Douro delightment, with Meão among the tops

Wine Spectator’s 2014 Top 100 List is a delightment to read for Douro lovers. And we, who fell in love with Quinta do Vale Meão’s delicious wines when we visited Luisa Olazabal and her father Francisco in May, are even more delighted to find their awesome Quinta Do Vale Meão 2011 Douro in fourth place. Congratulations!

We had a wonderful visit, including a never-to-forget jeep tour, at the Quinta and learned a lot about the estate and enjoyed their delicious wines:

In general, Wine Spectator’s recently published 2014 Top 100 List is a top one for Douro and Port, with three wines among the first four. In addition to Quinta do Vale Meão we find a Port on top of the list: Dow’s Vintage Port 2011 (not tasted).

Additionally, as number Three: Prats & Symington’s Chryseia Douro Red 2011. We had this as one of the wines for lunch at Vinum Restaurant at Graham’s lodge in Porto. We loved it. Intense and dense, fullbodied, perfectly balanced with marked tannins, yet so elegant and clean and beautifully structured. Aromas of lovely rich dark forest berries floral notes, rubber, spicyness and a kiss of well integrated oak. Couldn’t wish for more. Gorgeous!

 

Our visit in May was our first deep dive into the Douro wines. It gave a real appetite to explore it more. And perhaps expand our excursions to more wine spots around Portugal.

No wonder that Matt Kramer, who chose to move to Porto for some time, summarised some impressions of Portugal and Douro under the heading “Is Portugal the Most Exciting Wine Place on the Planet Today?” (Wine Spectator, March 18 2014).

Douro Vineyards

 

 

Quinta do Vale Meão: part 2 – wine portfolio with white news

Water can be great, for example to wash the dust out of dry throats after an adventurous jeep trip in the heat. The first sight that met us in the tasting room at Quinta do Vale Meão was the thoughtfully provided water bottles. Then, at last, time to taste the wines. The expectations are high after the introductory tour of the quinta. And, we know since before that the estate and its wines have a very good reputation in the international world of wine. Francisco Olazabal, the son of the house, responsible for the wine making, was also named ”winemaker of the year” in Portugal some years ago.

Quinta do Vale Meão white wine MeandroFirst out, an unlabelled bottle with a slightly cloudy content. What can this be? Well, it is revealed as a totally new wine. A white one, which like its successful brother will get the name Meandro2013 is made of Arinto, Rabigato and “some others”. Purchased grapes from old vines at high altitude, not far away from the quinta. Simple vinification, stainless steel tank. The outcome?
Greenyellow colour, not quite clear (filtering has not been done yet). Young, very fruity, fresh aromas, a bit greenish vegetal with green apples, quince and a touch of pineapple. Medium bodied with fresh acidity and long fruity aftertaste where a pinch of fruitsweetness seduces the palate.
The wine wins our liking; very fresh with nice palette of aromas and round feeling in the palate.

Quinta do Vale Meão wines Meandro redIn glass number two, the ”second wine” from the estate, the red Meandro do Vale Meão 2011. This is a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca (20-30 percent of each), plus a splash of Tinto Cão and Tinta Barroca. Matured in old French barrels (2nd/3rd fill).
Purble, relatively opaque. Developed fruity aromas of both dark and red berries. Discrete notes of oak. Medium bodied with nice fresh acidity and velvet soft marked tannins. Good length with incipient complexity.
The structure is there and the fruit beautifully wrapped: a very good wine.

Quinta do Vale Meão, Monte Meão Touriga NacionalMonte Meão Touriga Nacional 2011 is next in line, the third glass. A so called “special edition” that in this release comprises about 3000 bottles.
Monte Meão, which is the original name of the location for the quinta, is the umbrella name for an experimental serie of single variety wines. One grape, from one specific type of soil, that is the concept. In this bottle, Touriga Nacional shining alone in the limelight, after some restful time in dark old barrels.
Purple. The nose a bit shy, characterised by austere fruit and berry aromas, spiced by a floral touch. Almost medium bodied, with well balanced fresh acidity and marked tannins. Very good, fruity length.
Fresh, elegant, but we would love to forget it in the cellar for a couple of years.

