You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Douro’ category.

by Luís Barreto Xavier, Guest Editor

For twenty seven years, a group of friends from college times (Colégio Pio XII, in Lisbon), gathers by the river Douro, during winter season, to celebrate friendship, discuss future plans, and, of course, taste and drink Douro and Port wines. This “Confraria” has had the privilege to learn from some of the new Douro visionaries (Dirk Niepoort being the most prominent) and visit unforgettable Quintas (Vale Mão, Vallado, Noval, Nápoles, Portal, to name but a few).

This January, we were received by Jorge Serôdio Borges and Sandra Tavares da Silva, part of the small group of winemakers who, in the last two decades, have managed to create reds (and later also whites) able to compete with the best in both the old and new world. Their generation inherited tradition, since the Douro valley is home of Port for centuries, with dozens of autochthonous grapes and exceptionally varied terroirs, and made a revolution out of it. There was not red wines at Douro in most of the twentieth century, if you forget about farmers’ and cooperatives’ very poor “garrafão” wines, or Barca Velha, the Portuguese Vega Sicilia, then made at the Quinta do Vale Meão. From tradition, Sandra and Jorge took very old vines with numerous local grapes. But they decided to make table wines instead of fortified ones. Their first essay was Pintas 2001, a concentrated, full-bodied, alcoholic, dark and fruity wine, like a punch in the stomach of Douro traditionalists. It received instant fame and recognition. Through the years, Pintas has been ranked consistently among Portugal’s best wines.

After visiting the cellars at Vale de Mendiz and the Pintas very old vine, we were taken to the paradisiacal Quinta da Manoella, inherited by Jorge Tavares and now producing also amazing wines. The highlights of the visit were the friendly and welcoming reception by our hosts, the beautiful sunshine of a winter Saturday in the stunning mountain landscape, and, certainly not the least, the recent 2014 vintages of Pintas and Quinta da Manoella Vinhas Velhas we had for lunch.

While still very young, these wines show lots of character, complexity and balance. Our informal tasting panel found Quinta da Manoella VV 2014 to be dense, rich, complex (it is made of around 20 different grapes from old vines), subtle and elegant. Pintas 2014 is superlative, sophisticated, noble and delicious. It is no wonder that the Q.M. was awarded the Prémio de Excelência by Revista de Vinhos. Pintas 2014 was the winner of the blind tasting of 195 select Portuguese wines by the Swedish blogger and sommelier Andreas Larsson (blindtasted.com). Entirely deserved was the prize awarded a month ago to Jorge Serôdio Borges at the annual gala of Revista de Vinhos: Winemaker of the Year.

It makes me happy to see the success of nice and decent people, with the vision of creating excellent wines that express the potential of a region and its grapes and terroir, without any concession to shortcut strategies, rather developing a culture of sharing with fellow winemakers and new friends the secrets of renovating the tradition.

After some months of bleak winter I am happy to report that Spring is almost here and that I have found some fantastic wines to write about.

Miguel Maduro visited us and we went to La Bomba, one of the best restaurant in Madrid these days. Unpretentious, perfect cooking, with a great story behind it: the French investment banker who decides to quit, become a chef and open his own bistrot. To honor Portuguese-Spanish friendship, we drank El Castro de Valtuille Mencía Joven 2012, a happy red wine, 100% Mencia grape, that sells for 9 euros, hard to top that.

Life without friends is like life in a desert island, said the Spanish writer Baltasar Gracián. To make sure we did not feel like Robison Crusoe, we have organized some gatherings at home lately. In one of them we were introduced to the new Peter Maurer Pinot Noir 2014, a very Southern wine, from Cadiz. So far it is very a small production, an experiment. But it is so well made -smooth, fruity-, that we hope it becomes soon an important name in the blessed Jerez region.

Another friend brought to our soirées dansantes two wines he likes, Xristo Cru, Douro 2013 and Albamar 2015, Albariño.

