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Wine Route Impressions from Pfalz and Baden

The Easter sun shone happily when we sat down, browsed through our notes and talked about the impressions. It took a while, many pages and much to discuss, but the sum up was easy and just as happy as the sun: overwhelmingly positive. And that goes not only for the wines, but for the whole experience. The trip, the nature, food and accomodations and, above all, all the wonderful people we met. We have already lost count of the number of travel recommendations we shared since we came back.

Two weeks have already passed since we came back from our wine trip in Pfalz (the Palatine) and Baden. Our very first visit. Yes, the first real wine trip to Germany ever, we admit that. And if we not had met the VDP-producers at the Sommelierers’ Day in Gothenburg earlier this year, this trip would propably not have been made.

We posted some short notes during the trip (about the start of the trip, about Familie Menger-Krug, about Weingut Siegrist, about Schloss Neuweier and about visits around Kaiserstuhl) and there will be more about the winery visits during the upcoming months. The note books are loaded with impressions and the camera has had a tough job. In the meantime, an attempt to summarize the impressions.

Siegriest wines.

About the wines we tasted. Pure, fresh flavours. Skilled winemaking with clear ideas, bringing out the place and the vintage conditions. Joy and experimentation, always with quality in the driver’s seat.

The most difficult? Long wine lists, a producer can make up to 50-60 wines (in the same year!). Hard for us to choose, but we understood that there is a local demand. A surprise was that such a large part of the production was sold directly to private customers from the cellar door. 60% was mentioned from one of the producers. Add to that direct purchases from restaurants and there will just be smaller volumes left for export.

White is dry, pure and distinct. Good minerality and tickling nerve in many. Often raised in stainless steel, but also matured in barrels of different sizes. A range of lovely Weissburgunders (Pinot Blanc) became an eye opener for a delicious food wine that we see much too little of in Sweden. Several excellent Chardonnays. Of course Riesling and Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris). Yes! So beautiful!

Fine sweet wines are also made, we tasted delicious Beerenauslese. Sparkling, sekt, is included in several producers’ wine portfolio.

Red is in the quality segment mainly Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). And such a Spätburgunder!!! Already among the entry level wines, you can get good ones for relatively small money. The best are fruity, exquisitely balanced with super integrated oak and well polished fine grained tannins. The texture is like velvet on the palete. Wow, so tasty!

Wine tasting

For those who haven’t been on the wine route in Pfalz and Baden before, some experience, advice and tips:

About the landscape. Southern Pfalz is so beautiful. Not surprising that it is called the Tuscany of Germany. Gentle, rolling hills connect to the protective Palatinate forest in the west. Almond trees flourish and figs and lemons ripen.

Deutsche Weinstrasse, the German wine route, starts in the south of Pfalz and winds north through picturesque small villages with beautiful stone and half-timbered houses. It is easy to notice that there is often sandstone in the soil. It is used as a beautiful building material in both houses and walls.

In Baden the mighty Schwarzwald protects in the east. From the castle Staufenberg in Durbach we enjoyed a breathtaking view over the mountains and the valleys, filled with vineyards.

View from Schloss Staufenberg, Durbach, Baden.
View from Schloss Staufenberg, Durbach, Baden.

In the south of Baden, towards the French boarder, the hottest vineyards in Germany are found on the south-west part of Kaiserstuhl. The feeling is very special, climbing and wandering around this old exctinct vulcano, raising from the surrounding flat landscape. Dark grey vulcanic stones and thorny cactus remind about the origin.

Cactus grow in the vulcanic soil on the south-west of Kaiserstuhl.
Cactus grow in the vulcanic soil on the south-west of Kaiserstuhl.

Those who like hiking and biking will enjoy both regions. There are plenty of small roads with sign posts leading across the vineyards. We met many taking a slower or faster stroll even this early in the season.

Well signposted along the hiking trails on the Kaiserstuhl.
Well signposted along the hiking trails on the Kaiserstuhl.