Quinta do Vale Meão wineThen, time for the premium estate wine, Quinta do Vale Meão 2011. Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca from old vines. Matured in French barrells, 80% new, with the objective to enhance the indigenous aromas of the wine and not to give any strong oak character. 
Purple, almost opaque. Young to developed, medium intensive aromas. Fruity with black berries, plums and lingonberries wrapped in a lovely floral dress. Full bodied with fresh acidity and velvet soft tannins and beautifully concentrated berries. Enormous length.
This is quality, to the core. Exquisitely balanced, focused and elegant. Something to hide and forget in the cellar for some years.
“Keep at least for five years,” comments Luisa Olazabal. “But just one single year will do much for the wine. Though, it should really be kept for more than ten years. The 2001 is really good right now.”

Quinta do Vale Meão Vintage 2011We conclude the tasting with Quinta do Vale Meão Vintage Port 2011. That is the year generally raised to the skies by industry and connoisseurs.
The 2011 is the eight vintage declared by Vale Meãu (previous years are 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008).
Blueredblack, totally opaque. Large nose, young to developed aromas, complex, very fruity with plums, black currant, jam and spicy notes of cinnamon. Fullbodied with fresh acidity and pronounced tannins and very pleasant, restained sweetness from an elegant compote of red and blue berries. Eternitylong, sweetfruity aftertaste with marked tannins.
Packed with flavours and the alcohol so perfectly integrated. Rich, dense, concentrated.
The silence falls over the room, almost contemplative. The concept of having a wine experience, is so to say lifted to a new dimension.

Quinta do Vale Meão wines

Oh yes, life can be good. We conclude our impressions with a couple of meão, meão. As cats around a saucer with milk we lick our lips and purr contentedly. Could not be happier.

Our high expectations have been met, and exceeded. Unfortunately we must leave. We have a train to catch and it will not wait for us. We say thank you and take a reluctant farewell of Luisa and Francisco.

Quinta do Vale Meão, vineyards and olive oil pressing house

In the future there will be a new tasting room at the quinta. The old house a bit further up the hill, where the olive oil was pressed in the old times, is being renovated. Would love to see it, when we come back.

We visited Quinta do Vale Meão in May 2014. This post was originally posted at my Swedish blog ”Ljuva Druvor”.

Quinta do Vale Meão; breathtaking on historical hectars

The jeep bounces back and forth on its way down the steep and tiny gravel road. Breathtakingly fast, at that is what it feels like. In reality, probably not more than 5 km per hour. It is hot, a bit crowded in the backseat and even more cosy on the benches in the back. But when spirits are on top, who cares?

“Is it ok back there?” someone shouts. The reply back is unanimous. “Yep, very good.” Everyone talking, laughing. The stomach experiences something like a rollercoaster. “Anyone got some pain in the butt?” Hysterical laughters. This was not what we expected when we came; it is so much better. To experience the Douro valley really close up. This is fun. Just cannot stop laughing.

In the front seat, with a steady hand on the wheel, a real charmer. It is not the first time he drives down this winding road.

The view from up there is stunningly beautiful, over the vineyards, through the valley with the meandering Douro River. On top of the hill, the little white chapel we just visited. Dona Antónias beautiful chapel, the very first building our host renovated after being the sole owner of the estate.

Earlier that afternoon we were welcomed to Douro Superior and Quinta do Vale Meão by Francisco Javier de Olazabal’s daughter, Luisa Olazabal. The estate with the cat associating name is with its 220 hectars of vineyards impressingly large. So is also the winery building, made of huge granite blocks, transported here from far away.

Quinta do Vale Meão delivered for many years high quality grapes to the Port house Ferreira in Vila Nova de Gaia. The quinta is also known for being the origin of the red wine Barca Vehla. An iconic wine, the very first to put Portugal on the map of non-fortified fine wines. It was created by Fransisco’s father in law in the beginning of the 50ies, but the history starts much earlier.

The year was 1877, when Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira bought the land from the municipality Vila Nova de Foz Cõa. Dona Antónia was already the biggest land owner in Douro and deeply engaged in the wine industry. At this location, she saw an opportunity to build a model vineyard from the start. She chose it even though the area, at that time, was outside the demarcated region for growing grapes to make port wine (apparently was this not a practical problem, as grapes in reality already were used for port). However, the land remained untouched for the ten long years. Why? A simple answer, she waited patiently for better communications.

Douro Superior was at that time the most remote area of Portugal. It was an adventure to travel from Porto. The most comfortable and secure choice was with boat up the Douro River. But torrents and strong current made it a twelve day trip. To attempt travelling by horse was not recommended. The area was frequently ravaged by bandits. Pocinho railway station

When the new railway reached Douro Superior, the civilisation came along. Twelve days by boat was replaced by a five hour trip by train. Perhaps Dona Antónia was involved in the railway too. Pocinho train station is suspiciously close to the quinta and Dona Antónia was an influential and uncompromising lady.