Well, Xristo Cru turned out to be the ultimate red wine to drink, a creature of Luis Seabra. This Portuguese wiseman quited his job at a revered Porto winery to do his thing, very close to terroir, with minimal intervention. He works in very old vineyards in the Cima Corgo area, circa 80 years. This red with only 12.5 % alcohol content is so outstanding that transports you to wine paradise, a subtle, elegant and long-lasting experience. I have looked around for it afterwards in Madrid shops and sells for 35 euros, in this case a well justified price.

Albamar 2015 is a new-new Albariño, made by the Alba family -not the ones you are thinking. These Albas are based near the Atlantic, at the mouth of river Umia. They own a small vineyard, where the son Luis Alba, known as Xurxo, is starting a revolution. He moved to wine making after losing his job. His secret is the passionate way he looks after the grapes, the vineyards -20 to 30 years old- and the soil,in ways never experimented by his parents, who started the project. Xurso is always as friendly as possible to Nature, almost in a moving way. His wine is pure Atlantic, with the right acidity and fruit tempered by the seaside. Albamar sells for around 10 euros.

I hope you can try some these wines while you welcome Spring. Come, walk beside me.

Last November we went to Porto for a family weekend, a special trip we had planned for a long time. It was fun to share a room the four of us, visit the city, walk along the Douro and practice a bit of Portuguese. Santi actually chose to read in this language the new Harry Potter book he bought at the wondrous Lello libray. Blanca made everyone smile, mixing words in Galician and Portuguese and spreading around her sunshine.

On Saturday, we had dinner at a small place near the water. The owner chatted a bit with us and I asked him to recommend  a red from the region that he particularly liked. This is how we discovered Quinta do Pessegueiro Aluze 2010, a fantastic wine at an amazing price, 12 euros, created by Roger Zannier Domaines. This Pessegueiro (“Peaches”) was more fruity and fresh than other Douros we tried that weekend. Back in Madrid I ordered a case for a dinner party with some of our best friends. After trying it we all agreed to plan a trip to Porto soon.

 

Last Thursday I tasted for the first time Quinta do Crasto Reserva Old Vines 2010, a wine I loved. It comes from an old vineyard planted in a picturesque hill next to Douro River, in the North of Portugal. The name “Castro” derives from a Roman garrison built in the same place. Since 1615 great wine has been made there, according to the classification of the Marquis of Pombal, the enlightened prime minister. One of my favorites architects, Eduardo Souto Moura, Pritzker Prize 2011, has built an “infinity” swimming pool in the house of the eco-friendly wine maker, with a magic view of the river from the top (check out the views at http://www.quintadocrasto.pt).

The wine lives up to this magical setting. It fills your nose, mouth and senses of diverse and complex stories, with an elegance reserved to those who find the right balance between attempting to make history and being part of Nature. At a price of 25 euros, it is one of the best buys today in Portugal.

The occasion to try Quinta do Crasto was very special, a wondrous dinner at the end of the Aspen Seminar last week. For six days I was privileged to be part of a small group that gathered in Aspen, Colorado, to think and reflect about the good society. The method used was a text-based dialogue, searching for human values and allowing each of us to think more deeply about our own leadership challenges. This is a wonderful tradition of The Aspen Institute, started in 1950. Our group shared ideas, insights and experiences, in conversation with Plato, Aristotle, Rousseau, Simone de Beauvoir or Martin Luther King, with Paul Gaffney and Lynne Waldera as wise and fun moderators.

The night we tried the Quinta do Castro wine, we had just performed our own version of the play “Antigone” and there was excitement, joy and a true appreciation for each other. Drinking Quinta do Castro was part of our coming together as a group of friends, now forever called The Eleveners. Like the growers of this Douro wine, we celebrated humanity and the art of living better lives.

