Saturday 11th May 2019: "Wines of the Wonderful Douro Valley" with Claire & Mike

A rare 'SWAS Away Day' Tasting in deepest Warwickshire featuring Portuguese wines from the vineyards of the Douro.  We welcomed guests for the evening Wendy & Tony and Sue & Tim (neighbours of Claire & Mike).

This Tasting was dedicated to the memory of long time SWAS member and very good friend Adrienne Hirschfeld and also to the memory of recent friend and member Lyndsay Burns.  Both sadly died on the same day this week after long illnesses.

The Whites:

1. Casa Ferreirinha Papa Figos Branco, Douro 2016; unspecified grapes; 12.5% abv; The Wine Society PW6671 £8.75

    

This light but creamy-textured Portuguese white has a lovely balance of gently aromatic fruit, freshness and body.

The Douro is one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world, and deservedly Portugal's best known, the Douro has quickly emerged to lead the way as the country's premium wine region and there is a real pioneering spirit amongst the winemakers here, port shippers included. Although there is an enormous variety of different terroirs within the Douro Valley, this is essentially a sparsely populated, hot, arid region where grapes are grown on spectacularly steep terraced slopes.

2. Altano Branco Reserva, Douro 2014; 40% viosinho, 30% arinto, 20% rabigato and 10% gouveio; 13% abv; The Wine Society PW6401 £12.95

      

Exclusive to The Wine Society in the UK, this is the maiden vintage of the ‘Reserva’ label of the Symington family. Our close working relationship with them, and our efforts to champion Portugal's fine wines, allowed us first dibs on their lovingly nurtured new baby!

There's a peachy, creamy note to the fruit here, with an appetising pithiness and strong seam of supporting acidity. The blend of local grapes – 40% viosinho, 30% arinto, 20% rabigato and 10% gouveio – is aged in oak and spent time on its lees (the yeasts that occur naturally during fermentation), giving a great complexity of flavour but without compromising on the natural freshness that comes from the Symington's superb high-altitude vineyards. Its texture, balance and freshness should make it a versatile menu partner.

Between the Whites and the Reds Claire served Smoked Mackerel Paté on Melba Toast

The Reds:

3.  Crasto Superior, Douro 2015; tinta roriz, touriga nacional, touriga franca and tinta barocca blend; 14% abv; The Wine Society PW6961 £14.50

      

A sweetly fruited, powerful red from Portugal's Upper Douro, where hot dry conditions are tempered by the refreshing effect of altitude. The voluptuous body here is enhanced by 12 months in French oak.

This Douro estate has belonged to the family of Leonor and Jorge Roquette for over a century, but it dates back much further: the word ‘crasto’ comes from the Latin ‘castrum’, meaning Roman fort, and there are records of this estate as early as 1615.

Husband and wife Jorge and Leonor have been in charge since the 1980s, and their sons Miguel and Tomás are now involved as well. Together they manage 70 hectares of vineyards on the right bank of the Douro river, which lay on terraces of schist soils. Most of the vines are over 20 years old, but the oldest date back over 100 years, and their grapes go to make up a special bottling under the Reserva Old Vines label.

The grapes are local Douro varieties, including tinta roriz, touriga nacional, touriga franca and tinta barocca for the reds, and gouveio, roupeiro and rabigato for the whites.

Investment in recent years has seen important updates both to vineyard organisation and winery technology – although the team still proudly upholds the tradition of crushing some of the grapes by foot in granite lagares!

On the whole, however, much more modern techniques are used, with wines fermented and matured in a variety of temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks for a fresher, fruitier style.

The estate is a popular wine tourism attraction, helped in part by its stunning swimming pool with panoramic views of the vineyards, and offers a variety of activities for visiting oenophiles.

4. Passadouro Tinto, Douro 2015; blend includes touriga nacional & touriga franca; 14% abv; The Wine Society PW6991 £15.50

     

The Quinta do Passadouro, in the heart of Port country, has 18 hectares of vineyards and is owned by the Bohrmann family (who also have holdings in Burgundy). Production here used to be sold to Niepoort and since 1999 their wine has been made by Jorge Serôdio Borges, Niepoort’s former winemaker.

These excellent vineyards are on schist soil, which encourages deep roots, on steep terraces at between 100 and 300 metres above sea level, above the Pinhão river valley. They comprise a proportion of 60-year-old, high-density mixed-varietal plantings, over half a century old, with 20 native grape varieties, with some newer lower-density plantings.

The grapes are ultimately hand picked, yielding about 25 hl/ha. For the red wines, the grapes are sorted and destemmed, lightly crushed, then foot trodden in old granite lagares and then cool macerated. After light basket pressing to avoid extracting hard green tannins, the wine is fermented first in stainless-steel tanks, then in barrel, then matured in French oak barrels, a proportion of which is new. Port wines are also still made here too.

