A Diamond in the Douro’s Rough: Quinta do Silval

Upon arrival at OPO, better known as Porto International Airport, it was immediately apparent that there was something festive in the air. On the ride to my hotel, I couldn’t help but smile when seeing the Portuguese flag hanging from every possible vantage point along the drive.

But this was not your typical Portuguese holiday atmosphere. After all, Portugal was doing well in the 2006 FIFA World Cup Tournament (which translates to soccer match for my uninitiated countrymen).

As usual, I tried to ward off the inevitable jet lag and went on my way, walking through downtown Oporto to the Ribeira district and then across the bridge to Vila Nova de Gaia. I was inspired by the upbeat, celebratory mood of the tourists and everywhere I looked people were draped in Portuguese flags and shirts, while the crowded gift shops were brimming with nationalistic pride.  This was just the beginning to a very special visit to the country that I love!

I could easily live in Oporto, a city with a warm heart and vibrant soul.  Every time I visit, I see, taste or experience something new that just provides such a visceral pleasure.  It is usually something quite simple that strikes me, while I notice others walking by unaware or without a care.  In this particular instance, I stood and watched a road crew repaving a street adjacent to the Sao Bento train station which was roped off for repair.  Although it might sound mundane to most, this crew was not involved in using a steam roller truck to flatten molten tar and asphalt as would take place on your typical American street resurfacing.  No, here I observed men who were “repaving” this street by individually hand placing 4” square stones onto a leveled sand base, creating an eye pleasing pattern that was more intricate than any jig saw puzzle imaginable.  Although they’re probably considered common laborers, these men were actually artisans, painstakingly pounding each stone into place to develop a smooth roadway.  Like I said, ‘simple pleasures.’

After a couple of days in Oporto and Vila Nova de Gaia it was off to the Douro.  One of my goals was to see some of the crop damage from the infamous June 14th hail storm which took place nine days earlier.  The initial reports made it sound as if a significant quantity of the Douro’s vineyards were wiped out by the rain and hail.  Friends in Portugal had emailed and said it was pretty bad, but that the storm’s path was somewhat limited and that early damage assessments were inaccurate and overstated.  Nonetheless, I had to see this for myself. For further information on the specifics of the damage, please see the report from the FTLOP website’s Forum 2006 Port Crop Destroyed?

The main reason for my trip to the Douro was to visit a Single Quinta … Quinta do Silval, which I had heard about from my buddy Mario Ferreira, but had never visited. Quinta do Silval seemed to have everything required for a wonderful stay: warm and charismatic hosts, both Douro and Port wines, not to mention a modern wine production facility. Additionally there was a full-service on-premise bed & breakfast lodge situated on a stunning piece of land with an outdoor pool boasting a phenomenal 360-degree panoramic view, an open air or glass enclosed al fresco Grill House complete with a full kitchen and a very professional and courteous staff.

When arriving at Quinta do Silval, which is conveniently located in the Pinhão Valley in rural Vale de Mendiz, one can not avoid noticing the breathtaking scenery that surrounds you as you enter the property on the sloping driveway down to the Quinta which sits at an elevation of approximately 300 meters.  I was greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Carlos and Beatriz Magalhães, who moved to Silval from Oporto in 1984.  The building which today includes the hotel, originally housed the “adega” (winery) with small living quarters upstairs.  Unfortunately the Quinta was in such disrepair that it had to be leveled and was rebuilt from the new foundation, on up.  The Bed & Breakfast did not open to the public until late in 2005.

After my bags were placed in my guest room, I quickly made my way onto the Quinta’s veranda, as the sun was setting and I did not want to miss a single second of the beauty that was about to unfold over the vineyards near and far.  The silence of the remote area known as the Douro is always striking, but in conjunction with the extraordinary colors of the sunset and vineyards here at Quinta do Silval, it was a feast for the senses that I hope all of you get to experience at least once.  Little did I know that in a short while this would be the setting for our dinner later that first evening.

