao alta style, (vertically situated) all the way to the bottom which is in close proximity to the Douro River. This may sound easy but the inclination of the slope was not the challenge. It was the loose and large schistous soil which made this quite an adventure and a lot of fun too. It was easier to understand exactly how Crasto enjoys such a wide variety of micro-climates given the proximity to the river and the upper reaches of their terrain.
We then continued our exploration of the property and the group was amazed to discover the vast array of fruits and vegetables grown on the property. In fact, Miguel brought out a pocket knife and we tasted some incredible tomatoes that he sliced up for us. Quinta do Crasto is almost self sustaining in terms of its own food supply: hot chili peppers, cucumbers, Portugal’s equivalent of Asian pears, pomegranates, cabbage, green onions, pumpkins, zucchini, old vine table grapes, olive groves of course and last but not least we were shown a fig tree that Miguel and Tomas played in as young boys. This really was enjoyable and the guests loved seeing all of the produce that we would later get to enjoy during a marvelous dinner.
Our British Port loving brethren showed up at this point and there was a sense of joviality as friends got to meet one another. We then got back on track with wine and went to see the state-o-the-art adega and storage facilities that had been built during the past few years. It’s clear that Crasto has been reinvesting profits in their future; from robotics to the high quality new French oak from top cooperage firms, to innovative design of the buildings. Crasto is well-positioned as one the leaders of the Douro wine explosion, while making sure that the quality of their Ports is not jeopardized by their heavy focus on table wines.
After our elaborate tour, it was time for a first class tasting of their full range of Douro wines and then Ports. Along with Niepoort and one or two other producers, Quinta do Crasto is on the cutting edge of Douro wine production and a lot of credit now goes to Dominic Morris, Susana Esteban and Miguel’s brother Tomas. I believe they started production of their Douro reds circa 1994. I bought my first non-fortified Crasto case of the 1996 Touriga Nacional upon release and still have one or two of those bottles in the cellar. It was time for the tasting to being and we had quite a few bottles in front of us.
The sun was going down over the vineyards and the Douro River and all was peaceful. I love this relaxing time of the day in the Douro as it is so tranquil and the shadows play games in the undulating vineyards. As there are no “city lights” to speak of, the clear nights provide superb star gazing as the skies are pitch black when there is no moon. As daylight disappeared it was time for some food and drink. We went back to the Roquette home and enjoyed some white Port cocktails with delicious home grown salted almonds and local cheese.
Our gracious hosts put together a wonderful multi-course meal paired with some of the older vintage Douro wines from the property. It was a wonderfully warm evening and the air was crisp while dining outdoors. Along came dessert and it was time for sipping some very special Ports. Miguel broke out some cigars for the guests and it turned into a party atmosphere. The highlight for me was to see the enjoyment of our guests on their first evening in the Douro. It was clear that the magic of the Douro had permeated each individual’s spirit and you could see it in their faces. I was quite pleased to get to spend some time talking and joking around with Miguel and Dominic; both of whom are fun loving and have a great sense of humor. Thanks to the entire gang at Crasto for a first class visit!
By now it was getting quite late and tomorrow was going to be a very long day into evening. We said our goodbyes and sincere thanks for the hospitality we were shown by the brothers’ Roquette. We boarded the mini bus and headed back towards the Quinta where we were staying. Before we knew what happened, it was time to wake up and enjoy a well deserved breakfast before taking off on our next adventure.
I have an admission to make; outside of a very brief encounter with Quinta dos Canais, your humble narrator had never spent time in the Douro Superior. When visiting Portugal in June 2006 to plan the itinerary for the Harvest Tour, I made sure to include the two greatest and most historic Port properties in this section of the Douro. In fact we would be spending every waking moment there on this memorable Thursday.
After breakfast rode down to the Pinhao train station and arrived early because the station itself makes for a great photo op. There are beautifully artistic azulejos (tiles) which depict Port wine and harvest scenes, situated on the exterior wall of the station. It is one of the simple treasures among many offered in the Douro region.
Once aboard, we were privy to the wild topographical views along the tracks just a few feet away from the bank of the Douro. Unlike the Cima Corgo with Pinhão as its focal point, (which is the cultural heart of the entire Port growing area) the Douro Superior appears to have less vineyards and is made of craggy sedimentary rock faces. The Douro Superior encompasses a large land mass of forty to fifty miles in length and between five and twenty miles wide, consisting of a quarter of a million hectares (1 hectare = 2.5 acres) of land. Of the region's 40,000+ hectares of land planted to vine, approximately three quarters of those hectares are designated for Port production.
Located in the Upper Douro Valley, the Douro Superior lies in the eastern frontier about an hour from the Spanish border and away from what we know as civilization. For example, there are no Wal-Mart’s, McDonald’s, Costco’s, Starbuck’s, Home Depots etc. Even finding a hotel or restaurant is no easy task as they’re few and far between. To put this in better perspective though, electricity in this specific area is a phenomenon that has been around for less than 35 years and in some parts less than 30, which may sound hard to believe. As a Port growing region, the amount of rainfall is miniscule and the summer temperatures can easily achieve and occasionally exceed 115 degrees F. The life of a grape in this area is fraught with the struggle to survive.
2003 Roquette e Cazes Xisto Douro Red – 60% of the blend is Touriga Nacional and the balance is a combo of Roriz and Franca. The name comes from the Douro’s soil type (if you can call it “soil” which basically comes from vertically situated sedimentary schist (Xisto in Portuguese). This is a 50/50 joint venture between Crasto’s Roquette family and Jean-Michel Cazes. Although the fruit eventually won over, the vanilla and cedar were the dominant characters here with some dark berry notes which were almost obscured. Simple and dense, I did not like this on the first couple of sips. It was a bit dumb and never showed any mid-palate or complexity and beyond ripe sweet berry flavors, there was too much wood influence. The wine spends a year and a half in wood and maybe this wine just needs a lot more air time or cellaring. I don’t “get it” but others in our group seemed to like it quite a bit more than me. Miguel expects this to retail for about $35-$40. About 3,000 cases were produced. 88 points (10/4/06)
2004 Roquette e Cazes Xisto Douro Red – The fruit was sourced from the Douro Superior for this bottling. A bit more concentrated than the 2003 and less ripe, this is a positive, with smoky and spicy notes. Medium to full body weight and easy to approach now, actually easier than the ’03 which it followed. I found this to be a better balanced wine with a more supple texture and longer length than the 2003. The oak also seemed much more subdued which I was pleased to find. I did not get to ask about the oak treatment with the 2004 and wonder if it is the same as 2003. Either way, this was far more seamless. No need to cellar the 2004, but it certainly will drink well over the next five to ten years. This is a 50/50 joint venture between Crasto’s Roquette family and Jean-Michel Cazes. Suggested release at $35-$40. 92+ points (10/4/06)
2004 Quinta do Crasto Flor de Crasto Douro Red – Not sold in the USA at this time, Flor is an entry level offering, with grapes that are purchased from other properties. It shows a simple and grapey essence with plenty of spicy blackberry and plum fruit. Smooth mouthfeel and easy to drink now. I don’t know the price but guess it will be quite inexpensive. Simple and tasty, better as an accompaniment to food. 8,500 cases were produced. 84 points (10/4/06)
2005 Quinta do Crasto Douro Red (cask sample) – From 100% estate grown grapes comes this basic Douro red wine which is very popular and shows what Crasto is all about. It is still quite primary at this juncture. Spicy pomegranate and floral notes with the majority of the cuvee coming from Tinta Roriz. Very ripe, sweet purple fruit and a solid structure which leads to a smooth and moderate length finish. It should drink well upon release and through 2012. 15,000 cases produced and the US price will be approximately $18. 88+ points (10/4/06)
2004 Quinta do Crasto Douro Tinto Reserva Old Vines Douro Red – This is going to be one heck of a buy. There is a reason why this is such a great bottle of Crasto Reserva. It was bolstered by the fantastic grapes from the 70 year-old, old vines of the Maria Teresa vineyard, which were declassified and (makes up 10% of the cuvee) incorporated into the Reserva bottling in 2004. Score! Produced unfined and unfiltered, the ripe and complex dark cherry and grenadine flavors are bolstered by no nonsense tannins and a gorgeous aftertaste. I suggest cellaring this wine until about 2010 (released 2007) and the drinking window will remain wide open through 2020. 7,000 bottles produced. Suggested retail price of $33 although I have a feeling it will be closer to $40 and difficult to come by. 93+ points (10/4/06)
2004 Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional Douro Red – Although the 2001 version of Crasto’s Touriga is one of my favorite Portuguese red wines since the 1991 Barca Velha was in its prime, I see an even greater future for the 2004. Although some love the 2003 and some find it less inspiring, the 2004 is for my palate the best of the three vintages although quite a big gentler than the brawny ‘03. It is a far cry from the 1996 which I bought a case of on release, showing the learning curve (but the ‘96s are still showing very well thank you). The 2004 is deeply extracted and delivers beguiling aromas of tobacco, chocolate, cedar and an earthy nuance which leads to an expressive core of mocha, dark berry flavors and a kiss of gentle tannins. Admittedly, it took a lot of coaxing through aggressive swirling to enable this one to open up. The structural components are all there although somewhat dominated by the big fruit at this early stage. Make no mistake about it; 2004 has enough guts and plenty of acidity, which promises solid mid-term aging potential in the cellar and outstanding upside potential. Drink through 2015. The 7,000 bottles produced are projected to leave the gate at $80 but more than likely, much higher. It is practically impossible to find in the USA as very little leaves Portugal where it is viewed as one of the country’s greatest red wines year in and year out. 94+ points (10/4/06)
2004 Quinta do Crasto Vinha da Ponte Douro Red – Along with Niepoort’s 2004 Charme, this is the current best wine made in the Douro, in my opinion. I loved the 2003 version too and clearly the ancient vines from this very special vineyard are capable of delivering greatness. With a limited production of 2,700 bottles, I expecte this will be as easy to find as Jimmy Hoffa’s remains. I have devoted much time to this effort over the past few months with little success. When I tasted this my first thought was, “this is the best darn red Douro wine I’ve ever put in my mouth.” I thought the same thing a year ago when first trying the 2003 Ponte which is also fabulous. Critics may find it a bit obvious in a Harlan sort of way, but I love Harlan too. This is a powerful and masculine wine, not for the faint of heart and demands cellaring to really deliver its true potential. The extraordinary concentration of dark fruit penetrates one’s palate and mind simultaneously, with a hedonistic mouthfeel and a finish that brings all kinds of superlatives to the fore. If you can find a bottle, cellar it for a decade and I bet it will be great circa 2025 too, as this is not a wine to be taken lightly. It is a guaranteed “cult wine” in the making and even better than the fantastic 2003. If somehow you land a half case, drink one early to see the beautiful toddler before it grows into a brazen teenager, for those with patience. 96+ points (10/4/06)
2003 Quinta do Crasto Vinha da Ponte Douro Red – The phrase “world class wine” comes to mind when drinking this impeccably produced hedonistic, masculine wine. I have had it several times now and really enjoy it, although I believe the 2004 is the superior vintage for da Ponte. Lots of vanilla on the nose initially but swirling this baby pays off and eventually I sensed some anise, cranberry and rhubarb. Structurally the tannins seem to be hidden by the big fruit forward style and although balanced, there is a touch of wood that protrudes. The flavors tend towards dry and tart red fruits with a blast of chocolate on the finish which lasts for a long time. Overall, it is a really wonderful and exotic wine that needs a couple of years before coming into its own. I’d leave ‘em alone until 2010 and drink through 2018. 94+ points (10/4/06)
2001 Quinta do Crasto Vinha Maria Teresa Douro Red – I had this wine with dinner and watched it evolve slowly in my glass over a few hours. My notes are not profound as I had this and the 2001 Touriga Nacional side-by-side and wanted to let them both really air out. I have had the Touriga Nacional in the past and am pleased to have this beauty alongside it. Big, bold and gutsy and with air time it showed slightly more unrestrained and gracefully. This is the feminine sister to the power of the Vinha da Ponte, yet it is sumptuous and balanced and one heck of a drink at this early stage and shows potential for not only long term cellaring, but true greatness. This is in my top ten red Douro wines I’ve had and I wish I was smart enough to purchase some on release. It is a cult classic in Portugal and is certainly one of the crown jewels of the Douro, although next to impossible to find regardless of price. I loved the 2003 that I drank twice last year. I believe this will be the better of the two vintages, although the ’03 is gorgeous but still so tight.and tannic and possibly more age worthy, which is saying a mouthful. Drink the ’01 from 2007 through 2020 and possibly longer. 95+ points (10/4/06)