5. Passadouro Touriga Nacional, Douro 2012; 100% Touriga Nacional; 14% abv; The Wine Society PW5691 £20.00

    

With juicy blueberry and blackberry fruit, subtle violet aromas and spicy oak notes, this is a rich and honest Portuguese red with delicious soft tannins that will be a great match with a hearty casserole.

The Quinta do Passadouro, in the heart of Port country, has 18 hectares of vineyards and is owned by the Bohrmann family (who also have holdings in Burgundy). Production here used to be sold to Niepoort and since 1999 their wine has been made by Jorge Serôdio Borges, Niepoort’s former winemaker.

These excellent vineyards are on schist soil, which encourages deep roots, on steep terraces at between 100 and 300 metres above sea level, above the Pinhão river valley. They comprise a proportion of 60-year-old, high-density mixed-varietal plantings, over half a century old, with 20 native grape varieties, with some newer lower-density plantings.

The grapes are ultimately hand picked, yielding about 25 hl/ha. For the red wines, the grapes are sorted and destemmed, lightly crushed, then foot trodden in old granite lagares and then cool macerated. After light basket pressing to avoid extracting hard green tannins, the wine is fermented first in stainless-steel tanks, then in barrel, then matured in French oak barrels, a proportion of which is new. Port wines are also still made here too.

6. Niepoort Lagar de Baixo, Bairrada 2014; 12% abv; The Wine Society PW7181 £20.00

        

Portugal's Dirk Niepoort, already very well known for his Ports and Douro table wines, is now making one of the most refined wines of the Bairrada region too. He has invested in a fine property in the region, Quinta de Baixo, the source of this beautifully fresh and restrained red. With fine tannin structure and haunting elegance, this may be enjoyed now or cellared.

Five generations of the Niepoort family have propelled their independent family winery to fame since its inception in 1842. The Niepoorts are originally from the Netherlands, historically a great port-importing nation, but like many Dutch entrepeneurs at the time, Franciscus Marius van der Niepoort moved his family to Portugal to establish his own port house. His future generations both continued and improved upon his legacy, and in 2005, the current generation – Dirk and his sister Verena – took to the helm.

Dirk has actually been working for Niepoort since 1987, assisting his father Rolf with both maintaining tradition and bringing the winery into the 21st century. It was Dirk who insisted the family buy back their own vineyards back in 1987. They purchased 25 hectares, 15 of which were new vines and 10 of which are 60 years old, planted on granite soils. The vineyards are protected by the surrounding mountains, but the climate is still a harsh one: summers are scorching, but the winters can be freezing. The Niepoort vineyards produce some of the finest Douro red and white wines, with many at higher altitudes allowing a longer, cooler ripening period.

Dirk remains at the forefront of Douro table wine production – he has been producing the famous Redoma since 1991 with great success – and he is well-known for his production of wines with an excellent balance between forcefulness and elegance. He also has a non-interventionist approach to winemaking: he uses no enzymes, cultured yeast or added acid. His winery at Rio Tedo in the Douro Valley is a reflection of this environmentally-friendly approach: completed in 2007, it is a stunning, curved building that fits in with its natural surroundings.

Dirk wanted a winery that looked natural, and artificial air-conditioning is used minimally and with as much efficiency as possible. Dirk is also well-known for collaborating in the production of ‘Project’ wines with growers outside of the Douro; notably, with Telmo Rodriguez in Spain, Dorli Muhr and Craig Hawkins in Austria, as well as Docil Vinho Verde. Niepoort are also open to having fun: their Niepoortland range of ports – called Ruby Dum and Tawny Dee – are inspired by Alice in Wonderland, and they’ve even created a vintage port board game.

More recently Dirk has realized his dream to produce wines elsewhere in Portugal and he now has organically farmed vineyards in Bairrada and Dão.

7.  Quinta do Crasto Vinhas Velhas Reserva, Douro 2015; blend of tinta roriz, touriga nacional, touriga franca & tinta barocca; 14.5% abv; The Wine Society PW6951 £22.50

      

A very impressive red from Portugal's Douro region, via a fine estate where a multitude of old vineyard parcels contribute to the intensity, generosity and minerality.

This Douro estate has belonged to the family of Leonor and Jorge Roquette for over a century, but it dates back much further: the word ‘crasto’ comes from the Latin ‘castrum’, meaning Roman fort, and there are records of this estate as early as 1615.

Husband and wife Jorge and Leonor have been in charge since the 1980s, and their sons Miguel and Tomás are now involved as well. Together they manage 70 hectares of vineyards on the right bank of the Douro river, which lay on terraces of schist soils. Most of the vines are over 20 years old, but the oldest date back over 100 years, and their grapes go to make up a special bottling under the Reserva Old Vines label.

The grapes are local Douro varieties, including tinta roriz, touriga nacional, touriga franca and tinta barocca for the reds, and gouveio, roupeiro and rabigato for the whites.