One of the setbacks for tourism in the Douro is that there is a serious lack of rooms for guests that are not invited by the Port trade.  In addition to The Vintage House Hotel and Quinta do Portal’s excellent facilities, the Burmester and Quinta do Silval are the only places I am aware of that are currently open to the public.  So options are limited and it is always great to explore a relatively brand new facility.  The fact that Quinta do Silval offers a full wine and dine experience in addition to the 14 well-appointed guest rooms, is a testament to the vision of Mr. Magalhães.

Once inside, there is a very comfortable living room within which to relax with a glass of wine, possibly a good book or while watching a huge satellite TV image that can project any of 90 available channels.  I only bring up the TV as on one of the night’s during my stay, I sat with the Magalhães family and friends and enjoyed watching a thrilling and controversy infused 1-0 victory over The Netherlands, during Portugal’s run up to the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup.  There are couches and plush arm chairs to sink into, along with a wood-burning fireplace which would be welcome on a cold autumn evening with one of the fine Quinta do Silval Ports.

The spacious and modern guest rooms are less than a year old and feel like they’re brand new.  Twelve of the fourteen guest rooms have queen-sized beds (the other rooms possess 2 doubles) and are very comfortable.  Half of the rooms have the ability to be fitted with extra roll out beds if needed.

Each guest room also offers the following amenities:

  • Great views of the vineyards and lots of natural lighting
  • Large and well appointed bathrooms
  • Exotic Brazilian hardwood sets of desk and chair, side tables and matching headboards
  • Roomy closets
  • Telephone
  • Satellite TV w/ 14 channels
  • ADSL high speed internet connections
  • Air conditioning
  • Security safe

The dining area is charming and can seat up to 40 people, with an outdoor Grill House which can comfortably accommodate sixty dining guests.  I would imagine that in the future, this could be used for local weddings and birthday parties as well as corporate conferences.  The Quinta’s spotless ultra-modern restaurant-ready kitchen is impressive, with brand new shiny stainless steel appliances throughout.  The main dining room is cozy, casual and comfy too, with wood everywhere.  There is a light colored oak ceiling and doors as well as dining tables made from local chestnut, which are quite attractive, as is the prominent cast iron chandelier that is centered in the room.  Off to one side there is a small bar area in case a guest has a hankering for something other than the Quinta’s diverse selection of Douro wines and Ports.  Of course this would be sheer heresy.

I enjoyed a number of breakfasts, lunches and dinners during my three day visit and found the overall quality very good.  For those travelers looking to find genuine regional cuisine presented without pomp and circumstance, the food here is plentiful with generous portions and the freshest ingredients possible.  As one who enjoys food as much as I do wine, the compliment of Douro reds at lunch and dinner, make these meals a memorable part of the day.  Tasting notes on all wines experienced, will follow later in this report.

The breakfast buffet offers a broad array of local meats, cheese, freshly baked breads and an assortment of home made preserves from fruits grown on the property, which were scrumptious.  Additionally, there was fresh squeezed juice, fruit, cereals, yogurt and an espresso machine was available too.  Given the generous selection on the buffet, I was not expecting the kitchen staff to prepare eggs and bacon for overnight guests but they were ready to please.  What a great way to start the day.

I had the opportunity to talk to one of the friendly employees on a quiet morning and this young charismatic and confident local gal, Estrela (fitting in Portuguese, her name translates to “star”), impressively speaks 5 languages fluently.  I wondered if she was missing her calling as a translator for the United Nations, nonetheless she provided impeccable service.  Estrela’s mother is the chef for the Quinta and the other staff members were equally professional and carefully chosen.  A young man named Carlos was the manager of the guest services and he was quite knowledgeable, extremely polite in a soft spoken manner and was well-versed in food and wine as well.  He let me know that with some advanced notice, meals could be arranged to be served on the terrace in front of the Quinta.  In addition, Carlos adeptly handled all sommelier duties during some of the Douro and Port tastings I took part in.