2001 Quinta do Crasto Touriga Nacional Douro Red – This is a benchmark effort by Crasto and one of the cult wines in country, akin to the reputation of 1991 Barca Velha. I believe it is the wine where Mother Nature, the handling of the Touriga Nacional varietal and the Crasto winemaking team all came together to deliver the Full Monte. Ever since, there has been no reason to look in the rear view mirror as this producer is on top of its game and at the pinnacle of Douro red wine production along with Niepoort. Smoky notes with black licorice and black pepper provide a provocative scent to the Touriga. The palate is even better and more complex with a layered mid-palate that showed an extraordinary depth of raspberry and vanilla flavors. The tannins are mostly tame but still present and overall this Crasto is as seamless as any Douro wine I have had during this trip. Fabulous! Drink today through 2020. 94+ points (10/4/06)
2000 Quinta do Crasto LBV Port – Bottled just four weeks ago. This shows very fine cassis and prune scents and a rich, full-bodied boysenberry profile with a smooth mouth feel that makes this very easy to approach and enjoy now. It should drink best around the end of the decade through 2012. 91 points (10/4/06) 2000 Quinta do Crasto Vintage Port – Unfortunately, this bottle was corked. n/r (10/4/06)
2003 Quinta do Crasto Vintage Port – Floral and fresh violets medium to full-bodied, vibrant tannins are not overwhelming. Raspberry and red berry fruit. Excellent aftertaste and length. Very tasty and feminine in style, easy to approach now, but with should drink well for another 15-20 years. 2,000 cases produced. 92 points (10/4/06)
2004 Quinta do Crasto Vintage Port – My notes were taken after MANY other Douro and Port wines and were less detailed than I’d have liked as we were heading to dinner. I wish I could have tried this again on another occasion. Too fruity, sweet and “tanky” at this stage. The Crasto VP is medium-bodied and juicy with a core of blueberry flavors to go with the ripe tannins and a somewhat simple, clipped finish. Good, but I certainly prefer Crasto’s 2003, the ’04 shows mid-term aging potential. 90 points (10/4/06)
1970 Quinta do Crasto Colheita Port – This was never commercially released and it was a real treat to share in tasting this rarity. The 1970 was actually produced by Miguel and Tomas’ grandfather and the cask it came from was never topped off. There is little of this left and it was a seamless Port with a plush mid-palate with praline and caramel flavors and plenty of acidity to balance the entire package. Not a speck of alcohol was showing and the sweet and complex finish offered great length and wowed our entire group. 95 points (10/4/06)
1994 Quinta do Crasto Vintage Port – I haven’t had this in quite a few years so it was a great pleasure for me to revisit this particular VP. Dark purplish ruby and in many ways this resembled a cask sample, as it is amazingly youthful considering its dozen years of age. Spicy and red fruits come to the fore with a solid structure with ripe and round tannins that should carry the ’94 for another two decades. The finish was long and tasty with some more aggressive tannins attacking on the aftertaste. Very enjoyable overall and possibly my favorite Crasto VP. 94+ points (10/4/06)
QUINTA DE VARGELLAS
The train trip was an eye opener as the terrain was very different than anything we had seen to this point. Quinta de Vargellas had its very own train stop and upon disembarking our hosts, Alistair and his charming, wine savvy wife Gillyane, were there to greet us. It was a pleasure to see them again and when our guests learned that Mr. Robertson is the Chairman and owner of The Fladgate Partnership, I think they realized that this was not just going to be an ordinary visit to a winery.
It had long been a dream of mine to explore this celebrated single Quinta property. Additionally, Vargellas is the backbone of all Taylor Vintage Ports and their very special blend of old vines, Vinha Velha, which I wrote about in another recent article on Quinta de Vargellas & Vinha Velha.
More information can also be found in this Guest’s Corner article by John Gilman, View From The Cellar.
We walked the enormous property and enjoyed the breathtaking views of the vast vineyards and vistas of Vargellas. The Robertson’s then led us through the production facility where we saw the famous lagares where the classic Taylor’s and Quinta de Vargellas Ports have been vinified for eons. It is hard to comprehend that Vargellas was without electricity only a few short decades ago. We had the opportunity to learn about the Fladgate Partnership’s properties and see their robotic lagares and then came time for us to taste the essence of Vargellas and other wines from the Robertson’s cellar.
After our great tasting we headed over to the Robertson’s Vargellas home for lunch. While the final details were being arranged we had a look at the beautiful pool and joined Alistair and Gillyane for a delicious aperitif of Port tonic with a fresh mint leaf, which was the perfect palate cleanser after the Port we just consumed. Our lunch was under a pergola on the outside of their home. One great long table and it was a spectacular day for dining al fresco. We had a lot of laughs and a great time was clearly had by all. The end to this wonderful meal and visit was a bottle of 1970 Fonseca, which was a first for the majority of our group. What a beautiful wine and a tasting note befitting its grandeur will follow.
I could not have dreamed up a better first visit to Quinta de Vargellas. In the company of Alistair and Gillyane, it was extra special and they made us feel at home in theirs. From the tour of the property to the wines we enjoyed and the fine cuisine enjoyed outdoors, I know that we all felt very fortunate to have an experience like this. Our sincere thanks to both Alistair and Gillyane Robertson!
It was time to say farewell and we walked down the road back past the train tracks as Mario and I had a nice surprise planned. We had hired a local boatman to take our group from Quinta de Vargellas to Quinta do Vesuvio by way of the Douro River. I was quite anxious to see this part of the river myself and it was obvious that this was one of the most fun times we all had, without Port in hand. The scenery was captivating and the river meandered through some ancient rock gorges and provided a very different feel than traveling by train. After a splendid ride up river heading even further East, we arrived at our next destination.
Fonseca Terra Prima Porto – Organically grown grapes were used for this particular bottling. Very ripe and tasty grapy flavors that were interesting and a bit monolithic. Very primary, sweet and fruit forward with the need for more acidity and tannic structure. 83 points (10/5/06)
1986 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port – Light ruby in color with slight bricking on the edge. Providing floral scents, mocha and dominant plum notes. Medium-bodied and generous, soft, smooth red berry flavored juice and mostly resolved tannins. There is some heat that protrudes on the medium length finish. Drink up over the next ive years. 87 points (10/5/07)
1987 Fonseca Guimaraens Vintage Port – What a treat, as I have had the Vargellas from this vintage so many times, but this bottling only a couple of times in the past. Medium garnet color. A bit tight and I don’t believe this was decanted ahead of time. Slightly stewed tomato notes and an herbaceous off putting aromatic profile. Sweet fruit that was clearly madeirized and this must have been a flawed bottle. What a shame as I really was looking forward to this one. n/r (10/5/06)
1988 Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port – Some thought it was corked, but regardless, we all agreed that it was a slightly off bottle. n/r (10/5/06)
1991 Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port – Dark ruby color. Intense violet notes with mocha and a peppery aroma which set the ‘91 off nicely. Mouthfilling and heavy in weight, this Vargellas is impressively youthful at 15, with plum and boysenberry flavors and a touch of sweetness that carries onto the tannic and long finish. 91 points (10/5/06)
1996 Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port – Extremely extracted dark purplish ruby color. I loved the exotic and expressive nose which showed spicy, herbal and eucalyptus fragrances. The generous purple fruit had a medium body weight, with soft to medium tannins and bright acidity. This Vargellas although very tasty, gave me the impression that it will be drinking at its best between 2010-2015, yet it certainly can be enjoyed early and often. 88 points (10/5/06)
2004 Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas Vintage Port (Cask Sample) – Tasted on three separate occasions, (two months apart) including a three day affair with one bottle. Vargellas exhibited a dark purple/ruby hue and a violet scented beauty with notes of spice and mocha, followed by a whiff of black pepper. The ’04 version is a very tasty crowd pleaser right at the moment, full-bodied and in possession of a smooth mouthfeel that is very approachable. It has gobs of blue and blackberry fruit and plenty of acidity which provided synchronicity along with ripe tannins that added the backbone. This is a cellar worthy effort by Taylor’s Single Quinta and a longer finish with less heat, would have really driven up the score a few more points. Drink 2020-2030. 92+ points (10/5/06)
2003 Croft Vintage Port – No matter how many times I get to try this Port, whether as a cask sample or slipped into a blind tasting, (horizontal or otherwise) I am always left with a sense that I am drinking something really special. Inky and fully opaque, what is immediately striking is the focused structure of this VP. I don’t believe this saw any aeration in advance of our tasting so it showed slightly less unctuous as other previous examples. Seemingly very approachable at this point and with deft acidity and mouth watering tannins, this is so delicious for current consumption yet should last for at least 3 to 4 decades before reaching maturity. A truly great Croft with a phenomenal overall sense of balance not often found in such a young Vintage Port. Drink now through 2012, then hold until the window reopens between 2020-2060. 96+ points (10/5/06)
2006 Sao Xisto Vinha Velha Vintage Port (very early cask sample) – From the current harvest this wine is still so young and primary but such a wonderful experience for the group to try something this fresh and barely out of the lagar. It was vinified from some of the oldest vines in the Vargellas vineyards. Bright ruby red and the nose was dominated by lilac and vibrant violet aromatics. Dense, chewy and yet ultimately smooth across the palate and sexy already with a generous grenadine flavor profile. I was floored by the extra long finish this youngster possessed and I can’t even venture a guess where this is headed at this early stage. n/r (10/5/06)
2006 Sao Xisto Vinha Nova Vintage Port (very early cask sample) – Significantly darker than the Vinha Velha in color, in contrast it is sweeter juice and seemingly even more ripe in a cherry and raspberry profile. It offers less structure overall, but is opulent and quite approachable, albeit there is a bit of alcohol that needs to integrate. Not a big surprise from a Port that has barely been in existence for a month. This shows promise and a tasty finish but will need plenty of time for the spirit to meld with the grape. n/r (10/5/06)
Taylor 10 Year Old Tawny Port – Ruby orange hue. Simple and sweet with a gentle almond nutty profile and a medium long finish. A medium weight 10 year old with an aftertaste of caramel and although enjoyable, it is not in step with the top rung of 10 year olds in terms of intricacy of nuances. 86 points (10/5/06)
Taylor 20 Year Old Tawny Port – I found this more complex and layered than the Taylor 10 year old. Orangeish-ruby in color, it exudes a stylish full body and smooth palate presence that was rich and mouth coating. The mid-palate shows the dense stratum of walnuts and toffee while showing assertiveness and a hint of orange peel on the persistent aftertaste. 91 points (10/5/06)
Taylor 30 Year Old Tawny Port – Orange with a pink/yellow rim. Fine nose of nuts and a sweet wood nuance. Thicker and more pronounced nutty flavors (than the 20 year old) with hazelnuts dominating a backdrop of toffee that envelops the tongue with a crisp underpinning of acidity. Its significant asset is the long finish that delivers a polished sense of balance. 92 points (10/5/06)
Taylor 40 Year Old Tawny Port – Dark amber in color with a tinge of ruby on the rim. Toasty notes of caramel and pralines in a gentler and less viscous format than the 30 year old. The texture is silky and sexy with the requisite balance of acidity to reach a bold crescendo highlighted by the liquid butterscotch on the sublime aftertaste. A profound 40 year old. 94 points (10/5/06)
1985 Taylor Vintage Port – Very light rhubarb color with a pink rim. This could have used some time in a decanter to deliver more color/body/complexity. Smoky and spicy cinnamon scents lead to a thin and sweet frame of strawberry flavors that are light-bodied, elegant and balanced. Not what I’d expect from a Taylor or a top notch ’85, this was more reminiscent of a 1975 VP experience. Again, decanting may have made a difference. The finish was a bit short too. 84 points (10/5/06)
1977 Taylor Vintage Port – Magenta color and showing no signs of nearly 30 years old in its appearance. Ahhh, this is what a fine Taylor ’77 should deliver and again, without decanting this could not deliver all accoutrements, but nonetheless it is hard not to love this youthful VP. It took some coaxing and time to open up and showed a rich, full-bodied sumptuous Port. The structure is focused and the acidity and tannins are in perfect synch with the bold and brash berry fruit. Totally enjoyable right now and it portends a drinking window that should rival the epoch expressed by the legendary 1945. I beg to differ with those that think this is already at maturity today. Not even close! With at least six hours in decanter I’d probably have gone up another couple of points as I bet some of the spirit on the finish would have shown greater integration (and length). 95+ points (10/5/06)
1970 Fonseca Vintage Port – What a great way to end our visit to Vargellas and a noble gesture by Alistair and Gillyane! This is one of my all-time favorite 1970 VPs and this bottle exemplifies the greatness of the vintage and Fonseca. The funny thing is, I believe that this bottling has upside potential and will be even better in and around 2015-2020 when it really shows more mature, secondary nuances. Then again, I see no reason that it won’t be a stunning wine in 2050, so you decide at what stage you’d like to enjoy this one. Today, it was an unctuous, intense and complex Vintage Port showing its beauty and hedonistic style. Load up the cellar with all that you can find and afford! I am looking forward to start drinking the majority of my bottles circa 2025 and I’ll leave a few for my daughter Taylor to enjoy too. 97+ points (10/5/06)
QUINTA DO VESUVIO
Our ship had come in and we carefully stepped onto the dock. In front of us was the esteemed Quinta do Vesuvio. Like all others guests in our group, this was my first time visiting Vesuvio. After a fantastic half day at Quinta de Vargellas this would be like having a great dessert after an amazing dinner and I had waited for this moment for years!
