The other type of Vintage Port

The beautiful Douro Valley.

The beautiful Douro Valley.

I love Port. I just love everything about it. The story, the landscape, the quintas – or wine farms – and the lodges all taken together have a romance perhaps unique in the world of wine. If you have never been to Port country – the Douro Valley in north Portugal – then you have a treat in store. It is simply one of the most beautiful wine regions in the world.

Recently I tutored a very well received Port tasting and I was astonished that most of us – we were all Brits – expected all Port to be deep, dark, full-bodied and opaque. Which of course Vintage Ports, Ruby Ports and Late Bottled Vintage Ports are. However, the first four Ports in my tasting were quite different. We tried Cálem White & Dryread about it here, the delicious Sandeman 20 Year Old Tawny – read about it here and then some Colheita Ports before we reached the darker and richer stuff – 2009 Quinta do Infantado Late Bottled Vintageread about it here, 1997 Quinta do Retiro Vintage Port from Weise & Krohn and the magnificent 2011 Sandeman Vintage Port if you are interested.

The Sandeman 20 Year Old Tawny was superb and everyone loved it, but it was the Colheitas that really astonished everyone. A Colheita you see is a Tawny Port from a single harvest. The big difference between a Vintage – apart from the quality of the year – is that a Vintage Port does almost all its ageing in the bottle. This means that the oxygen cannot get to it, so it retains its richness and fruit for much longer and so ages very slowly. A Colheita though is aged in oak barrels, usually of 600 litres and not new, for at least 8 years, so the oxygen can get to the wine and gently oxidise it, so it goes transparent and orange, or tawny in colour. This means that the flavours and complexity of a Colheita develop mainly because of the ageing. You can make a Colheita in pretty much any harvest, whereas a Vintage Port can only be produced in the occasional exceptional vintage – hence the name of the style.

Map of the Douro – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Map of the Douro – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

A faded Cálem poster near Pinhao.

A faded Cálem sign in the vineyards near Pinhão.

0235-calem-colheita-2000-gallery-3-973x13952000 Cálem Colheita Porto
Cálem Porto
Vila Nova de Gaia

Cálem were founded in 1859  and historically most of their business was with Brazil and Portugal and although they make all styles I don’t think it would be unfair to say that they are something of a White Port and Tawny, including Colheita, specialist. Nowadays Cálem is owned by the Sogevinus Group, as are Barros, Kopke and Burmester. The vineyard this wine hails from is the Quinta da Arnozelo near Vila Nova de Foz Côa in the upper reaches of the Douro – the Douro Superior.

This was the only Colheita that came from a generally declared Vintage Port year and that extra concentration showed, added to which it was the youngest Colheita that I showed. The blend was 25% Touriga Nacional, 25% Tinta Roriz, 25% Touriga Franca, 25% Tinta Barroca.

The colour was quite deep, more brown than orange and the nose was pretty full on with nuts, coffee and dried fruit notes. There was still some tannin here on the palate and it was pretty mouth-filling with a silky mouthfeel, rich cooked and dried fruit, spices, nuts, espresso and a long finish. It seemed sweeter than the younger wines somehow because the fruit was still quite vibrant – 91/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £35.00 per bottle from Vintage Wine & Port.

The Douro Valley near Pinhão.

The Douro Valley near Pinhão.

barros_colheita_19961996 Barros Colheita
Barros Porto

Vila Nova de Gaia

I have always had a soft spot for Barros ever since I sold their wines in another life,  so I was really pleased to see how good this was. Originally a small private house founded by Manuel de Almeida in 1913. It eventually took over lots of other smaller Port houses, including Kopke, until it too became part of the Sogevinus Group in 2006.

The blend was again 25% Touriga Nacional, 25% Tinta Roriz, 25% Touriga Franca, 25% Tinta Barroca.

The colour was a deep russet, while the nose was smokey, with coffee, spice, dried fruit and buttery caramel notes and a touch of dried and caramelised orange. The palate was just so joyous that we all stopped talking and looked at each other. There was nutty caramel, dried orange, dried fig, strong coffee and even nougat. The texture was so silky it was almost creamy and the finish went on and on – 93/100 points.

It’s funny because 1996 was considered to be a dire Port vintage and yet this wine really shone, which just goes to show that the vintage guides are wrong, or all that time in wood can work wonders!

