Extremes (Douro, Portugal – Day Three)

Considering there are about 44,000 hectares of vineyards planted you can imagine the size of the region and the range of terroirs, so there are a myriad of opportunities for different expressions. There are so many elements of the Douro that are taken for granted in many other regions well-known for super-premium wines, such as very old vines, steep slopes and thousands of  different vineyard owners. Something that they haven’t had in the past was wine that was designated as a single estate or vineyard, something that is so common in places like Burgundy, Mosel and Alba. The Douro Boys are at the forefront of raising the Douro Valley to the same level as such iconic regions, highlighting the aspects generally regarded as of the highest quality. They are also attempting to differentiate the Douro through the very traditional elements like the great range of varieties planted often in a field blend, and the fermentation and maceration of red wines in lagares mostly made of stone. Having the abilities and technology to much better understand their terroirs, varieties and wines there is very little to stop Douro wines in the future.
Amazing vineyards at Quinta do vale Dona Maria

Something you can never say about Cristiano Van Zeller is that he rests on his laurels. When he left Quinta do Noval in 1993 he had large ambitions, not only for his own wines but the wines of the entire region. As a member of the Douro Boys he saw the potential for still wines and the shift away from port, although he is of course a huge fan of port and continues to make outstanding examples. A supporter of the little guy he knew that historically the power and markets were dominated by the big port houses who purchased fruit and wines from the many producers in the region, but they weren’t necessarily getting the recognition for the quality as it was mostly blended with other wines. Why shouldn’t there be more sub-regions and more terroir expressions in the Douro as there are in other iconic regions? With the growing number of niche markets there are for unique and new wines he saw the opportunities for his own wines that he began to make from his own quinta in 1996. He first gained experience with the kind of wines he wanted to make working at Quinta do Crasto, another member of the Douro Boys. The Quinta do Vale Dona Maria was purchased by Cristiano’s wife Joanna’s family and is located in the Rio Torte Valley, higher yet warmer than the main Douro.

The old Quinta do Vale Dona Maria winery

At the winery I met with Joanna Pinhao who has worked with Cristiano for several years. She showed me the main vineyards which needed a bit of recovery but were amazing assets due mostly to their age. The varieties planted are of course amongst the classic Douro varieties, including Tinta Amarela, Rufete, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Francesa, Touriga Nacional, Sousão and many more. The recovery of the vineyards was ably supported by other Douro Boys from Niepoort and Crasto, and the hard work has paid off. The other part of the business that need some work was the winery which he didn’t want to alter too much, just to modernise with the necessary equipment and refurbished lagares. They have also renovated an old dormitory as a guest house which is rented out for the summer. Joanna took me through a range of wines that are yet to be released, including some tank and barrel samples to show some single plot wines that have some blending to make up the volume. Click here to read my notes on the tasting.

One of the 2011 components ageing in barrel

After my visit to the winery I then joined Cristiano’s wife Joanna where she has worked for several years, at Aquapura which is the finest hotel/resort in the Douro Valley. This hotel is the equivalent of the Yeatman in Porto, just a little more suited to the location and less ostentatious. The external design is very typical of the region, but the interior has a very Asian feel to it. They offer spa treatments and also arrange for wine related activities in the area, but the restaurant is what I got to enjoy along with two sommeliers working in Australia, who were a little delayed and set me back for my next appointment in the Vinho Verde region.

I’ll miss the Portuguese desserts

Click here to see more photos from my third day in the Douro Valley, Portugal. My next post will be in the Vinho Verde region which is known for large-scale white wine production, but there are a few producers really trying to lift the quality.

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