Dating back to the mid-16th century the celebrated Quinta do Vesuvio is located on the Southern shore of the Douro River, just 28 miles from the Spanish border (just a few miles east/upriver from Quinta de Vargellas). As we were to find out, the expansive property spanned just over
1,000 acres with approximately 260 acres making up the older vineyard sites (of a total that approaches 326 acres planted to grapes), some of the oldest in the entire Douro region. I was surprised to learn that some of the old sites were block planted by grape variety rather than field blends. This is extremely rare from what I’ve seen at other properties, especially in vineyards that date back 35 years.
Vesuvio has incredibly steep vineyards, which must be quite challenging for the workers, especially during harvest. At their highest point the altitude reaches about 1,750 feet above the river. The undulating terrain spanning more than a half dozen hillsides affords a variety of exposures and microclimates, which imbue a diversity and complexity that one can sense, while tasting the Vesuvio Ports. Oh yeah, possibly the most unique dynamic of Quinta do Vesuvio is that ONLY Vintage Port is produced here. I can’t think of any other well-known single Quinta property that can make the same claim. Given the extremely low yields and small production of Vesuvio, I gained a new appreciation for just how special this made this producer. From a financial standpoint, having to rely solely on Vintage Port is not an easy way for a Single Quinta property to go about making money.
A wine growing member of the Ferreira family took over the property and decided to bring the Quinta up to the highest standards of the 1820s, sparing no expense in constructing a new wine production facility (the largest I have seen in the Douro) which was completed in 1827. There was an enormous amount of labor that went into planting newly terraced vineyards; as the schistous stone walls of the terraces were all hand crafted one stone at a time.
This is the only property that I am aware of in the entire Douro where their original lagares have remained as the only way to vinify their Port and possess eight of the largest foot treading vats in the region, holding twenty pipes (550 liters) apiece. So big in fact that it is not uncommon for up to 40 or even 50 people per lagar do the time consuming and labor intensive work of crushing the grapes by foot in these three foot-high granite tanks. Considering that the annual production is equivalent to about 40 lagares worth of grapes, you can imagine the amount of work that goes into producing Vesuvio Vintage Port. Interestingly, only about 5% of all Port is foot trodden in the lagares throughout the Douro these days.
The inimitable Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira married a cousin and after his death, remained in full control of the destiny of Vesuvio. Her vision and investments in the property, maintained it as one of the truly great Douro Quintas. Unfortunately, after her passing the Ports were usually sold off to others in the trade or bottled in conjunction with grapes from other estates.
When the Symington’s purchased the property in 1989, Vesuvio was in need of some modernizations and general improvements both in the 100% A rated vineyards and the Quinta and adega. The careful renovation project entailed not only making these improvements, but ensuring that the time honored Vesuvio property would continue to reflect its storied past.
It is time to get back to our experience though. Six months in the planning, Alex Bridgeman (who is a frequent visitor to the FTLOP Forum) had brought up the idea of having a Quinta do Vesuvio vertical tasting in London. We both were in touch with our contacts to see if we could arrange for a complete vertical as between us we owned most of the Vintage Ports produced since the Symington’s had purchased the Vesuvio property and made their first Port in 1989. Alex was one of the UK gents whom had decided to join us for the Douro half of the Harvest Tour. He and I decided to surprise the rest of the group, while Alex arranged safe passage of the bottles to Vesuvio for this incredible tasting. I was able to enlist the help of Rupert Symington, who took time out of his holiday to join us up in the Douro to make this a truly remarkable event. It just would not have been the same without him joining us for this momentous occasion; a comprehensive tasting of every Vesuvio Vintage Port released.
My sincere thanks go to both Alex and Rupert, (Ben & Paul too) for making this a reality and taking care of the logistics. Rupert opened each of these bottles on the spot, so when reading the tasting notes, it should be noted that there was virtually no advance decanting that took place. A number of us were surprised by this, but it was common to find that Ports were not decanted beforehand, during our visits to the Shippers. Just for the sake of science, at some point I’ll have to repeat the exercise and see if the Vesuvio bottles show differently with significant time in the decanter.
This was going to be an unforgettable afternoon into evening. Since I have not yet paid tribute to the participants of the 2006 Harvest Tour, now is the time to provide honorable mention:
- David “It was even better the 2nd time” Spriggs – (enjoying his 2nd consecutive “tour of duty”) No. CA
- Stewart “Please sir, I’d like some more … Nacional” Todd, FTLOP VP of Technology – Seattle, WA
- Andy “Give me a week and I’ll be your next American Port expert” Velebil – So. CA
- Jay “Do we get to sleep before breakfast?” Powers – No. CA
- Alex “Mr. Stamina … who needs to spit?” Bridgeman – London, UK
- Christopher “I know you’ve had 53 Ports today … but let me explain macro-economics” - UK
- Eric “It’ll be at least a week before I drink any wine again!” Duprey – On the Waterfront, NJ
- Derek “Forget spitting … I don’t even need to sleep, you wimps!” Turnbull – Chesterfield, UK
- Mario “I carry three cell phones and usually talk on two at once” Ferreira – Turquel, Portugal
- Roy “There is a reason it is not on the itinerary; it’s a surprise!” Hersh – Sammamish, WA
Rupert shared insights into the growing seasons of the vintages and answered the occasional question that arose. Out on the Vesuvio veranda, Mr. Symington allowed us to take our time and enjoy a fantastic few hours contemplating and evaluating this phenomenal lineup of Single Quinta Vintage Ports. To sum up the tasting, superlatives don’t do Vesuvio justice. Over the fourteen vintages bottled to date, quality runs high and beginning with the classically styled 1994, Vesuvio has consistently achieved a superior level, including some of the vintages that have not been generally declared.
After the tasting, we toured the actual Quinta from the guest rooms to the pristine chapel. We then took a thrilling jeep tour of the majestic, super steep Vesuvio vineyards that brought us right to sunset.
Since my very first visit to Portugal in 1994, there have been two incredible moments in my Port loving life: #1 was a luncheon at The Factory House and introduction to the heads of the British Port Shippers in May 1994. #2 was my enthronement into the IVDP’s Confraria (brotherhood) and having my wife join me for this honor and ensuing celebration (June 2003). What followed next takes the #3 spot for me, made even better since I know it was something we could all share and it was the first time for every member of our group. In fact the next hour of our lives would make for the most memorable experience during the course of the entire Harvest Tour, which is saying a lot.
We changed into light weight red flannel shirts and blue shorts and walked along the railroad tracks with a couple of dozen Portuguese men and women, young and old. There was a warm camaraderie even though we really had no way to communicate with one another. When we arrived at the Vesuvio adega (production facility), the smell of freshly picked grapes was overwhelming. This was the moment I had been waiting for ever since my obsession began with Port in the early 1980s.
There is no way to describe the bliss of stepping into a large grape engorged lagar, big enough to easily fit the forty of us. The distinctive feeling of fresh grapes beneath our toes, soles and heels in all their aromatic and juicy purplessence, exceeded expectations of sensorial pleasures. However, as much fun as this was and even considering all that I have read about this method of crushing grapes, nothing prepared me for the sheer hard work involved. Again, we only treaded for one incredible hour. Had we shortened the time in lagar that night, it would have diminished the quintessence of the experience. Our one hour trading grapes pales in comparison to the hard work of our fellow Portuguese treaders. First of all, they had spent the entire back breaking day, hand picking grape bunches in the steep inclines of the vineyards before arriving at the adega at night to earn some extra Euros by doing the foot crushing for hours on end.
As we learned, this is absolutely hard work (yes, fun for an hour) but extremely rigorous. I believe we all have a vastly different perspective of what is involved in putting Port into a bottle now. Whether that is from a labor or cost viewpoint, or having a much better understanding of the entire process, having spent an hour of our lives in lagar … I’m positive that none of us will ever view Port in exactly the same way, ever again. But back to the foot treading!
There is a man at the front of the lagar, (he could have been a retired Marine drill sergeant) that kept perfect cadence to the marching regimen of the group of men and women, not dissimilar to the head of rowing team but these are leg strokes. With arms interlocked around the individuals on both sides to ensure that we wouldn’t slip in the murky viscous grape below, each line worked in synchronicity. The mass starts out berry thick and the work is much more difficult at the beginning, when the grapes are slowly being turned from solid to semi-liquid. The feeling on the bottom of our feet as well as our lower legs and thighs is something none of us will ever forget. As time wore on we were able to see the progress of our treading as the grape mass changed from a thick almost gelatinous wave and eventually became a visibly undulating dense juice flow. the temperature also was noticeably different as initially it was extremely cold in that opaque grapeness, but as our pistons continued to churn, the jammy liquid seemed to warm up in spots, albeit most was still quite cool in contact with our legs. It was kind of like running into a warm spot in a lake, with far less concern.
As the leader kept us all focused on “left, right, left, right” (in Portuguese, of course) one could not help think of the local Portuguese around us that did this for hours on end, every single night that grapes were harvested, which stretched on for many weeks. It was also apparent that they were also aware of us, but they knew better than to utter a single word at this stage of the process. The leader after all was quite the taskmaster and nobody wanted to receive a disparaging glance from this man who took his work quite seriously, if not with a degree of solemnity. Portuguese rituals are like that, as I found out during the IVDP's Confraria enthronement "ceremony" which anywhere else would have been a joy filled occasion. It was as somber as some funerals I’ve attended. But I digress.
Finally the moment came for a break and we exchanged smiles and handshakes with our Portuguese sisters and brethren. There was a warm kinship in this moment and a mutual curiosity which was palpable, but would never be explored. A man appeared out of nowhere with an accordion and started making lively music and as our group stepped out of the lagar in deference to those that would continue working the rest of the evening, we stood by and watched as they clapped and sang the Liberdade (which to this point, I had only read about). It was nice to see smiling and happiness exude from the group as if they had to hold it in until this point in the evening. What fun!
It was at this time that we all looked down at our purple thighs, shins, calves and feet. Grape skins and the sweet smell of the violet colored juice were hosed away and we took one last look back at our friends in that three foot-high stone tank. It is a mental picture permanently etched in my memory of this first time foot treading grapes, at a place in the Douro known as Quinta do Vesuvio.
