Sunday, February 19, 2012

Report from ... Day 3 in Portugal: The Douro - February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day, and we're up and at 'em at the crack of dawn ... okay maybe not that early, but it is our longest day ahead as we will be on the go most of the day.  We're heading north east to the Douro, we're Port wines are grown and the new trend is in high quality table wines.  We'll be taken in at Quinta do Castelo for a tasting.  Visit the famous Quinta dos Malvedos (Symington / Graham's) for a tasting and lunch.  And finally to Quinta do Vallado for an interesting and unforgettable tasting with dinner ... as usual with me, it was more about the wine than the food.  Let's take a look at the visual evidence:

As we depart the "Grande Hotel" let's take a quick look back at the outside to see what we arrived at (as you may have guest it was dark when we got here)
Romantic maybe, but imagine arriving here in the dark ... I'm just saying.
We arrive some 2+ hours later at the new multi-million dollar project call Duorum, established in 2007, where their philosophy is "wine is made in the vineyard"
As we step off the bus we are greeted by this vista of vines, mountains and the Douro River ... it's when it really hits you, "I'm not in Kansas anymore".
Where we are met by Jose Maria Soares Franco, administrator and partner in the project.  Then it strikes me like a bolt of lightning, I have met this man before ...

Instead of just pointing things out for the top of the hill upon which we are standing (at 450m of elevation), Jose decides to pile us into his Audi 4x4 and take us down some rather narrow slopes to show us - sorry I was too busy praying to take pictures of the ride down.
Along the way we stop to look at various aspects of the project and the property: like the rocks they have to break to make soil.
From this picture you can see the usual make up of this land.  The top soil is 15 to 20 cm deep, the rest is rock that they have to smash and break through to a depth of 1.5 meters or more.
For a better idea of just how deep they go I had Jose point out the level ... he says it's easy with the red granite, it's the blue granite that's the back breaker.  And all this was once done by hand - makes you wonder what kind of make-work project this was back in the day, and just how much they must have wanted to make some wine.
A quick look down the Douro - the scenery is absolutely amazing.
Gratuitous (far away) Animal Shot #5: a herd of sheep is roaming the vineyard, "in another month they will not be allowed in" says Jose, "it is forbidden during the growing season."
Me leaning up against an estimated 300-400 year old olive tree ... they will be determining its age at some point in the future, but they have left these kind of gems around the property.
And now ... on to the tasting part
This 2009 Colheita (now sold out)is a beauty from colour to nose to plate - dark fruited with silky tannins and good acidity (****+)
The Old Vines 2009 proved just as delicious and more complex, with chocolate, vanilla, black cherry, plum and nice tannins ... fruit is sourced from 70-80 year old vines (****+)
From Duorum we are off to the Symington property of Graham's flagship vineyard, Quinta dos Malvedos, for a tasting of Ports and table wines and a tour of this historic property by the river.
We were greeted with open arms by marketing manager Gustavo Devesas ...
who fixed us all a welcoming Port-Tonic cocktail made with the Graham's Extra Dry White Port, Tonic, a slice of fresh lemon and three ice cubes.
Then it was time for a rustic Portuguese lunch ...
of pureed vegetable soup ...
salad and some cod/cream concoction that was really very good.
Paired with their white and red table wines from the Altano line:  the red had extremely good fruit, it was deep dark and rich with good structure and fine tannins (****+)
Upon leaving the lunch room self proclaimed "Twit of the year", Chirstopher Loob Sommelier from Sweden steps in front of yet another picture ... more pics to come.
Gratuitous Animal Shot #6 ... dog at Quinta dos Malvedos, he appeared out of nowhere and disappeared just as quickly.
On the trek down to the cellars at the Quinta we pass by a row of each grape they grow planted in the same year ... during the growing season you can see how the grapes mature at different times.
A row of Touriga Nacional planted in the year 2000 ...
Sunset over the hills of the Douro, as seen on the walk down to the river's edge
The doors to the heart of the operation.
A traditional lagar where they foot-trod all the grapes that come into the Quinta.
This is the Symington invented/patent robotic lagar, which was first used in 2000 ... the traditional and robotic both take the same amount of time to trod the grapes, 2.5 - 3 hours
Large holding/ageing barrel - year on the front is 1903, barrel still in use.
The Graham's Port tasting including 2000 and 1983 Vintage Ports - the 2000 was extraordinary with a lovely milk chocolate finish (**** 1/2) - while the 1983 had a tasty, sweet caramel apple skin finish (****+).
The new Tawny bottle that will soon house all the Graham's tawnies including the 10, 20, 30 and 40
Tasting and Dinner with "The Douro Boys" (at the Quinta do Vallado property) ... starting with the Quinta do Vale Meao wines. The "1st wine" (on right) is a delicious old vines Nacional / Franca blend: chocolate, plum, black cherry, cassis, vanilla notes and toasty flavours, smooth with silky tannins - only 27,000 bottles produced (**** 1/2)
Cristiano van Zeller's wines.  The CV - Curriculum Vitae was the pinnacle, a 15.5% alcohol bruiser: intense raspberry, chocolate, plum, blackberry, cassis, with a cocoa powder and sweet fruit finish - made from 75-85 year old vines - lovely balance even with the massive alcohol (**** 1/2).
Quinta do Crasto's two amazing wines: 2009 Touriga Nacional, a wine made in only the best of years, since 1995, from 35 year old vines (**** 1/2+).  The 2009 Vinha Maria Teresa a field blend made from grapes planted in 1903 and contains 50+ varieties with roots that go down some 25-30 meters.  Foot trodden and aged 20-30 months in 100% French oak ... it's a wine made approximately 3 times each decade.  Minerality is the key to this wine, it's off the chart, with vanilla, caramel and lovely red fruit all wrapped up with intense acidity and silky tannins - all very well integrated (*****)
The Vallado 2009 Reserva Field Blend (on left) the best from Vallado made from 42+ varieties whose vines are between 80-100 years old.  Aged 16-18 months in 60-80% new oak, all French.  Lots of lovely fruit here (*** 1/2+)
The night ended with glasses of Port from each of the Quintas and cigars on the outdoor balcony overlooking the hills of the Douro ... what an evening for wine, no idea what was served for dinner.  (in the picture left to right: Christopher, Michael, Mads, Joao Ferreira, William)

We're staying at the Quinta do Vallado inn, so there was no need to pile into the bus ... tomorrow we'll get a tour of the Vallado property, then a visit to the small Wine and Soul Project winery and a tasting and lunch at the Lavadores de Feitoria Palacios de Mateus property before we head back to Oporto.

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