Lunch and dinner were equally impressive at Quinta do Silval, with no two meals alike.  Their Quinta-grown olives made some of the finest, freshest and most vibrant flavored olive oil I’ve ever tasted and it was served over finely minced garlic to which I added a touch of salt and this along with their home baked bread could easily have served as my entire meal.  From the Bacalhau (Cod fish) to the Cabrito (baby Kid) and the vast selection of fresh vegetables all grown on the property and side dishes, the food was every bit as delectable as the wines I was able to taste

One afternoon, the Magalhães’ family and friends drove up from Oporto, in time for lunch at The Grill House on the Quinta do Silval’s property.  We had an incredible feast and although it was quite sunny and warm outside, it was quite pleasant in the shade of this casual eatery.  What a nice alternative to the dining room and like dinner on the veranda the first night, The Grill House provides the feeling of being in a different venue.  Two thumbs way up and my compliments to the chef!  I can see why Mr. Magalhães is planning to apply to have his rural wine hotel, Quinta do Silval added as a member of the Relais and Chateaux guide.

It was sunny and warm during my stay at the Quinta.  In addition to touring the wine production facility and spending a good amount of time exploring the vineyards, I made sure to enjoy my surroundings.  It was very easy to do and I felt invigorated after a sunny afternoon spent lounging poolside.  There is a decent sized kids pool as well as a larger oval pool set high atop the property’s perch above a plethora of olive groves and fruit trees and of course, their 22 hectares of vineyards (part of the 60 total hectares of vineyards they own, the balance of which reside in Roncão).

Quinta do Silval's History, Viticulture & Name

Mr. Magalhães spent the majority of his career in the chemical industry as an electrical engineer working for the Mello Group, which owns or manages shipping firms, highways, chlorine plants and other diverse interests.  His uncle owned textile and chlorine plants in Portugal as well as half a dozen Quinta properties in the Douro.  Carlos Magalhães also lived and studied in France and received his graduate degree in nuclear engineering.  He formally retired at 65 years old, although he continued to consult for the Mello group thereafter.  Life in the Douro, making wine and overseeing the entire Quinta do Silval operation has been a rewarding way to spend the past twenty two years with his wife.

Carlos met the love of his life, Beatriz, when he was just six years old and they have been happily married for many years.  Interestingly, his mother was the second woman ever to become a lawyer in all of Portugal. Both of his parents came from nearby Vila Real.  Carlos and Beatriz have three sons and two daughters, but only his son Carlos Jr. works in the family operation, heading up the Sales and Export division.  The Magalhães’ sons and daughters frequently visit the Quinta on weekends and it is obvious from the three siblings I met, that this is a very close knit family.

Back in the 1800s, a Magalhães ancestor owned Quinta do Silval, so there is a strong historical link. As mentioned earlier, Mr. Magalhães took over the property in the mid-1980s and by the early 1990s had made significant progress in the vineyards.  Years before owning the land, Magalhães came to visit relatives who owned Quintas and grew grapes in close proximity to the property he now owns.  Carlos often brought his young sons along to hunt partridge on the steep terrain of the area.  Sixty years earlier, his father used to come to the same vicinity to see family and enjoy his favorite drink, Port wine.

Carlos inherited his father’s love of Port wine and was looking to purchase a Quinta with well situated and highly rated vineyards.  He eventually developed a rapport with Quinta do Silval’s previous owners and over a two year period, persuaded them to sell their Quinta after they visited Mr. Magalhães’ hotel property in Oporto.

In the early days of owning the Quinta, Magalhães sold grapes and Port in bulk to a variety of well-known Shippers, as was common practice by most of the Single Quintas at the time.  This was before the sea change in the Douro, which brought about a plethora of growers, turned Port shippers.  Quinta do Silval maintains a total of 60 hectares of 100% “A rated” vineyards and can reach a maximum production of about 500 Port pipes this year; with upside potential of 2,000 pipes (a pipe of Port holds 550 liters) in the future.

In addition to their own Douro wines and Ports, Mr. Magalhães helps some of the other local growers and buys their grapes but he is very picky.  He insists on high quality and purchases 90% of the grapes from A rated vineyards and 10% from B rated vineyards, (ratings run A-F) from the heart of the Douro’s Cima Corgo.  Acting as a negociant, he produces approximately 1,500 pipes of Port to sell to the larger Port companies that appreciate the quality produced by Quinta do Silval.