1989 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port – (Vertically Speaking FTLOP tasting at Vesuvio, group score = 86) This was kept in the Douro after the regulations changed in ’86 and clearly has been affected by “Douro bake.” This was the first vintage of Vesuvio (in modern times) and the same year that the Symington family bought Vesuvio. Less than a half kilo/vine or about 15 hectoliters per hectare provide a bit more insight, considering that 30-35 hl/ha is normal. Talk about stress! Anyway this rare bottle of ’89 shows cranberry colored juice and a tawny rim, with a nose which tends to herbaceous, vitamin pill and sun-dried tomatoes. If the aromatics sound really unpleasant, they’re not … yet it’s not all that inviting either. This Vesuvio is mouth filling and full-bodied with generous fruit, but the downside is the roasted prune and raisin flavors that emanate with time in glass. On the positive side again, the finish is quite long and smooth. I can’t say I really liked it, but I found it very intriguing in a scientific sort of way and I would suggest that anybody in possession of the ’89 bottling, drink up very soon. 86 points (10/5/06)
1990 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port – (Vertically Speaking FTLOP tasting at Vesuvio, group score = 85.8) Light rhubarb color with a clear edge. Cinnamon spice, dill weed and mocha deliver a slightly odd bouquet and certainly a unique one. Medium to full weight this was another middling effort and shows nothing of the greatness of Vesuvio VP’s to come a few years later. The tannins still show a playful and lively side to them and a bit of spirit leaps out of the glass on the palate and especially the finish, which is a bit short, with an otherwise enjoyable chocolate nuance. My advice: drink up! 85 points (10/5/06)
1991 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port – (Vertically Speaking FTLOP tasting at Vesuvio, group score = 90.2) The Symington’s started to make some significant changes with this vintage and to avoid past issues with hot and difficult temperature variations during fermentation, they revamped their lagares by installing cooling coils. This proved a worthy improvement, as in the Ports it is very noticeable. Dark strawberry in color with scents of vibrant violets, licorice and herbs. This is a more feminine style of Vesuvio than in years to come, with a lighter and more elegant showing. The spirit is still not truly integrated and shows up more so on the mid-palate and finish, which is impressive in its length. Although this is not a blockbuster, I’d drink these between 2007 and 2015 for greatest pleasure and for another 5-10 years if you prefer fully mature VPs. 90 points (10/5/06)
1992 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port – (Vertically Speaking FTLOP tasting at Vesuvio, group score = 89.2) Opaque ruby color. The ’92 conveys an enjoyable earthy nose with some spice, cocoa powder and red fruit aromas. The fruit is vibrant and ripe with some chewy raspberry and grenadine flavors and of the first four vintages; the most density is seen here. However, the tannins are a bit over the top in their aggressive astringency and take over the palate by storm. Although there is plenty of bright fruit, I am concerned that the tannins will eventually wind up the dominant character in the blend. The finish goes down easy but is a bit clipped. Drink now through 2018. 88 points (10/5/06)
1994 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port – (Vertically Speaking FTLOP tasting at Vesuvio, group score = 95.4) In my mind and for my palate, this was the “first coming” of Vesuvio under the Symington’s watch. It changed the playing field and from my first pre-release sampling, I realized that Vesuvio had finally arrived. I have opened very few of my ‘94s and most have been Vesuvio as I have a hard time keeping my hands off of them. I continue to purchase six packs whenever possible as I believe this wine is every bit as great as the Taylor and Fonseca from this exalted vintage (even though I paid $38 on pre-release). Ruby centered with a purple rim, this is still such a youngster. What made the ’94 so great? The Symington’s began de-stemming the grapes and some new vineyards planted when the family took over, finally came on line and provided youthful exuberance. This wine exhibits primary and powerful juice, with ripe, smoky blackberry and a profound purity of grape flavors. The absolutely massive waves of fruit that nearly overwhelm the mid-palate are voluptuous and almost jammy in its intensity. The structure of this Vesuvio is up to the challenge of lasting four or five more decades to support the fruit, and I will stake my reputation on this, having put my money where my mouth is (going to be). Only the 2000 Vesuvio has accomplished this level of greatness, but I am sure there will be many more to come. 97++ points (10/5/06)
1995 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port – (Vertically Speaking FTLOP tasting at Vesuvio, group score = 87.4) Medium ruby in color with spicy cinnamon, spearmint and a kiss of oak. I don’t know what happened here as I don’t remember any other recent samplings of this wine. It shows a dense, full-body and very big tannins but then gets weird and hard for me to describe. There is an odd tobacco note and red fruits but a very bitter, medicinal finish which is quite short. I need to try another bottle of this to see if it was just an anomaly. 83 points (10/5/06)
1996 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port – (Vertically Speaking FTLOP tasting at Vesuvio, group score = 91) I distinctly remember my first tasting of this wine at Esquin’s wine shop in Seattle, up against a 1996 Quinta do Noval Nacional. Obviously this was a vintage that was not declared widely, but I have had a handful of very fine ‘96s and the Vesuvio fits the bill. There was a lot of rain before the harvest and generally it was a cool growing season with high yields per vine and per hectare too. This shows a lovely mélange of cherry, plum and boysenberry flavors, with good density. Unfortunately, a bit of spirit protrudes and detracts from the overall pleasure, especially on what might have been a really fine aftertaste. Hopefully in time this will fully integrate and in that case, the score might increase a few points. Revisit circa 2010. Drink 2010-2025. 91 points (10/5/06)
1997 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port – (Vertically Speaking FTLOP tasting at Vesuvio, group score = 94.2) Magenta color. The nose shows an initial medicinal scent and a strong rhubarb essence. This is a tasty wine with very ripe fruit in a big, brash and full-bodied style. The tannins pack a pucker punch and show especially massive on the finish. It was one of my favorites of the entire afternoon and has a great future. Drink 2018-2030. 93 points (10/5/06)
1998 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port – (Vertically Speaking FTLOP tasting at Vesuvio, group score = 90.4) This vintage is almost unknown, (I did a small horizontal last year but have not had that many VPs from ’98) as it was not widely declared, coming on the heels of the very solid 1997. This was very dark purple and fully opaque. Vibrant violets and fragrant plum aromas were expansive and the best characteristic of this Port. Sweet and juicy red fruit shows a softer style with less focus and gentle tannins. Drink now or through 2018, as this is a medium term ager that will provide pleasure early, while other Vesuvio VPs are taking a long nap. 89 points (10/5/06)
1999 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port – (Vertically Speaking FTLOP tasting at Vesuvio, group score = 91.2) I’ve only had this once before and it was a small pour at a casual tasting. This was significantly more profound and broad shouldered than I would have expected, but along with the likes of Ferreira and Quinta do Portal, (to name drop just two excellent examples) I have been enjoying some of the ‘99s. The chocolate dominated the lavender notes but together they were pretty sexy. Dense, call it “chewy” this was impressive and delivered dark berry fruit with cassis coming to the foreground while the mouth watering tannins showed the structure was firmly in place and powered the persistent and exacting finish. Drink 2015-2025. 92 points (10/5/06)
2000 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port – (Vertically Speaking FTLOP tasting at Vesuvio, group score = 91.4) When I reread my notes on this, I am surprised by my own scoring. I have had this quite a few times and it has always been a mind-blowing experience. Here too my notes were quite positive, but my score is stingy by comparison. Either way, this is a better wine than the rating alone and if you check my past notes, I’d go by those scores. However, others in the group were equally stingy with the highest score given a 92?!?! Back to reality: Incredibly dark and fully opaque with a floral scent, mocha/cocoa, boysenberry nose. Medium-bodied and sumptuous on the palate, the ’00 is a “complete wine” and one that will drink well early on as well as for many decades to come. The acidity stands tall next to extremely concentrated blackberry and cherry flavored juice. This Vesuvio possesses powerful and puckering tannins that take charge early and often. The finish should be saved for the highlight reels. Although this will be approachable in another decade, maximize your drinking pleasure by cellaring these for a long time and breaking them out circa 2030-2050. 2,500 cases produced from just over 10% of Vesuvio’s total production. 92+ points(?) (10/5/06)
2001 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port – (Vertically Speaking FTLOP tasting at Vesuvio, group score = 91.6) How could I score this the same as the exalted 2000, on this sunny afternoon? Clearly I made a mistake on the 2000, as this is a solid 92 points. Beyond the scoring, this is a very dark ruby colored VP. There is a gentle sense of red licorice and cherry notes. The sweet fruit here shows that 2001 is no slouch and compares favorably to the majority in this vertical lineup. I liked the balance here as it hit on all cylinders and the fruit was really smooth and fun to sip. I think that the tannins were quite round and made this very approachable and at least at this stage, this is drinking beautifully. The intensity of the finish was the significant strong point of the wine, as it lasted for ages and brought a smile to my face. Drink now or during the next 25 years. 92 points (10/5/06)
2003 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port – (Vertically Speaking FTLOP tasting at Vesuvio, group score = 94.2) Should anyone have any doubts about the uber-fine 2003 Vintage Vesuvio, they really need to wrap their lips around a bottle of it. I’ve had it several times now and it is right up there with the 1994 VP as one of the greatest bottlings in the short career of Quinta do Vesuvio (14 declarations). Dark purple and at full opacity. To say that this is a youngster is a silly understatement as it practically shows like a cask sample and would have benefited from a significant amount of time in decanter. This was the 2nd best Port of the day and will only get better as it rounds out down the road. Brash blueberry and primary plum in profile put me in purple Port paradise. A serious maelstrom of complexity shows up in the middle and also the lip smacking, show stopper of a finish. A brilliant prodigal Port that will last at least a half century and I suspect, considerably longer than that 96+ points (10/5/06)
2004 Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port – (Vertically Speaking FTLOP tasting at Vesuvio, group score = 91.6) Inky black with a purple edge. A tight and restrained nose withheld any pleasure, even with coaxing. However on the palate, this is far more approachable than recent versions of Vesuvio and it will be interesting to see how the ‘04 evolves in the near term. The ripe raspberry and boysenberry flavors border on being jammy and show a chocolate note on the medium length finish, which comprises a bit of heat as well. The tannins are less powerful than in either 2000 or 2003 at the same stage. I’ve tasted the Vesuvio on three separate occasions and although I am typically quite fond of this producer, the ’04 lacked the luster I have come to expect from this SQVP’s infants. 1,100 cases produced. Drink while young or between 2016-2025. 91 points (10-5-06)
Well it doesn’t get much better than that, but we still have two days to try! It was dark and cooler out and after the hard work in lagar; it was finally time for dinner. We walked back down the railroad track to the Quinta and changed back into our clothing. Yes, we washed our feet and legs thoroughly and in case you are curious, the purple does wash off. I would assume if you do this every night for six weeks you may dye your legs but otherwise, nothing to worry about except having too much fun!
We left the Quinta and took a few of the better bottles of Vesuvio with us for a night cap. But we had received a generous offering for dinner, a Magnum of 1970 Dow for dessert. So in the darkness, we walked down to the dock and met our faithful friend who once again took us out on the river in his boat. Fortunately, the Douro does not have much boat traffic even in the daytime. So here in the pitch blackness of a moonless night, there was very little likelihood in this part of the river, of meeting up with another boat. The restaurant we were heading to is directly across the river on the North shore and it’s adjacent to Quinta da Senhora Ribeira.
A Port friend, who I have emailed with for about five years now, was going to meet us at the restaurant. It is always a pleasure to meet someone in person after knowing them “virtually” for years and especially when they have as much passion for Port as Herman Gerdingh and his lovely wife Ellie. They were already seated when we arrived as they were lodging not too far away. The Gerdingh’s were in the most fortunate position in that they were lodging in the Douro for two months and visiting a broad swath of Shippers and producers (large and small). Herman runs another great Port website that you’ve all seen me promote from time to time, (www.inforportwine.com). It is excellent and chock full of great news about Port. Coincidentally we ran into them at Quinta do Vale Dona Maria the day after our dinner too, just as we were departing they were arriving.
Although the food was unremarkable, in fairness we were quite late for our reservation, so I would not hold it against them. It was very difficult to converse with Herman and Ellie which was a shame as I really wanted to spend time learning more about their deep interest in Port and also, their current trip. However, there were a dozen or more people at the next table who were clearly having a very fun and raucous time. They were singing songs at the top of their lungs in Portuguese and after awhile we all just sat back and watched their show. Mario spoke to someone at their table and learned that they had just finished their last day and night of harvesting/treading the grapes at the aforementioned Quinta property next door to the restaurant. Clearly this was their hangout and nightly “home away from home” for about the past month. Just when it appeared that it would be impossible to reach a higher decibel level, in walks some more of their friends replete with bagpipes and drums!