About visiting wineries.
We had prebooked several visits, but also made some spontaneous visits based on some research  back home. (Everything well documented in the “excel list”, the for us indispensible itinerary.) It is easy to knock on the cellar door of a “weingut” and you get welcomed to the tasting room, the probierstube. You taste, get a nice chat (English works mostly) and buy what you like.

Most producers are open on week days from about 9 to 18, with a longer break for lunch. Saturday is also business day, but opening hours varies. Sundays are however most often closed, it is the rest day. Check the internet home pages.

About the trip. We take the car out in wine Europe when we can. Simply because it is convenient and we want to buy some wines and bring back home. Especially from new producers and/or wines not available in Sweden. We took the car this time too.

Pfalz is on convenient car distance for us. It is possibly to drive on one day from the south of Sweden. We usually take the ferries via Helsingborg-Helsingör and Rödby-Puttgarden, that route gives natural breaks. This time we started at lunch time, had a night in Denmark and reached Deidesheim just before five in the afternoon. On the way home we drove from the south of Pfalz to Bohuslän in Sweden on 15-16 hours. And got a little bit of a chock, when we had to end the journey in a very bad snow storm in contrast to the flowering almond trees in the morning.

A tip. Have a GPS in the car. It will be so much easier to navigate in villages and find the way to the wineries and hotels. (And so much more relaxing for the one = yours truly, who in the old days always had to be alert and follow the maps.)

About stays and food. We usually get a mix of accomodations and so this time, from bed & breakfast to castle hotel. Wifi is not something to take for granted. Check if it is important.


“Weinhotel”, that is a hotel run by a wine producer, was a new nice experience. Fun to sit in the restaurant in the evening and taste a selection of the producer’s wines. On several restaurants we have been able to order small carafes with 10 cl wine in each. Perfect when you want to taste a number of different wines to the food. The food? Yes, we have eaten very, very good!

To think about when it comes to pay the bill. Credit cards is still not accepted everywhere in Germany. Mostly it worked (at hotels, restaurants and wineries). However, some only accept what is called EC Card (Maestro), a sort of cash card. Sometimes you have to pay an extra fee to pay with credit card. A reserve fund in cash is thus recommended. We had to use our at several times.

About the best time to travel. In March and April, the almond trees blossom with skies of white and pale pink flowers. People travel to Pfalz just to see them. The time for the almond tree festivities starts in the beginning of March and lasts through April. Of course depening on the weather.

Almond flowers-24

This year, the trees had just started to flower during our stay in the middle-end of March. And in the vineyards, the budding had not yet got a real start.  The pruning was made in most vineyards and the work consisted of bending the branches down to the wire. A little bit of winter feeling still there even if the air was getting warmer.

“Come back when it is green,” many said. “Come back in May, it is so beautiful then!” “Come back and experience some of all the wine festivals during summer!”

In common, everywhere we came, was the wonderful, friendly and hospitable people who welcomed us with their hearts and really wanted us to come back to their paradies on earth.

We will follow the prompts. We will gladly come back and next time we will come when the landscape is green!

Southern Pfalz, view over the village Eschbach.
Southern Pfalz, view over the village Eschbach.

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.  


Alves de Sousa; Meticulously, Dr. Tiago

What are the motivations for a winemaker to produce really good wine? In the case of Tiago, our suggestion is love, curiosity and scientific accuracy. Although he would probably laugh at this and directly introduce a correction. Because he laughs often, is intensely engaged, takes clear positions and owns a great wit in thought and speech.

The question is wrongly phrased, he would argue, winemaker is not the correct word. At least not in his case. Too narrow. It is all about the grapes, about the vineyard and the whole ecosystem around the place. And on top of that, the role of the winemaker is clearly overrated. That’s it. Period.

Tiago Alves de Sousa is winemaker at Alves de Sousa in Portuguese Douro. We meet him at Quinta da Gaivosa, one of the six family owned quintas. Gaivosa is located in the cooler western part of Douro, in the district Baixo Corgo. The new winery is still a construction site. But what does that matter? Tiago thinks that another winery visit, that would not be so interesting for us. Instead he tempts us with a unique vineyard and takes us for a walk in the lovely early summer heat. Of course, we don’t have any objections for that.