Available in the UK for around £35.00 per bottle – click here for stockists.
For US stockist information – click here.

The lovely tiled railway station in Pinhão.

The lovely tiled railway station in Pinhão.

kopke_colheita_19961996 Kopke Colheita
Kopke Porto
Vila Nova de Gaia

Kopke – pronounce Cop-key – was founded in 1638 by Germans Cristiano and Nicolaus Kopke and is thus the very oldest Port house of all – the next oldest is Warre’s and that was founded in 1670, some 32 years later. 378 years later Kopke are the leading producer of Colheitas, producing more than 25% of the style. The fruit, much of it from 100 year old vines, all comes from their Quinta São Luiz which is near Pinhão in the heart of the Douro.

The colour is more red this time, like a robin’s red breast. The nose has confided peel, caramelised orange, dried fruit, toasted nuts and a dash of spice. The palate again is smooth and silky with a slight creamy quality, loads of dried fruit and some salted caramel too. This is delicious, really hedonistic and delicious – 93/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £30.00 per bottle from Marks & Spencer.
For US stockist information – click here.


Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia.

kopke_colheita_19841984 Kopke Colheita
Kopke Porto
Vila Nova de Gaia

This showed its age a little I am afraid. It was lovely and it was a treat, but it seemed a little fragile and brittle.  It was very aromatic and had some coffee and nut and orange and dried fruit notes, while the palate was very smooth and light with dried fruit and spice – 90/100 points.

Available in the UK for around £50.00 per bottle – click here for stockists.
For US stockist information – click here.

A Colheita is a lovely style of Port and is perfect with all manner of things at Christmas, mince pies, panforte, Christmas cake, you name it. So I really do recommend that you get some in for the festive season. I certainly will.

Wine of the Week – a friendly and great value Douro red

I love the wines from the Douro Valley in Portugal. This beautiful part of the world is an isolated, harsh, arid landscape that produces fabulous world class wines, as well as Ports. The wines tend to be red, but some lovely whites are made too. Douro wines are usually very high quality and although they can be pretty expensive, they generally deliver very good value for the quality that you get.

Map of the Douro – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Map of the Douro – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement. Quinta do Noval is marked, just north of Pinhão.

Recently I have presented a couple of tastings on the wines of the Douro, which were very well received indeed and I will write about those soon. In the meantime I tasted a red wine from the Douro that delivered a huge amount of pleasure at a very good price, so I have made it my Wine of the Week.


Quinta do Noval.

35-the-lot-series-douro-grande-reserva-20132013 Lot 20 Douro Grande Reserva
DOC Douro
Douro Valley


My normal go to good value Douro red wine is the Altano Organic – and which is currently on offer from Waitrose at just £7.99 – which I like very much, but this is another terrific wine that hows what the region can do at a very good price. It is a limited production wine – just 41,000 bottles – and forms part of Aldi’s Lot Series, which contains some other very good wines.

This Douro Valley red is a blend of three of the most important local grapes; Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) and is made for Aldi by Quinta do Noval, which is one of the most famous and respected producers of Ports and table wines in the region. I recently showed their excellent 2010 Cedro do Noval and magnificent 2007 Quinta do Noval at a tasting and they were really appreciated.

The view from my room at Quinta do Noval. The closest building is the winery.

The view from my room at Quinta do Nova a couple of years ago. The closest building is the winery.

The colour is a deep red, while the nose offers ripe black and red fruits together with liquorice, sweet spice and black pepper. The palate is incredibly fruity with black cherry, blackberry, plum, chocolate, pepper, wild herbs, a touch of spice and supple, smooth tannins. This is a wine that is clearly made to be drunk young. It is very soft, fruity, quite rich, herbal and spicy which makes it very attractive and easy to drink – 88/100 points.

Available in the UK from Aldi for £9.99 per bottle – a case of 6 bottles  is £59.94 and delivered for free.

This is a delicious wine that shows some of the flavour profile the Douro region gives, but a a very good price and in a very drinkable style, it’s well worth a try.

New Wine of the Week – a fine red from Portugal’s Douro Valley

The beautiful terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

The beautiful terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

Portuguese wine is so underrated. The country is awash with wonderful wine regions, fabulous grape varieties and winemakers with real ability and passion. It troubles me that so few Portuguese wines are generally available in the UK, it suggests that there is very little demand and that is a shame.

