It was now Tuesday, May 15th the second “official” day of our trip. We decided to drive up river rather than take the train as we had a full day ahead of us. The sun was shining and everyone was excited for their first glimpse of the Douro, as none of the guests had ever been there before.
A couple of hours passed and some slept while others were fascinated by the views that unfolded once we got off the main highway and got closer to the river. Our first stop was just moments away!
QUINTA DO INFANTADO
We arrived at Quinta do Infantado (Infantado: the Portuguese word for “prince”) and it was a warm and glorious day in the Douro. The Quinta is situated in Covas de Douro by Pinhão, known for possessing great Port vineyards. We were met by João Roseira who is responsible for the winemaking and vineyards at Infantado. João is soft spoken but has strong views on what is taking place in the Douro and within the Port trade. He speaks his mind freely and is very willing to share his knowledge of Port and the wines of the Douro.
Along with his sister Catarina, (the Chief Executive Officer of the family owned business) they pretty much run the show. The Roseira family has been guiding Infantado since the early 1900s when Catarina and João’s grandfather originally purchased the property. His uncle and cousin were the winemakers before João and they also managed the vineyards. Like most other growers in the Douro, the grapes grown here were sold to the larger Port companies until just a few years ago. Today, Quinta do Infantado encompasses 46 hectares planted to vines and their vineyards are exclusively A rated.
Of the 46 hectares, 12 are organically farmed and the Roseira’s are early pioneers in the Douro for this type of viticulture, although not alone. João uses copper and sulfur in the vineyards instead of synthetic herbicides and pesticides and took great care to slowly convert his vineyards over to this more natural and environment-friendly farming process, to enable the vines to remain healthy. The copper handles the mildew while sulfur controls oidium.
Organics are not new to the Douro, as pesticides were only introduced to the region in the 1970s. Although organics produce lower yielding crops, it also seems to mitigate the peaks and valleys of the growing season, which other vineyards tend to experience. João has decided to give “biodynamic” farming a try in the near future and it’s obvious he has a real love for his vineyards as well as farming itself.
Quinta do Infantado has been growing grapes for Port wine since 1816, almost a century before the Roseira’s bought the farm. Today they are also on the cutting edge of Douro wine production and make a solid lineup of DOC Tintas (red wines) from the indigenous Port varieties. João now 42, used to make the Port wine at Infantado but he currently employs a skilled team to do so, (Fatima Ribas who began in 2002 and the talented Luis Soares Duarte) while he concentrates on the vineyards and DOC wines.
Quinta do Infantado produces between 13-16 Ports in any given year. 1978 was the first commercially released Vintage Port to possess the Infantado label. 100% of the Infantado Ports are foot trodden in lagares. I learned that 750 Kg of grapes yields 1 pipe (550 liters) which requires 1.5 people treading in a lagar. I didn’t ask which half.
João is proud of the fact that they use considerably less aguardente in their Port production (than their competitors), 50% of which is added before fermentation begins and the rest slowly thereafter, which I found highly unusual. But clearly there are other unique facets to the Port production at this Quinta. While it is typical for fermentations to take place over the course of just 1-3 days in most Port production, Infantado slows down the process, allowing fermentations as long as 4-5 days. These extended fermentation sessions along with the judicious usage of aguardente result in a considerably drier, more elegant style of Port, and according to João, greater concentration of flavors. With older lagares at Infantado, controlling the temperature of the fermentations without any cooling coils, the slow addition of aguardente helps to maintain and regulate temperature, while protecting the grape juice.
It was time for us to start the tasting and unbeknownst to us, João had invited some local winemaker friends over to put some of their bottlings before us. As kind as this was for all, we literally did not have enough time to pay them their due respects, so my TNs on some are very sketchy. The wines were simply poured too quickly and when evaluating a large cross section of Douro wines and then heading into Ports, I guess I am a bit slower than most. There had to be a half dozen wines that I simply stopped writing about as the pours came even quicker. Next time I will know better!
2006 Kolheita de Ideas Esboco Branco Douro White Wine – This producer (winemaker Rui ?) began operations in 2001. A nice and light white with a great nose of honeysuckle and citrus blossoms. Delicate on the palate with zippy acidity and paired with the right food, this would be a fun wine. Drink now through 2010. 88 points (5/15/07)
2005 Mount Vale Branco Douro White Wine – From vineyards situated at a high altitude comes this fresh and tart white wine. Not acidified according to the winemaker, but with grapes grown up so high we weren’t surprised. The grapes are all from field blends. This was served too cold and we didn’t have time to let it warm up. Pear and peach came to the fore, with gobs of acidity and a generous fruit filled finish. Drink now through 2010. 87 points (5/15/07)
2006 Kolheita de Ideas Kappa Branco Douro White Wine – Light, lemony and barrel fermented. A bigger wine than the two that came before it. No real sign of the oak influence. Lots of tart citrus, a really dry profile that screams for food. However, paired properly this would be most enjoyable. Drink now through 2012. 88 points (5/15/07)
2006 Vértice Caves Transmontanas Douro White Wine – In the early days of this producer, Schramsberg was part of the Vértice collaboration to develop this Douro brand. Dry yet fruit laden with minerals, green apples and pears, it’s yeasty and well-structured, with finely tuned acidity and long length. My favorite white in the lineup, so far. Drink now through 2014. 91 points (5/15/07)
