After leaving Quinta do Vale D. Maria and Cristiano & Joana van Zeller in the late afternoon on Thursday, we headed to our last appointment of the day. From the Rio Torto we drove up river through the Pinhão Valley and into Sabrosa, which is a beautifully scenic route and turned into the grandiose, Quinta do Portal for the rest of the afternoon into evening. Upon arrival we were met by Paulo Coutinho who has been the head winemaker at Portal at least as long as I've known this fine producer (2001). I am not exactly sure if he was the original winemaker, but do think so.
Portal has come a long way in the past decade; their rise to prominence which began with their resurgence as a Port shipper from their humble beginnings as a grower for other producers. When I first visited this property in 2003, there was no hotel yet, and it was a much smaller operation. The newest building we were in now, a massive multi-floored production and storage facility, (each floor resembling the size of a football field) on the scale of Niepoort's enormous Quinta da Napoles, maybe even larger, was a modern marvel in the scheme of the Douro.
Paulo opened Portal's 2008 Spumante Rose Brut Natural, a fairly new project for Portal and the finest Portuguese sparkling wine I've tasted, other than Vertice. It is a blend of 50% Touriga Nacional, 45% Tinta Roriz and 5% Sercial. Salmon colored, this has seemingly improved rather dramatically since the last time I tried it last autumn. I still believe that another six to nine more months in bottle will benefit it further, but it already shows a greater balance of fruit and acidity and is now a much more complete wine. We were poured a refill and brought our glasses along for a tour of the operation.
Afterwards, we walked over to the main building which houses a tasting room, the visitor's center replete with a well appointed wine sales facility, and an upscale restaurant. There was a table of hors d'oeuvres set up for us with a splendid array of excellent appetizers and a display of the wines we'd be enjoying with our dinner. Portal's owner, Pedro Branco joined Paulo in introducing the staff and we were shown the kitchen where their outstanding young chef Milton Ferreira, (20 years old) was doing his thing in preparing our multi-course dinner and surprisingly there was no one else assisting him. He seemed totally at ease and was enjoying the challenge ahead.
Our dinner began and the wines started to flow. A 2000 Portal Grande Reserva (red), no stranger to visitors to this property is one of my personal favorites of all table wines made in the Douro. That is saying quite a lot and here's a quick aside. Six weeks after the tour, I had a prominent Douro Boy visiting my home and a day after he had told me he'd never been impressed with the wines of Portal, I poured him this 2000, blind, during dinner. He thought it was one of his own wines and told me how delicious it was and that it was a fresh 2004 with a good amount of Touriga Nacional. When I revealed the bottle to him, he was rather shocked it was the 2000 Portal and explained that this wine changed his opinion of what Portal was capable of.
Back to the wine at hand at Portal. We were served from magnum and others in the group chimed in that this was about as good as any DOC wine we'd tasted so far on the trip. We then moved on to the Portal 2003 Touriga Nacional, also from magnum and it was spicy, concentrated and a bit herbaceous with a distinct esteva impression and licorice as well and reminded me of some WA State Syrahs that I am used to.
Moving on with our magnum madness, the 2006 Portal Grande Reserva was very solid but not as mature or graceful as the 2000 version, yet shows significant upside potential and is the current release. Our next wine was an interesting Late Harvest wine that was a fine blend of Moscatel (which Portal masters whether dry or sweet style) Rabigato and Viosinho. Evoking an influence of honeysuckle and pears it was delicious although the finish was a bit short. Otherwise, an elegant light wine. We had another Moscatel, this one a bit more supple, with greater length and this 2000 Moscatel Reserva had just the right amount of bottle age to be really interesting. Nectarine and baked apple flavors and seductive texturally; and very ripe if not spicy flavors prevailed.