Today, Quinta do Silval is a growing wine business entity with 35 employees working in the sales and export sector of the company.  Total production in 2005 was 21,600 cases of wine (x 12 bottles) of which slightly less than 5,000 cases were exported, which shows the strength of their presence within Portugal.  Their key export markets are the usual Portuguese speaking (ex-colonies) countries of Brazil and Angola, but they also ship to Switzerland, Denmark, USA, Germany, France, UK, Canada, Belgium, Spain, Holland, Dutch Polynesia and Cape Verde and possibly Norway as this newsletter goes to press.

Occasionally, Magalhães will ferment the grapes dry and utilize the wine for his Ribiera das Canadas label, which is his entry level tier.  Canadas is the name of a creek that separates Silval’s two distinct vineyard properties in the beautiful and rugged Rancão area, which has a soil type known as blue schist.  Yields are low at 30-35 hl/ha and the vineyards have direct exposure to the sun throughout the day.

Port lovers are probably wondering about the name Silval which appears on Quinta do Noval bottlings and the distinction with Quinta do Silval.  Let me make this easy by saying that they practically have nothing to do with one another.  In the late-1980s or early 1990s, Quinta do Noval registered the brand name of Silval as they knew that Quinta do Silval was not currently using the brand name Silval on their labels.  Therefore, although somewhat confusing, there is no correlation between Noval’s Silval brand and the Quinta do Silval.

Quinta do Silval Douro & Port Wines

There are three distinct lines of wine at Quinta do Silval:

Ribeira das Canadas - is the entry level, lower priced tier of Douro wines made from mostly purchased grapes.  These fall into the VQPRD designation (DOC).

Dorna Velha - are more serious wines that are cellar worthy and come from single grape varieties such as Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Touriga France from top harvests and there is a Reserve level as well.  Dorna Velha wines are only produced from grapes grown at Quinta do Silval’s properties and carry the VQPRD designation as well.

Magalhães Port – at this time there are only LBVs and Vintage Ports which are commercially released.

The castas (Portuguese for grapes) that go into the Dorna Velha and Magalhães wines come from Quinta do Silval and their two other Quinta properties in Roncão, Quinta do Vilarinho and Quinta do Síbio.

Although Carlos Magalhães has been the winemaker since he and his wife purchased the Quinta, he has also hired a talented young oenologist, Teresa Paula Carvalho Pinto.

Some accolades: A panel of 11 esteemed judges (consisting of journalists, Port winemakers, importers and a retail sales director) blind-tasted 40 Single Quinta Vintage Ports from an assortment of vintages.  Of the 40 SQVPs tried, only one was awarded 5 stars by the Decanter Magazine panel. The original story appeared on page 90 of the Dec. 2003 issue.

2000 Magalhães, Quinta do Silval Vintage Port received top honors from the panel, up against some very stiff competition.

Silval’s other achievement from an earlier panel tasting, (the story appeared in the June 2001 issue of Decanter) of 136 Portuguese table wines.  Quinta do Silval entered just two wines.  21 of the 136 were “highly recommended” and of those 21, twelve were from the Douro.  Both of Quinta do Silval’s wines were “highly recommend”:

  • 1998 Dorna Velha Reserva
  • 1998 Dorna Velha Tinta Roriz Colheita Seleccionada.

Quinta do Silval Douro DOC Wines Tasting Notes

2003  Ribeira das Canadas  Vinho Rose  Douro – Made from Touriga Franca and Nacional, along with Tinta Barroca and Roriz the vast majority of the 10,000 liters of this wine is exported to France.  Showing a vibrant raspberry red color, it is fresh and light bodied, with tart rhubarb flavors that are quite dry with good minerality and a bit more sweet fruit emanates on the finish.  A pleasant summer quaffer that we had a number of times during my visit. 84 points  (6-23-06)

2000  Dorna Velha  Tinta Barroca  Douro red – Spicy cinnamon and smoky notes added intrigue to the aromatics, youthful for a six year old, smooth on the palate, well-balanced and easy to drink now.  I enjoyed this even more with food which brought forth an even longer finish. 89 points  (6-23-06)

2005  Dorna Velha  Tinta Barroca  Douro red – Strawberry and floral nose, very straight forward on the palate with good balance and smooth texture.  I enjoyed the dark cherry and mocha flavors here that were supported by round tannins that showed up on the medium length finish. 89 points  (6-24-06)