2006 Kolheita de Ideas Esboco Rose Douro Rose Wine – Who woulda thunk it, Douro Rose from Touriga Nacional? Yikes! Very pink and a funky nose and Brettanomyces to boot. Very little in the way of “flavor” whatsoever. I am not sure if this is tragically flawed or created this way. Drink not! Not Rated (5/15/07)
2006 Terras de Tavares Douro Red Wine – Scant notes as this was gone in a flash. 90% Touriga Nacional and 10% Jaen. A combination of French and American oak are employed with success. Big and bold berry flavors, well-balanced and ripe tannins that linger on the aftertaste. Drink now through 2012. 88 points (5/15/07)
2006 Bago de Touriga Lda. “Terraso” Douro Red Wine – From Tinta Roriz and Barroca. Stinky SO2, served cold which was just plain wrong. Full-bodied, bright blackberry fruit, but I just couldn’t get past the sulfur. Powerful and puckering tannins. Not Rated (5/15/07)
2002 Bago de Touriga Lda. Montevalle Reserva Douro Red Wine – From Tinta Roriz, Barroca and Touriga Franca. Luis Soares Duarte in conjunction with Joao Roseira. Expressive spicy, cassis and plum scents are bright, forward and pleasing. The big dark berry flavors are incredibly tart if not rustic and stuffed with punishing tannins. Lots of promise if you can get past the tannins, which for most would not be easy to do. Jammy and plush with a very long finish. Drink 2012-2020. 90 points (5/15/07)
2002 Kolheita de Ideas “K” Douro Red Wine – I like the fact that the grapes were foot trodden in lagar. Cherry, plum and plenty of oak influence showing. Rhuarb and raspberry on the palate. A touch lean and tart, but enough fruit to carry the wine and the finely knit acidity level helps to provide the requisite balance. Long aftertaste that is wrapped with ripe and powerful tannins. I wish I had a few hours to spend with this vixen. Where’s the beef?!?! Drink 2010-2018. 92 points (5/15/07)
2006 Kolheita de Ideas Esboco Tinto Douro Red Wine – Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca. Yummy scents of cherry and raspberry with some chocolate highlights. A dark berry profile, profoundly tannic on the palate but I really like this wine. It just needs 10 years to be enjoyable. Excellent symmetry between the fruit and acidity here, this will be a winner in time. Drink 2010-2018. 89 points (5/15/07)
2004 Infantado Douro Red Wine – Produced in lagar and aged in 2nd and 3rd year casks. Even though this is an entry level wine, it is drinking beautifully today. Classy, rich, powerful and dark fruit profile with deft balance and plenty of stuffing to hold this in the cellar. This is a Wednesday night steak wine! Approachable and complex given its age and it delivers a smooth, fruit filled persistent finish. Impressive! Drink 2009-2013. 91 points (5/15/07)
2004 Quanta Terra Grand Reserva Douro Red Wine – This is my first time trying this producer which began in 1999. Nearly 8,000 bottles made. Big ripe and bold blackberry and prune flavors are anything but shy. Dense and chewy and ripe for cellaring. Solid balance and firm grip that may never let go, like a tenacious pit bull. Mouth-coating smooth texture delivers the goods, this wine shows load of character and will only improve from here. Wow! Drink 2008-2019. 93 points (5/15/07)
2003 Vértice Grand Reserva Caves Transmontanas Douro Red Wine – I did not even write down my notes on the bubbly wine we tried from this producer as it lacked much interest. This red was far better. A blend of Touriga Nacional/Franca and Roriz tossed in for good measure. Ripe raspberry and mocha are subdued but enticing on the nose. The palate is much fuller, actually opulent and shows great depth and balance on the mid-palate with a profound, complex finish. Drink now through 2015. 92 points (5/15/07)
2003 Infantado Reserva Douro Red Wine – Deep extraction and a gorgeous nose that could fool me into believing this is a Cote-Rotie, with loads of bacon, vanilla and smoked meats. Different than anything else put before us. Elegant and concentrated red fruits come to the fore with a mix of ripe and tart flavors, spanning strawberry to pomegranate. Smooth and balanced with a prominent finish, this has plenty of upside potential and will be best in five or six years. Bottled in April 2006. Drink 2009-2015. 91 points (5/15/07)
Quinta do Infantado Ruby Port – I’ll admit that I have not tried a basic ruby in quite a long time. This is a decent one with lower alcohol (19.4%) and 3-4 years of age. A rather fine example of the genre and is about as good as an average LBV. This is almost like a Solera style with a solid FIFO rotation. No flaws, pretty purple fruit and fine, pure flavors. A modest finish and straightforward delivery, but what do you expect? Drink now. 85 points (5/15/07)
2001 Quinta do Infantado LBV Port – Fully opaque purple with a bright ruby edge. This is super sweet (so much for the dry/semi-dry house style) and was originally intended to be a Vintage Port, but was rejected by the IVDP four, yes four times! Distinctly ripe raspberry fruit and quite juicy at that. Light-bodied and overall it delivers the goods, yet I don’t see this as being VP material. However it is a very nice LBV and lost a point or so for the heat on the otherwise solid finish. Drink now through 2012. 90 points (5/15/07)
1997 Quinta do Infantado Vintage Port – Fine fragrance of strawberry and spicy red licorice along with an earthy note which added depth. Smooth and medium-bodied, this Infantado is soft and far more elegant than most 1997s, a decade later. Gentle tannins frame the prune and grenadine flavors which have great purity but lack complexity in the middle. Medium length to the finish of this VP, but a really silky smooth swallow. Drink now through 2016. 90 points (5/15/07)
Quinta do Infantado 10 Year Old Tawny Port – Orange/Tawny color. Spicy, caramel and toffee smooth and buttery on the palate. Lots of acidity to handle the sweet nectar. Elegant and this is a really fine example of what I like in a 10 year old Tawny Ports. A tasty and plush finish too! Drink now. 90 points (5/15/07)
The hospitality at Infantado was superb and I believe this was a real eye opener for the gang and a great introduction to the DOC Douro wines and what they can achieve. Thanks to João for taking such good care of us. We’ll definitely be back!