It took eight years, from 1887 to 1895, to establish the estate. Vineyards were planted on the previously uncultivated and bushy land. Roads were built. And so was winery, houses and chapel. Two chapels to be correct. One beside the manor and then a one more, i.e. the one we just visited. Although Dona Antónia thought the last one was completely unnecessary. One chapel was quite enough. Hence the inscription on the chapel’s stone plate; a pedido de, on request of, Antonio J Claro da Fonseca, her steward.

Quinta do Vale Meao chapel sign

Four generations later, the ownership of Quinta do Vale Meão is spread among some 30 relatives. Sadly, it seems like none of the relatives has the right feeling for the estate. No one visits it regularly, no one cares. Nobody, but one single person, our driver, Francisco Javier de Olazabal. Here is a heat that beats for Quinta do Vale Meão.

Since childhood, Fransisco has loved to come to the quinta. Since the 70ies he was also the one responsible for managing the estate, then as a part of his work within the family company, the Port house Ferreira. Slowly but surely Fransisco increases his shareholding, through heritage and through purchase. In 1994 his childhood dream comes true. Quinta do Vale Meão belongs to him.

The first years Fransisco continues to work for Ferreira, now owned by Sogrape, and also to sell the grapes from the estate to them. Then he makes the decision, to step of the management position with Ferreira and instead put all his energy into Vale Vale Meão.

“I was 60 years old in 1998 and wanted to do something for myself instead of working for others, to invest all my energy here,” explains Francisco. “I knew the grapes had great potential. Ferreira made good wine from my grapes.”

“My son, Francisco, who has an education in winemaking, did not want to do anything but working with wine. My own career was in the wine industry. Together we became a strong team.”

In 1999 the first vintage from Quinta do Vale Meão was launched. The success came quickly. Hard work paid off. The grapes are however not used for Barca Velha anymore. The best are instead put into the estate’s new prestige wine, a wine that proudly carries the name Quinta do Vale Meão.

A “second wine” is also produced. Very well known in Sweden. Meandro took the Swedes by storm and sold well.

In years with good conditions, there are also limited releases, almost experimental series, of single variety wines under the label Monte Meão. And, what else to expect, there is a port made in the very best years, Quinta do Vale Meão Vintage Port.

Today is the family owned company chaired by Francisco Javier de Olazabal. His son, who also carries the name Fransisco, is responsible for the winemaking and his daughter Luisa works with marketing and sales. 

 The large winery in granite was built on Dona Antónia’s time. “Our lagares were then big as swimming pools,” says Luisa Olazabal. “During Ferreira’s time they were not used and when we took over, they were full of all kind of things.”

“My brother Francisco thought it was a good idea to start using them again. So when we renovated the winery, we also renovated our lagares and decreased the size to half the original. We could use the remaining granite when we extended the facility. And the smaller lagares suit us much better. The grapes are always vinified separately lot by lot.”

In the 70ies there was a large replanting of the vineyards. Some plots had been flooded when a dam, Valeira, was built in the Douro River. The quinta was compensated by the government and the money was invested in the replanting. An outcome is the single variety vineyards, i.e. only one grape variety per plot. Elsewhere in Douro, it is not unusual with old plots where different varieties are planted together in the same field.

  “In the 70ies there was not that much knowledge about the different grape varieties,” explains Luisa. “But an uncle on my mother’s side was doing a study and he recommended my father to plant Touriga Nacional. That is a variety we believe much in, with low yield and high quality grapes.”

A large part of the estate’s vines is thus Touriga Nacional, almost 45 procent.  Also Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz are well represented with about 20 and 25 procent respectively. There are other traditional varieties too, but just by some percent each: Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão, Sousão as well as some ”other”. Well, Portugal is known for its hundreds of indigenous grape varieties.

We have finished the tour of the winery when Luisa asks if we would a like a short excursion; “Wouldn’t you like to go up to the chapel and see the view over the quinta?” Of course we want. Luisa goes to get drivers and we meet her charming father.

Quinta do Vale Meão Luisa and Francisco Olazabal

“You know, I love Sweden,” explains Fransisco Javier de Olazabal directly when we meet. “When I was little I read the book about Nils Holgersson’s wonderful trip by Selma Lagerlöf. I’ll never forget it. I remember an island called Gotland, looks like the body of a butterfly.”

“I also remember that you had to know the name of the straits around Denmark to pass the test in geography.” And then he happily recits; “Kattegatt, Skagerack, Great Bält, Little Bält and Sund.”