Now the party was in full force and it was enjoyable listening to their celebratory music, which only encouraged them to sing louder. We hung out and consumed the bottle of Dow ’70 Vintage Port and really could not even carry on a conversation whatsoever. When in Portugal, you go with the flow and this was some fun merry making and it was clear that they were jazzed that their work was complete for the season. I found out later from Mario that they were supposed to have an accordion player there too (as that is the traditional instrument seen played for the Liberdade. A two piece band was enough for me on this very long day, which will go down as one of the great memories I have of the 2006 trip. It was wonderful to finally meet Herman and Ellie after corresponding for years, but hopefully we’ll get to meet up in Portugal again some time and have a slightly quieter reunion.
It was getting quite late and yet we had a very long trip ahead of us by land, to get back to our lodging near Pinhão. We considered drinking the remaining bottles of Vesuvio on the way back, as the ride would take nearly two hours. But before long most of us were asleep and I know that I woke up just as we pulled up to the Quinta. I could not wait to get some real sleep, but was coaxed into drinking at least one or two of the remaining bottles. After a couple of glasses I was done. Not that I didn’t need more Port at this point in the early morning, but I did want to catch a few hours sleep before the pain of waking up struck me right between the eyes. Having enjoyed well over 30 Ports today, not to mention a good amount of Douro wines with meals I fell asleep quickly and soundly.
1970 Dow Vintage Port – (from Magnum) What a great gift to take to dinner across from Vesuvio while meeting Herman and Ellie Gerdingh from The Netherlands. Ruby centered with a pink edge, there was a significant amount of alcohol on the nose along with cinnamon spice, wintergreen mint and plum notes that were slightly overshadowed by the spirit. Still, pretty heady stuff. Just starting to show some secondary notes as we finished the bottle and I think a policeman stole the empty for his collection at home. The Dow delivered red cherry berry fruit and had such smooth appeal and gentle tannins. I wonder how this would have been had we decanted this hours earlier. It was slightly underwhelming overall, given past experience and the fact that it was an ex-cellars large format bottle. I am positive this had far more to do with the fact that we finished it rather quickly and it had virtually way too little time to properly aerate. 91 points (10/5/06)
There is nothing better than waking up in the morning, looking out your window and having vineyards, LOTS of vineyards, stare you back in the face.. How fortunate for those who live in wine country to be able to enjoy this pleasure and I wonder if it is something that folks take for granted after awhile. Anyway, I was craving a solid breakfast before heading out for a few more appointments on this beautifully sunny Friday.
I was glad that our first appointment was somewhat close in proximity and Mario and I gathered the troops and marched on. A scenic drive through the Pinhao Valley, alongside the Pinhao River which is a tributary of the Douro River.
QUINTA DO VALE DONA MARIA
Another first for the rest of the blokes and for me too. Although I have known Cristiano van Zeller and his wife Joana for a number of few years, I was excited to visit their property and taste through their enticing lineup of Douro wines. It was also a pleasure to see the very talented winemaker Sandra Tavares da Silva again, and introduce her to our group. Having known Sandra and her husband Jorge, I was thrilled to meet her brand new baby son who was about 10 week old and cute as can be. Congratulations to both mom and dad!
Although I have enjoyed Quinta do Vale Dona Maria wines and Port over the past few years, I have had little knowledge of the history and vineyard, except for the key personnel. I had no idea the property was established 250 years ago, coincidentally the same year that the Marquês de Pombal declared the demarcation of the Douro. Cristiano’s inlaws owned the property until 1996 when they sold it to Cristiano and Joana. The property had been leased to the Symington family until about 1973 and Smith Woodhouse used to purchase the majority of the grapes each harvest for their Ports.
Sadly, the June hailstorms in the Douro hit Quinta do Vale Dona Maria as hard as any property in the entire region. Cristiano showed us some of the crop damage while walking the property and mentioned that their 2006 crop was reduced by 70% due to the June 14th storm. On a more positive note, the van Zeller’s have been busy with a new irrigation system for their vineyards. Cristiano mentioned that he is seeking to lease or purchase vineyard sites with excellent quality grapes.
This year the harvest began on Sept. 8th and was completed before our visit. During our tour, we saw the 4 traditional lagares in the adega which have been modernized. Cristiano believes in foot treading to get things started and then after the first four hour shift is over, robotics are utilized to continue the treading. Ample photos are supplied (at the end of this section) to give an indication as to the scope of the robotic feet. They are on a movable track so that they can automatically be moved within the lagar and also from one lagar to another. Cristiano started to use the robotics a few years ago and so far, they’ve never complained about their pay or needing a lunch break.
Another new development at Quinta do Vale Dona Maria is the production of a new Douro white wine, the property’s first. This is great news, although due to the weather debacle, Cristiano went out and had to purchase grapes in order to produce 1500 liters. At the time of our visit, there was no decision on a name yet. Van Zeller stated that he is planning to age it for 8 months in French oak. There is lots of room at the top, for talented white wine makers in the Douro. I wish Cristiano and Sandra lots of luck with this project.
We had the opportunity to have lunch with Joana, Cristiano and Sandra. It was really enjoyable getting to spend time with them at the Quinta and walk through the vineyards and see the production facility. Of course I was very happy to try some of the new wines that have been produced by this talented young team, which has been together for quite a few years now. Both Cristiano and Sandra are involved in other projects in the Douro and their freedom to collaborate elsewhere has to be a plus for the quality of the wines they make together.
Cristiano cut his teeth as the winemaker, family member and former owner of Quinta do Noval. He also currently owns Quinta do Vale da Mina, which is less well known than Quinta do Vale Dona Maria, but it was the first property he purchased after Noval sold 13 years ago. His first vintage of Douro wine at Vale Dona Maria was a decade ago with the ’96 vintage which is around the same time period as Crasto (although I believe they began in ’94 with Douro wines). Cristiano has also been a consulting oenologist for a number of other Port and Douro wine producers over the years. He enjoys various partnerships and joint ventures, such as his marketing of the Quinta do Vallado wines and Ports, Lemos & Van Zeller (Lemos is his wife’s maiden name) and he had a wine with Jose Maria de Fonseca (of Setubal Moscatel fame) called J.M. da Fonseca & Van Zeller. I do not believe they are still making wine together though. In response to a question about expansion plans, Cristiano mentioned increasing new plantings and bringing the Quinta do Vale Dona Maria from the equivalent of 38 acres to 50 acres. Modest growth is good and sustainable. Cristiano is doing well and has lots of vinous involvements that will sate his creative side and allow him to always ensure that Quinta do Vale Dona Maria remains his priority. His Ports should certainly not be overlooked either, as he has made some very fine Vintage Ports during the last few declarations and throughout his career.
Sandra and her winemaking husband Jorge Borges, (he was the Quinta do Passadouro winemaker for Niepoort when I first met him in Seattle 5/03) are making Pintas, at their Wine & Soul venture. Sandra also produces the white and red wines at her parent’s 113 acre property. The wines are called, Quinta de Chocopalha. It is virtually impossible to find in the USA and I look forward to trying it when in the Douro in May, especially the Cabernet Sauvignon. Back to her project with her husband Jorge. They have recently made a stellar 2004 white wine called “Guru” that has received acclaim and won the trophy for “best white wine” at the 2006 International Wine Challenge. As reds continue to be the hot spot in the Douro, I still believe we are going to see a lot more effort focused on white wine production. Finding cooler vineyard sites located at the right elevations to enhance acidity levels will remain one of the largest challenges.
It was a most enjoyable first visit to this property and I look forward to many more in the future. I know the group enjoyed discussing the Vale Dona Maria wines afterwards. There were many to like! Our sincere thanks to Cristiano, Joana and Sandra.
2004 Casa de Casal de Loivos Douro Red – The grapes from this property come from a vineyard with 1.6 hectares and 60 year old vines above Pinhão, which used to be sold to Quinta do Noval. Cristiano has maintained the relationship and produces this wine from Franca, Roriz and the balance of the grapes are from field blends. Dark raspberry, spicy and smoky notes with a hint of cedar. The concentrated plum and ripe cherry fruit shows a medium body, powerful and astringent tannins and fine length to the finish. Good long term prospects but not a wine to drink today unless you decant for at least a half a day. I’d keep this wine buried in the cellar for another five years when it will be bery enjoyable. 300 cases produced. Drink 2012-2018. 91 points (10/6/06)
2003 Casa de Casal de Loivos Douro Red – I found a huge difference between the 2004 and this wine. While the ’04 is nearly impenetrable due to the punishing tannins, this is far more approachable and enjoyable right now. It tends towards the dark fruit of the spectrum where I sensed more red berry flavors in 2004. There was a finer balance in this wine and I can understand if people like the bigger 2004, but this shows a symmetry which I really enjoyed and the finish was as long lived as it was delicious. Drink 2009-2016. 93 points (10/6/06)
2002 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Douro Red – It was fun to drink this from a Magnum bottle as I so rarely get that opportunity from Douro reds which often times never leave the Quinta’s cellar. Quite Bordeaux like in its aromatic profile with tobacco, leather and cedar supporting the main cast of characters which are smoky prune and blackberry flavors. Easy to enjoy now and I think this should drink well for another decade too. Fine juice which was tastier with lunch. 91 points (10/6/06)
2003 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Douro Red – I kept going back and forth between this and the 2002 and 2004. Although I like them all, for my money, I think the overall balance is better in this bottling. In fairness, given that the ’04 was only bottled about 10 weeks ago, it is much easier to assess the 2003 today. Regardless, the fruit here is ripe, intense and chewy with a very fine flavor profile of red berry fruits, anise and a touch of oak. The tannins are ripe but more round than either the 2002 or 2004 and I prefer the length of the finish of this wine as well as the textural pleasure. Although the 2004 may have more longevity, this is in a harmonious place right now and is the vintage I’d buy by the case. Enjoy it from 2010-2020. 94+ points (10/6/06)
2004 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Douro Red – Bottled just a few months ago (July) this is from 100% estate grown grapes. Powerful and concentrated, I would love more time to assess this wine as it is still a bit tight. Great potential for aging as it is crammed with tart dark plumy fruit and plenty of acidity to carry this for the long distance run. A gentle smoky and prune scent lent towards an interesting nose in this youngster. It finishes with plenty of flavor but the tannins take over and you know this has the stuffing to drink well for possibly two decades. 93+ points (10/6/06)
2004 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria CV (stands for Curriculum Vitae) Douro Red – Made by Sandra this is a very strong effort that will reward patience. Deeply extracted and concentrated juice from NW facing vineyards. Although it is rather easy to approach initially, the tannins are quite ripe and more astringent than the ’04 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria. Its ripe and sweet fruit of plum and raspberry, with a full-body and sassy texture, deliver a sensational and layered mid-palate that showcases the balance between the bright fruit, acidity and tannins. Nice finish too! This should drink well for 15-20 years, but I’d suggest waiting for at least five before taking any out of the cellar. Cristiano said it should sell for about $60. Production was more than triple the previous vintage and is still just a mere 400 cases. A few of the others in our group were more impressed than me. I’d like to spend a few hours more with this bottling. 92+ points (10/6/06)
2006 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Vintage Port – (cask sample) Not yet readjusted for the alcohol, this is about as raw of a cask sample as one could ever taste, as the harvest and fermentation was recently completed. Very dark purple and opaque. The alcohol is currently at 17.5% and this is so easy to drink and enjoy. The tannins are literally muted by the boisterous fruit forward style and smooth approach of this infant. I look forward to trying this again in two to three years to see how it has evolved. n/r (10/6/06)
2005 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Vintage Port – (cask sample) This has been stored in wood and stainless steel to keep it cool. I liked this quite a bit more than the 2004 and see better potential in the ‘05. While the 2004 shows balance and finesse and will make for a fine LBV year, the 2005 is going to be worth bottling as VP. Bright plum and blueberry flavors prevail and the body weight is already full and smooth on the palate. Long and luscious. 91-93+ points (10/6/06)
2004 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Vintage Port – This was the year that Cristiano introduced the robotic lagares. The nose offered raspberry, cherry and a touch of mocha which was quite enjoyable. The ripe and tasty fruit had a freshness and purity that was easy to like. Brimming with cherry and black currants this is a beautiful youngster and has the structural components to bring it for a few decades. A fine effort and one has to wonder if the robotics made any difference in this particular vintage? 91-93+ points (10/6/06)
2003 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Vintage Port – Fragrant fresh cut lilacs and ripe cherries come to the fore with an herbal note. This is the finest Vintage Port produced by Cristiano and Sandra. Really tasty fruit with blackberry, figs and a smooth texture which is rich and voluptuous. The mid-palate shows some chocolate layered in with the berry flavors which add some complexity and the moderately round tannins are present mostly on the full length feature of a finish. This is the best showing of this VP to date. Peak should be circa 2018-2025 although you don’t have to wait that long to enjoy it. A very fine effort! 93+ points (10/6/06)
2002 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria Vintage Port – Dark magenta color. Herbal nose comprising spearmint and eucalyptus along with some cedar highlights. It delivers medium-bodied juice and is easy to approach, as this particular sample was opened the day before. Very easy to drink now and the flavor profile tends towards plum and black currants. 2002 was a tough year in the Douro due to the rain just before and in some cases, during the harvest and Cristiano picked late (after the rain). There is a green, slightly herbaceous quality to this VP and I wonder if it would have showed this way the day before. A bit simple too. Drink 2007-2017. 86 points (10/6/06)
2002 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria LBV Port – (cask sample) The bottling of this LBV was to take place a few weeks after our visit. It was fun to try this as a cask sample. Lavender and purple flower scents are wild and exotic. Very inky as would be expected. Smooth on the palate but with a bit of heat that protrudes, although it is early in the game as the alcohol should integrate with time in the bottle. The blackberry and kirsch flavors come to the fore and the finish is long but a tad hot. There is certainly upside po and it’s not the easiest wine to judge at this stage. 88-90+ points (10/6/06)
QUINTA DO NOVAL
The irony was lost on me until I was writing up this report. We just left Quinta do Vale Dona Maria and Cristiano van Zeller, after a wonderful visit to his new property. Now we’ve come full circle and returned to where Cristiano grew up in life and in the Port trade; Quinta do Noval. It did not dawn on me until this moment. Our mini bus pulls up to Noval, which is truly a majestic place on earth and is situated atop a bowl with panoramic views of vineyards, nearby villages and the first thing you notice is the quiet. I can assure you; that did not last for long.