Dinner was simply fabulous and the wines kept on coming amidst the sumptuous food. We had a young 2000 Colheita Port that was more akin to an LBV and really had little in the way of Colheita wood-aged character, which is not unusual for such a youngster. Leave this in wood another 5-10 years would be my suggestion. I had asked Pedro if we could show our group the 1999 Vintage Port and he was happy to oblige and asked me if we wanted to have someone use a Port tongs. Knowing Luiz Alberto (studying for his MW) had never done this before, I knew he'd be thrilled to try this. Under the tutelage of Paulo, Luiz did a perfect job of parsing the neck, caught on film by Zev Robinson. Meanwhile the '99 Portal VP was showing really well and everyone enjoyed this Port tremendously. The '99 is really starting to come into its own even though it has been a brilliant young Port for some time now.
It was the end of our visit and time to catch some shut eye and we thanked our hosts for a fun tour and incredible dinner and wines. The next morning we woke up and had an early start, right after breakfast. This was going to be a long day … the longest of our trip.
First we met up with Jorge Moreira at Quinta das Cavalhas (part of Real Companhia Velha). We drove up to several vantage points and enjoyed pretty astounding views of the Douro and its surrounds enhanced by the incredibly high altitude of this site that was once run with an iron fist by the Marques de Pombal. Until recently, Jerry Luper ruled the roost, the famous Napa winemaker cum Douro oenologist. But he retired recently and left the country for greener pastures. Jorge who is the head winemaker for Quinta de la Rosa and consults at Ventozelo too, took over where Jerry left off without skipping a beat. He's responsible for both the DOC wines and Port as well. Jorge is a fine winemaker and was recently featured in FTLOP's newsletter column: Port Personalities In Focus: Jorge Moreira.
We had a short visit planned and drove up even further to the "round house" at the peak of the property which normally affords some of the most impressive views in the entire region, if not all of Northern Portugal. As we were about to head to the far end of the eastern Douro Superior, we had a mission to view the sites, including some breathtaking cloud cover below us which obscured most of the vineyards but made for a remarkable photographic opportunity. Then it was time to taste some Ports. Jorge had brought five Ports for us to sip on. The first was the 10 year old Tawny by Quinta de Ventozelo which was a nice opening volley. Next to it we had the Royal Oporto 10 year old Tawny and it was a lot of fun trying these side by side and tasting the contrast in styles. To top it off, Jorge had also brought along the Delaforce 20 year old Tawny, a Port I've only had once before, and found it the best of the three tawnies before us. A fine bottle of Royal Oporto VP from 1977 was fully mature and tangy with caramel and lush acidity along with some orange and marzipan nuances that provided a most enjoyable drink.
We finished off with a rare bottle of a sort of Solera style of Port, a very rare bottle indeed which was created to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the company's history (bottled in 2006). The oldest wine that made up the blend was from 1867 and the youngest was from 1927. So this was probably one of the only times, we'd ever get to try this one-off bottling and everyone was literally blown away by the remarkable complexity and intensity of this unique Port and it was a great way to end our visit. (More about this and a tasting note in an upcoming newsletter). We learned there are still a few for sale at 250 Euros which seemed very fair considering how beautifully this bottle showed. We had to leave after this last Port and said our goodbye's to Jorge and I'm sure we'll see him again later this year.
We had a train to catch and fortunately we were just across the Pinhão bridge from the train station and the tile work that is famous throughout the country and certainly amongst anyone who's ever been to the area, were being renovated, tile by tile. On the FOR THE LOVE OF PORT's Facebook page there is an image of the renovation work, if you want to see what the process looks like. I believe the project should be finished in time for this year's harvest. We boarded the train to head all the way up to the last stop on the train line at Pocinho, near the Spanish border.
As we stepped off the train, we were greeted by the gregarious Mr. Francisco J. Olazabal from Quinta do Vale Meão. I was excited to get back to this property, but more so, to spend time with Francisco, his wife, and son. Unfortunately Luisa was not around, as it would have been nice to finally meet her. It was a warm and sunny day and we headed into the vineyards where Francisco was filmed by Zev as he took us to school on viticulture, the history of the property, his familial ties to Dona Antonia Ferreira and his son's ever increasing role in the winemaking at Vale Meao and their cousin's property, Quinta do Vallado. We took a precarious ride through some winding and steep mountainous vineyard roads and our lives were literally in the hands of Vito (Francisco's nickname). The roller coaster ride ended as we approached his home and his wife was waiting for us with a surreal surprise.
