Alves de Sousa; Douro in white & red

Tiago’s goal is to bring out the expression of the nature. The place, the vineyard. In the wine, balance is vital. Never any overextraction or overconcentration. Only a very light filtration to keep all the nuances and give the best opportunities for continued development in bottle. Alves de Sousa’s wines can live and develop for a very long time.

In the previous post we walked to the old vineyard Lordelo while  Dr. Tiago Alves de Sousa imparted his knowledge about the Douro, his family’s vineyards and their philosophy. Now it is time to taste their Douro wines in white and red. And of course, because Tiago’s enthusiastic engagement seems endless, continue to fill the goblet of knowledge.

Tiago Alves de Sousa

The start is white with a newcomer. Berço means “cradle” and in this case the cradle is placed in the vineyard where Tiago’s father Domingos was born. This location gives the grapes Adesso and Arinto favourable cool conditions at an altitude of about 600 meters. The vintage we taste, the 2011, was the first one to be bottled.

The wine gives us a delightful creamy feeling. The creaminess is derived from fermentation and one years maturation on lightly toasted new French barrels and a gentle battonage. The barrels are stored at a cool location, there is no malolactic fermentation, wich preserves the freshness of the wine.

Berco Branco, Alves de SousaWe see the barrels as a tool to give the wine more complexity and texture,” explains Tiago. “We don’t want to mask the fruit and therefore we just use very lightly toasted barrels.”

Berço 2011.
Light golden hue with large, developed aromas of dried herbs, pineapple and pears. Medium bodied, dry with nice relatively fresh acidity and an enjoyable creamy feeling. Attractive flavour palette with light notes of oak and exotic fruit. Nuanced fine length.
Elegant, fresh with enjoyable weight. Very good today, but it would be interesting to follow the development, likely to top after seven to ten years according to Tiago.

We continue in red and start with the wine that Tiago describes as an introduction to his family’s premium wines, a Reserva from Vale da Raposa, the vineyard next to Gaivosa. The vintage is the fabulous 2011. The wine has got eight months in French barrels. Two varieties play together, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Cão, approximately half of each, from about 25 year old vines.

Vale da Raposa Alves de SousaThese are two grapes that I really love to work with,”says Tiago. Touriga Nacional is nowadays the flagship grape from Portugal and it is very expressive and very fragrant, floral. Tinta Cão is almost the opposite to Touriga Nacional. Its very nice natural acidity helps to balance all that richness that Touriga Nacional tends to provide.”

Vale da Raposa Reserva 2011.
Red, medium intensity. Developed big nose, fruity of dark berries and nice notes of oak. Medium bodied, with good fresh acidity and matching well balanced tannins and beautiful fruitiness. Very good length.
Elegant, tight with beginning complexity. Like a lot! A wine that, according to Tiago will develop well and give more complexity in eight to ten years time. After tasting, we nod approvingly to this statement.

Number two of the red is Quinta da Gaivosa. This is a so called field blend, that is grapes from an old vineyard coplanted with different varietals. In this case 20 different grapes from about 80 year old vines. We taste the vintage 2009, a real baby that has many good years ahead.

Quinta da Gaivosa 2009, Alves de SousaQuinta da Gaivosa usually starts to show a little after ten years. It usually gets to its better when it is 20 years. We are drinking now wines from -95 and -97 and -99. 2000 is still very young.”

Quinta da Gaivosa 2009.
Red, medium intensity. Young to developed nose. Flowers, red and blue berries, distinct notes of oak. Almost fullbodied with fresh acidity and matching powerful tannins. Concentrated flavours, well balanced, excellent length.
A really beautiful baby. A complex, balanced baby. An excellent wine.

Pick 20 different grape varieties?  We fly out to the vineyard in our minds, quickly approaching harvest time. Everything we have learnt about different varietals ripen with different pace and that it is so important to harvest at the right point of time: acidity, sugar, phenolic ripeness. How do they do it here?

Lordelo Vineyard, Quinta da Gaivosa, Alves De Sousa
Lordelo Vineyard, Quinta da Gaivosa.

The question bounces up: “How can you make the best decision about the picking date, when you have 20 different varieties in the vineyard?”

