Tag Archives: touriga nacional

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.

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Non-sulphured charm, CARM

It is a hit in Japan. The charm of CARM SO2 free. Organic, big Japanese demand. Non-sulphur, even bigger. At least when it comes to the Douro wines from the Madeira family. So we are told by the winemaker António Ribeiro. We fall for the charm we too, and listen with great interest when the subject of vinification is brought up.

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It is far away. We travel for a long time on small roads from the hotel in Régua. All the way up close to the Spanish border. As the crow flies, it is only 5 km away from where we stand in the winery.  Plings from the mobiles confirm the view, as text messages inform about the Spanish rates.

It is beautiful. The road up to the little town Almendra in the municipality Vila Nova de Foz Cóa in Douro Superior has gone through a lovely hilly landscape, ranging from steep slopes to undulated plateaus. In the soil, poor schist. In the air, hot, dry and sunny.

It is venerable. The Roboredo Madeira family has cultivated the land since the 17th Century. (Their last name has nothing to do with the island, but it means wood, timber, logs – something that Madeira provided raw material to in plenty, before its forests were totally ravaged). The brand and company name CARM stands for Casa Agrícola Roboredo Madeira.

It is big. 220 hectar with olive trees, 60 with almonds and 125 hectars of vineyards, dived between several estates. The head wine maker António Joaquim Magalhães Ribeiro has a capacity in Quinta das Marvalhas winery of 1 million litres. Some more hands are needed. For example from the assistant winemakers Nuno Férnandes and Vera Lúcia.

It is also organic. All plantations owned by the family, at a number of locations, are organically farmed. Ecology is high on the agenda, but that is also technology.

It is new thinking. António is an innovator. Non-sulphur is one example. There are more ideas. We look at a newly made hole in the ground next to the winery. The place for a new building, a storage for not yet labeled bottles. Plus, a little bit more exciting, a facility for drying grapes. White grapes, late harvested from old vines, will dry here in open cases, assisted by fans. The objective, a sweet passito-wine. The next vintage, or perhaps already this one, will be the first. First in Portugal.

New thinking includes the idea of no added sulphur. CARM SO2 free,  the only non-sulphur added wine from Portugal according to António Ribeiro, holds nothing but the natural sulphur produced during fermentation, nothing added.

“We make the malolactic fermentation during the first days of the alcoholic fermentation,” explains António Ribeiro. “After three to four days, it is done.”

“For SO2 free we don’t add any sulphur after the alcoholic fermentation. What is protecting the wine, that is polyphenols extracted from the grapes during a long maceration. After the malo we close the vats and finish the alcoholic fermentation. Then the carbon dioxide, produced during the fermentation, stays in the wine and protects it.”

“But the other wines,” we wonder, “for those you make the malolactic fermenation in the ordinary way, after the alcoholic fermentation?” But the answer is negative. Always malo in the beginning of the alcoholic. Exceptions from that winemaking rule are only made in very problematic years.

The idea to make a sulphur free wine came from the owner’s son, who discovered that his favourite wine during a wine tasting was made without any sulphur added. Some research and experiments followed, then the first vintage of CARM SO2 free was presented in 2009.

We tasted it in Douro and liked its clear purity. A bottle was brought back home in our luggage. When we uncorked it, we followed Antónios advice; “Open half an hour before serving. If you feel any fizz, it’s the carbon dioxide from the fermentation. It will disappear quickly.”

CARM SO2 Free 2011.
100% Touriga Nacional, 80% matured in stainless steel, 20% some time on French barrels.
Very dense purple colour. Young to developed nose, medium intensity. Very concentrated, almost chewy berry aromas of blackberries and blueberries with a pinch of spicy herbs, green pepper and light floral notes. Fullbodied with fresh acidity and balanced, smooth tannins. Very fruity on the palate with blackberries and sloes. Long aftertaste, blackberries, a touch of oak and some grains from the pepper mill. Lovely freshness, with palate embracing fruitiness and concentration.
So fresh, so pure, so articulated, so distinct aromas, so good! Supurb!

CARM Quinta das Marvahlas view

In Sweden we cannot get CARM’s sulphur free . The only CARM wine available from the monopoly is Vinha da Urze Reserva 2011, from the quinta with the same name. Organically grown grapes: 45% Touriga Nacional, 35% Touriga Franca, 20% Tinta Roriz. 8 months in French and American oak barrels. An easy drinking, soft wine.

We were more impressed by the CARM Reserva 2011 tasted on site. (The 2007 reached a ninth place on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list in 2010.)
65% Touriga Nacional, 20% Touriga Franca, 15% Tinta Roriz, 12 monthsin barrel (45% new), 90% French and the rest American.
Lovely dark berry aromas with blackberries and raspberries and well integrated oak. Medium bodied, freshness, marked tannins. Very good balance, concentration, structure and a beautiful elegance.
Delighted!  

CARM

We visited CARM in May 2014.

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