Alves de Sousa's new winery at Quinta da Gaivosa, under construction.
Alves de Sousa’s new winery, under construction, at Quinta da Gaivosa, just beside the main road.

Later that afternoon we, and our palates, will be able to conclude that at Alves de Sousa, there you find excellent wines; wines that we sadly not can by at the monopoly back in Sweden. Neither the Douro wines, nor the Ports. No, we will have to go to Denmark or search net suppliers’ collections. Peculiar, not least as 75% of the production from the 143 hectars, spread among six quintas, is exported. 28 countries get a share of it, with Canada as the largest market.

The large export share is not that strange considering the big international attention. The winepress reports about Alves de Sousa with excellent reviews. For example, they won two gold medals in Decanter World Wine Awards earlier this year. In Portugal they were appointed Producer of the year both 1999 and 2006, additionally the first one that received the award twice. So why not in Sweden?

Father and son, Domingos and Tiago Alves de Sousa.
Father and son, Domingos and Tiago Alves de Sousa.

The Alves de Sousa family has been grape growers for many generations.Tiago’s father Domingos however began with an education to civil engineer, but later got the call and started his wine career in 1987. He established a key strategy for the company; to go from being a supplier to the port shippers to produce under the family brand. To develop Douro wines, white and red table wines, was also an important part of that strategy. We know by now that it has been successful.

Tiago joined the family business in 2003 and has since worked meticulously to explore the potential of the vineyards. As a winemaker he has experimented with small batches to identify the unique expression of the vineyards and each and every special plot. Explore and develop, with love, curiosity and scientific accuracy.

The love is in this case a love for his homelands, to Douro and the diversity the region proudly presents. Each vineyard, every little specific plot is unique. Inclination, sun exposure, variations in water supply and in the schistous soils’ microbiology. Tiago is also careful to point out that the wines are affected by the entire ecosystem around the vineyards, for example the eucalyptus that have been at Quinta da Gaivosa since long time. To preserve the natural vegetation around the vineyards is thus an important part when taking care of the land.

Eucalyptus at Quinta da Gaivosa, beside the  Lordelo vineyard.
Eucalyptus at Quinta da Gaivosa, beside the Lordelo vineyard.

In addition to the diversity of micro climates, Douro has perhaps an even more famous diversity of indigenous grapes. A treasure in their own backyard.

“We know reasonable well about probably 20 indigenous grapes,” says Tiago Alves de Sousa, “but we have still 80 more to discover in the Douro valley.  Why should we then plant international varieties?  It would be crazy, even worse than crazy, when we have something so unique.”

Douro has also really old vineyards, where the plots are planted with different grape varieties. A result of older generations’ risk mitigation strategy. After Douro had been hit first by oidium and then by phylloxera in the middle and the end of the 19th century, the reasoning was like this; if you grow a lot of different varieties, hopefully some of them are more resistant to diseases than others and you would at least get something to harvest.

At Quinta da Gaivosa they put in a lot of loving care for a very steep, and about ten years ago almost abandoned vineyard, given the telling name Abandonado by the vineyard workers. A co-planting of about 20 different grape varieties, where the vines have reached an age of more than 80 years.

Here is also Lordelo, the destination for our afternoon walk. A very densely planted, amphitheater-like vineyard with beautiful dry walls of schist. 50 meters difference in altitude from the bottom to the top. More than 100 year old vines. More than 30 different varieties. With a yield so low, so low. One bunch per vine, a very tiny bunch, weighing in average 200 grams. Each grape with an exceptional concentration and balance Tiago tells us.

Lordelo, Quinta da Gaivosa.
Lordelo, Quinta da Gaivosa.

Yes, Tiagos  engagement for the vineyards seems infinite. Not that surprising really. Viticulture was his major at university. The studies were long, first an exam in agricultural engineering in 2002, then the laborious path to a doctorate 2010. The dissertation is about water relations and irrigation in the vineyards, with an objective to present some good guidelines for practical use. The result of laborious writing, analyses and conclusions based on experiments in a not entirely unknown vineyard up in Douro Superior.