There is nothing like waking up and looking out of your bedroom window only to see the sun shining on beautiful plants and your real view beyond that is vineyards for as far as the eye can see. After a sound night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast we were ready to tackle a new day and explore more of the Douro’s interesting properties. Today, Wednesday May 16th 2007, our guests were in for a real treat as we had a pair of fantastic appointments lined up that would be enlightening and strikingly different from one another. We hopped into the mini bus and we were on our way, curving around past Quinta do Noval and heading down towards Pinhão before crossing over the Douro to the South bank and driving west towards the Tedo River. Before we knew it, we were there and as I was aware of what was about to unfold, I was very excited for this first visit. Our appointment was about to begin and we parked away from the awe inspiring structure that we would tour over the next hour or so.
The hospitality at Infantado was superb and I believe this was a real eye opener for the gang and a great introduction to the DOC Douro wines and what they can achieve. Thanks to João for taking such good care of us. We’ll definitely be back!
THE WINE & SOUL of PINTAS
Our next stop was to visit some friends I have made over the years and it was my first time ever visiting them at their Wine & Soul operation in Vale de Mendiz. Jorge Serodio Borges and Sandra Tavares da Silva represent the next wave in the Douro, as a young winemaking couple each of which is successful in their own careers, yet also has a thriving collaboration together. Their passion for life as well as wine is reflected in their smiling eyes when looking at their young son Francisco.
I met Sandra some years ago when she was just getting started, working with Cristiano van Zeller at Quinta do Vale Dona Maria. It was at the trade tasting at the Vancouver Playhouse Annual International Wine Festival in 2001, the year she married Jorge. I joined the Portuguese Port & wine contingent which included Sandra, Cristiano, Dirk Niepoort and Miguel Roquette (Crasto) along with my buddy Bartholomew Broadbent for a fun night out. I remember bringing a 1926 C. da Silva Vintage Port which fortunately showed beautifully and the rest is history.
It was two years later, in May 2003 that I first met Jorge, when Dirk brought him along to my home for a great wine dinner with friends. The weekend that followed included the greatest back-to-back Vintage Port events I have ever attended and Jorge had come over from Portugal to enjoy the spectacular tastings, as he was Dirk Niepoort’s winemaking protégé (for Douro wines) up at Quinta do Passadouro at the time (until 4/04). I immediately liked Jorge and his astute observations about the Ports we tasted that weekend and saw him again a month later at a dinner in Oporto.
To get a feel for how ‘in demand’ this couple of winemakers has been lately:
Sandra is involved in Pintas of course, Chocopalha where she makes wine at her parent’s wine property in Estramadura, Quinta do Vale Dona Maria as mentioned, Domini and Domini Plus, and as of this week, she and Cristiano will be fully immersed making wine at Quinta de Roriz.
Jorge stays equally busy, his family owns Quinta do Fojo where he worked early on, and today he Is the winemaker at Quinta do Passadouro. He is also involved in collaboration with José Maria Calem and Cristiano Van Zeller making a really fine Douro red named VT. Last but not least, as a consulting oenologist, Jorge made the 2006 Maritavara Reserva up river in the Douro Superior.
Although I have seen them both on other occasions in Portugal, it was pleasure to visit them at their home, see their adorable infant son Francisco, whom I had not seen since the last harvest, (while at Dona Maria) and although he had not yet turned one, he’d grown considerably over the past eight months. Our guests were very excited to meet this charming couple and to learn more about two of the Douro’s brightest stars, get the inside scoop on Pintas and their other vinous involvements.
Jorge and Sandra’s company is aptly named Wine & Soul, while the brand they produce is known as Pintas. The name Pintas, (meaning “spots” in Portuguese) is partially derived from the spots of wine one inevitably gets on their shirt, when working in and around wine. However, Pintas is aptly named after their friendly dog. The last member of the Borges family is their Pintas has achieved a devout following in Portugal and is on its way to stardom outside of the country’s borders too.
We were spoiled that afternoon and could not have chosen a more beautiful time to visit. Jorge took us on a grand tour and schooled us in a very green classroom, their vineyards which offered a fabulous view. Jorge is very straightforward with no airs about his success and he spent time explaining various facets of the viticulture and pointing out some of the future plans for their property. In 2003, he and Sandra purchased 3.5 hectares of old vine vineyards (some 70+ years old) with a Southern exposure and 30 grape cultivars. Near a well-situated grove of olive trees, they will soon plant another 4 hectares on small new terraces.
Jorge then brought us into the compact, well-aged wine making facility and we were able to see the four temperature controlled lagares and plenty of new casks. This part of Pintas was purchased back in 2001 and at the time, had no roof, running water or electric whatsoever. Yes, the Douro River Valley can still be a very remote region which has not lost its charm. Jorge went on to explain that from 2001-2003 he and Sandra had to buy grapes until 2003 when they purchased their own vineyards and were thrilled to be able to control the quality of their own grapes.
We had the opportunity to meet Jorge’s friend, a charming old basket press from 1961, whose picture sits directly to the left of this photo. With all of the new high gloss polished stainless steel equipment imported from Italy and Germany splayed at many Quintas these days, how refreshing to see an old press like this one. Built to last and still going strong nearly 50 years later.
We were given glasses by Jorge and then we had some fun tasting trial blends and different versions of wine directly from cask. That is something that most people never get to do when touring the Douro, unless well connected. It went over well and the group really loved some of the 2006 juice that we tried (red) and of course some infant Port-icide took place with big purple toothed grins.
We learned a bit about the Wine & Soul market presence and that their main sales avenues at this time were in the UK, Germany, Spain, Portugal and they’ve even started to trickle into the USA, especially on the East coast.