Lisbon is the perfect city to start a new year. For a few days we have nested by the estuary of the Tagus River, next to the Port of Bom Sucesso. We have watched the sun rise and set, the sail boats come and go and communed with the infinity of the ocean. We also saw very good friends, took long walks, even did a bit of sailing. At the Belcanto restaurant we had an outstanding experience and became enchanted with the art of Jose Avillez, chef and entrepreneur, http://www.joseavillez.pt/en. Our host, Domingos Cruz, gave us two Pessoa books he has recently edited (check our his great literary and philanthropic initiative in http://www.tellastory.pt). In one of them, a collection of poems entitled “No matter what we dream”, I found the best dedication for the New Year:

We pass and dream. Earth smiles. Virtue is rare.
Age, duty, gods weigh on our conscious bliss.
Hope for the best and for the worst prepare.
The sum of purposed wisdom speaks in this.

The best wine we tried in our Lisbon trip was Valado Reserva, a living proof that Earth smiles, http://www.quintadovallado.com/vinhos/en/. Some years ago my co-editor Miguel wrote a magnificent comment in this blog of what he thought of this “Super-Douro”. His tale of seduction and velvet applies still today. With the same enthusiasm, I can add nothing else:

“We started with the Vallado Reserva 2003. This is to start almost in heaven. Vallado wines keep having the greatest ratings you can imagine but they still don’t have that much buzz around them. The reason? Well, is it perhaps because they are not that expensive?… I sure hope they continue that way. The 2003 was powerful but extremely elegant. It came dressed in velvet and it was the first time I fell in love that night.” (iberians.wordpress.com/2007/03/13/12/)

Back in Madrid, we have celebrated this weekend María’s birthday (“Twenty-five? what a ridiculous age to be. Nobody is twenty-five any more…”) with two wines we particularly like, Ramón Bilbao edición limitada 2011 and Albariño de Fefiñanes III año.

In the case of Ramón Bilbao, I revere the transformation that has taken place in this Rioja winery. For 11 euros, this “special edition” crianza is an incredible surprise, like some streets in Lisbon that open to the sea. Today, a Sunday without watches, we have tried Fefiñanes III año (meaning “aged for three years”), a very different Albariño wine that our friend Juan Figueroa makes and recently sent us. From the design of the bottle to the colour, bouquet and taste of the wine, this golden treasure deserves to be called a “Super-Rias Baixas”. Like a good conversation in a Galician home, the wine suggests, makes detours and asks questions that do not really need answers. It tells many different stories and embraces the passage of time with fantastic grace.
(www.fefinanes.com)