So there we have the basis for the scientific accuracy. To that, add a large dose of curiosity for the possibilities of his own beloved backyard.

“In the past when we did Quinta da Gaivosa, our best wine, we used to ferment the grapes from our best vineyards together. But I was so curious to know what each plot contributed with to the different things we find in Quinta da Gaivosa. So in 2003 we decided to start to do all these individual vinifications. To learn the expressions of each plot.”

Because it is the expression of the vineyard that is interesting. Tiago underlines that he thinks it is much more exciting to feel the vineyard in the wine than the winemaker.

Tiago Alves de Sousa

“The good winemaker is the one that is a silent winemaker,” says Tiago. “You should feel the vineyard in the wine, not the winemaker. That is the role of the winemaker, to enhance the expression of the vineyard.”

Tiago means that the role of the winemaker often is overrated. Then he laughs and says something about hoping his father Domingos not heard that, so he won’t get the idea to lower his son’s salary. No, jokes aside. Tiago emphasises also that even a silent winemaker has to be a present winemaker. He cannot put too much time travelling the world, marketing the wines. For the best of the vines and the wines, he has to be at home, in the winery and in the vineyards.

After listening to Tiago during the afternoon, the last question is really not necessary. We posed it anyway. Alves de Sousa has a large portfolio of different wines, what is the idea behind? The answer confirms what we previously have heard:

“Douro is almost like a puzzle, a patchwork with all these different plots. I think the wonderful thing is really to showcase that. So that is why we have such an extensive line of wines. When you taste every single one you will be tasting the vineyard and you will taste something different. That’s why they exist basically. Because each one is almost like an individual.”

So he said. And what else can we say than a: “Meticulously , Dr. Tiago”.

To be continued, about Alves de Sousa’s Douro wines.

Tiago Alves de Sousa

Note. We visited Alves de Sousa in May 2014. This post was originally posted at my Swedish blog “Ljuva Druvor”.

Quinta do Côtto – Mafalda’s surprise

“I think it will be a great surprise to everyone.” Surprise! My ears grow a little, trying to hear better in the happy murmur. The table is U-shaped and we sit a bit away on one of the flanks. The room is white, almost minimalistic, a lot of stone and just a little fabric. The voices bounce like ping-pong balls.

We eat and drink a tasty lunch at Hotel Douro Scala’s restaurant in Cidadelhe. Each dish accompanied by wines from Miguel Champalimaud’s vineyards; Paco de Teixeiró in Vinho Verdhe and Quinta do Côtto, the latter right next doors.

Mafalda Bahia Machado

Mafalda Bahia Machado, winemaker at Quinta do Côtto since two years, gives the cryptic answer to our question how she has influenced the vintages she has had responsibility for. With an education in viticulture and oenology from the University of Porto Mafalda belongs to the growing group of young, well-educated female winemakers. Her internships include producers from all over the world; Australia, New Zealand, California and at home in the Douro at Niepoort. Our curiosity about the content of the surprise grows, but no, she does not want to define it.

Quinta do Côtto  has already a reputation for surprises. The estate was early to make non-fortified Douro wines and among the first to bottle and sell the wine themselves. Lately, the cork deicision is the most discussed. The sensational news were spread via Reuters in 2006 and were even reported in the Swedish paper Svenska Dagbladet; “Skruvkork nyhet för vintillverkare” (“Screwcap, novelty for winemaker”).Quinta do Côtto screwcap
A daring decision of a Portuguese producer. As on request, this decision stirred up deep emotions in the cork industry. Mafalda emphasises that the reason was problems with corked wine, as about every tenth bottle was influenced by TCA, and she asks us to note the more exclusive design of Quinta do Côtto’s screwcaps. It is a bit different to mimic an ordinary cork closure.

The surprise, what is it about? We try some more questions. Well, it is something about putting a personal imprint in the wine. To put her personality into it. Our follow-up question is of course; “So what is your personality?” The answer comes as one of many warm, pearly laughters.

So we coax a little more.  Well, she thinks there are too many powerful, overoaked wines made in Douro. Too much tannin, too much alcohol, to much of much.  Well then, the opposite?

Elegance  proves to be Mafalda’s keywords. Aha, the winemaker’s personality. Elegance. Was that why she laught so lovely?

But what is then an elegant wine? Now the answer comes quickly; structure, good acidity, velvet tannins and lower alcohol. She stresses the last, “the company also likes to produce low alcohol wines”. And of course, pleasant fragrances and good flavour in your mouth. A long time after you drank it.

We touch the subject again when we talk about assemblage. “Each winemaker who has been here, has given a little bit of themselves. But you cannot run away completely from what Côtto is and what people are used to, what they like. You cannot change the brand, but for each year we can change some small things. And of course we try every year to make it a little bit better, but in small changes.”

Quinta do Côtto view

Here, in Baixa Corgo, the coolest, most western part of the Douro valley, the conditions for producing the elegant wine Mafalda strives for are better than in the inner, warmer parts. There,  the wines more easily get more power and can be a bit jammy.

The disadvantage of Baixa Corgo is more rain, about 600 mm per year compared with 300-400 in Cima Corgo, a more damp climat and thus bigger problems with fungus attacks. To spray is currently necessary explains Mafalda. However, there are plans to convert to organic production, but not yet.Mafalda Bahia Machado

“You must always think of the environment, but I think quality should be the first thing,” comments Mafalda. “We  really want to grow as green as we can right now. But it takes some years to change completely,  but we will definitely go that way.”

Mafalda stresses many thimes how happy she is to be able to work with the quinta’s own grapes. Otherwise it is not uncommon to rely more or less on purchased grapes. Most vineyards are very small and the owners sell their grapes to the wine producers. It is an advantage to control the full process, from vine to wine. Not least when the grapes from the same variety can differ significantly depending on which plot they come from.

Douro’s winding valleys put their mark on the hillside vineyard plots. Even if schist is the dominating type of soil, the inclination and sun exposure can vary completely between plots located just 100 meters apart. “We know our different plots and separate them in the winery based on our knowledge and what we want to do with the grapes,” says Mafalda.

We stand at the edge of the vineyard, just beside the grand main building, a part of the total 70 hectars belonging to the estate. The sun is warm, there is just a light breeze. Behind us some noise from a  tractor.

We started to admire the view. And then the house. A fancy one from the 18th century, today summer house for the Champalimaud family. The terrace is framed by beautiful, smooth granite blocks. The front yard too. Turns out to be remains from the quinta’s lagares. No foot trodden grapes any more. Insted small basket presses, pressing so smoothly and carefully. Mafalda tells us that no port has been produced since 2005.

Now we admire the vines. Ha, we wine tourists, we admire and gape at so much. Easily entertained we can say. Provided that the visit takes place under professional guidance, of course.

So we wonder how we can recognise the big star, Touriga Nacional, among the multitude of varieties proudly presented by the Douro. The answer brings out some laugher again.

“Simple. It is the one that is the least organised. Touriga Nacional looks like it has hair everywhere! It is so disorganised and the canopy opens a lot. Usually they say that the winemaker loves it, but the viticulturist hates it. It is so difficult to maintain a straight canopy.”

Now we look more critically on the rows in front of us. Oh yes, they look rather bushy even if it is early in the season. The young branches seem to go their own way, they sprawl in all directions.

“Wine made only of Touriga Nacional can be kind of boring,” says Mafalda. “Cause it smell all the same. When you on the other hand mix several grapes it gives you the complexity and greatness of Douro. For example Touriga Franca, I love Touriga Franca for its balance and good acidity. The mix of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and all the other ones is incredible.”

There is a plot on the quinta with 100 year old vines, a mix of many different varieties. These grapes are used to make the premium wine, Côtto Grande Escolha, only produced the best years.

In the winery, the assemblage, i.e. the blending to create the final wines, is always a meticulous process where every barrel and tank are tasted. If the wine doesn’t comply with the high standards, it will be sold in bulk.