However, for those of us who are open minded enough to enjoy them, the few Portuguese wines that are available are real stars and really reward the dedicated – try this great value gem here as an example. How they turn out such quality at that price amazes me.

Recently I tasted yet another great wine from the Douro – two in fact as I also tried the magnificent and beautifully mature Duas Quintas Reserva which is available from the Wine Society for £25 a bottle – and it reminded me how much I love the wines from this exciting region.

The Douro rises in Spain where it is known as the Duero River, it serves as the border between the two Iberian neighbours for quite a way, before heading West and cutting Portugal in half. In Portugal the rugged, hot, slate slopes produce the grapes for Port, but in recent years the region has become one of the most exciting for un-fortified wine too. Although mainly red, although there are some lovely whites as well – I wrote about the region’s development here.


Bruno Prats (left) and Charles Symington (right), wine makers – photo courtesy of the winery.

The wine I tasted was produced by Prats & Symington and it was so good that I decided to make it my Wine of the Week.

PS2012 Post Scriptum de Chryseia
DOC Douro
Prats & Symington

The Symington family are the pre-eminent growers in the Douro Valley and own many of the famous Port houses – Grahams, Dows, Cockburns – as well as the great Quintas – or wine estates – that produce their grapes. In 1998 they decided to get serious and ambitious about their non-fortified wines as well. To this end they went into partnership with Bruno Pats who is the former owner of Château Cos-d’Estournel in Saint-Estèphe (also click here) in the Médoc area of Bordeaux. Because the Douro is such a famous and old established wine region, it is amazing to realise that this only happened in 1998 – non-fortified wines are a newish thing here. I must also mention that the Symington family produces some brilliant table wines with no Prats involvement too, Quinta do Vesuvio is one of the very best red Douro wines that I have tasted – it’s available here -, while its second wine the Pombal do Vesuvio is nearly as fine. For stylish moire everyday drinking I am a huge fan of their Altano range – especially the superb Organic Quinta do Ataide and Quinta do Ataide Reserva.

The wine they produced was called Chryseia (US stockist here)- it means golden in Greek, just as Douro does in Portuguese – and it was made from Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca grapes, grown at Quinta de Roriz and Quinta da Perdiz and it became an instant classic, highly prized and much in demand.

In 2002 they launched Post Scriptum, which while it is described as a partner, really acts as a second wine and uses a second selection of the fruit. I have tasted many vintages of it though and the wine is always first-rate.

The vineyard, clearly showing the wonderful decayed slate, or schist soils.

The vineyard, clearly showing the wonderful decayed slate, or schist soils – photo courtesy of the winery.

The 2012 is 53% Touriga Franca, 45% Touriga Nacional and a little dollop of other Douro grapes, most likely Tinto Roriz – which is Tempranillo. After a rigorous selection, the grapes undergo a cold fermentation and the finished wine is aged for 13 months in 400 litre French oak barrels.

As soon as you sniff it you can tell this is a rather special. There are rich black fruit notes, floral notes, spices, warm, rocky mineral notes and a light dusting of smoky tobacco.

The palate is full, but velvety smooth with the tannins giving just a touch of firmness. There is black cherry and black plum a plenty, together with liquorice and eucalyptus characters. It is concentrated and rich, but beautifully balanced with a lovely seem of fresh acidity and the wonderful salty minerality that is the hallmark of the Douro – 92/100 points.

This is a great value fine wine and a real treat. The quality is superb and it goes brilliantly with all sorts of food, especially stews, casseroles and roast meats – I had it with lamb and it was superb.

Available in the UK at £17.50 per bottle from The Wine Society.
The equally fine 2013 vintage is available from Tanners for £20.90 per bottle.
For US stockists, click here.

Wine of the Week 59 – a great rosé

I like rosé wine. Rosé can be a delicious drink and just the thing on a summer day. However, I am fully aware that they are normally frivolous wines that seldom hit the heights of complexity and sophistication.

Recently I tasted a rosé that showed just how good the style can be and it was made in a relatively unusual place from an incredibly unusual grape.

It was made by a guy called David Mazza, actually it was made for him, but more of that in a moment, and it was such a thrilling wine that I have made it my Wine of the Week.

David Mazza showing me his wines at Berry Bros. & Rudd, London.