“Good question,” says the passionate viticulturist Tiago. “This is something I love with the old vineyards.”

“You have to go for an average ripening point. Of course that will be a mix. Some berries are a bit more ripe and they will provide you really smooth tannins that are going to get the wine a little more accessible, especially in the beginning. Some have less ripe tannins and higher acidity, a backbone for aging. You get a wine that can show well when it is still young and a wine that can age really well in bottle.”

“Winemakers all over the world are trying to find this combination and try to get it by picking grapes from different altitudes or picking grapes at different times. We have it naturally in our vineyards.”

“Additionally, wonderful things happen when you co-ferment the different varieties. A lot of interaction between the different varietals that never will happen afterwards.”

Time to taste 33 different varietals in the same bottle. Lordelo is the very densely planted, amphitheater-like vineyard we visited earlier that afternoon. 50 meters difference in altitude from the bottom to the top. Over 100 year old vines with extremely low yield: one bunch per vine, one single very tiny bunch with an average weight of 200 grams!!! Each grape with an exceptional concentration and balance.

“The first time we made an individual vinification of the grapes from Lordelo, I loved it from the beginning,” says Tiago. “The wine was so charming, so polished directly after the fermentation. It shouldn’t be like that at that point, normally the wines usually have edges and need to go to the barrel. Lordelo was already so pretty, but I put a little in barrel and it showed well, so the rest went there too.”

Vinha de Lordelo 2009, Alves de SousaVinha de Lordelo 2009.
Red, relatively high intensity. Delicate, a bit shy nose; fruitiness and floral notes. Fullbodied with fresh acidity and marked fine-grained tannins. Concentration and balance: pepper, oak, prunes, a touch of chocolate. Beautiful, almost eternal length.

Wonderful of exceptional quality. The nose a bit shy right now, will open up. The complexity, the balance and the density between the aroma molecules. The length. A top grade on the edge of the notebook.

Lordelo, a wine to keep for many years, at least ten, but so delightful already now.

Last among the reds, a mighty deserted final. Just when we think that it can’t  be so much better, then Tiago starts pouring the bottle with the clean white label. One word in black, as written with an old typewriter: Abandonado.

Abandonado was the name that the vineyard workers gave the old vineyard where the vines really had to fight for their lives. More than 20 different varieties, almost 440 meters altitude, the highest around Gaivosa, extremely steep and equally rocky. When it was planted over 80 years ago, it was impossible to get the vines into enough depth due to the rocks. The erosion has since then been devastating and half of the vines have died. It almost looked like an abandoned vineyard, abandonado in Portuguese.

Ten years ago the family thought about the vineyard, what to do with it. The location was wonderful, high altitude and good sun exposure. But the yield was ridiculously low. Was replanting an option?

“We had started to experiment with vinifications vineyard by vineyard, so we thought, let’s do it on this too. Just to even know what to plant next.”

“The result was overwhelming. It showed immediately such a strong character, such a strong personality. We really fell in love with this vineyard and decided to keep it actually just the way it was. And we started to do a wine from that vineyard that took the vineyard’s name, Abandonado.”

Abandonado 2009 Alves de SousaWe taste the vintage 2009. Still young, but already so appealing. A wine to keep 10, 20 years.

Abandonado 2009.
Red, relatively high intensity. Big developed and focussed nose, dark fruit, blueberries, some chocolate and spiciness from herbs and eucalyptus and an exquisite touch of green notes. Fullbodied with fresh acidity and velvetsoft marked tannins. Extremely concentrated, softly fruity with an eternally long, delicious fruity aftertaste.
An exceptionally beautiful wine. Tight, elegant, lovely focussed. Another top grade lands in the notebook.

This wine shows two things that make Gaivosa special. From the place, a touch of the eucalyptus growing around the vineyard. From the vinification, an interesting note from a small share of barrels of Portuguese oak. Tiago argues that the Portuguese oak helps to give an aromatic freshness  and brings out the herbal notes from the grapes.

To conclude the white and the red is easy: “Excellent, Dr. Tiago.”

Douro wines from Alves de Sousa

We visited Alves de Sousa in May 2014.

To be continued, about Alves de Sousa Port.

The first post: Alves de Sousa; Meticulously, Dr. Tiago.  



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