A couple of noted barrel samples:
2006 Pintas Douro red wine – Brooding black ink like appearance. The ’06 was sitting in cask for a full seven months when we tried it. Spicy, violets and grape essence which dominates the nose. Big jammy black currant fruit and some rough and punishing tannins made sure we did not forget this was not ready for prime time as of yet. Concentrated, rich and balanced, but it needs more time in barrel before making its real debut. Basically this was a tasty dry Port! not rated (5/15/07)
2005 Pintas Character Douro red wine – Selling for €22 with 7,000 bottles produced. Jorge feels the 2005 is even better than their 2004, with 18 months in French oak. Lovely vibrant floral notes. A smooth ride compared to the ’06 at this point, but no surprise. Stuffed with blackberry and damson plum, rich and concentrated with smooth mouth filling jammy fruit. Good acidity and round tannins lead up to long and spicy aftertaste. I don’t even want to guess what the drinking window will be like. 93-95 points (5/15/07)
Afternoon was fading fast along with the sun and we walked back to Jorge and Sandra’s home, where we were greeted by Sandra and Francisco. In amongst their flower garden a table had been set up to enjoy some regional hors d’oeuvres to pair with a refreshing white wine that they launched several vintages back, (I believe in 2004, the only other version I have tried).
2006 Wine & Soul Guru Douro White Wine – The 2004 version of this was an eye opener for me and it received awards and lots of wine press. I actually like the 2006 even better. Only 3,400 bottles were made. Aged for 7 months in new French oak. A scintillating aroma of orange blossom and white peach leads to a generous wave of fresh and flavorful Seckel pears and a lemony character. A core of acidity provides beautiful balance with no sign of the oak influencing the palate. I’d love to see what this will be like in 2-3 years; however the vitality and freshness depicted today are superb. Drink 2008-2012. Now, where can I find a case? 93+ points (5/15/07)
2004 VT Douro Red Wine – A creation by José Maria Calem in a venture with Jorge Serodio Borges and Cristiano van Zeller, the grapes for this wine are purchased. I had this with Mr. Calem last October at his Quinta da Foz and was very impressed. From 50% Touriga Nacional, suggested price of €30. Dark inky purple, the nose is stuffed with spicy anise, fresh flowers and cocoa. Fleshy and full throttled, with immense ripe boysenberry and plum fruit which is framed by copious amounts of acidity and integrated tannins. A wine of precision and in time this is going to be significantly better as all the components are already in synch. Drink 2009-2016. 92+ points (5/15/07)
2004 Quinta do Vale Dona Maria CV Douro Red Wine – Was 2004 the year that all the two letter acronym names were launched? I had this the previous October and it was a tannic beast. I enjoyed it much more this time around. It was far more approachable with spicy, raspberry notes and a hint of oak. Texturally this is a different wine, smooth and seamless in the mouth and seemingly more balanced. Packed with grenadine and plum flavors that showed a ripeness and balance which I found very appealing. A nice upgrading from my last visit. Drink 2008-2020. 94+ points (5/15/07)
2004 Quinta do Passadouro Reserva Douro Red Wine – from magnum - Dieter Bohrmann, Dirk Niepoort’s partner in past Passadouro days was smart to retain Jorge, who knew the terroir of the vineyards and what he was able to extract from the grapes of this property. This wine comes from a vineyard site that was used for Redoma, possessing 70 year old vines. Undertones of earth, cinnamon spice cherry and raspberry. I found it immediately approachable and fresh, with a sumptuous mouth feel and impressively balanced. Distinctly Douro, providing ripe red fruit flavors and gentle oak nuances, it showcases a decadent finish. Plenty of upside potential, but leave this in the cellar for awhile to enjoy at maturity. Drink 2008-2018. 6,000 bottles. 93+ points (5/15/07)
2004 Wine & Soul Pintas Douro Red Wine – from magnum. Simply put, this is the best wine I have tasted from either winemaker and it ranks as one of the top 10 Douro reds I’ve experienced to date. It spotlights a deft combination of a fabulous vintage and a pair of winemakers nailing a bull’s eye. I know that Jorge believes his 2005 is even better, but we’ll have to wait and see about that, a few years down the road. Featuring fragrantly effusive red berry fruit, spice and floral accents. Ripe red currant and vivid grenadine flavors meld with ample structure in support of the hedonistic mid-palate. It is massive and elegant at the same time, yielding a smooth, lip smacking aftertaste. Bravo! Drink now through 2018. 95+ points (5/15/07)
2001 Wine & Soul Pintas Douro Red Wine – from magnum. A quick aside which Jorge told us about. On the way to London’s Corney & Barrow the entire allocation of this inaugural vintage of Pintas which was destined for the UK marketplace, disappeared in a truck heist. Ouch! The nose was shut down but fortunately the palate wasn’t. Spicy concentrated red fruit is smooth and feminine in style, but also quite tannic. A very nice first effort with years of pleasure ahead. Drink now through 2015. 92 points (5/15/07)
2004 Pintas Vintage Port – Impenetrable inky purplish color. Blackberry and prune notes with a sweet and spicy scent as well. Medium-bodied but with time in a decanter this would plump up a bit. Dark cherry and huckleberry flavors dominate the palate with licorice and cinnamon as a backdrop. Nice lively tannins are overshadowed by the ripe fruit. There is some youthful heat which shows up on the finish, but it is mild and should integrate with more air time and/or time in the bottle. Very nice, especially for a 2004. FWIW, others in our group liked this even more than me. Approachable today, this should provide early drinking pleasure and be at its best circa 2022. 94+ points (5/15/07)
1977 Taylor Vintage Port – presented blind. Light ruby with pink-orange rim. Interesting herbal and pine scents suggesting eucalyptus, eclipsed the faint cherry note. I guessed 1970 based on the color and from the nose I thought there might have been something odd going on – oxidative? Then I tasted the wine and the palate was cleaner, although there were some spearmint flavors in addition to the raspberry fruit and evolved caramel and delicious smooth toffee taste on the finish. An atypical showing of this VP but very tasty nonetheless. 93 points (5/15/07)
Our visit was coming to a close as we had a wonderful dinner with our hosts, and greatly appreciated the generosity in sharing the large format bottles and Vintage Ports with our guests. It was a true pleasure to try the new releases that this dynamic duo is producing and to understand why there is such a “buzz” in the wine world with both the DOC Douro wines and Ports that they are producing. I look forward to seeing Jorge and Sandra in the not too distant future!