David Mazza showing me his wines at Berry Bros. & Rudd, London.

Wine map of Western Australia – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Wine map of Western Australia – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Bastardo2013 Mazza Bastardo Rosé
GI Geographe
Mazza Wine
Western Australia

David Mazza’s family left their native Calabria – the toe of Italy – in 1958 and settled in Dardanup near Bunbury, Western Australia. Both his father and grandfather grew grapes and made wine for family consumption, but David is the only member of the current generation, out of 20 cousins, to be bitten by the wine bug and take it further.

This may well be because as a young man he travelled around Iberia and fell in love with the wines of Spain and Portugal, which reminded him of the dry, lightish European styles of wine that his father and grandfather used to make. Something about the grapes of Spain and Portugal spoke to him and when he and his wife Anne finally found the site they wanted for their dream vineyard they decided to plant their favourite Iberian grapes. 14 years later they proudly tend 4 hectares of Tempranillo, Graciano, Tinta Câo, Touriga Nacional, Sousâo (Vinhão) and Bastardo. I tasted all their wines except for the Tinta Câo, which I hope to try soon, and I have seldom been more impressed or thrilled by a range of wines. They were a superb line up and I will write about them all soon.

However, I was also impressed by David and his incredible passion for this project. he delighted in every aspect of what he was doing and that showed in his wines. The sheer excitement he had for hid land and his wines was lovely to see. I fact when I described his land as an estate he was so proud and so excited that I felt it too, it was as though his work had really paid off for him. 

Bastardo is the traditional main grape of Dâo and is used in the Douro, for wine and Port, Madeira and Alentejo, but is also strangely used in the Jura region of France where it is called Trousseau. It’s a vigorous low yielding plant and David dry farms it without irrigation.

The colour comes from skin contact and what a lovely colour it is, somewhere between wild salmon and pale cranberry juice.

The nose offers rose petal aromas, some strawberries and cream notes, mineral earthy notes, some herbs and some pomegranate too.

The palate has lovely weight and a creamily ripe texture that caresses the palate with soft red fruit with an underlying orange acidity with red fruit highlights. There are some light spices and Mediterranean herbs too. The acidity is perfectly judged, making the wine fresh, lively and clean without being in the least bit tart.

There is a fair bite of tannin for a rosé, just enough to give some elegance and structure, and a long finish that delights with redcurrant and cranberry fruit. This is a really satisfying and fine rosé of exceptional quality, it is not exactly light weight, but neither it is it heavy, but it is refreshing and lively. The most complex and fine example I have had in a long time and one of the 2 or 3 best I have ever tasted – 92/100.

This is utterly delicious and very drinkable as well as being a complex rosé. I think it would be  perfect wine to drink with seafood, tapas, starters, picnics, barbecues or just some little nibbles like cheese straws. If you are a fan of rosé but have never tasted a really fine one, then please give this delightful wine a go.

Available in the UK from Berry Bros and Rudd for £17.50 per bottle.


Wine of the Week 45 – an elegant and delicious Port

I love Port, as well as the unfortified wines of Portugal’s Douro region (do try this one here), and given how reluctant winter is to leave us this year, in the UK anyway, I thought this delicious Port that I discovered recently would be a lovely, warming Wine of the Week.

The beautiful terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

The beautiful terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

Port has long been dominated by the big brands, many of them still with British names, such as Grahams, Dows, Cockburns, Taylors etc., but that has been changing ever since 1986. Until that year, Port had to be taken from the vineyards in the Upper Douro Valley to the Port Lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia, near Porto, where the big Port houses are based. It was these companies who aged and shipped the wine rather than the grape growers. After 1986 though, the growers were allowed to age and ship their own wines direct from their estates or Quintas in the Upper Douro.

This means that more and more Port is now made by the growers on their own estates, which can only add to the romance of the product. It is also in keeping with the rest of the wine world, where it is very common to find estates that have been growing grapes for decades, or longer, who in recent years have stopped selling their grapes to the big local producer, or cooperative and instead have started making the wines for themselves.

Map of the Douro – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Map of the Douro – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

This is exactly what happened with the Quinta do Infantado, which is a delightful family run Port estate near the lovely village of Pinhão in the heart of the Douro. The Roseira family have been in charge here for well over a century, but the Quinta actually dates back to 1816, when it was founded by the Portuguese Crown Prince, or Infante – hence Infantado. Of course, like all the other growers, the Roseiras, and the Infante before them, sold their grapes to the big names shippers until 1986 – which is presumably explains why the Port houses were called ‘shippers’ rather than producers, which was something I always found odd.