1998  Dorna Velha  Tinta Roriz  Colheita Seleccionada  Douro red – Medium ruby color.  Provides exotic scents of ripe watermelon and fresh cut flowers.  From the nose I had no idea what to expect, but this was filled with intense flavors of plum and ripe blackberry.  Enjoyable now but I think it will even be better in another year or two.  This is a big, brash and sumptuous Douro wine with the backbone to keep it around for years to come and the seamless mouth feel and a superb finish.  One of the Quinta’s best reds.   92+ points  (6-24-06)

2000  Dorna Velha  Colheita Seleccionada  Douro red – No longer just Tinta Roriz, this also has Barroca, Touriga Nacional and Franca.  This is of a quality level just below the Reserva and it spends only six months in oak vs. the Reserva which receives nine months in cask.  Dark ruby color and offering up a smoky, plum, spice and mocha aromatic profile.  I enjoyed the prune and cassis flavors of this wine but found the texture a bit coarse.  Mild tannins are present on the persistent finish that ends with a chocolate note.  Drink now – 2010.   90+ points  (6-26-06)

2003  Dorna Velha  Colheita Seleccionada  Douro red – Medium ruby color.  This was the last red wine I had at Quinta do Silval and it was quite tasty with lunch.  Earthy nose with strawberry and raspberry aromas.  Very smooth on the palate and this shows great promise, with grenadine and plum flavors combining with the great textural pleasure.  The tannins are aggressive but round and this wine finishes with great length.  It is quite approachable today but I’d cellar these for at least five years and possibly ten.   92+ points  (6-26-06)

1998  Dorna Velha  Reserva  Douro red – I was very much looking forward to trying this wine that was touted by Decanter Magazine.  Medium ruby color.  It offers layered dark berry fruit and is quite dry on the palate, with a medium weight and lush mouth feel.  It delivers mild, fully resolved tannins and a long tasty finish.  90 points  (6-25-06)

2000  Dorna Velha  Reserva  Douro red – Clearly my favorite Douro wine tasted during my visit.  Dark violet-ruby opaque appearance.  Smoky plum and blackberry aromatics with just a slight scent of vanilla.  Young and vibrant, ripe dark berry fruit with a rich palate presence and a simply extraordinary balance and fine tuned structure.  I suggest cellaring this massive wine for three more years, as it is destined to improve and reward patience, although it is great today.  A delicious and persistent finish.   93+ points  (6-25-06)

2005  Dorna Velha  “Duet”  Douro red (Cask Sample) – Mostly Tinta Roriz and some Tinta Cão added as well.  Purplish ruby color.  Spicy strawberry and raspberry scents fill the glass.  The crisp acidity and round tannins make this cask sample very approachable right now, though it will be bottled in August.  Very tasty with a lot of upside potential!   91+ points  (6-25-06)

2005  Dorna Velha  Touriga Franca  Douro red (Cask Sample) – Fully opaque magenta color.  Blueberry and mocha notes are striking.  This baby delivers ripe cassis, plum and boysenberry flavors that meld to provide a full-bodied beauty.  The aftertaste shows a sweet chocolate nuance and supple tannins.  Drink now or in five years, either way it is a well-made single casta wine.   92+ points  (6-25-06)

Quinta do Silval Port Wines Tasting Notes

Magalhães Tawny Port – This was never commercially released and is only consumed with family members and friends. The cuvee is an aggregate age of nearly 20 years old. Served chilled, this was a delightful way to finish dinner my first evening at Silval. Light bodied and elegant, there was some caramel and butterscotch notes and very silky mouth feel. The finish was a bit clipped and there was a bit of alcohol that protruded on the aftertaste.  86 points (6-23-06)

1999 Magalhães LBV Port – Dark ruby center and a light pink edge. Ripe red berry centric aromas. Medium bodied and soft, easy-to-drink approachability make this LBV a delight to roll around in the mouth. Raspberry and Grenadine syrup flavors with very gentle tannins that are barely noticeable on the lengthy finish. The smooth texture is a standout in this Port. 91+ points (6-24-06)