As we drove around the Quinta we came to a famous overlook, we can’t help but notice an ancient and unique tree that all visitors get to see and return visitors get to know. You won’t see me put a picture of it in any article as this is one of the many wondrous delights to be found at Noval. On this visit, there would be another one, although far more profound. We learned that the heads of AXA Insurance Company (Noval’s owner) were coming to Noval the following day for a weekend meeting, as our visit was on Friday, Oct. 6th. Knowing that Mario and I were bringing a group of very serious Port lovers and collectors from the UK and the USA, Christian Seely flew in a day ahead of time from Bordeaux to spend an afternoon into late evening with us. Although I am quite fond of Noval’s dynamic Rute Monteiro, with Christian in the house, I knew our guests were in for the visit of a lifetime. There are few places in the wine world where you can feel really small and insignificant and be outdoors at the same time. The Douro is such a place. The degree of peace one can achieve with a few days spent in this humble and remote region, well it is not something that is easily put into mere words. When I am in a vineyard in the Douro or even looking out at, or down on the great terraced walls that literally stretch as far as the eye can see and then some, calm washes over me and I feel at home, at peace and spiritually content.
As Christian explained the geography and topography of what was before us, I left the group standing on the edge of a retaining wall directly above the Nacional vineyard. As I have written about this very special place on several occasions, I will refrain from my usual reverie. Yet this was my first visit to Noval when the grapes were ripe for the picking and delicious at that, although, most had already been picked. So I wandered off into the Nacional vineyard and instantly, I found myself smiling to no one in particular. I grabbed a few grapes and ate them and the sweet freshness of the juice brought one word to mind, “purity.”
I have a tradition when walking through this hallowed ground, I look for a cool vine to take a picture of and I look for one piece of schist to pocket as a souvenir. When I get back to the States, I use a marking pen to write the date on the bottom of the rock and it goes into a special cabinet in my Port “museum.” After fulfilling my needs with photo and schist in hand, I decided to find a great grape cluster to take a picture of.
Mission accomplished, now to rejoin the group who seemed jealous I was in the vineyard while they were standing up there looking down. It was time to trade places. One of the other fun things I make it a habit of doing when visiting Noval, is seeking out a new point of view, from a photographer’s perspective, and I try to capture a new view of the Nacional vineyard in my photo. The guys were now in the vineyard and picking grapes and checking out the vines and schist and having a grand ole time. I would have to wait for them to clear out before I could take my picture, but I scouted out the site I wanted and wish that I owned a large format camera for moments like this.
It was time to hang with the gang and tour the various buildings on the grounds. Christian gave us a very detailed walk and talk throughout the facilities. There were lots of great questions being asked and of course I am not surprised, knowing this band of Port lovers.
There are grow tubes all over in the distance and obviously there is lots of replanting going on here at Noval. One thing that was intriguing to me, was that over 50% of Noval’s vineyards are planted to Touriga Nacional grapes.
Of the 525 acres of land on the property, about 350 of them were actually planted to grape. To my way of thinking, that seems like a small percentage overall. But with the new vines that are coming on line, Noval will be able to ratchet up production to about 8,000 cases on an annualized basis.
Foot treading is the norm at Noval, especially for the Vintage Ports and later in the evening there would be a team of local residents who would descend on the lagares and work hard for hours on end. Growing up in the Douro with few career opportunities at hand must be difficult, especially in the even more remote part of this remote region. When traveling two miles as the crow flies, it might take a vehicle an hour to wind its way around the valley and onto the other side, which makes trip planning a bit more challenging in the Douro Valley than say, Napa Valley. Napa probably has more restaurants than the Douro has people. Alright, that is an exaggeration, but not by much!
One of the people that I really admire in the Douro, yet have never had the chance to meet is Antonio Agrellos, the winemaker at Noval. From everything I’ve heard and/or read, he is so in tune with the goings on in the Douro in terms of the viticultural aspect that I bet he’d make a very fine teacher. Maybe at some point I will get to meet and interview him, which would make for a great article. He is supposedly quite gifted when it comes to grape species and that is one area of Port that I’d like to explore in greater depth. I have been fortunate to taste the key grapes that go into Port, that were vinified as Port separately.
Well, it was getting to be about that time again, no not Miller time, Noval time! Christian did not have to twist anyone’s arm and like pied pipers we followed him through that beautifully appointed sitting room, replete with a great fireplace for those evenings where it comes in really handy while sipping some outstanding Port wine. So we headed to one of the two infamous Chestnut tables and there before the group was an unbelievable lineup of Quinta do Noval Silval bottlings, side-by-side with the regular bottling of Noval and Quinta do Noval Nacionals. I knew things were about to really get serious as Mr. Seely removed his bow tie and how often do you get to see that happen? I have to admit I have NEVER seen Christian without a bow tie on.
We started off with a troika of 2000 Vintage Ports and then visited Silval’s from 2001, 2002 and all of the 2003s, with the beauty of the regular bottling rivaling the Nacional. We had another half dozen bottles or so before dinner and we were learning about Christian’s purchase of Quinta da Romaneira. This is a brilliant acquisition and the Quinta has one of the largest river frontages of any property in the Douro at an astounding 3 kilometers! Not to mention there are 450 hectares (well over 1,000 acres) of which only 76 are currently planted, although at one point in time, 300 ha were planted to grapes.
The Romaneira grapes used to be sold to Taylor Fladgate a number of decades ago. So far, 40 ha were replanted and 36 were still viable, although it sounds like the Quinta unfortunately had been run down. Christian plans to make just two Ports, LBV and Vintage. He already has begun making tasty Douro red wine and we had the opportunity to try the 2004.
We then started to go back in time with 1997 and 1996 and then we tasted a real treat. The 2004 bottles started to flow, both Douro reds (two types from Noval, which was news to me!). We also enjoyed the ’04 Noval which I had only tried on one other occasion. Then it was time for dinner. I don’t know about anyone else, but drinking all of this fine Vintage Port was making me hungry. Dinner is always a great time at Noval & having Christian in our midst was outstanding. Life is good.
After dinner the party really got started and unless you read my tasting notes from this evening of wild abandon, as I told our guests: “What goes on in the Douro, stays in the Douro.” One bottle after the next we were amazed with the generosity shown to our group. But I’ll allow a few quotes to slip and you’ll discern some of what we were privileged to drink that evening. I have been given permission by the individuals to spew their quotes but I will withhold one of the names to protect “the innocent.”
Out of context these may sound silly, but I can promise you that all were made in serious, contemplative moments while evaluating the Ports:
“There is a remarkable difference between the 1962 Crusted Port and the 1963 Nacional.”
“You know Roy, the 1994 Nacional is really starting to blossom.” When I heard Andy Velebil say this in all seriousness, I could not keep a straight face and burst out laughing. So did he and the rest of the group. I guess you had to be there.
Last but not least: “This one is pretty damn good … the 1963 Nacional.” Thank you Eric!
The majority of the group had never had Nacional before. On this night we had ___ bottles. Nah, I must play by my own rules. It was getting late so we decided to walk around outside and get some fresh air in time for one last Port before heading back to our home base. This was something so special, I had never even seen it before, no less ever considered trying some. Before the grand finale we enjoyed the evening air and the guys got to talk one on one with Christian, which they really enjoyed. I am sure that nobody who is in the picture directly above this paragraph will ever forget this evening.
And then we walked back to where the 2006 Quinta do Noval had just been treaded on in the lagar. It was extraordinarily fresh and we were watching two men empty out the lagar. It appeared to be quite a lot of work actually. Then we were permitted to grab a glass and we were each poured a “lagar sample” of the 2006 which a half hour earlier, had a few dozen feet in it. It was crazy delicious, what can I say. I have never had anything like it and we all agreed how approachable it was even before the fortification process. Yummy stuff to say the least.
To Christian, your generous hospitality was very much appreciated. Thank you for helping us to create memories of a fun, actually an amazing night of camaraderie, a wonderful dinner and once-in-a-lifetime wines!