The beautiful tiled railway station in Pinhão.

The beautiful tiled railway station in Pinhão.

The beautiful tiled railway station in Pinhao.

The beautiful tiled railway station in Pinhão.

The Douro is a very beautiful, rugged, wild place with a very hot climate in the growing season. The land slopes dramatically down to the Douro River and so much of the landscape is terraced to allow for efficient agriculture and to stop soil erosion. The soil is schist, which is decayed slate, so everything makes this a hard landscape to work and ensures that pretty much everything still has to be done by hand – and sometimes by foot – just as it always has. Rather wonderfully at Quinta do Infantado they do still tread the grapes in the traditional manner – this gives a rapid extraction of colour in the shallow, stone fermentation tanks called a lagares.

Vineyards are everywhere you look in Pinhão.

Vineyards are everywhere you look in Pinhão.

Large wooden vats for ageing Port. These are at Quinta do Noval.

Large wooden vats for ageing Port. These are at Quinta do Noval, which is near Quinta do Infantado.

lbv 20092009 Quinta do Infantado LBV Port
The blend is 30% Touriga Franca, 30% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) with 10% of other local grapes. The grapes are trodden and the finished Port is aged for around 4 years in large (25,000) wooden vats that are over 100 years old and so give no wood flavour to the wine, but do soften the tannins. The finished wine is not filtered or fined before bottling. An LBV, or Late Bottled Vintage, is technically a Reserve Ruby Port from a single vintage.

The colour is an enticing intense, vibrant, deep ruby.
The nose is lifted, scented and lively with rich black fruit notes of blackberry and black cherry, warming spice, liquorice, aniseed, clove, smoke and cedar. There is a floral prettiness there too, even a twist of orange peel.
The palate is sumptuous and fresh tasting with delicious sweet black fruit and lots of red fruit too – rich red plum and cherry, gentle sweet spice, some dry spice and a little smoky, fine grain tannin on the finish. This was also a pretty dry style of Port, not dry exactly, but drier than most.
This is joyous, vibrant and beautifully balanced with excellent integration between the fruit and the alcohol, indeed for a Port it carries its 19.5% alcohol very well indeed.
If more affordable Port tasted this fresh and juicy, I would drink more of it – 91/100.

I greatly enjoyed this with some Manchego and Gorgonzola cheese, but it also goes superbly with chocolate.

Available in the UK for around £15 a bottle from The Wine Reserve, Slurp, Eclectic Tastes, The Drink Shop, Little Big Wine, Exel Wines and the Fine Wine Company. Further stockist information is available from the UK distributor, Liberty Wines.
The US distributor is Louis/Dressner Selections / LDM WINES INC and more stockist information is available here.

Do try this if you get the chance, it is utterly delicious without being overly heavy or spirity either, Quinta do Infantado also produce a wide range of other Ports and table wines too. If I get the chance to taste them I will report back on what those are like too.

Wine of the Week 5 – fine organic red from the Douro

The beautiful terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

The beautiful terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

My wine of the week this time is a wine that I have mentioned before in a piece about Portugal’s Douro region. I drank a bottle the other day and was once again struck by how good it was. It was so classy, so delicious and such great value for money that I simply could not resist making it my wine of the week.

It is made by the Symington family who own many superb estates in the beautiful Douro Valley as well as Port houses such as Graham, Dow, Cockburns and Warre. For the last 15 years or so they have branched out from being purely a Port producer to becoming one of Portugal’s best winemakers too and this wine is a superb calling card for them. If you have never tasted a really good Portuguese wine, or just want something good at a great price, then give it a go, it could well be your wine of the week too:

The view from Vinum

The Douro in Porto.

LN_504100_BP_a_232011 Altano Quinta do Ataide Organic
D.O. Douro, Portugal

This blend of organically grown Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca grapes was sourced from the Symington family’s Assares vineyard which was certified organic in 2006. The wine was cold fermented in stainless steel tanks and aged in second fill French oak for 10 months.
This offers great concentration and depth and wonderfully vibrant fruit together with a touch of spice and a slatey minerality, it gives lots of pleasure and is sinfully drinkable. This is stunning quality for its price and should be more popular – 90/100 points because of the great value.