Many of you have already probably heard of the Super Tuscans. The new and powerful red wines being made in the Tuscan region. Wines full of personality and that have finally freed Tuscany from the Chianti complex. In the Douro region there is a similar movement going on. These are wines aiming at perfection, often made in small quantities, extremely powerful and concentrated and that attempt to impress at once but mainly by the promise of the pleasure to come. However, they tend to be rather expensive, often becoming like the super-models we admire and use as a reference point but rarely go out with…The winemakers that are making them have gained a lot of international press fame (including from the wine spectator and most recently Robert Parker) and they are being called the Douro boys. In reality, some of these winemakers are women! Also, and not all of the men are still boys… The older generation is competing with a new one and each wine appears to have a different personality. The only thing they do have in common is their obsession with perfection. When drinking these wines, we really have the perception of how much commitment went into making them. They are courageous wines: these winemakers have invested their souls and there is no margin of error left on the bottle (as there is also little from these wines left in the glass afterwards…).With some friends I organised a tasting of some of these wines. Important names, such as the wines made by Niepoort or the older guard headed by Barca Velha were absent from the match. They did not forfeit. We would have liked to have an ever larger representation but we simply didn’t have the money (and the stomach… we are not wine tasters, we are wine drinkers; in other words we taste by drinking…. And we need to drink with moderation!).
What an evening. Here, is only an initial presentation of some of the wines we tasted.We started with the Vallado Reserva 2003. This is to start almost in heaven. Vallado wines keep having the greatest ratings you can imagine but they still don’t have that much buzz around them. The reason? Well, is it perhaps because they are not that expensive?… I sure hope they continue that way. The 2003 was powerful but extremely elegant. It came dressed in velvet and it was the first time I fell in love that night. Then came the Quinta do Gaivosa, 2003. This a producer (Alves the Sousa) which just makes a new wine after another. Many of outstanding quality, as this one, but there is a serious risk that one will get lost in the middle of all his different wines: wine polygamy can also be risky. I soon forgot all those fears however. The Quinta do Gaivosa 2003 starts by knocking you down with its aroma! You can smell it miles away (“quel parfum”? ). So powerful to our nose (a wine a la Parker) that it takes sometime to start identifying its flavours. The true is that it is perhaps better described as  a wine that constantly changes flavours in the mouth as if it has, somehow, managed to preserve all the different personalities of the numerous grape varieties that compose it. They have not been assembled. They have been kept there in the wine and we are left to delight and surprise ourselves with the changing melodies that this wine sings to us. It can feel quite an erratic date but, at times, it is exhilarating. From Alves de Sousa we also had the now famous Abandonado 2004. I cannot assess this wine. It is like no other I’ve ever tasted. The name abandonado (abandoned) refers to the vines from where it is made. They had been left abandoned for many years. This is a wine not to be drunk but to be eaten. You just feel like chewing wine. If it is better or worst than any of the others I can’t tell. What I am sure is that this wine will not be left abandoned…May be some years from now (how many?) I can finally judge it, if there will be any left. In the meanwhile its price is so high that there is really not much dating possible between the two of us! A similar wine, but more “financially” approachable, is the Vale do Meao, 2004. Drinking this wine is, however, like having a blind date 15 years in advance… But I would even commit myself to marriage in this case (one of my favourites). Another power house and also on my favourites list is the C.V. from Quinta Dona Maria (15º). It is quite an impressive curriculum vitae! Less impressive but also worth a date is their second wine: Dona Maria 2004 (it is, however, the kind of wine that flirts with you but doesn’t really ends in an engagement). Then, there is the Pingas. Again one of the wines must talked about at the moment in Portugal. It is made by a couple (they are the also, individually, the winemakers behind some of the other great wines). I can see they are passionate but can there be love? This is a wine full of aromas, complexity and sensations. The initial impact is tremendous (the best of all to smell and put in the mouth) but it does not seem to last that long (hopefully no correspondence with the marriage here…). This wine makes you fall in love at first taste but doesn’t yet made me stay in love. I will have to take it out for a drink another time to make up my mind…
My preference, however, will surprise many: Quinta do Passadouro 2004 (one of the cheapest wines in the lot; still, around 30 Euros the bottle). What can I tell you? Perhaps, I like to date wines that are not so ostentatious. Yet, this is another powerful and concentrated wine which you can eat as well as drink. It flirts with you but does not really offer itself immediatelly. My advise: admire it now but wait for a later date to consume the relationship… This one may last forever!

http://www.quintadovallado.com
http://www.alvesdesousa.com
http://www.quinta-do-passadouro.com


Two thirds of the wine were there, the other third had vanished with time. Someone had handwrote “Colheita 1911” and the cork was red and greasy. It felt appropriate to end a Saturday dinner, after the best Portuguese Late Harvest (Grandjó, 2004; but the 2002 was even better!) and two great Iberian reds made in the Duero/Douro region (Pintia, DO Toro, 2003 and Quinta do Vale Meão, Douro, 2003 respectively – the first of them won the contest, by the way…).

The colour of this Port was incredible, dark and clear at the same time. Noble and intense nose, reminiscent of orange and smoke. The mouth became full and remained like that for ages. It was impossible to eat something at the same time or for a while after the tasting. It required our exclusive attention as if it wanted to spend all night telling us the stories and History of its age(s). A monument in… a green bottle of sparkling water (it looked “Pedras Salgadas” – the Portuguese Perrier!! – to me)! It was probably bottled in the 80’s, after ageing in oak for 70 years. I don’t know where it was produced and I don’t want to solve the mistery…

by guest contributor Luis Barreto Xavier

a