2004 Cedro do Noval Douro Red D.O.C. – Cedro the Portuguese word for cedar gave its name to this still red wine from the folks at Noval who have been experimenting with non-fortified wines for nearly a decade. 40% each Touriga Naçional and Tinta Roriz with 20% Touriga Franca. It will be released in January of 2007, so we were very early explorers of this wine. There is a core of smoky plum flavors and a really smooth, easy drinking pleasure to this wine and a well defined mid-palate. I enjoyed the Cedro and found a gentle oak presence that will integrate in the next couple of years and an overall sense of a well-balanced wine with modest aging capability along with a ripe and flavorful finish. 1,500 cases were produced of this juice with a proposed retail price of about $20. Drink 2008-2014. 90+ points (10/6/06)
2004 Quinta do Noval Tinto Douro Red D.O.C. – Given all of the new plantings and knowing Christian Seely’s feelings about recent LBV price wars, especially in the UK; I have a feeling that these two dry reds are just the beginning of things to come from Noval. 70% Touriga Naçional, 20% Tinta Cão and 10% Touriga Franca. An intricate mélange of scents of smoke, char and kirsch are heady and lead to blackberry and earthy flavors with a tannic and spicy finish. A solid first effort but I’d bet the ranch that the best is yet to come for Noval’s still wines. 225 cases were produced and the retail price will approximate $55. Drink 2010-2018. 92+ points (10/6/06)
2004 Quinta da Romaneira Douro Red – This is Seely’s first effort from his own property and I must admit that I was impressed and liked the wine just a smidgen better than the first forays by Noval into Douro reds. Made from 80% Touriga Nacional and 20% Tinta Cão. This property is enormous at 450 hectares but only 76 hectares are currently covered by grape vines. Violet and floral scents and a touch of vanilla on the nose are bolstered by a beautifully smooth and plush mouthfeel. The sexy texture will only improve from here and the crisp acidity, plum and prune flavors show a classy young wine that just needs a couple of years to fully meld. Keep an eye on this property! A suggested retail price of $40. 93+ points (10/6/06)
2000 Quinta do Noval Silval Vintage Port – Opaque magenta hue and no surprise given that it was foot trodden in lagar. Fragrances of fig, plum and mocha provide an alluring aromatic profile. Dense although medium-bodied it feels weightier on the palate and the fresh boysenberry and prune flavors dominate, while the still ripe tannins show up late and take charge. This is a bargain when it is carefully shopped. Every time I have this Silval, I am always left wanting more … as in … my glass. Drink now through 2020. 92+ points (10/6/06)
2000 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port – This was in some pretty prestigious company and on its own probably would have scored a point higher. Inky and opaque, the nose is great with espresso bean, anise and dark chocolate intertwined. This is the bigger brother of the Silval and shows class and potential for serious aging. The chewy cherry and blackberry fruit is tantalizing and although the dusty tannins are powerful, the acidity and fruit match up quite well. I’d leave bottles in the cellar for another decade before opening any but these will really show best between 2030-2040. With that said, they are pretty easy to fall in love with right now. 94+ points (10/6/06)
2000 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port – Black as our Douro sky tonight with a purple rim. What a treat to have this VP yet again, made even better by consuming this at the Quinta. I’ll never tire of it and it will certainly outlive me! I believe it would have showed even better had it enjoyed some rest in the decanter before being consumed. Although it was tight at first, I revisited this a few times during the evening and it opened up after lots of coaxing. Dominant plum immediately upon popping the cork and it was joined by black licorice and an herbal/pine aroma which I liked, but had not experienced in this wine before. This is a Frankenstein of a wine and was more approachable due to its just being opened. As the night wore on it actually grew more punishing in terms of the enormous grip. The purity of the blackberry and cassis flavors is evident from the get go and the richness in the mouth is not to be believed. The 2000 Nacional is a legend in the making. I would drink this anytime it is offered, but would not consider opening one from the cellar for two decades. This will be enjoyable when my daughter is my age! If you own any, hold off until your 75th birthday … no matter if you are 20, 30 or 50 years old now. 97+ points (10/6/06)
2001 Quinta do Noval Silval Vintage Port – I love trying a Port for the first time and had never even seen this VP before. Medium ruby in color with walnuts and raspberry liqueur on the nose. Very gentle and velvety smooth initially with ripe red berry flavors and lots of astringency on the medium length finish. Probably could have used a few more hours in a decanter, but I’ll just have to try it again at some point. Two hours later it was not much different. Drink between 2012 and 2020. 88 points (10/6/06)
2002 Quinta do Noval Silval Vintage Port – I have only had a handful of the “difficult” 2002 VPs and this was a first from this vineyard. It showed slightly herbaceous than the 2001 although I liked its overall synchronicity better, specifically the balance, structure and more subdued tannins. The strong point was the sweet and long aftertaste. Drink from 2012-2025. 90 points (10/6/06)
2003 Quinta do Noval Silval Vintage Port – Another Silval that could have used a bit of time in the decanter as this was “pop and pour” at the Quinta. Blueberry pancake syrup came to mind upon first whiff. Also some boysenberry is noted and a bit of alcohol protrudes on the nose. Ripe plum and fennel flavors are enhanced by the supple acidity, a genteel mouth feel and round tannins. The finish is shorter than I typically find in this VP and again, I wish this had been decanted for several hours. Drink 2015-2025. 91+ points (10/6/06)
2003 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port – Opaque purplish ruby hue. This 2003 stallion is a great modern day version of Noval’s renaissance since its purchase by AXA ten years prior to this harvest. Sweet scents of flowers, cocoa powder and cassis leap from the glass. Texturally pleasing with an impressive viscous presence accessorized by dark cherry and blackberry flavors which are ripe and abundant. The no nonsense tannins show that this will be a long lived VP and will be best served after long cellaring. It is easy to approach now but its best years are a few decades down the road. 6,000 cases produced. Drink 2015-2045 96+ points (10/6/06)
2003 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port – Inky with full opacity and I imagine that will be the case for a decade or more, as VP doesn’t get much darker than this. Tight as a snare drum initially, I continued to revisit this wine throughout the night at Noval with the 2006 Harvest Tour gang. This Nacional is full-bodied but my sense is that there is more massive richness in the regular bottling of Noval, although the Nacional does seem more powerful with a structural frame which is bigger. It offers very juicy black cherry and boysenberry flavors along with profoundly ripe tannins, which lead to an intense and lingering black cherry aftertaste. This is like taking a midnight joy ride in a Ferrari on a curvaceous mountain road without headlights! Just hold on tight and enjoy the ride. 225 cases were produced. 96+ points (10/6/06)
2004 Quinta da Romaneira Vintage Port – This is my first VP from this property which was purchased by Christian Seely. Dark magenta colored with a purple rim this ’04 exhibits smoky and spicy notes with dominant ripe blackberry on the nose and an earthy edge. The palate shows quite differently than expected from the aromatics. The Romaneira provides lip smacking ultra-ripe, sweet grenadine and blackberry packed into a medium body with sneaky mouthcoating tannins that only appear on the invigorating and racy finish. Smooth and soft otherwise, this is a sexy Port that is only going to get better with age. 92+ points (10/6/06)
1988 Quinta da Romaneira Colheita Port – Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz grapes went into the blend. A unique profile of sugar cane, tobacco and crème brulee aromas with a bit of alcohol that dominates and gets in the way of the pleasure. Fortunately, the palate shows less of it initially, while the caramel and roasted nut flavors prevail. However, the aftertaste is also marred by spirit. 1988 is not a vintage known for Port, yet this was mostly enjoyable but I don’t know if the alcohol will ever fully integrate. Drink now- 2012. 86 points (10/6/06)
1962 Quinta do Noval Crusted Port – Light ruby-pink in color and bottled either in 1965 or 1966. This was a better showing than last year, although that time it followed the ’62 Nacional, here it had the daunting task of coming on the heels of the 1994 Nacional. Ouch. A full arsenal of raspberry brown sugar and toffee explode on the scene. Slightly past peak, this is still such a sublime experience and a rare one for Americans as we never see old Crusted Port like this. Elegant red berry and caramel notes and decent acidity work to charm the palate while the fully resolved tannins are a non entity. Medium body weight and tasty overall with a solid finish. I’d suggest to start to drink up if you still own any. 91 points (10/6/06)
1963 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port – Vintage Port wine at its zenith! It was so captivating; I opened one of my own on New Years Eve for my friends. This is Marilyn Monroe at her peak: sleek, confident and with curves in all the right places. Forget aromatics and flavor descriptors as this is in a different league. It seems like it can be had now, but it will age indefinitely. There’s that gorgeous spine of acidity and lively tannins which are omnipresent yet lurking around the corner. The balance is acrobatic by nature with sumptuous fruit that lingers like a sweet dream. Drink now or through 2050. We’re talking about one of the greatest VPs ever made! 99+ points (10/6/06)
1964 Quinta do Noval Colheita Port – I recently had the 1974 which was excellent and this rivaled that bottle, for sure. Orange-amber in color, the nose was intense with gorgeous hazelnut liqueur and a citrus peel fragrance that had me pretty jazzed at the time. Extraordinarily smooth and silky with an enchanting combination of vibrant acidity, pralines and liquid butterscotch with a finish, that never actually did. If it sounds amazing, find a bottle! Drink now-2020. 94 points (10/6/06)
1964 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port – Best showing of any bottle of ’64 Nacional I have ever had (only 3x before). Normally this is simple and lacks any excitement. I found this bottle provided a light ruby color with some bricking on the edge and a nose of strawberry, licorice and dried leaves. The palate was equally complex with black cherry, spearmint and candied walnuts which sound like an odd mix, but it actually delivered one of the more elegant drinks of the evening as this was unctuous and fully mature. It was a nearly perfectly balanced Port with the only minor blemish, a slight touch of alcohol protruding on the long and intricate finish. Otherwise it was stunning! Drink now for maximum pleasure and hope your bottle is as pristine as this one. 93 points (10/6/06)
1994 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port – Brilliant gem quality dark ruby color with clarity. OMG! How could we possibly be served a 2007 cask sample? Seriously, I have tried this on a number of occasions and it continues to be the greatest young Vintage Port I’ve ever had. Each time I drink it I feel blessed to take part in sharing the bottle. The symmetry stands out as the single most exemplary characteristic of this VP. The nose needed no coaxing with violets and blueberries dominating all else. I had the sense of the power of this wine, yet there was a refined quality at the same time that is hard to describe. It was not elegance as much as finesse, if that makes sense. It is a stylistic distinction and this baby epitomizes verve. The copious quantities of ripe raspberry, raisins and figs startled my mouth and the well-defined acidity helped set the stage for the freight train length of an aftertaste that left a sense of caressing tannins and a hint of pomegranate. Superlatives just don’t do justice to this legend-in-the-making! 190 cases produced. Drink anytime you can get your hands on a sip or a bottle during the course of your lifetime, as this will still be fantastic a century from now. 99+ points (10/6/06)
1996 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port – From a fairly unexciting vintage that turned out well due in part to a late harvest, the ’96 is a solid soldier. I have a feeling that it will emerge later in life to show as well as the 1967 Nacional does today, from another oft forgotten vintage. It has a bouquet of floral and prune notes with a minty character that added intricacy to the profile. Soft and smooth as well-worn leather gloves, while delivering dark plum, dates and milk chocolate flavors. It was in need of aeration and really took awhile to open up, but when it did … it finished a bit short. Otherwise, I really enjoyed it. 285 cases produced. Drink now-2035. 95+ points (10/6/06)
1997 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port – This Nacional has pizzazz. The nose had me worried initially with a slightly reductive note that translated into sweet sun-dried tomatoes. Fortunately the palate made up for the perceived aromatic shortcomings and possessed bright and vibrant flavors of boysenberry and blueberry that were tasty and as youthful as a cask sample. The textural pleasure is hard to beat and the only place this has to go … is up! The backbone is finely meshed and the finish is berry laden and sweet, not to mention that it could give the Eveready bunny a run for its life. Drink 2015-2072 and then revaluate if it will make it to the century mark. It is clearly one of the great young Nacionals from the early days of Seely’s reign. 97+ points (10/6/06)
2004 Quinta do Noval Vintage Port – Rich magenta color with fine aromas of cassis, tar and cocoa with a backdrop of alcohol. Dense, ripe and chewy with dark berry fruit but lacks some tannins which might be hiding bit I did not sense any present, yet this had not been decanted ahead of time. Softer style for mid-term aging while the 2000 and 2003s stay buried in the cellar. Only 1000 cases produced. Drink 2018-2030. 92 points (10/6/06)
2006 Quinta do Noval Nacional Vintage Port (Lagar sample) – My “tasting note” is mostly written tongue in cheek, as this is not even wine yet, no less a Vintage Port. I am willing to bet that very few have ever been privileged to sip NACIONAL juice directly from the lagar, shortly after it was foot trodden. Remarkably delicious as grape juice, an ultra-pure essence of grape hits home in the mouth. Smooth as silk and still cool from its time in the lagar on this night, we were in the right place at the right time. Thank Christian, this was a fantastic sensorial experience. As 2006 is the vintage that signifies the 250th anniversary of the demarcation of the Douro region, I opined to Mr. Seely that THIS is the Nacional that should be bottled in specially designed Magnums (a first for Nacional). I know that I’d buy one as a memento of this visit. We’ll see what happens. n/r (10/6/06)
QUINTA DO PORTAL
Here is where we separate the men from the boys. A night of consumption like last night where virtually nobody was spitting ANY Port, really shows the intestinal fortitude the next morning. Stamina is today’s keyword and you could see the droopy and quiet faces at breakfast. The good news is that we were staying at the beautifully appointed Casa das Pipas at Quinta do Portal, which is my preference for lodging in the Douro. Nobody does it better! Tell them you are a friend of FOR THE LOVE OF PORT if you make a reservation there on your own: http://www.quintadoportal.com. They will take very good care of you.
The good news is that within 15 minutes of brushing my teeth, I was sipping great Port and some Douro wines. Quinta do Portal is gaining acclaim so quickly these days and a mere five years ago, only a handful of us knew they were on the map. I saw great potential when I first tried their 1999 Vintage Port, which is akin to Mick Jagger when he was about 22 years old, impetuous and showing great promise, yet a solid performer. I was way impressed with that particular Vintage Port and have had just about every wine this producer has ever made. I am a big fan of Portal’s LBV, young Colheitas that offer tremendous value and potential for future greatness and their 10 and 20 year old Tawnies which are consistently deliver a high level of pleasure.