Available in the UK from Waitrose & Fareham Wine Cellar @ £9.99 per bottle, more UK stockist information is available from Fells, the distributor.
Available in the US from Curtis Liquors, more US stockist information is available from Vineyard Brands, the distributor.

Birth of a Region

We live in a golden age for wine, it has never been better made, more exciting or as affordable as now.

I often think though how much more thrilling it must have been to have been around while the great regions were emerging and while their reputations were being originally earned. All the truly great wine regions that we talk about in reverential and hushed tones – in the old world anyway – were established long ago and so now have something of the past about them. This is not to be critical by the way, merely acknowledging that these places are often steeped in tradition.

Of course what constitutes a great wine region can vary from opinion to opinion, but I am pretty sure there is a broad agreement about the very best wine regions. They must produce wines that talk of that place, be terroir wines, they must produce complex and layered wines that can be aged – whether you do age them or even want to is another matter. They must be wines that command a following and a premium price – after all that is one of the key criteria for the Cru Classé of Bordeaux and the Grands Crus of Burgundy.

Taking all of those points into account, there is one leading, world class wine region in Europe that at first glance would seem to be as old as any of them, but is actually a pretty recent phenomenon.

That region is Portugal’s Douro Valley.

The beautiful terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

The beautiful terraced vineyards of the Douro Valley.

Of course the Douro has existed for ever and has produced wine of a sort since records began. However for many complex reasons, the place developed a particular style of wine – sweet and fortified – that to some degree sets it aside from places like Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Rhône, Tuscany and Rioja.

Unfortified table wine from the Douro though has only been produced in relatively recent times, certainly in any quantity and to a world class standard. It was not really until 1979 that they received any recognition at all, with the creation of the Douro D.O.C..

Baron Forrester of course famously championed the production of table wines and advocated the Port producers stop ‘adulterating’ their wines with spirit, a fact that led to many conspiracy theories about his untimely death.

Before phylloxerra unfortified wines from Port country were known as ‘consumo’, which certainly implies that they were simple wines drunk quite quickly after production and their market was limited to Portugal and Brazil. It seems that after phylloxerra they nigh on disappeared with the bulk of the grapes being used to produce the spirit for Port.

The beautiful Douro.

The beautiful Douro.

The Douro remained purely a region for fortified wines until 1952 when Ferreira produced the first vintage of Barca Velha. It wasn’t made every year, but I well remember how this wine acquired almost mythical status and a high reputation which had a knock on effect on other producers causing them too to use surplus port grapes to make a table wine – often just on an experimental basis. It took well over 20 years for such wines to become anything other than a novelty.

Portuguese membership of the E.U. had an enormous effect on wine production, massive investment in the 1990s transformed many wineries and the entire outlook of the country. Huge strides were made and development was so fast that by the turn of the 21st century Douro wines were well established.

What is astonishing though is that at some point within the last dozen or so years the Douro has clearly and unambiguously taken its place amongst the great wine regions of the world and overtaken all its Portuguese rivals. Obviously this is no overnight success, but it is a remarkable achievement none the less.

I have been excited by the wines for many years, indeed I used to sell a couple of Douro reds in the mid 1990s when they were still a rarity, but I have been thrilled by the amazing development I saw on a recent trip to the Douro as a guest of the Discover the Origin campaign and at the New Douro tasting in February.

Map of the Douro – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

Map of the Douro – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement.

There were many highlights, but these producers stood out:

Domingos Alves de Sousa were among Douro’s table wine pioneers and produce exciting reds and whites .

Alves de Sousa Reserva Pessoal BrancoTheir 2007 Alves de Sousa Reserva Pessoal Branco is a very individualistic sort of wine, full of character and depth. For this dry white they decided to make a wine with some of the personality and intensity of a white Port. To achieve this it was fermented (on the skins for the first 48 hours) in new French oak with hyper-oxidation and hard pumping over and a further 6 months in new French oak. The result is extraordinary, full flavoured, concentrated and quirky with barley sugar, caramelised orange, rich apricot, spices and honey, in fact it sort of tastes like a very rich Sauternes, but is bone dry. It put me in mind of those new wave amphora aged wines and orange wines, but unlike most of those it is utterly delicious – 93/100 points.