Although I’ve met with Dirk many times over the years, in Canada, the USA and mostly in Vila Nova de Gaia in Portugal at the Niepoort Lodge – somehow, I had never been to any Niepoort property or visited Dirk up in the Douro; so this was going to be a first. I love the rustic and unique Lodge but on this trip, I was dying to see the new construction project at Quinta de Nápoles. Situated just a short distance from the Tedo River’s confluence with the Douro River and in very close proximity to Quinta do Tedo, Dirk van der Niepoort was in the midst of creating something so revolutionary, that I had been following the construction project on the internet since its inception. Dirk had been uploading pictures and describing the progress, so visitor’s to the Niepoort website could virtually watch the new facility being built.
I believe the construction had begun approximately six months prior to our visit (late Nov. 2006) and there seemed to be a lot that still needed to be finished off, from our vantage point outside. Little did we realize how much had to still be completed. Everyone was wearing construction hard hats and there were cranes moving massive pieces of concrete, tractors and earth movers everywhere and all kinds of engineers and laborers spread out over the hillside.
Some facts about the Quinta de Nápoles construction project: Dirk van der Niepoort had been planning this renovation project for years. He hired an Austrian architect Andreas Burghardt to carry out his vision, as Dirk had already designed each and every facet of the new winery to include all the components he wanted and would most likely ever need. This was to be the largest and most ambitious new Quinta facility built in the Douro in over a century. Nápoles will be utilized solely for Douro wine production and storage, not Port. The overall scope of the main building is 4,000 square meters.
In describing the project, Niepoort stated, “We’re doing exactly what we need to do to make great wines.” In discussing the basic premise for the design, Dirk continued, “We will use the natural beauty, keeping it simple and avoiding mistakes.” It sounds easy, but Dirk “the great improviser” Niepoort has the personality of a perfectionist, especially when it comes to an expensive project of this scope.
We saw where the production will take place from crush to destemming and the natural gravity flow down to the fermentation area, on to the enormous, separate white and red Douro wine barrel storage rooms. Then of course there is the visitor center, outdoor patios with panoramic views of the surrounding vineyards and rivers and eventually a bottle shop and food service area.
But the coolest feature that was totally unique was a natural rock wall from the hillside outdoors that Dirk decided would become an integral feature of the design, making it part of the décor. But that was not the real reason for having that enormous schistous slab protruding into his brand new facility. Dirk believes by pouring water over the rock, that it would serve to naturally cool down his barrel rooms (just a few feet across a walkway, not only an energy efficient way to save money … but an engineering feat that’s never been used in any other winery to his knowledge. Have a look at this picture which doesn’t really begin to do it justice:
Niepoort’s other facility in the Douro is in Vale de Mendiz, where his Port production takes place although he also owns Quinta do Carril. Dirk is the 5th generation of Niepoort to make Ports in the Douro. His father, Rolf, turned 80 last year and he made some remarkable Vintage Ports as well as Colheitas. In 1987, Dirk began working with his father and that very same year he made his very first Vintage Port. Today, Niepoort is frequently globe trotting to promote his Douro wines and Ports and those of his compadres, the Douro Boys.
A self-professed contrarian, Dirk was the first Niepoort to decide it was important to own and control his own winery, having invested in Quinta do Passadouro in the 1980s and eventually divesting himself of that property, selling his share to his partner earlier this decade. He believes in 100% natural fermentation and uses no yeast as a catalyst. Dirk believes in freshness, transparency of terroir and purity of flavors, which is probably why he loves German Riesling and red Burgundy. He puts it more simply, “we make wines by extracting less, with solid concentration, purity and no manipulation.”
In fact, if you want to understand his eccentricities just imagine making Riesling and Pinot Noir in a region where it commonly reaches 110-115 degrees F. during the peak heat of summer. I’ve tasted both on a couple of occasions and they’re -- not surprisingly, very good. I believe his Riesling is grown on 120 year old bush vines without trellising at high altitudes. The grapes enjoy cooler temperatures resulting in profound acidity levels, which can make or break a top notch Riesling.
Today, Dirk relies on two key winemakers to help him with the day-to-day enological chores. Luis Seabra, who joined Niepoort in 2004, studied agronomy at Vila Real in the Douro, is responsible for the DOC wines. His counterpart, Nick Delaforce has been with Dirk since the early part of this decade after his family’s company was sold to The Fladgage Partnership. Nick is a savvy Port maker who knows the ins and outs of Port production and works closely with the Niepoort’s master blender for the excellent Tawny and Colheitas that Niepoort’s have made for generations and have earned a solid reputation, as one of the top names in these styles of Port.
There are currently 30 hectares planted at Nápoles and room for expansion if need be. I asked Dirk if he had a preference in his own Douro wines from the 2004 and 2005 vintages. He believes that in time the 2005 will prove to be the greater of the two years. He also stated that 2005 produced better Port as well.