The Portuguese oak is another new surprise to us. We noted the lovely touch of herbiness, some small green notes, when we tasted the wines for lunch. Thought they came from some of the grapes. We have learnt that both Touriga Franca and Tinta Amarela can give a bit herbiness. But the reply was that just those notes could be drived from the barrells.
Quinta do Côtto Barrel cellar

Mafalda likes the Portuguese oak, consider it to give a fine balance to the wine and also to respect the fruitiness. The barrels often get better with usage and give fine, round tannins. And yes, it can give some green, herby notes, but she also argues that the cooler climat in Baixa Corgo can contribute to these.

Quinto do Côtto also uses American and French oak. For the barrel interested, it can be mentioned that all barrels are of 300 liters size and are used in about Three years before they are sold. The purchase price is about 1000 Euro and the selling price is about 50. No wonder it really affects the wine price.  Côtto Grande Escolha gets 14 months in new barrels. Thereafter they are used during two years for Quinta do Côtto, which gets 9 months maturation in barrel.

If we liked Quinta do Côtto? Oh yes, in that area there were no surprises. As good as expected, if not even better. Just to bad that these beautiful wines not seem to be available at home in Sweden.

Teixeiro White and Rosé

However, first to be tasted are the Minho classed wines from Champalimaud’s Quinta Paço de Teixeiró. 10 ha of vineyards, located about 50 km from Quinta do Côtto, in the Serra do Marão mountains, overlooking the Douro. The grapes are grown on south-facing schistous slopes at about 600 meters altitude in a little cooler climat.

White, rosé and sparkling are represented in the portfolio, even if the rosé wine is made at Quinta do Côtto. Mafalda explains that the brand Teixeiró stands for a light and fresh style, where the alcohol deliberately is hold on a lower level. The 2012 we taste count 12% for the white and 12,5% for the rosé.

Teixeiró Branca 2012. White made of about 50/50 Avesso and Loureiro, just raised in stainless steel.  A small part went through the malolactic fermentation, “to remove some green notes from the wine”. Fresh, young with nice nose; citrus, some floral notes and minerality. Light, but with a mouthfilling roundness, balanced acidity, light tropical fruitiness and fine minerality.  Good length. A simple fresh breeze, chilling on warm days.

Teixeiró Rosé 2012. Touriga Franca, just over 50%, and Tinta Roriz. Shy, young nose. Light, fresh with a fruity character dominated by strawberries and traces of minerality. Easy accessed not least thanks to a nice, very slight fruity sweetness. Good length with mild strawberry notes. One size up compared to its blonde sister. Freshness as the common denominator.

Quinta do Côtto och Côtto Grande Escolha

Then the wines from Quinta do Côtto:

In the first glass Quinta do Côtto 2011. About 25% Touriga Nacional, 20% Tinta Roriz and a good part Touriga Franca and Sousão. 9 months on old barrels, 2nd and 3rd fill, previously used for Côtto Grande Escolha. Dark opaque red.  Pronounced, developed aromas of dark berries, mature blue plums, prunes and blackberries. Light spiciness from dry herbes and some grains from the pepper mill. Oak. On the palate, fullbodied with fresh acidity and matching velvetsoft tannins. Well integrated oak. Very good length with dark berries, spiciness and oak. Tight, balanced with elegant vibes. Really beautiful, affordable, feminine wine backed by well balanced power.

The premium wine Côtto Grande Escolha, or translated “excellent choice”, is also from the 2011 vintage. A “field blend”, old vines of different varieties that have seen a century pass by. Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz dominate. Unlike the rest of the quinta, all work is done manually as it is impossible to use tractors in the old vineyard. Matures in new barrels, 50% Portuguese oak, 30% French and 20% American, for 14 months.

Purple opaque colour. Big, developed nose of dark berries, blackberries, pepper, herbs and some discrete floral notes. Fullbodied, exquisitely balanced with fresh acidity and velvetsmooth but marked tannins. Beautiful texture, tight and concentrated. Dark berries, plums, morello cherries, herbiness, fine integrated oak. Delicous, very good length. Power dressed in an exquisite costume.  An excellent wine.

Quinta do Côtto

We visited Quinta do Côtto in May 2014. This post was originally posted in Swedish on my 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