The Abandanado Vineyard, these ancient vines create an extraordinary wine.

The Abandanado Vineyard, these ancient vines create an extraordinary wine.

Their top red is the Abandonado crafted from an 80 year old vineyard that was abandoned for many years – hence the name – before being nurtured back to life. I tasted the 2009:

Abandonado2009 Abandonado
Field-blend of old vine Tinta Amarela, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and some other grapes too and aged for 18 months in new Portuguese and French oak.
Lovely nose, a red fruit and black fruit melange, smoky too, with stewed plums, sugar plums, herbs, some eucalyptus and tar.
Lovely palate, great weight, fruit, tar, earth, slate, minty, supple texture with fine smoky wood and fine grain tannins.
Superbly integrated and balanced, quite brilliant – 92/100 points.

The beautiful Quinta do Noval

The beautiful Quinta do Noval

Quinta da Noval is justifiably famous for both ports and wines and I was excited to stay there last year and enjoyed tasting their whole range. Everything was good, but my stand out wine was the 2009 Quinta do Noval:

quinta_do_noval_2007_douro_doc_3__39102_big2009 Quinta do Noval
A blend of 80% Touriga Nacional and 20% Touriga Franca.
The colour was a lovely opaque and intense cassis, while the very rich nose offered liquorice, earthy mineral notes, wild herbs, mocha and a hint of spice.
The palate was very smooth and supple with fine grain tannins, fleshy black fruit to the fore, a supple texture and touches of warm granite, clean earth, leather and eucalyptus. I really loved this wine, it was rich, concentrated and pretty full-bodied, but still had plenty of freshness and elegance – 93/100 points

The view from Niepoort.

The view from Niepoort.

Ramos Pinto is a family owned Port house that has been around since 1880, but has been at the forefront of the Douro’s table wine revolution. Which is hardly surprising given that the current owner’s father created Barca Velha. Their table wines are called Duas Quintas because they are a blend of fruit from 2 different estates, but I am sure that you could have worked that out for yourself.

The 2011 Duas Quintas (cask sample) was as reliable as ever with rich fruit, supple tannins and that slatey minerality to the finish. The 2011 Duas Quintas Reserva (cask sample) was more intense with richer fruit and more concentration.

Duas2009 Duas Quintas Reserva
50% Touriga Nacional, 40% Touriga Franca & 10% Tinta da Barca with 18 months barrel ageing.
This great wine was equally intense, but more developed, smoky and earthy and mineral with some leather touches and rich raisined fruit giving a slight Port-like feel. Incredibly concentrated, but vibrant and modern in a really delicious and stylish way – 92/100 points.

Available in the UK from the Wine Society @ £25.00 per bottle.


More of the beautiful Douro.

More of the beautiful Douro.

Symington Family Estates is of course one of the firms that dominates the Port business – amongst other brands they own Cockburn, Warre’s, Dow’s and Graham’s. I visited them at Graham’s Lodge in Porto and was very impressed by what I tasted – dinner in the new Vinum Restaurant at the Graham’s Lodge was rather stunning too and Johnny Symington was a charming, entertaining and informative host. Renewing acquaintance with their wines at the New Douro tasting in London I was wowed all over again – even their relatively humble Six Grapes Reserve Ruby Port was delicious.

Johnny Symington

Johnny Symington

The Symingtons main table wine brand is Altano and even the standard wine is very good, with rich fruit and a distinctive minerality, but I really enjoyed the

Organic2011 Altano Quinta do Ataide Organic
This blend of organically grown Tinta Barroca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca grapes was cold fermented and aged in second fill French oak for 10 months.
This offers great concentration and depth and wonderfully vibrant fruit and a slatey minerality, it gives lots of pleasure and is sinfully drinkable. This is stunning quality for its price and should be more popular – 90/100 points because of the great value.

Available in the UK from Waitrose & Ocado @ £9.99 per bottle.