When I asked if there was any way that Quinta da Nápoles would be completed in time for the 2007 harvest, the corners of Dirk’s mouth turned to a sly smile. He paused and after panning our group, said with full confidence, “Definitely, it should even be operational as early as July.” I would never bet against him and of course when I was back to visit him during the first week of October (2007), the place had been up and running for over two months!
Two important newsworthy items that Niepoort mentioned: The 1977 Garrafeira will be released no later than the end of this decade, as he was planning to bottle it by June or July of 2007. In keeping with family tradition, he has already planned for the next Niepoort Garrafeira which will be from the 1987 vintage.
Niepoort winemaker Luis Seabra, pictured in the photo above, took our group for some barrel tasting of 2006 Tiara, Riesling, Redoma Reserva, V ertente and Batuta. It was a pleasure to also get to taste the first batch of Pinot Noir, which was much better than I had expected, coming from the Douro. I should know better though!
Afterwards, we headed back to the older building that still stands today, where the offices reside and a tasting room which includes a great long table that doubles as a dining room table for guests, until the new facility is completed. Lunch was light, fresh and tasty with all produce grown locally and some of the most flavorful tomatoes I had tasted in ages. Soup is a given, always homemade and delicious. We had a number of wines to try with our food and of course some interesting wines with dessert as well. Here are my impressions:
1917 Niepoort White Colheita Port – bottled in 1927. What a wine to start off our tasting and I’m glad this one came first. I doubt I’ll ever sip and older white wine, no less a white Colheita. Dirk offered me another pour and I kept this to sip after lunch. Amber-orange color and it had an herb and pine note with a touch of eucalyptus and some fragrant tea note. Light-bodied initially, this put on considerable heft over the next couple of hours. I was somewhat taken aback by the lively, crisp acidity which was a most welcome surprise. Light flavors of orange liqueur, honey, toasted almonds and butterscotch. Almost like a fine Verdelho. There is a slightly waxy texture to this 90 year old white Port and it is a really unique experience. It offers plenty of complexity and a rather fine, elegant aftertaste. Wow, what an experience! 95 points (5/16/07)
2005 Niepoort Redoma Reserva Branco Douro White Wine – Such a gorgeous white wine and unquestionably the finest white DOC Douro wine made by any producer to date. The vines average 80 years old. Since this tasting, I’ve consumed a half case of this wine and have nearly a case left. It is that good. Vanilla bean, lemon zest and minerals round out the aromatics. There’s almost a rich, creamy texture with a touch of that Meursault oily mouthfeel and a bit too much oak at this early stage, which I’d bet will integrate as it evolves. In fact, this would be a dead ringer for a Meursault, especially when it ages for five years or more. Bracing, palate-tingling acidity adds an exclamation point to this beauty. Drink now through 2017. 95+ points (5/15/07)
2005 Niepoort Vertente Douro Red Wine – Medium-bodied, bright sweet, raspberry fruit with an herbal character and some well rounded tannins that provide balance. The Vertente delivers a fruit filled, simple yet smooth chocolate laden finish. Drink now through 2012. 91 points (5/15/07)
2004 Niepoort Batuta Douro Red Wine – From Quinta do Carril’s 70 year old vines. You can’t go wrong with 2004 Douro reds from top producers. This is no exception! The Batuta offers intense smoky, spicy purple and black fruit aromas. The texture of this wine is soft and caressing and the flavors tend towards black currant and plum. My favorite Batuta since 2001, this is a brilliant bottling and a testament to Niepoort’s stature as one of the preeminent producers of Douro wines. Drink 2008 through 2024. 94+ points (5/15/07)
2003 Niepoort LBV Port – bottled in 2007. Opaque purple. As good as LBV gets, the 2003 hits it out of the park. Fresh cherry and plum fruit and light, gentle tannins make this very easy to drink upon popping the cork. This could pass as a Vintage Port for most producers! I can’t remember the last time I gave a score like this to an LBV. Drink now through 2015. 93+ points (5/15/07)
2003 Niepoort Vintage Port – The equivalent of 30,000 liters of Port were discarded because it was so hot in the Douro that the triage of grapes was pretty drastic. Dark and fully opaque. Vibrant floral aromas are accompanied by tar, licorice and tobacco leaf. Deeply concentrated fruit that screams ‘drink me’ and appears approachable initially. The massive and aggressive tannins don’t join the party until it is well under way. The alcohol protrudes only because this is so young and brash and had no time in the decanter. A half a day of air time would do wonders for this young superstar. I really like the balance here and extremely smooth texture. The finish just keeps on going and is fruit laden and spicy. Drink now through 2040. 96+ points (5/15/07)
2005 Niepoort Vintage Port – Opaque inky purple. 35,000 bottles produced. Medium body, big up front fruit, very juicy and approachable. Black raspberry and cherry flavors with a slight green streak. Ripe but round tannins are present on the long finish. A fine but somewhat gentler Niepoort style has emerged in 2005. Drink now through 2025. 94+ points (5/15/07)
1995 Niepoort Colheita Port – Light ruby center with bricking on the rim. I must admit I am not typically a fan of young Colheitas, as I would prefer a 20 year old Tawny to most of them. The 1995 drinks very nicely and offers a beautifully elegant, velvety mouthfeel for such a young bottling. Lots of tasty praline and caramel flavors to enjoy and a rather long finish. I guess I just don’t get the young ones which for me, lack the true secondary nuances that I love in older versions. That is not a knock on this Port though, just my preference. Drink now through 2020. 92+ points (5/15/07)
Thanks to Dirk and Luis for sharing their passion and excellent wines with us. It was great to see Quinta de Nápoles for the first time and especially in the midst of the construction phase. Your time with us is very much appreciated!