Vito knows of my passion for Madeira and he had a decanter full of a wine he had opened for us: a Sercial bottling believed to be from 1854, from San Martino, that was obtained by his grandmother who was married to a man born and raised on the island. She died at the beginning of the 1900's. Her husband, Vito's grandfather, was Vasco Rabelo Valente, the owner of Quinta do Noval at one time. I must say this Madeira knocked my socks off and the whole group was in heaven. Nice way to start a visit as we sat outside with some tasty appetizers and enjoyed the company of the Olazabal's who are a charming couple, funny, brilliant and so in love, it was wonderful to see.
Our next vinous adventure was a 2009 Quinta do Vallado white wine that Xito (Vito's son) had vinified. Very attractive aromatics bested only by the palate itself. Cutting acidity, slightly tropical and very refreshing to say the least after knocking back the entirety of that Madeira. We headed inside for a splendid lunch, actually a feast along with a plethora of great Douro wines. We started with the 2008 Meandro which was one of the best versions of this bottling I've tried. Cherry and blackcurrants and some drying tannins rounded out the mix. Very earthy and with a long finish, a really special Meandro and in my opinion, the Meandro that comes closest to reaching the greatness of the Meão bottling.
We then tasted the 2006 Quinta do Vale Meão DOC wine. Figs and prunes were massively concentrated and offered a hint of menthol. The Meão is one of the top 2006 Douro wines produced in that difficult vintage. The subsequent wine is my personal favorite from the Meão property, at least for a Douro wine. The 2004 Quinta do Vale Meão is nothing short of breathtaking, although I feel that a decade from now it will provide even greater pleasure and I've hidden my bottles within my cellar so I can manage to keep my hands off 'em. Earthy, smoky and with tobacco leaf, impressively extracted and concentrated, with grippy tannins and a finish that never does. This will drink well for another two decades. Unfortunately, it is so rare to find in the USA and I'm not sure why that is
Typical of the Olazabal's endearing generosity and hospitality, Xito joined us for a full vertical of every Vintage Port from 2000-2008 and it was a true pleasure to see which of these has been developing into greatness. My favorites were the 2001, 2004 (WOW!) and 2007 too, but I must say that the 2008 Vale Meão VP was outstanding too. As we sipped, Zev readied his camera for interviews that were held in the Olazabal's living room. Our interviews included both Vito and Xito separately over the next hour and a half and if we'd had more time, it probably would have stretched for another hour. But believe it or not, it was early night time and we'd heard so many wonderful stories about Vito's time as President of the Ferreira Port house, the creation of Barca Velha ... Portugal's first "cult" wine ... famous around the world. Meão's grapes use to be the backbone of that wine and nowadays those same grapes make up his own wines.
We caught the very last train back down the Douro with only moments to spare and thanks to Francisco Olazabal and family for one of our more memorable visits, but also for sharing so many personal anecdotes about his family's life on the Douro, including his time in the Port trade and as Chancellor of the Confraria do Vindho do Porto for so many years. Coincidentally as we were boarding the train, Ramos Pinto's João Nicolau de Almeida was disembarking and it was nice to run into him, if even just for a quick hello.
Saturday was our last official day on tour and Zev was quite pleased with the footage he had garnered during this week. On Saturday we started out late, having the opportunity to sleep in and having a more relaxed breakfast before our first appointment. On Saturday we typically only plan one visit so we can spend more time there and then drive back to Porto, relax for a bit and then out to dinner. Our day was to be spent with Mario Braga who is the owner/winemaker at Quinta do Mourão, a name not well known, but Miguel is a Tawny maestro.