2001 Magalhães LBV Port – Not bad for a EUR 12 bottle. Dark cranberry color with a ruby rim. A mélange of golden raisins, red licorice and black currant kept me sniffing away. Very enjoyable nose here with a soft approach and light-medium weight. Very delicate with flavors of black cherry and plum fruit. A simple mid-palate and shorter length to the finish than the 1999.  89 points (6-24-06)

2002 Magalhães LBV Port – Talk about bargains, at 12 Euros this is a steal. Full opacity and inky black-dark magenta meniscus. Initially very tightly wound aromas that needed coaxing with lots of swirling to fresh violets and a touch of tobacco leaf. Delicious sweet mouthful of full-bodied blackberry fruit with excellent acidity and prominent tannins that provide the stunning balance of this LBV that shows fine complexity on the mid-palate. The finish is long, sweet and unctuous. Grab a case if you can find it! Only 1000 cases were produced. 93+ pionts (6-24-06)

1985 Magalhães Vintage Port – This VP was the first made by Magalhães at Quinta do Silval, albeit never commercially released. Light ruby centered with an orange rim. Tobacco and harsh alcohol on the nose. Fortunately the palate is showing significantly better in comparison. Medium-full body weight, this is a soft and elegant wine that has passed its peak. At twenty one years old, it was an interesting glimpse into the early days of winemaking at Quinta do Silval. 86 points (6-25-06)

2000 Magalhães Vintage Port – Opaque dark inky purplish-black. Wow, is this a youngster and it’s delivering all of the goods already. Cherry and primary plum aromas are gorgeous here and the palate is even better. Fantastic in terms of the structural components that are totally in synch, yet the upside potential of this wine is measured in decades. Put away a case of this black beauty and enjoy the blueberry and plum fruit that is brimming with sweet juice and delivers powerful tannic grip and an absolutely sublime aftertaste. The Magalhães 2000-2003 VPs are made up of 70-80% Touriga Nacional and the balance is Touriga Franca. My favorite of all Ports tasted today. 93+ points (6-25-06)

2002 Magalhães Vintage Port – Opaque purplish ruby. Young in appearance and the fresh floral nose along with prunes and dark cherry fruit was intriguing. This showed more tart flavors than the 2003 but it is still very much in a fruit forward style with the dominant purity of under ripe black cherries and plum. Light to medium-bodied, with tannins that provide a wake up call on the modest aftertaste. This VP came from a difficult harvest with few producers releasing their wines.  87 points (6-25-06)

2003 Magalhães Vintage Port – Opaque ruby color and a reticent nose that took awhile to show some plum, mint and intriguing baked apple and cinnamon aromas. Once this did open up the complex aromas really came to the fore. Lots of glycerin present in this VP along with plum and cassis flavors and an incredibly smooth mouthfeel. The mid-palate was a bit hollow and I believe this would have benefited from a few hours of decanting. The tannins were mild and the formidable finish was the strongpoint of this wine. It would be best to revisit another bottle in six months. 86+ points (6-25-06)

2004 Magalhães Vintage Port – This VP is the only one produced from a single variety, in this case Touriga Franca. Opaque black/violet with a dark ruby edge. Surprisingly after looking at this dark brooding wine, it only showed a light to medium body weight which I believe is due to the Franca. The ‘04 shows a very approachable style considering it has not been released as of yet. Soft, ripe and sweet boysenberry flavor is fun to drink, albeit quite straightforward, if not a bit simple. Nonetheless, the structure is sounds with full bore acidity and tannins that are not shy and appear late on the aftertaste and disguised by the overt fruit of this VP. I’d suggest drinking this between 10-12 years old. 89 points (6-25-06)

I would like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Magalhães for their hospitality and allowing me to ask so many questions.  I will never forget the wild truck ride through the back roads and vineyards of Rancão, nor the excitement of watching the World Cup game vs. The Netherlands with your friends and sons.  This was a wonderful visit and a great opportunity to learn about this fine property and the wines and family that make Quinta do Silval so welcoming.  I look forward to revisiting in the future.  Muito obrigado!

For more information and reservations, you can visit the Quinta do Silval website.

By | 2016-11-18T10:24:32+00:00 September 9th, 2006|Categories: Port|0 Comments

Leave A Comment