WARRE’S QUINTA DA CAVADINHA
After a beautiful drive back up river and then back across the bridge and following the Western slope of the Pinhão Valley toward Sabrosa we arrived at our next destination. It seemed fitting to end our tour of the Douro by visiting a company so steeped in history and as we pulled up to Quinta da Cavadinha, fond memories came flooding back to me. We got out and stretched our legs and prepared for a very different view of the Douro.
We were met by Jackie Thurn-Valsassina who we’ve had the good fortune to get to know over the years as well as Miles Edlmann, a sharp young man who handles special projects as a viticulturist / oenologist for the Symington’s properties. Both were instrumental in making this a very special visit for our guest!
In 1670 Warre’s was established and remains the first and oldest British Port company and it was years later in 1729, when William Warre took over, that a family member was involved in the Port side of the company. A little known historical fact is that Quinta da Cavadinha at one time was three separate properties that eventually wound up being conjoined but the Quinta itself was to be shared by different families who owned those properties. The grapes produced at Cavadinha as recently as the first half of the 20th century, were sold to Fonseca, then to Sandeman and thereafter to Ferreira. Not until 1980, did Warre obtain the grapes grown there, when they purchased the Quinta outright.
The main vineyards of Cavadinha are actually on the opposite side of the street, situated in a huge bowl shape (think of a ski resort, just not as steep). It shares a boundary with Taylor’s Quinta da Terra Feita that can be seen when walking the vineyards. Due to the degree of slope of the terrain, the traditional terraced vineyards remain today, but lower on the slope there are now some new patamares.
A fairly recent development is that the Symington Family Estates re-purchased one of the lesser known Douro properties, Quinta do Bom Retiro Poqueno, which had historically been the backbone of Warre’s Vintage Ports. Having added that property to the mix in addition to Cavadinha is a major coup and bodes very well for the Warre Ports in coming vintages. Further complexity should be gained by having a blend of grapes from the Rio Torto Valley with Cavadinha’s from the Pinhão Valley, with different exposures and microclimates. Quinta da Cavadinha’s very first Single Quinta Vintage Port was the 1978 vintage. There is none of it left at the Quinta and I have never tried it.
I mentioned about my fond memories flooding back to me. Exactly thirteen years earlier, the Symington’s (Rupert’s father James) had graciously hosted me and a girlfriend at the time at Dow’s Quinta do Bomfim, a short drive from Cavadinha. Antonio who I believe still works at Bomfim drove us over to Cavadinha which locked and empty at the time. He let us in and showed us to the area where the Port casks were housed. As the language barrier made conversing difficult, he brought over two glasses and gestured to have at it. He then handed me a two feet length of green garden house and showed me how to siphon the Ports directly from the pipes. He then motioned to his watch and made it clear he’d be back in two hours. It was one of the great memories I have of being in the Douro during that first awe inspiring trips. I felt like a thief, at least the type that would have replaced the darn hose. I still have a funny photo that my partner took of me siphoning Port into our glasses. Nothing I could ever do for Antonio, could possibly make up for the wonderful experience of that balmy afternoon, alone at Cavadinha.
We just happened to pick an unusually hot day and although our group took a jeep ride up and then back down the steep vineyard, as we stood at the bottom of the bowl and listened to Miles sharing his pearls of wisdom, it was apparent that the temperature was approaching 90+ degrees. Like the sun’s reflection off of snow, in our case the schistous soil … we gained further appreciation of what it must be like to be a grape in the hot Douro climate. Wow!
Back to Mr. Edlmann who was discussing the new bloc plantings and experimental vineyards some of which surrounded us. Questions touched on grafting of rootstock, clonal selections and other more basic viticultural topics. It was fascinating to learn about this facet of the farming involved in Port and it was extremely educational. I was impressed how well versed this young man was and clearly the Symington’s hired him for all the right reasons!
It was time to head back up to the Quinta for our tasting and to get a gander at the robotic feet which are used to simulate the action of human feet treading (crushing) on grapes in a lagar. The robotics were first introduced by the Symington group in 1998 and quickly caught on across the region. From discussions I have had with numerous Douro Port makers, there are mixed feelings about this new technology. Some seem to feel it is by far the best and most economical way to produce their Ports (and in some cases Douro wines too). Others, who have embraced the technology, still choose to make their very best Ports and DOC wines the old fashioned way, regardless of cost savings.
The six robotic lagares at Cavadinha began with the 2003 vintage and each one holds 16 pipes (or 12 tons) per lagar. These are huge stainless steel vats rather than the traditional granite lagares that are still found in many Quintas (whether they are used or not). The “Plunger Tanks” as they are called, take up the vast majority of the huge room in which we did our vertical tasting. My camera had a malfunction; otherwise I’d have some great pictures of the plunger tanks.
Now, onto the Ports!