I was first introduced to their wines during Mario’s traveling Port Road Show when he was the liaison for the Port Wine Institute in the USA. His connections runneth deep and he got me on the Portal bandwagon early on, prior to having any distribution network in the USA. I was the first American journalist to feature their wines back then and it has been a solid rapport ever since. If you try the 2000 Vintage Port or even better, the 2003 … you’ll quickly become a convert to their style. Impeccably balanced Ports are their hallmark, while they are also built for cellaring.
As for their efforts on Douro wines, things are improving in the past couple of harvest, especially 2003 and later. Prior to that they were too rustic and not my style and I wondered if their brilliant young winemaker Paulo Coutinho was going to wrap his head around what the consumer is looking for. Clearly the improvements have been made and they are now doing a decent job with their white wines as well. There is still considerable room for improvement though on their reds. I typically am in the 84-89 point range with these wines and maybe it is a vine age issue.
With all the new construction and development of land at Quinta do Portal, it is clear that they are committed to excellence and taking all of the right steps to embrace future success. The new plantings across the street from Portal are on high grade sites and by the end of this decade and early next, we’ll start to see these vines producing and adding to Portal’s capabilities. It is evident for all to see that Pedro Branco is serious in his vision and execution of an aggressive growth strategy and he now owns about 250 acres (100 ha) of prime vineyards.
One of the things that I have really enjoyed watching is the development of their Moscatel program as I know that both Pedro and Paulo (pictured here pouring the wine for us) firmly believe that they can produce world class dry and dessert style Moscatel. I have tasted a number of their dry versions and think they are the best non-fortified wines to come out of this Single Quinta property. The future is bright for Portal and I very much look forward to their ongoing efforts and can’t wait to try their dessert Moscatel in the future.
We tasted our way through a few of the Douro wines before heading into Port territory and it was not even 10 a.m. yet. I can tell you that as soon as our guests started to drink again, their energy level seemed to pick up considerably. I guess they just needed some hydration to help them get back on course. The LBVs we tasted were all quite good and my scores are consistent and I’d say my favorite of all was the 2003 cask sample, followed by the 2001 LBV which is sexy and more approachable than the 2000 at the time of tasting. The 2003 could easily pass itself off for a Vintage Port at this point. We also tried a cross-section of their Vintage Ports which I am a fan of and the ’99 was in the lineup for a reason. We had the good fortune to try the 2004 cask sample with its punishing tannins, I think I’ll wait a few years but it does show excellent promise. I think everyone was substantially impressed with both renditions of the 2003 VPs.
Before we knew it, it was time to pack up and head to our next appointment. It was great to roll out of bed and into the adega which has a new and upscale feel to it. There was even a brief demonstration on how to use a Port tongs which is always fun to watch. Although we missed Pedro on this visit, it was great to see Paulo again. Keep up the great work guys and please get more of your Ports into the USA market. I am constantly receiving emails asking me where to find your wines!
2003 Quinta do Portal Grande Reserva Douro Red – Fine aromatics of tar, cedar, char and blackberry show great promise. The palate does not live up to the nose though and delivers a slightly coarse texture and although the cherry and blackberry essence is tasty, the clipped finish left me looking for more, and maybe that was because I knew the price point of 35 Euros. Hopefully this will flesh out in time. Drink 2008-2012. 84+ points (10/7/06)
2003 Quinta do Portal Touriga Nacional Douro Red – A fine mix of anise, plum and smoky dark fruits. Solid body weight and plenty of structure in this baby. The blueberry and prune flavors pull no punches and the intense punishing tannins ordered my mouth to lock down. I wouldn’t try another one for at least three if not five years. Fortunately there is plenty of fruit here but at the moment it is dominated by the power of the tannins. For 21 Euros it is worth the gamble, but this might be best to consume circa 2012-2015. 86+ points (10/7/06)
2003 Quinta do Portal Aura Douro Red – This smells like a tank sample with dominant SO2 and a grapy essence. On the palate there is plenty of fruit showing in the dark profile but this another Portal red that is dominated by tannins with a coarse texture and offers little in the way of pleasure at this point. However, more than the last two wines, (’03 Touriga Nacional and the Grande Reserva) there does seem to be a bit more symmetry between the fruit the acid and the massive tannins. Try this again towards the latter part of the drinking window and I think it will turn out a generous wine. This is my first time trying the Aura and it is going to be priced at around 46 Euros. Drink 2012-2018. 89+ points (10/7/06)
2000 Quinta do Portal LBV Port – Dark ruby in color, this LBV is packed with vibrant, juicy cassis and blackberry fruit that is smooth on entry and easy to sip. It is already drinking nicely and provides a medium body and just a touch of heat on the delicious long aftertaste. Portal’s LBV is Unfiltered and unfined. Priced at 16 Euros per 750 ml. Drink 2007-2010 90+ points (10/7/06)
2001 Quinta do Portal LBV Port – Bigger and bolder than the 2000 LBV, this is even more approachably soft, yet the solid core of acidity and riper tannins provide more structure which will allow this to cellar for a few more years. But, there is no reason to do so, as the 2001 is so very drinkable now. The balance here is impeccable and the generous grenadine flavored juice is mouthwatering. Portal’s LBV is Unfiltered and unfined. Drink 2007-2013. 92+ points (10/7/06)
2003 Quinta do Portal LBV Port – (Cask Sample) Plum and cinnamon spice show prominently on the nose of this youngster which is a year away from release. The dark cherry and boysenberry flavors burst onto the palate and take no prisoners. Most producers would be proud to call this Vintage Port. Yummy stuff with monster tannins that will soften while waiting to hit the market in the future. This is the best LBV I have tasted from this producer and I have had every one of ‘em, tasted over the past five years. If I can find a case in the USA (in the future) this is the LBV I’d stock up on for the winter. Portal’s LBV is Unfiltered and unfined. Drink 2008-2015. 93+ points (10/7/06)
2003 Plus Quinta do Portal Vintage Port – Opaque dark ruby-purple with violets and fresh cut flowers which dominate the nose with a backdrop of mocha and licorice. Dense blackberry and boysenberry fruit deliver delectable flavors and there is some chocolate on the prolonged finish. The tannins seem to have mellowed a little bit in the past year. The use of eight year old Touriga Nacional vines has enabled this to be assembled for earlier consumption. That is questionable though, as the tannins are still ripe enough to show that the ’03 Portal Plus will cellar quite well for up to a couple more decades. Drink 2010-2025ish. 92+ points (10/7/06)
2003 Quinta do Portal Vintage Port – Impenetrable inky tone. A complex core of leather, anise, chocolate, brambly berries and earthy scents make this one of those rare treats to keep sniffing and going back to smell again and again. Chewy, ripe and massively built; this 2003 shows only slight evolution since it was a cask sample. It’s an intense sexy beast with dark cherry and cassis fruit that is smooth in the mouth, but really takes grip when the tannins become aggressive late in the game. As good as this all sounds, the strong suit was the incredible and enduring aftertaste. Drink from 2015-2040 but the longer you hold off, the more pleasure you’ll receive. 95+ points (10/7/06)
2004 Quinta do Portal Vintage Port – Tasted directly after the tannic 2003, this was hard to assess. There was a significant “tanky” smell to this wine along with blossoming violets. Very primary blueberry and boysenberry fruit that is countered by massive tannins. Not up to the greatness of the 2003, but a hedonistic well adorned VP with fine length and promise for cellaring. Best to drink between 2025-2035, unless you like ‘em young. 93+ points (10/7/06)
1999 Quinta do Portal Vintage Port – Magenta color. It’s such a harmonious Vintage Port and if this were offered in my neck of the woods, I’d own a case of it. Light and lovely scents of lavender and anise with dark cherry notes. It offers a medium body weight and is more like a super LBV in style. Who cares? It is delicious with chocolate covered raisins and cherry fruit that is uber-smooth and with underpinnings of acidity and round tannins to keep it all in synch. I knew that if Portal could deliver this much pleasure in a vintage like 1999, greatness was just around the corner … and it was! Drink 2010-2022. 92+ points (10/7/06)
After lunch we went for a ride, not the normal ride around the Douro either. We headed into the back Valleys of Rancao in an open air truck with benches in the back. It was not for the faint of heart with some mind bending drops just inches away from the tires and we were at times canter levered over the precipice which certainly made things more exciting. The views of the vineyards were spectacular and occasionally a peek a boo view of the Douro River. Thanks to Mr. Magalhães and staff, for the wonderful hospitality, that we received during our visit. I look forward to seeing you all soon!
After this visit we drove back down the Douro and arrived in Oporto in plenty of time to have a quick rest before our farewell dinner. We decided on De Gusto because I have found the food there to be creative, impeccably presented and always delicious. The menu is deep in regional cuisine and it specializes in seafood. There was a new chef and GM since my last visit about 15 weeks earlier. For some reason the locals haven’t taken to this place but in my half dozen visits I have always walked away very satisfied with the service and quality of food. I just don’t get it.
We were fortunate to have the winemakers from Vista Alegre Miguel Martins and Mr. Délio Mesquita the winemaker for Brunheda joining us. I will do more justice to their wines in the next newsletter as I would like to share some of the intriguing wines we tasted on this evening.
It was evident that our guests had enough wine on this trip with nearly 230 overall since the first day of the trip. This was a truly fun week with a bunch of great guys from the UK and USA. Their bond has become strong and emails between them are frequent as are their visits to the FTLOP Forum. I can speak for Mario by saying that both of us had an amazing week and truly enjoyed our traveling companions and hope to see them again at some point on another trip. Thanks again to all of the wonderful people we visited along this great journey!
Until May when we head to Gaia and the Douro, as well as the enchanted island of Madeira … Melhores Cumprimentos!
QUINTA DO SILVAL
You can see Portal across the valley from Silval yet the drive seemed to take forever. I spent a relaxing time at Silval back in June and got to know the lay of the land as well as the hotel facilities they have here at the Quinta. But to avoid replication of identical material, I will provide a link to my article from a few months ago which goes into great detail, especially about the Douro wines and Ports of Silval. It was great to see Mr. and Mrs. Magalhaes again and their brilliant staff members who made me feel so at home during my initial visit.
It was an exquisitely warm and sunny day and we took some time to relax while waiting for lunch to be prepared. What better place than poolside, which at Quinta do Silval is nothing short of breathtaking with a 360-degree panoramic view that must be seen to be believed. This is also a very comfortable place to stay. The hotel facilities are more than adequate and you can’t beat the location. The food is great with some of the Single Quinta Extra Virgin Olive Oil I have ever tasted.
For more information, you may want to read about my nearly week-long stay at Quinta do Silval:
After lunch we went for a ride, not the normal ride around the Douro either. We headed into the back Valleys of Rancão in an open air truck with benches in the back. It was not for the faint of heart with some mind bending drops just inches away from the tires and we were at times canter levered over the precipice which certainly made things more exciting. The views of the vineyards were spectacular and occasionally a peek a boo view of the Douro River. Thanks to Mr. Magalhães and staff, for the wonderful hospitality, that we received during our visit. I look forward to seeing you all soon!
The full story of the 2006 Harvest Tour is broken into five articles:
2006 Harvest Tour Part One describes visits to Lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia, including Vasconcellos, Kopke, Vinologia, Cálem, Sandeman and Ramos Pinto as well as dinner at the Oporto Restaurant
2006 Harvest Tour Part Two describes visits to the Niepoort Lodge and to Symington Family Estates in Gaia, and dinner at the restaurant Presuntisco.
2006 Harvest Tour Part Three describes the visits to Douro Quintas including Quinta do Crasto, Quinta de Vargellas, Quinta do Vesuvio, Quinta Vale Dona Maria, Quinta do Noval, Quinta do Portal and Quinta do Silval.
2006 Harvest Tour Part Four describes the closing dinner at the restaurant De Gusto in Porto, together with the winemakers and wines from Quinta da Brunheda.
2006 Harvest Tour Part Five consolidates the 193 tasting notes from the other four articles into one document for easy reference.