The 2009 Altano Reserva Quinta do Ataide is a bit more serious and concentrated still, showing a little ageing, but the fruit is still intense and it has that spicy, earthy, mineral and inky character that reminds me of Priorat’s licorella and which I have come to identify with the Douro – 91/100 points.

quinta-do-vesuvio-2008-red-wineThey also produce a pair of deeply impressive wines at their Quinta do Vesúvio estate in the Douro Superior zone. The 2009 Quinta do Vesúvio was my favourite red wine of 2013. It is intensely ripe, fragrant and floral, concentrated and so gloriously fruity that the complexity and structure is a little hidden, but it’s there, with silky tannins, mocha tinged oak and that rocky herbal, slate minerality on the finish. This is a magnificent wine and was the most impressive Douro I tried on my trip, perhaps only by a whisker, but I loved the intensity of the fruit, the concentration, the supple tannins and the incredible spectrum of flavours – 93/100 points.

The second wine, the 2009 Pombal do Vesúvio is very good too, just that bit lighter and more stony in character – 91/100 points.

The Symingtons also produce wines in partnership with Bruno Prats at Prats & Symington which is based on the fruit from Quinta de Perdiz and Quinta de Roriz, which are close together midway between Bonfim and Malvedos. Unusually, given that these properties are bang in the middle of premium Port country, it is Douro table wines that is the focus here and so the best fruit is selected for that, although a little vintage Port is also produced. The company was formed in 1998 with wines following in 2000, so it is all still very new, but also very assured. The principal wine is called Chryseia which means gold in Greek – Douro also means gold. The 2011 Chryseia promises much, being intense and concentrated with plush fruit and lots of that licorella-like minerality. It isn’t just big though, there is freshness and balance too making it very fine.

chryseiaThe 2007 Chryseia is 50% each of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca and showed more development. It is beautifully supple and richly fruity, but with more dried fruit showing now. The minerality is still there giving an almost bitter twist like tapenade and strong espresso to the finish, while the tannins are just beginning to be silky – 93/100 points.

There are two second wines, the 2011 Post Scriptum has bags of fruit and an elegant juiciness. While the 2011 Prazo de Roriz too had lots of fruit, it was more earthy, mineral and savoury with a bitterness reminiscent of unsweetened dark chocolate.

In Conclusion

The schist soil in the Douro Valley.

The schist soil in the Douro Valley.

All the wines I had were very good. Some were bargains, many offered great value, while others were great at any price, but in all of them there was elegance and a sense of place. That mineral, slate or licorella taste was always there giving a true taste of the Douro. The water is drawn up through these schist soils and whether that directly effects the wine or not they do have this slatey schistous flavour profile that makes them very distinctive indeed.

It seems to me that any tasting of the Douro will reveal wines worthy of rubbing shoulders with the best. They scream of their terroir – you can taste the wild slate hillsides in the glass. The better wines are certainly layered and complex and can age, while many of them now command and indeed deserve eye watering prices.

These wild, barren, sun-soaked slate / schist hillsides seem to be able to produce extraordinary wines with great depth and often real complexity. What’s more the region has its own grape varieties – used to make Port in the past, but now clearly capable of producing world class dry wines. So if you want classic European wines, but with new flavour profiles, the Douro is a good place to turn. If you like Tuscan wines, Priorat or the wines of the Rhône then these really could be wines for you.

I am certain that we have just lived through the birth of a truly great wine region, they are not yet widely popular or sought after, but as Paul Symington confidently told me, their time will come.

Post Script

The view from Vinum

The view from Vinum

Last year I enjoyed a stunning dinner at the Vinum Restaurant housed in the Grahams Lodge in Villa Nova de Gaia. It is a wonderful place with great food and lovely views across the river. Everything was perfect and as I said above, the 2009 Quinta do Vesúvio was my favourite red wine of 2013. Well as this superb meal drew to a close Johnny Symington set yet another bottle down on the table and some was poured for each of us. I could not have believed that things could get any better at that moment, but they did, because we were about to taste the

Cut-out-bottle-shot11952 Graham’s Single Harvest Tawny (Colheita) Port which was bottled to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Now I love Colheita Ports, I think they are a fabulous and underrated style, but the quality of this took even my breath away. These old wood aged Ports – and this wine has lain undisturbed in wooden pipes for 60 years – lose that opaque colour and look quite brown and nutty. This was fragrant and perfumed with molasses, dried fig and salty caramel aromas. The palate was sensuous and rich with liquor orange, dried apricot, dried figs, sticky toffee pudding and candied pumpkin characters. The finish was long and nutty, but balanced by a nice cut of refreshing acidity to cleanse the senses. A stunning, stunning wine and without a doubt the best thing I drank in 2013 – 96/100 points.