Warre’s Otima 10 Year Old Tawny Port – Orange color with amber rim. Mahogany, toffee and spirituous aromas lead to fresh fruit flavors of dates and prunes with some nutty nuance. Good acidity here which provides balance on the palate. What is missing is any sense of mid-palate depth that I expect from an average 10 Year Old Tawny Port. Medium length, simple finish with a sweet nuttiness and lots of alcohol protruding on the aftertaste.. 83 points (5/16/07)
Warre’s Otima 20 Year Old Tawny Port – Slightly more orange but otherwise very similar coloration. What a difference a decade makes as this Otima is the real deal and I’ve always found a huge disparity between the 10 and 20. Citrus, cinnamon and golden raisins excite the nose, while the smooth and unctuous mouthfeel deliver the palate pleasure along with some sweet caramel and toffee. Did I say I love the texture? 92 points (5/16/07)
1995 Warre’s Unfiltered LBV Port – Very dark purple appearance. Impressive extraction for a 12 year old LBV. My favorite remains the 1992 Warre’s which was an extraordinary LBV. Good depth of aromatics with floral fragrances, milk chocolate and prunes. Bold and fleshy fruit show well here and the acidity and still lively tannins provide the requisite structure. This is a fun LBV and I am glad to have tried it. Pretty finish! No reason this won’t show well when it reaches its 20th birthday. 89 points (5/16/07)
1999 Warre’s Unfiltered LBV Port – Bottled in 2003. Very dark and fully opaque purple. Whatever Warre’s did to obtain the extraction of this and the 1995 LBV, it was working. Big and boisterous fruit explodes in the mouth and offers a chewy fig and plum flavored affair. Yowza! This is a fine LBV and one you can enjoy immediately upon opening the bottle. Smooth and rich across the tongue with zippy acidity. Nice l-o-n-g finish. I upgraded the score by a point due to the really fine aftertaste. This too should have no problem drinking well for another decade. 91 points (5/16/07)
1970 Warre’s Tercentenary Vintage Port – Every time someone pops the cork on one of these 1970s, they should always toast to the historic moment in 1670 when the British got into the Port trade. I still remember my first time having this back in 1990 in NYC with some friends. I was not a big of it at that stage. Today it is showing a medium ruby center with wide bricking on the meniscus. From an ex-cellars bottle, I would not expect the appearance of this much evolution. It delivers some sexy and mature flavors of cherry, raisins and caramel, all of which are tasty in unison. A soft, silky mouthfeel and very easy to swallow. Lots of alcohol shows up on the finish. I wonder if the fruit is starting to recede into a Tawny? Fully mature and enjoyable, but drink up over the next five years if you own any. 90 points (5/16/07)
1980 Warre’s Vintage Port – Dark ruby color and a clear rim, showing its youthful appearance. Raspberry, cherry, mocha, cedar and some lightly disjointed aguardente appear are intertwined. The 1980 shows lots of chocolate and toffee on the palate along with brash, chewy and viscous red berry fruit. The finish is long and nearly perfect. Drink now through 2018. 92 points (5/16/07)
1987 Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha Vintage Port – I am a big fan of the ’87 vintage with some really fine SQVPs out there. Dark ruby with strawberry red rim. Beef, Medicinal, licorice and vitamin pill. Now I’m afraid to sip it. Hot, dry, lean and stalky. Burns going down. I changed my glass, spoke to others in our group and we all pretty much agreed that either this a poorly made wine, or giving it the benefit of the doubt … is a flawed bottle (no TCA!). n/r (5/16/07)
1991 Warre’s Vintage Port – I like this vintage and the Warre is certainly one that I always enjoy. Thank you James Symington for advising me to invest in 1991s, (the Dow and Graham are very fine too!). Medium dark ruby. The nose closely mirrors the palate here, both offering sweet grenadine, tar, cedar and a charred note which I actually enjoyed. Sweet and delicious, the medium-body is supported by finely knit tannins and cleansing acidity. This is put together well and always delivers. There is still some good upside potential here and I’d drink it through 2028. 92+ points (5/16/07)
1992 Warre’s Quinta da Cavadinha Vintage Port – I don’t remember ever having this before, although it is certainly possible I did long ago. My notes are very close to the 1991 (without the char) however this showed a more voluptuous mouthfeel due to the heavier weight. The finish is also more profound and slightly more complex. 94+ points (5/16/07)
2003 Warre’s Vintage Port – Opaque purple. This is the best showing of the ’03 Warre’s of any I have tried. Great extraction and concentration here with violets and red berry fragrances. Full-bodied and brawny. The balance stands out as exemplary and it is easy to fall for a Vintage Port of this quality. Absolutely delicious, with ripe astringent tannins that will keep this going strong for 3 decades. 94+ points (5/16/07)
2004 Warre’s Vintage Port – Unfortunately my tasting note was quite brief. Outstanding flavors and balance with a delicious blueberry pancake syrup slurp, which is packed with tannins on the juicy, fruit laden and impressive aftertaste. 94+ points (5/16/07)
I must make a comment looking back at my tasting notes for the last four Ports. It is clear that since the 1980s (and I really like the 1983/85 duo!) that Warre has taken an upswing and I include the gorgeous 2005 that I have had as well. When SQVPs like 2004 and 2005 can deliver such a high degree of palate pleasure, is it any wonder that in vintage like 2000 and 2003, they can really shine? I am excited by the prospects of the next declaration by Warre.
1937 Warre’s Colheita Port – How fortunate to have this twice in six weeks, although the second time was in late June. Coffee color with a golden/yellow rim. Everyone in our group came over to see what I thought about this Port. What can I say that they didn’t taste? This is mind blowing “territory” and I am pleased to see how much they loved this old beauty. A complex scent of Cognac, orange blossom and toasted almonds, with just a touch of spirit poking its nose in to my business. Delicate and intricately spun sugar with hints of honey, generous praline and butterscotch flavors. This is one rich and silky Colheita. Drink it now or tonight, tomorrow or any other day you can get your hands on a bottle! 96+ points (5/16/07)
What a fantastic time and we all learned a lot, not only tasting some tremendous Port but especially in the vineyards. Lots of information to soak in and I appreciate the efforts of both Miles and Jackie!
After our departure, we took our mini bus back to Oporto where we had a great dinner and packed for our second half of the trip, heading to the island of Madeira in the morning.
The story of the 2007 Fortification Tour is told in 3 parts:
Part One - Porto & Gaia, featuring Sandeman, Taylor Fladgate, Vinologia Port wine bar, Sogevinus, Avepod Wine Shop and Presuntisco restaurant.
Part Two - In the Douro at Quinta do Infantado, Wine & Soul, Niepoort and Warre's Quinta da Cavadinha
Part Three - In Madeira, at HM Borges, Vinhos Barbeito and Fajã dos Padres