Fransisco really knows how to seduce a wine lover. Charming engagement, immense knowledge and delicous wines. You fall head over heels. Has this man really reached 75?

We jump into the cars. Fransisco’s jeep and a black Volvo. Up along the steep, bumpy and worn, almost white gravel road. We park at the chapel, built by the founder of the quinta, Dona Antónia. The view is stunning. The Douro River winds through the valley, from east to west. Fransisco points toward the mountains at the end of the valley.

Quinta do Vale Meão Vineyards

“There is a geological fault in this valley, it goes up north almost 100 km. Northern Portugal is very safe from a seismological point of view. Except for this area. It shakes sometimes. However, the most interesting is that this fault has given us three different types of soil.”

The quinta has not only the schist that almost totally dominates the Douro region, but also granite and an alluvial soil with lime and round pebbles. Fransisco compares the latter with the pebbly soils of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. He emphasises the advantage of having the three different types of soil. By making a cuvée from these, the wine gets a greater complexity.

Douro meanders quietly through the valley. We stroll slowly through the woods and come to the edge of the quinta’s land. At this point the river makes an impressively big meander bend, a 180 degree turn, delimiting the land as if it was a peninsula. It is easy to understand why one of the wines got the name Meandro.

Quinta do Vale Meão Douro meander

The border to Quinta do Vale Meão goes right here, in the middle of the hill. Fransisco points at the steep slope on the other side of the border; “You can easily understand why Dona Antónia didn’t want that land. It would be impossible to plant vines there, too steep and too stony.”

We stroll back, admire the view again and look at the cork oaks. The old ones, burnt by the last big forest fire 20 years ago, and the young ones. Side by side. It is hot, but soon we meet the jeep driving towards us. Fransisco, the considerate, had gone to fetch it and pick us up. We pack ourselves into the jeep and goes back to the winery again, down the winding road, with a lot of laughter and happy shouts. We will never forget this visit. 

 The tasting room is loaded with water bottles. Exactly what a thirsty wine lover needs after an adventurous jeep excursion. Exactly what is needed to clean the palate, because now it istime to taste the wines from Quinta do Vale Meão.

Tasting notes to follow in the next post…

We visited Quinta do Vale Meão in May 2014. This post was originally posted at my Swedish blog ”Ljuva Druvor”.

Quinta do Vale Meão, Luisa and Francisco Olazabal

 

 

Catena, assertiveness x 3

The blind tasting covering is folded aside. The last three glasses of the flight have already drawn great attention. What it is? Well, we find some single variety wines from Mendoza, all three full of character.  Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec steeped in terroir. Argentine wine is not common in our tastings, but in this case Catena really appetites for more.

Catena Zapata, egensinnig trio från 2009

Bodega Catena Zapata has for 30 years been a driving force of the quality wine movement of Argentina. The Catena family started in vine growing already at the start of the 18th century, but it was not until Nicolás Catena on location had been inspired by Californian vine growing and wine making, that the path to quality was truly entered. The segment of easy to drink, lower quality wines, were solded off and focus put on quality and  terroir. A path continued by Catena Zapata’s current leader,  Nicolá’s daugther Laura.

Experiment and research has been hight on the agenda since long. When Laura joined the company in 1995, she started the bodega’s new research and development function.  It was, after many successful years, in 2013 reorganised to Catena Institute of Wine, holding prestigious co-operations with the University of Davies, California, and with the local university in Cuyo.

The research has been focused on areas such as clonal selection, high altitude growing and assemblage of wine from plots with different terroir, soil and elevation. The concept “microclimat blendning” is used to illustrate this blending philosophy of single variety wines.

The vineyards are really at high elevation, up to 1450 meters. The adaptation ability of the vines is impressing.  Plenty of light is apparently one key factor. The mapping of soils and plots has resulted in a map where the areas of Mendoza, Luján de Cuyo, Maipú, Tupungato, Tunuyán and San Carlos, are accompanied by additional “appellations”, of course also with information about the best vineyards of Catena Zapata.

The wines we taste are from three different appellations. They are included in the range of entry level wines and were launched in Sweden in spring 2012. A couple of years in the cellar of our tasting organiser have been beneficial.

 
Catena Cabernet Franc El Cepillo 2009Catena El Cepillo Cabernet Franc 2009
From El Cepillo in the north part of  San Carlos. High altitude, sandy-loam soils.