Investment in recent years has seen important updates both to vineyard organisation and winery technology – although the team still proudly upholds the tradition of crushing some of the grapes by foot in granite lagares!

On the whole, however, much more modern techniques are used, with wines fermented and matured in a variety of temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks for a fresher, fruitier style.

The estate is a popular wine tourism attraction, helped in part by its stunning swimming pool with panoramic views of the vineyards, and offers a variety of activities for visiting oenophiles.

8. Quinta de la Rosa Reserva, Douro 2015; 100% Touriga Nacional; 14.5% abv; The Wine Society PW7091 £28.00

     

From a beautiful family-owned property run by the dynamic Sophia Bergqvist, this Portuguese red has a wonderful perfume, with hints of woody herbs and creamy oak notes, and a rich palate supported by solid structure.

Port producers since 1815, the Bergqvist family came to Quinta de la Rosa in 1906 when the farm was given as a christening present to Sophia Bergqvist's grandmother Claire. In 1988 Sophia and her father Tim decided to restart the family business under the Quinta de la Rosa name. Table wine production began in the early 1990s and Sophia has worked tirelessly to be at the forefront of the Douro's table wine development.

This is a beautiful property and converted farm buildings are available for tourists and wine enthusiasts visiting the Douro, along with a tasting room and informal restaurant with stunning views up and down the valley from its terrace. The 55 hectare estate is situated in the heart of the Alto Douro near Pinhão and has a mix of terroirs and aspects as well as old and younger vines. Leading winemaker Jorge Moreira has been at Rosa since 2002 and oversees the full winemaking process there.

9. alt  Quinta Vale D Maria, Douro 2010; 14.5% abv; The Wine Society  PW3671 £29.00

       

While the explosion of world-class ‘table’ (i.e. not Port) wines from Portugal's Douro has been glorious to see, it’s been recent, and so finding an aged example is quite rare. Step forward, Cristiano van Zeller, whose richly flavoured 2010 is now showing all the joys of maturity. The oak has integrated beautifully, amplifying and complementing dense black-fruit flavours and fine tannins. Smooth, long and luxurious.

This old property is situated in the heart of the Douro Valley and is owned and run by the talented Cristiano van Zeller. He had spent time working at Quinta do Noval, the historic port house, but left in 1993 to found his own independent winery, with ambitions not just to produce port but also to showcase how much more the Douro region has to offer in terms of still wines.

In 1996 he bought Quinta Vale D. Maria, an ancient, run-down property in the Rio Torto valley which at the time only had 10 hectares of vineyards. Although small, this vineyard was full of very good old vines – over 50 years old – which were planted on south and south-east facing slopes. The vines covered a broad spectrum of traditional Douro grape varieties, including tinta roriz, touriga nacional, tinta amarela, rufete, tinta barroca and sousão.

Over the next ten years, Cristiano went about expanding his vineyards, and he now has 31 hectares in total: 16 of his own old vines (which are between 60 and 80 years old), 10 hectares of vineyards on a long-term lease from neighbouring properties, (with vines ranging from 25 to 80 years old) and five hectares of brand new vines planted between 2004 and 2007.

The winery had to be rebuilt as well, and while it still has some elements of tradition (such as treading the grapes by foot when producing port) it also has innovative machinery to improve quality, including temperature-controlled granite and stainless-steel tanks and a modern vertical basket press. The all female winemaking team uses a mixture of one to four year old French oak barrels to mature its wines.

The Wine Society buys Rufo, the quinta’s entry-level range. Rufo means ‘red’ in Latin and features a red drum on the label. The name was inspired by both the red-legged partridge, which lives in this part of the Douro, and by the Portuguese word for the sound of the drum, rufar. The 2011 vintage was a winner in our Wine Championship tastings in 2014.

The wine serves as a great introduction to Cristiano’s more complex and ageworthy reds, notably Quinta do Vale D. Maria Douro itself and its Vinha da Francisca, named after Cristiano's daughter who now works with him.

For Supper, Claire served a Chicken, Madeira & Wild Mushroom Casserole accompanied by  English Asparagus and Creamy Mashed Potato.  For Dessert, Jamie's "Limoncello kinda Trifle" and/or Fresh Strawberries followed by a Cheeseboard and Tea/Coffee

10.  The Port  served with the Cheese Board:   Quinta do Noval Unfiltered Late-Bottled Vintage Port 2011; 19.5% abv; The Wine Society  PT2201 £16.50

       

The Raffle:

1. Quinta de Porrais Sete Vales, Douro 2017 - won by Wendy

    

2.   Crasto, Douro 2016 - won (embarassingly) by Mike...!

  

Page last updated 12.05.2019

If you would like to find out more about us or to enquire about joining please contact our Secretary, Mike Brook, at email: Sec.SWAS@btinternet.com

SWAS Contact details:

Our Secretary,Mike Brook, can be contacted at email: Sec.SWAS@btinternet.com

We'll post the full details of our future Tasting Dates on our home page as each is confirmed