We started off by looking around the property and another bright sunny day ensued. Miguel showed us around the production facilities and the wine aging rooms, which were extensive. He twisted our arms to try a wide assortment of Tawny Port from barrels and it is not every day that you get to try Tawny direct for the pipe. We experienced a wide range, from memory a 12 and 19 year old, and several older casks as well, one more than 30 years old and another more than sixty, actually from 1948. It was a deep rich brown color, almost Madeira like in its appearance as well as the acidity with flavors of hazelnuts and toffee and a hint of root beer; intense and complex and this was long before we had the opportunity to experience anything that had been bottled.
We were most fortunate to have lunch at the property and after a large array of cask samples, that was most appreciated. Miguel opened a very special DOC wine, the 2004 Cuvee Mario Braga Grand Reserva. It is a blend from the grapes of 5 properties, which then spend 13 months in Allier oak and this was bottled in 2009. Yes, it remained in cask for five years. It is an old school but daring red wine earthy and rustic and yet refined and classy at the same time, with a sublime super long finish. A wonderful bottling and the price is under 20 Euros!
Afterwards, we delved into some of the Douro's greatest tawnies, Miguel's S. Leonardo lineup, starting off with the best 10 year old on the market (in my opinion). In fact, the S. Leonardo 10 year old Tawny is much better than the majority of 20 year old Tawny Ports out there. Toasty almonds, dried peach and pralines stand out, rich and voluptuous. Before trying more Tawnies, we took a quick foray into Vintage Port and had Miguel's 2007 Vintage Port which was very good. Wish I could find it in the USA! A 2009 cask sample was enlightening and this was smoky, spicy and filled with blackberry fruit and gripping tannins that arrived late. Testing our fortitude we then had a 2000 Vintage Port which was showing really well. A fun young Vintage Port with lots of generous fruit and purity of grape with a sumptuous mouthfeel and textbook finish.
Back to the tawnies and some oldies but goodies with the 30 and 40 year old S. Leonardo, side-by-side. If you've never tried these, you'll have to take my word for it, they are unbelievably delicious and category leaders. The 30 year old is probably my favorite of all 30's. It is a profound Tawny and tastes more like it is 50 years of age. Absolutely stunning structurally as well as the flavor profile, with one of the most persistent finishes of ANY Port you'll ever put in your mouth. The 40 year old takes Tawny Port to a new level and only the Quinta da Romaneira is at this level. The secret is that the cask from 1948 is the base for this 40 year old and that certainly explains it. As much as I enjoy the Sandeman, Taylor, Portal and Noval, the S. Leonardo, for my palate is a notch above them all, although Romaneira as mentioned, is my favorite forty year old of all. Nonetheless, Miguel's 40 will win hearts and minds and our group loved these last two bottles.
Two interviews took place while Zev did his filming. Miguel, in his humble yet straightforward, frank style was a great interviewee. He shared many personal anecdotes and discussed his philosophy on Port, Tawny in depth and also what he felt could help the promotion of Port throughout the world. Some brilliant ideas were shared too. Mario Ferreira was next, the fearless traveler who spends much of his time working throughout the African continent and also co-tour-leader on all FTLOP excursions. I was not expecting to interview my good friend, but it was certainly fun for both of us! We had to head back to Porto for it was our last night and we wanted to have a some time before dinner to relax. We thanked Miguel for an incredible visit and our guests were effusive in their praise. Miguel is so warm and engaging and every visit to Mourão is unforgettable.
Our group went out for our last supper and we wound up at one of our favorite restaurants in Porto, Cafeina. It took a long time for the food to reach us, but once it did, it was delectable and we had shared nine or ten bottles of vinho that last night including a couple of dessert wines too. Lots of reminiscing as this had been an extraordinary week, with a boatload of Port and Douro wines and probably my favorite of all tours we've done to this point. Having Zev present to film was a huge net positive. With him there, the producers opened some special bottles and more importantly, during their interviews we learned more about these great individuals than ever before. I will never forget this specific tour … our first Port Explorer's Tour and aptly named. I thank my fellow guide, Mario Ferreira who helped me in creating a truly remarkable experience for our guests.