Redblueblack, very intense colour.  The aromas start in chemistry and cigarette smoke, transfers into dark fruit spiced with mint and greenish notes. Full bodied with fresh acidity and marked tannins and, in the start, a passing, peculiar fizzy feeling of baking soda. Dark black, sour berries, plums and tasty green bell pepper.  Good lengt with sweet and sour blackgreen fruit. Fruity, but in a tight style with power and good concentration. Full of assertive character. Like.

 

Catena Cabernet Sauvignon Agrelo 2009Catena Agrelo Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
This appellation is Agrelo, located in Luján de Cuyo and the area surrounding Catena Zapata’s inca inspired, pyramid shaped winery. In the heart of Cabernet Sauvignon country in Mendoza, as the back label states. “Only” at a bit over 900 meters with deep, clay soils.

Dark, very intense purple hue. Young to developed intensive aromas with a lot of toasted oak, a slight smokeyness, dark fruit and some complexity. Full bodied with fresh acidity and marked velvet tannins. Well structured, palate filling feeling, distinguished power and nicely chiseled texture. Dark, sweetly ripe complex fruitiness, plums and black currant, toasted oak and chocolate in long aftertaste. Well tailored in the elegant, concentrated, fruity style. Yes, thank you, gorgeous!

Catena Malbec Vista Flores 2009Catena Vista Flores Malbec 2009
Classic Argentina grape, these ones from Vista Flores in Tunuyán in the middle of  Mendoza. Soils dominated by sand.
Classic Catena grounds. The family has grown Malbec in this area since the 50ies.

Deep red, purple hints. Develped, spicy aromas with chemical hints, curry, cumin, ginger, rubber, fried smokey bacon, fruity from black berries, sour dark cherries and oak. Full bodied, fresh acidity and marked tannins with a da capo of aromas in spicy tight ripe fruitiness. Tight, well structured, concentrated in elegant powerful style. The aftertaste lasts almost an eternity, complex with spicy fruitiness and caramell. Multifacetted, assertive. A fully packed Christmas cracker, full of character. Excellent.

Really beautiful wines, assertive, characterful, tasty and interesting. Thanks to J for the selection! We will gladly come back to Catena Zapata.

The noble art of holding a port wine glass

To use the glass with style, the beginner would need a manual or, even better, a lesson by someone who knows. We got ours from Jorge Serôdio Borges during the lunch at Quinta do Passadouro. The glass is not just any wine glass, but the official port wine glass. Yes, there is one, apparently blessed by the port wine institute.

Quinta do Passadouro Vintage Port 2011

Jorge has served us Passadouro’s delicious Vintage Port 2011 when we come to talk about the glass. At a distance, you could mistake it for an ordinary ISO glass. A closer look and the differences appear. Naturally it is said to be designed to emphasise all the sensory merits of the noble beverage. Additionally, the Portuguese designer Alvaro Siza has added a couple of details that directly revealed our lack of knowledge.

The stem of the glass is not round, but formed with four sides. Quite high up there is a small dimple on one of the edges. Fits a finger nicely, so my thumb ended up there.

Oh no, so wrong, so wrong. That dimple shall not be facing your body when you grap the glass, but be on the opposite side. Thus, no thumb, but the forefinger. And of course no fingers on the bowl, just around the stem.

Okey, lets try again. Grab the glass around the stem with the forefinger in the dimple, turned away from you and with the thumb on the back. Hide the other fingers discretely inside the hand, with the exception of the middle finger that is allowed to give a little support below the thumb. Thus, only one finger on the front and two on the back of the stem.

”Just the forefinger on front side?” I ask Jorge, to check that I really got it right. I, who always have had two fingers on the front of the stem, irrespective of wine glass type. ”Yes, that’s correct,” he confirms, ”only one finger, but it is mostly about etiquette.” Well, I just have to relearn.

Then there was the other little detail from Siza. Designed for those who like to balance the glass by holding its foot. Beware, there is an opportunity to get it wrong here too.

The sides of the stem ends on the round foot and divides it into four parts. Three of the same thickness, but the fourth is a little thinner. It is there, on the thinner fourth, that you should take the grip, using only thumb and middle finger. Nice!

The lesson and the beautiful vintage took all our attention and we forgot to get a decent picture of the glass. If you havn’t seen it before, you can for example take a look on this link; Siza Official Port Glass.

Mission accomplished, we passed the exam and now know how to handle the port glass with style and etiquette. Thanks for the lesson Jorge!

Jorge Serôdio Borges in Wine & Soul's original vineyard

All posts about our visit to Quinta do Passadouro an Wine & Soul in Portuguese Douro valley in May 2014: