Friday, December 27, 2013

Alves de Sousa

An Afternoon in the Northern Baixo Corgo 

Douro Valley


The view from the Abandonado vineyard high above Santa Marta de Panaguião in the northern section of Baixo Corgo

On our last full day in the Douro Valley we started the afternoon with lunch in Regua at Michelin rated Castas & Pratos, an old train station converted to a wine bar and restaurant. I was finally able to order a bottle of the Niepoort Redoma from 2009 and it was all that I was expecting it to be, but the food was the real star of the meal. We split an appetizer of Iberico ham with truffles that would crush any prosciutto and a decadent fois gras and egg. My entrée was a fantastic goat braised in port wine with mushrooms and Lisa had a fantastic duck breast and pear dish. We got back in the car with some sparkling water, my lifeline I drink while on any wine tasting excursion, and headed north from Regua through ever more winding Douro Valley roads to our next stop Quinta da Gaivosa in Santa Marta de Panaguiãos.

Lisa in front of the original structure at Quinta de Gaivosa
Quinta da Gaivosa is the home of the Alves de Sousa family wine and port operation. There are other vineyards in the Alves de Sousa holdings, however they are spread out in other parts of the Douro Valley. We met Tiago, son of Domingos Alves de Sousa, upon our arrival and he asked if we wanted to see the vineyards to which we of course responded with an excited absolutely. One of the keys to understanding a wine besides tasting it in different vintages is to also see the land the grapes are cultivated from, its terroir. We hopped in the SUV and made our way up the steep graded and heavily pocked road to the middle of the hillside vineyards, passing eucalyptus trees that will come into play later in the tasting of one of the wines near that thatch of trees. From this focal point we could see all of the vineyard plots at Gaivosa ranging in age from 15 years to 100 years old. 

Looking North to the summit of the Alves de Sousa property from Abandonado
These beautiful bunches are destined for a bottle of 2013 Abandonado
A beautiful old vine in the Abandonado vineyard of Alves de Sousa (early September 2013)

We continued our trek to the top of the hillside and made our way to a ridge just below the summit. We stopped at the famed Abandonado vineyard and her 80 year old vines that barely grow in this harsh environment. Because of the constant winds, stark sun and poor soil (solid granite) the vines are in a constant state of stress as there is little to no ability to retain any rain water. If the vine roots cannot continue their search deeper in the granite to find any moisture, the plant will suffer and not grow, even possibly die. The vineyard was purchased from a neighbor with the hopes of replanting the dead vines, but they would not survive, so they left the vineyard as is and tended to it just enough to make sure the old vines already there were able to produce fruit. And produce fruit they did. The first vintage was so spectacular they decided to bottle is separately. The view from the top of the Abandonado vineyard is spectacular and one of the best sights in all of the Douro Valley.

German style vertical planting of vines at the peak of the Alves de Sousa property

We moved on to the summit where some of the youngest vines are planted in a style called German because of the vertical north to south direction of the vine rows, instead of the normal horizontal rows that dominate the terraced vineyards of the Douro. This style of course was pioneered by German viticulturalists.  We peeled off from there to head back to the Quinta a few hundred feet below and came upon one of the best cross-sections of a typical Douro soil composition I had seen so far. You could see the different layers of granite, soil and occasionally vine roots jutting out randomly along the wall.

"the best cross-sections of a typical Douro soil composition I had seen" - yup, that is solid rock

Vinha de Lordelo Tinto amphitheater shaped vineyard, 100+ year old vines
We continued lower to a vineyard that is shaped like an amphitheater that protects the 100+ year old vines from the harsher parts of the Gaivosa terroir. Nestled just below the middle of the mountainside and centered in the middle of the vineyard matrix, the vineyard has a nice south/southwest exposure that allows the vines to catch a good portion of the sun without the strong winds.  You can taste his in the wine as it is a very generous, warmer style with solid tannic structure.  After this thorough vineyard schooling we were ready to go to tasting class and see how the vineyard affects the character of the wines.  At Alves de Sousa we had one of the longest tasting sessions and one of the best vineyard tours, if you can score an appointment it is definitely worth a stop.  My latest search on showed that Abadonado is available in limited amounts, the Port and the regular Quinta bottlings are also available.  But my biggest regret is not bringing back some Vinha de Lordelo Tinto as that is not available.

Below are the tasting notes of the extensive tasting we had of these good to exceptional wines.

The sweet spot of the Alves de Sousa dry table wine portfolio

Reserva Branco 2005
This white initially goes trough a 48 hours cold soak on the grape skins. The skins are then pressed and the wine is pumped over in tank for a few hours. After initial fermentation the wine then goes for 1 year in 100% new French oak.  The color is a golden honey as it is meant to be similar to an “orange” wine. Mature aromas mix with juicy golden fruits, and some wood that is well integrated at this point being 8 years old. Nicely balanced with good acidity this clocks in at only 12.5% abv and is made in minuscule amounts (1,500 bottles). The wine is purposefully held back 6-7 years for release from the vintage year so the wine can integrate properly and be drank at the proper time the winemaker intended.

2010 Vale da Raposa Sousao

Sousa is a red fleshed grape and this wine has an extra dark color without tasting or feeling like it is over-extracted. The red flesh permits darker color with less skin soak and this is helpful for tannin extraction of the grape skin as this wine does tend to be a fairly tannic wine. Countering the tannins is also a solid core of acidity, which reminded me of some wines from Italy, such as the Etna wines from the volcanic Italian island of Sicily. Darker sure, but similar fresh acidity and firm tannins. Rustic and fleshy indeed, the nose and palate showed tobacco, tar, violets, and flowers. The tannins are rugged, but ripe; the acidity is amazing as it lends ample freshness. Another wine of small production at 2,000 bottles.

2008 Quinta da Gaivosa

From 80 year old vines and 20 different grape varietals the namesake wine of the Quinta reveals black cherry, pain grille, and a touch of roasted herbs with a beautifully elegant and wide beam of bright and fresh fruit. Great complexity and depth, solid freshness and length, fine to medium tannins, this is a beautiful and elegant wine that will age 15-30 years. It spends 15 months in oak barrels, 50% new/50% old French.

Vinha de Lordelo Tinto
From 100 year old vines and 30 different grape varietals this vineyard sits in a natural amphitheater. Limited in production, these vines average 1 bunch of grapes per vine. The nose and palate show black plum, juicy black cherry, and chocolate. Fleshy and dense on the palate, this wine carries the most concentration of the 4 major De Sousa table red wines. Very polished and sexy, the tannins are ripe and provide a nice backbone of structure.

2010 Abandonado

From 100 year old vines and an unknown amount of mixed grape varietals, this is also a small production wine of only 3,000 bottles. Meaty with eucalyptus, tar, and floral notes, the Abandonado has a crazy complex nose and palate. Great freshness, ripe red, blue and black fruits mesh well with medium+ tannins. This spends 18 months in mostly new French oak barrels and s small amount of Portuguese oak.

10 Year White Port (Tawny like)

Made from multiple vintages similar to how a Tawny Port is made, this was one of the better white Ports we had the entire trip, but overall I am still not convinced of the viability of White Port as a stand a lone beverage.

20 Year Tawny Port

Fantastic, the best 20 year Tawny I had encountered the entire trip, but it was not yet ready for sale as it was not yet approved by the powers that approve new Port wines and regulate the Port wine industry as a whole. Candied orange peel, caramel, crème brulee with a sharp cut of acid this is great stuff. Like many of the newer producers, they bottle this in the hand grenade like bottles that are short and stout.

A bientot,


Monday, December 02, 2013


Grenache Purity 
Gigondas: The Grand Tasting
New York City, November 18, 2013

The Dentelles de Montmirail peaks that tower over the Gigondas region.

few weeks ago I had the pleasure to attend a tasting of Gigondas wines hosted by their appellation group Syndicate de Gigondas that represents the producers and growers of this tiny Southern Rhone region where the Grenache grape is king. Multiple vintages were poured, but the majority were 2011, 2010 and a sprinkling of 2009 and 2012. For the longest time I always thought of Gigondas as "more affordable Chateauneuf du Pape look-a likes" that under-achieved. While that may have been true in some aspects in the past, what I tasted this day was to me "quintessential Grenache from Gigondas". Part of this is my palate appreciation getting better and from what I think are the wines being made in a fresher, more pure style, especially for the Grenache.

Made famous by Kermit Lynch and Robert Parker, Gigondas is a neighboring region to Chateauneuf du Pape. The styles of the wines are similar in many ways, but if one were to generalize the Grenache from Gigondas might be a touch more opulent and elegant then from CdP. The blends from CdP and Gigondas in general are similar with Grenache usually 60-80% of the blend, Mourvedre and Syrah being the second largest portions in the 10-20% range, while Cinsault and the other legal varieties make up 5% or less on average.  The best part are many of these wines are under $30, many on the $20-25 range.

Gigondas is famous not only for its wines, but for the ancient limestone mountain range “Dentelles de Montmirail” that overlooks the entire region like a giant row of jagged teeth (see above lead photo). Sand and limestone soils dominate the region where vines are planted and are the most important sites to plant Grenache vines.

Many of the winemakers or proprietors were there pouring their wines and it was interesting to speak to them about the different styles of production, mostly the aging process after the initial fermentations. Most age the wine in large wood vats called foudre for 12 to 18 months. A good number of others use French oak barrels for the same aging period, with the majority using used barrels that impart little to no oak flavor. Some producers utilize both foudre and used oak barrels. The few that use new French oak barrels do so in small portions in combination with either used barrels or foudre, though some are backing away from new French oak entirely.

My general assessments of the wines per vintage are as follows and are similar to what I have read about, but there are always exceptions so this is not a blanket description for every producer:

2009: Ripe, voluptuous and fleshy wines. The tannins are very ripe and embedded in a wall of fruit, though not much acidity prevails from a wine that usually does not retain a lot to begin with. However the top examples are well balanced and should have long aging potentials. Most of the Gigondas I have had for 2009 are not from this tasting, but from my own personal tastings as well as speaking with these producers at this event.

2010: My personal favorite as far as these vintages go. Ripe fruit, ripe tannin, excellent acidity, these are balanced and super fresh wines that are full bodied, but elegant on the palate as these are not weighty or too sweet. The acidity levels are nearly perfect and elevate this vintage over its brethren.

2011: From my tastings these were the most varied wines in style and quality. Some of the 2011s were excellent wines, while others where middle of the road or better. The difference here is the concentration overall is down a notch from 2010. The wines are balanced, but more delicate, a rung lower than 2010 for me, but it is a noticeable rung. Some of the bottles were tight, but many were ready to go and seem ready to drink now. 2011 are fresher than 2009, but have a similar fruit forward charm with less concentration and intensity.

2012: Though little to no 2012 are available yet to try, it is supposedly close in quality to 2010 with freshness being the marquee characteristic most people are talking about and writing about.

Here are my tasting notes on the wines I tasted that stood out in no particular order.

Domaine du Terme Etiquette Noire 2009
One of the few 2009 wines at the event.
70% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 15% MourvedreStrawberry, ripe fig and spice notes; full bodied, warm, with a silky finish, some stem inclusion used. Definitely shows the voluptuous side of 2009.

Domaine Saint Gayan Cuvee Tradition 2009
80% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre
Shows the 2009 ripeness, but with good balance and plenty of charm from the ripe fruit. Bold and ripe, blackberry and tar, gamey meat, and classic cracked pepper notes. Lush and full bodied, with firm but ripe tannins buried in a wall of glycerin.

Domaine Santa Duc (3 wines)

Les Garancieres Gigondas Red 2010
80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% MourvedreImpeccably balanced and fresh. Blackberry and cherry, garrigue, peppercorns and spice. Tannins are pronounced but ripe, the wine is young and seamlessly textured. My favorite of the 3 Santa Duc wines this day. Garancieres vines average 30 years in age.

Aux Lieux-Dits Gigondas Red 201175% Grenache, 15% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre, Cinsault 5%Cracked pepper and roasted meats, leather, a touch of cream and garrigue counter red and black fruits. This is the most noticeably tannic of the 3 wines. The vines average 30 years in age.

Prestige Hautes Garrigues Gigondas 2011
78% Old Vine Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, 2% SyrahIntense, deep and ripe. This wine is layered in walls of fruit, glycerin and tannins with some good freshness on the finish. The fruit source is from old Grenache vines that are 60+ years old. Black fruits, garrigue, minerality, a mild smokiness and spice highlight the aromas and flavors.

Chateau Saint Cosme Gigondas 2011 – Traditional blend
60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 18% Mourvedre, 2% Cinsault
Earthy aromas with some funk. Ripe red and blue fruits, with some meaty and smoky notes on the palate. A good structure from the medium to full grain tannins, this was on the tight side but showed nice potential.

Romane Machotte Gigondas 2011

80% Grenache, 20% SyrahThis was a very tightly wound wine, chewy with a very firm and powerful tannic structure. The fruit and spice still pushed through showing cherry, currants, licorice, smoke meat and cracked pepper.

Domaine du Pesquier Gigondas 201075% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 5% MourvedreAged in foudre and concrete vats, this came across incredibly fresh and elegant, though the fruit was quite persistent and long, this wine had great breadth. This was one of the freshest tasting of the entire event, very lively with great acidity and medium grain tannins. Roast meats, stony minerality, raspberry, black plum fan out nicely on the palate. Very small production. 

Lavau Gigondas 2011
50% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 10% MourvedreA fruity and viscous style, this was ripe, though countered well with good acidity. The tannins were fine and velvety; almost too much so but maybe the lush textured fruit make this appear less tannic than it actually is. Blackberry, blueberry, crème d’cassis, chocolate, some spice and some bacon fat highlight the aromas and flavors. The 2011 was aged 12 months in 2-4 year old neutral oak barrels with the fermentations in stainless tanks.

Domaine du Grapillon d’Or (4 wines)

Domaine du Grapillon d'Or Gigondas 1806 201080% Grenache, 20% SyrahGood density, but elegant, a nicely fine and ripe structure with excellent freshness, garrigue, black cherry, pepper and spice. A long finish that is clean and fresh with purity of fruit and minerality. Tannins are very well integrated. 100% tank fermented, this wine ages in old oak barrels for 12 months.

Domaine du Grapillon d'Or Gigondas 1806 2011
80% Grenache, 20% SyrahVery similar to the 2010, but a notch lower in persistence and concentration, tannins are a tad chewier.

Domaine du Grapillon d'Or Excellence Gigondas 201060% Grenache, 40% SyrahFrom 60 year old vines, the Excellence is decadent but fresh, elegant yet powerful. Ripe blackberry, cherry, cracked pepper and roasted meat rise from the glass and fan out on the palate. 100% tank fermented this wine ages in old oak barrels for 18 months.

Domaine du Grapillon d'Or Excellence Gigondas 201160% Grenache, 40% SyrahThe 2011 is similar, with additional notes of licorice and tobacco. The tannins are more pronounced and the acidity is a little lower, so texturally this is a very different wine, but otherwise it shows good parity.

Domaine du Grand Bourjassot - Cuvee Cecile Gigondas 201050% Grenache, 40% Syrah, 10% MourvedreOne of the most complex wines of the event, this is a classically textured wine showing garrigue, spice, red fruits, fresh flowers, peppercorn and Asian spices. Savory and meaty, with more Asian spice on the palate with deep red fruits. Great freshness and length on the finish, I really liked this wine a lot. 3-4 year old neutral barrels age organically farmed fruit that is fermented with stem inclusion in glass lined tanks and then aged in barrel.

Domaine de Font-Sane (2 wines)

Gigondas Tradition 201172% Grenache, 23% Syrah, 3% Mourvedre, 2% CinsaultBlack and red fruits, and spice, this is a medium to full bodied wine with loads of charm. There are medium grain tannins and ample freshness. Aged in used neutral oak casks for 6-8 months.

Gigondas Terrasses des Dentelles 201172% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 3% MourvedreNicely complex, this wine is complicated with cinnamon, licorice, sweet un-smoked cigar tobacco, cedar, red currants and cherry notes that abound in the nose and the palate of this wine. Full bodied and powerful, this wine shows sound structure and good freshness. Full bodied, the tannins are firm but very ripe. Aged 1 year in cask.

Domaine des Florets (3 wines)

Gigondas Supreme 201180% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 5% MourvedreRaised 100% in 5-6 year old barrels, this cuvee is from 60 year old vines. This is a big wine, with loads of texture and glycerin, blackberry compote, roasted black plum and subtle spice fan out in layers on the palate.

Domaine du Clos des Tourelles Gigondas 2010Grenache, Syrah blend (%s not stated)This is a very, well made wine, showing the money behind it from the Perrin (Beaucastel) family. This is stylish and dense, but texturally persistent and pure. Red fruits like raspberry and cherry dominate the nose and palate, superb minerality, subtle spice and just a touch of cedar layer in with the fruit. This is aged 15 months in cask with no de-stemming during the initial fermentation. The vineyard is close to being certified organic and bio-dynamic. One of the best from Gigondas, it also is one of the most expensive and only available in limited quantities of 2,500 6 packs.

Domaine Cecile Chassagne Gigondas 201180% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% MourvedreGarrigue, pepper, red fruits, stony minerality, good length with sweet cigar tobacco, and savory smoked meat. Very well made, this wine is powerful with a full-bodied tannic texture and ample acidity. This finished nicely, clean and long.

Domaine du Cayron Gigondas 201070% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 14% Syrah, 10% MourvedreOne of my favorite Gigondas since my first encounter with the 2007 vintage, the 2010 is on the money and just as good if not better as it is much fresher with the same intensity and concentration. Traditionally, the wine spends 6 to 12 months ageing in large oak foudre. The vines range in age from 30 to 50 years old. This is for me one of the best buys not only in the Rhone but in the entire world of wine. Pen ink, juicy currants, pepper, licorice and garrigue, with flecks of lavender. Impeccably balanced, medium bodied with medium to full bodied tannin and a super fresh long finish. 

Domaine de Bosquets (2 wines)

Domaine de Bosquets le Lieu Dit Gigondas 2011
100% GrenacheFrom 50 to 130 year old vines, these have to be some of the oldest, if not the oldest Grenache vines in Gigondas. A powerful and fresh wine, black cherry, blackberry, a touch of smoked meats, fresh flowers and some notes of stony minerality pervade the nose and the palate. This is purity and finesse defined. A well made 2011 with a clean on long finish. Fermented in steel, aged in 600L neutral 203 year old oak casks.

Domaine des Bosquets Gigondas 201170% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 14% Syrah, 10% MourvedreAged for 12 months in cement vats, this is a regional blend of all the estate vine holdings. Cherry and pepper; creamy and round with firm but ripe tannins.

I hope you enjoyed this small break from Portugal, we will return next with Alves de Sousa from the Douro Valley of Portugal.

A bientot,

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wine & Soul

Wine & Soul
Pinhao Valley, Cima Corgo, Douro Valley
September 2, 20113

Sandra Tavares da Silva, winemaker and vineyard caretaker of Pintas at Wine & Soul
     Wine & Soul was our first Quinta visit the morning after our arrival to the Douro Valley. I was very excited for this visit as I had done some reading on this small producer while researching our travel plans for this trip and was very impressed. Headed by winemaker Sandra Tavares da Silva and partnered with her husband winemaker Jorge Serôdio Borges (Quinta do Passadouro), Wine & Soul is tucked away in the Pinhao Valley with the main focus of their wines based on the 3 hectare Pintas Vineyard. Pintas is a gorgeous old vineyard with vines that are 70-80 years in age and are the source of a magnificent red wine and a Vintage Port. The Quinta itself has no vines on its property, however this is where the wines are made, aged in barrel and bottled. Production is small in the neighborhood of 50,000 bottles (or 4,000 cases).

If you have been reading my other writings on Portugal you already know 2011 is a spectacular vintage. We were lucky to taste the 20011s from Wine & Soul and they are spectacular. We even got a peak at the 2012 Pintas and Manoella VV out of barrel. In my opinion the 2011 Pintas red was the most exciting red wine we had our entire trip. This young wine was tight, but showed good intensity, full of verve and energy. The Pintas Vintage Port was sublime, complex and one of the best VP I have had to date from 2011. It was more wine-like as it seemed more reflective of terroir as there were streaks of earth and minerality that cut against the sweet black and blue fruits that finished off with a mint and herbal tinge - super cool stuff for sure!

Vale de Mendiz, the vineyards of Manoella part of the Wine & Soul production.

Sandra and Jorge also own Quinta da Manoella a few kilometers north of the Quinta. A much larger property at 70 hectares, Sandra mentioned she thinks the land making up Manoella was likely separate properties maintained by separate families over a century ago. There are hints to this theory all over the property. Many lagares were found on different sites of the property, leading one to think there were different owners as most owners only build lagares in one place on their property in their main building, not scattered all over the property. Olive trees bisect internal sections of the vineyards which is a traditional way in the Douro to mark your border with a neighboring property. Lastly, there were many different satellite Quinta-like buildings scattered about the entire property that could have passed for a main building in previous centuries. The property has been in Sandra and Jorge’s hands a few years and they are making progress each year, but a lot of work needs to be done to revive the old vines and buildings on the property. You can see the abandoned vineyards next to revived vineyards and see for yourself just how hard the work is to rebuild the schist terraces and then replant them with vines. I can see in 10 years Manoella being a magnificent estate when it’s up and running at full capacity.

The Quinta for Wine & Soul

Driving to Wine & Soul that morning I did not know it, but the Pinhao Valley is probably the most revered section of Cima Corga in the Douro Valley as many of the best properties and Port producers have vineyards there. On the way to Wine & Soul we passed the beautiful Quinta do Noval estate. We also drove by many vineyards owned by Taylor’s as seen from the signs near the top of the vineyards. When we arrived at Wine & Soul, Sandra was there to greet us and asked if we wanted to see the vineyards first to which we said absolutely. A tall and graceful woman, Sandra was in her past a volleyball player and a model. However it was her upbringing on a farm outside of Lisbon that inspired her to take up winemaking. You can read more about Sandra here (LINK).

Schict rock, just one of the examples of the type of top soil you see in the Douro vineyards: rocks
Pintas vineyard with schist rock scattered amongst the 30+ mixed grape varieties planted here. 
Sandra discussing the Pintas vineyard, its soil, geology and why there are 30+ mixed grape varietals planted there. 
Pinhao Valley from the top of the Pintas vineyard, a favorite photo of mine.
Pintas vineyard terracing.
We headed out to the Pintas vineyard which was a few minutes’ drive north of the Quinta. We hopped out of Sandra’s SUV and almost immediately your feet were embedded in thick fine dust that was easily an inch or more deep as we approached the vineyard from the top. The fine dust seemed to be decomposed schist as that is basically what every vineyard is planted in and what every terrace is made from in the Douro. As we made our way further down into the vineyard, the dust disappeared quickly as it seemed to collect there in the upper entrance of the vineyard. As we got down into terrace 2 and 3 there was no dust, but hard igneous schist and broken pieces of schist. There was little to no soil, this was it. I asked Sandra where the soil was and she said this is how it is in the Douro. This being the first vineyard we could walk through in the Douro, it was an eye-opener. These vines struggle to find water in the schist rock the vines live in, so the old vines thrive in a viticultural way producing few bunches of super complex fruit. By “thrive viticulturally”, I mean the vines are very stressed and actually do not thrive as they do not produce a lot of fruit. However, the fruit that is produced is very complex as that little bit of fruit gets all of the energy of the vine. In many parts of the world, this process is manipulated by hand cutting off bunches of grapes in what is called a “green harvest” which removes grape bunches from vines to manually drive more energy into fewer grape bunches. In the Douro the vines are actually stressed like crazy reaching 30-40 meters (100 feet!) into the solid rock to find pockets where rain water settles. Imagine planting a grape vine in a 100 foot deep block of fractured and splintered concrete because that is what it is like, crazy!

I learned some very important facts about diversity and age from my discussion with Sandra about the Pintas vineyard (and many other Douro vineyards). The grape varieties are 30+ different indigenous Portuguese grape varieties. The reason why they are all different is the farmers that originally planted these vines wanted to be sure they could get fruit in every vintage as some vines in their youth were less resistant to extremes and disease than others so by having many different varieties that have different resistances, the diversity allowed the farmers to harvest fruit at least every year. If you only planted 1 vine that was not resistant to extreme heat, if there were heat waves that vintage the entire crop could be lost and be disastrous for a farmers well being. With proper care and attention, these old vines grew older and even further resistant to weather extremes and disease. They are not invincible, but are much stronger when they are older as they have built up resistances to extreme conditions.

The sun shining over Manoella and its grand terraces.
mortório , or ghost vineyard, where terracing remains but the vines are long gone and in some cases being readied for replanting.
"this is how it is in the Douro" the typical cross section of the schist rock vines are planted in the Douro Valley.
Quinta da Manoella in the midst of an upgrade for use as a wine making facility.
Manoella vineyards
Sandra schooling us on the old vines at Manoella that range in age from 100 to 120 years old. 
One of the small buildings scattered about Manoella
We got back in Sandra's SUV and drove a few more kilometers north to Manoella and started at the top of the property and made our way by SUV down into the heart of the property. As we switch-backed our way down steep and rocky roads, we stopped on the way by an old vine mixed varietal vineyard similar to Pintas. 30+ varieties are planted in this vineyard with the oldest vines being 100-120 years old. Still, they produce spectacular fruit as witnessed in the old vine bottling of Manoella. As we spoke, I was tapping into that passion that drives great winemakers like Sandra. Every great winemaker no matter where they are from has this passion. Our hands were flying in the air as we talked about the property, viticultural and winemaking practices, places where we have visited in the world where great wine is made, and what kinds of wines we drink. We hopped back in the SUV and headed to what will be a functioning Quinta soon after it is renovated so it can house wine production.  Sandra also mentioned how she wants to upgrade some of the other buildings on the property to host visitors to the Douro which I think is a fantastic idea and hope is realized by the time we make our way back.

I cannot recommend a visit to Wine & Soul more if you make it to the Douro or come across their wines in your wine shop. If you are so inspired, you can even find the wines here in the US on and have them shipped to your home as they are not easy to find, but fairly readily available in large markets like New York.

A Taransaud French oak barrel aging Pintas wine. 
Steel fermentation tanks 
Sandra discussing one of the wines, Lisa listening intently, me taking notes on my iPhone.
A better view of Wine & Soul's Quinta, with beautiful Pinhao Valley in the background.
We made our way back to the Wine & Soul Quinta and tasted through the range of wines Sandra had ready for us to taste. First she walked us through the two small sections of their Quinta where they had a lagare, fermentation tanks and a barrel room where we tasted the wines. Every one of the red wines is crushed by foot treading in the lagare tanks, a traditional method in Portugal for treatment of the best fruit from the vineyards. This was one of the most thorough tastings of the visit and very enjoyable as the wines were all excellent, complex and delicious. During the trip I kept wondering to myself why more people do not drink Douro wines and it all started here while tasting the Wine & Soul and Manoella wines.

2012 Guru Branco; 2011 Pintas Character red; 2011 Pintas red (flagship); 2011 Manoella & 2011 Manoella VV
2012 Guru White Douro Blend (Branco)
Bright and fresh, limes, lemons, apple and pear fruit emerge from a medium to full-bodied white that shows good oak integration and the mild treatment used to vinify this wine. One of my favorite whites the entire trip, the Guru is a world class white wine; the 2011 I had over a dinner one night reminded me of a good village or 1er Cru Meursault. Old vine field blend white wine; 5,000 bottles production; barrel fermentation takes place in 100% French oak ranging from neutral used barrels to light toast new French oak.

2011 Manoella Douro Red (Tinto)
Black licorice, blackberry, tobacco and spice, fine and ripe tannins, full bodied with an ample finish; Aged for 16 months in used barrels; a blend of 60% Touriga Nacional, 25% Touriga Franca, 10% Tinta Roriz and 5% Tinta Fracisca; fruit hails from the young vines 35 years in age; 10,000 bottles in annual production.

2011 Pintas Character Douro Red
Elegant but well structured with purple flowers, red cherry, black currant, blueberries, and spice; nice length and good tannic structure. This is no slouch and a baby so let this one decant for 2 hours. 30% of the wine is raised for 18 months in new French oak, the remaining goes into neutral oak for the same time. From 70 year old vines, this is one of the better second wines in the Douro.

2011 Pintas Douro Red (Tinto)
Super young and tight, the nose and palate reveal blueberry, blackberry, violets, crème d’cassis, and some subtle spice, a firm and profound structure with a round palate texture, acidity gives this good freshness and focus, great length on the long finish. If you love Bordeaux or great Rioja this needs to be in your collection immediately. This is the flagship wine made from the best grapes of the 70-80 year old vines of the Pintas vineyard. Pintas is approximately 5,000 bottles of annual production. 40% new French oak for 20 months, 60% in neutral oak for 20 months. This easily has 20+ years of aging potential.

2012 Pintas Douro Red (Tinto) – Barrel Sample
A purple-red robe this is fairly developed for 11 months of age. Black and purple notes dominate with a nice perfume of purple flowers and red and black fruits. The tannic structure at this time hints at having sweeter and finer tannins than the 2011 that has the structure of a skyscraper. It finishes pure and long, with good fruit, acids and tannin.

2011 Manoella VV Douro Red (Vinhas Velhas aka Old Vines)
A field blend of more than 20 indigenous grape varieties, the Manoella VV shows good terroir as this has an elegance and transparency facet coupled with good depth and concentration; 50% new oak for 20 months is well integrated as this wine soaks it up well; red and black fruits, leather, earth, spice and minerality. There is approximately 3,000 bottles in annual production and this wine hails from the first old vineyard we saw at Manoella.

2012 Manoella VV Douro Red – Barrel Sample
The youthful barrel sample of 2012 Manoella VV was also showing nicely for it youth. Earthy, with dried fruits, a dustiness persisted in the palate from the tannins, again there was this very transparency in the wine, showing well for the 2012 vintage which was not as successful as 2011.

2011 Pintas Vintage Port
Roasted herbal notes, minty even with black kirsch and anise spice, a very complex and layered vintage port (VP), Black and dark red fruits add to the spice and fan out over the palate with a striking texture that is more wine-like than Port. A long, silky, fruit and herb infused finish echoes for minutes on the palate. One of the best and most unique VPs for 2011 that I have tasted to date.

NV Wine & Soul 10 Year Tawny Port
A well balanced and texturally smooth 10 year tawny showing orange peel, creme caramel, spice and creme brulee; Medium bodied, this finishes really smooth and balanced for a 10 year tawny, I would guess at least a 20 year tawny blind.

A bientot,

Friday, October 25, 2013

Quinta do Crasto

Quinta do Crasto

Douro Valley, Cima Corgo
September 2nd and 3rd, 2013

Quinta do Crasto estate hilltop
Nestled in the heart of the Douro Valley, Quinta do Crasto sits high on the crest of a hilltop with beautiful terroir that overlooks the Douro River a few miles west of Pinhao in Cima Corgo. "Crasto" is one of the most admired and respected Quinta in all of the Douro Valley, led by the Roquette family that is one of the most respected wine families in Portugal. While out dining, I saw more bottles of Quinta do Crasto wines than any other single brand on the tables of the local Portuguese. The value that Crasto wines deliver is spectacular across the entire range of wines. Wine is produced at all price levels from the basic Flor white or red that cost about $9, all the way up to the rare and spectacular Maria Teresa at $100+. The range of styles leans more to a traditional style of winemaking. For me the essence of the estate and the Douro comes through most in the expression of the “Old Vine Reserva” which is made from 30 different grape varieties from estate vines that are 70+ years old. Priced fairly at about $35, this is a go to wine for anyone looking to explore Portuguese table wines at the premium level.

The sun setting behind the hills that make up the Quinta do Crasto estate.
We originally planned to spend one afternoon at Crasto for a tour and tasting, but ended up being guests the following day for some swimming in a stunning infinity pool and dinner with a selection of older and rare wines from the Crasto cellars. As we made our way through the tight and winding roads through the north west side of the Douro from Pinhao on our way to Crasto, the stunning views of the Douro countryside were intoxicating. As far as the eyes could see, there were hillsides rising up from the river banks. Many of these hillsides were covered top to bottom with the schist terrace vineyards, many built hundreds of years ago by hand. Where there were no vines or terraces, there was the brush scrub indigenous to the region, olive tree groves or terraces that were abandoned years ago around the time of phylloxera and never brought back into working condition. These ghost vineyards are called mortórios that still have the terraces that define them, but are crumbling and overtaken by the indigenous brush scrub. In some places the mortórios are being replanted and brought back to life, but some are so far gone that it is not economically feasible to bring them back to life.

Check out that view over the Douro River
As we arrived at Crasto, we took in the stunning views of the vineyards and the Douro River below. Driving up to the estate we saw in full view the renowned Maria Teresa estate vineyard that produces what is to me the best wine produced by Crasto. When we arrived we met Andrea, head of hospitality at Crasto, who was one of our favorite people we met during our trip to Portugal. Disarmingly friendly, funny and a great host, Andrea seemed like a long lost sister that was taking care of her family while we were under her care. She showed us around the estate and that was where we came across the most magnificent infinity pool I have ever seen. There was a beautiful patio that was just off the back of the home with a long communal table that seemed to be the perfect setting for leisurely dinners and lunches with guests, friends, and family.

Andrea, our amazing host at Crasto and Miguel our steadfast guide.
 We made our way inside to the dining room to get started with the wine tasting. We tasted our way through a good portion of the Douro 2012 white wine, 2011 Crasto Superior, the 2010 and 2004 Old Vine Reserva, and the epic 2007 Maria Teresa which is made from 100 year old estate vines. As is tradition in the Douro, we finished the tasting with a port, the 2008 LBV to be exact.

The Maria Theresa vineyard just below the estate buildings at Quinta do Crasto
We were having a great time during our tasting, learning about the different vineyards Crasto owns, production methods, and the history about the Roquette family and the Crasto property. Andrea was asking how we liked our trip so far and where we had been eating lunch and dinners. Andrea asked me what our dinner plans were the next day. Miguel mentioned we were going to the CS Vintage House and Andrea hinted that may not be the best choice for us. So since we were at the Crasto dining room table as a joke I said, “well, we could always just come here instead”. Without flinching Andrea opened up her calendar book and lucky enough for us the schedule was clear the following evening and she said that would be fine. I said to Andrea “You know I was kidding, right?” Well, she was not kidding.  Andrea told us she would double check with the staff to be sure the schedule was fully clear and if so to come back the next day to swim in the infinity pool and enjoy a meal at the table out back with some of the great Crasto wines. Thankfully that was the case and by the next morning we had confirmed our evening plans with Andrea.

Tasting grapes in the vineyard.
After the tasting we took a glass with us and headed into the vineyards. We got into the soil and terraces and since the fruit was so far advanced, we were able to taste a few of the different grape varieties. It was amazing to taste the same grape variety from different vineyards and have them taste so differently. Conveniently the sun was setting and we got some great photos of us in the vineyards. Funny enough we had our own paparazzi with Andre and Miguel manning the cameras. The last time we had this kind of camera attention was our wedding.

Barriques in the lagares and stacked off to the side.

Fermentation and blending tanks.

Fermentation tanks

The new barrel room, all walls, columns and stacking structures are black.

Racking barrels in the new barrel room.

We soon made our way to a tour of the wine making facilities, walking through the multiple fermentation rooms, barrel rooms and bottle storage locations. We also stepped into the onsite lab where they were currently testing grapes to check sugar levels and ripeness to better time the looming harvest. The week after we left the harvest commenced. The same lab also identified the 30+ varietal plantings within the vineyards that produce the old vine and the Maria Teresa wines. We finished up the tour and drew the day at Crasto to a close. As we left we felt so lucky and privileged to have had such a great experience and were looking forward to coming back the next day for dinner.

The estate home at Quinta do Crasto.

As we were making our way to our first appointment Miguel got the call from Andrea that we were good to go for dinner that evening at Crasto. The day was set and now ready to unfold perfectly. After our Quinta appointments that day, we got to Crasto around 6pm, just in time to see the sun set and for a quick dip in the pool. Our new best friend Andrea greeted us with a warm smile and made us feel right at home. We quickly changed into our swim suits and made our way to the most amazing of infinity pools I have ever seen. The pool was fresh water and had a refreshing chill to it to enliven the senses. I really think it made the delightful bottle of the Crasto white that Andreas opened taste even better. Refreshing and clean, the Crasto Branco had excellent citrus fruit notes, minerality with excellent acidity and freshness. As we sat pool side and sipped the wine, Andrea brought out a spectacular platter of appetizers that we happily devoured. We nibbled on Roasted Marcona almonds from trees planted around the estate property, some local cheese, as well as estate olives, crusty bread and a slew of mixed bites. If we were not careful we would fill up before we made it to dinner. Once the sun started to make its way down, it cooled off so we made our way back inside freshen up for dinner.

The amazing infinity pool.

Fresh ingredients for dinner that evening.

The family style dinner table,

As we sat down to the dinner table our minds moved to an even further relaxed state, sharing stories of our day and from our lives back in the US with our new friends in Portugal. The light was perfect, as the sun set and gave way to the night, a mellow gold pink and orange sky turned to dark blue, purple and then black as night finally arrived.

As the courses of food started to make their way out, Andrea had generously opened some fantastic wines for us to have with dinner. I did not take any tasting notes but from memory I will do my best to get across how spectacular they were. The 2011 vintage port was rock solid. A stout mass of cherry, blueberry and brambly blackberry mixed with crushed rock and a slight grilled herb note that was just barely hinting at the amazing future this port has ahead of it. A rare wine to find here in the US, if you see any get a bottle it as it will be a special treat, especially the 2011. Next up was our second stab at the Crasto Superior. An excellent value, the Crasto Superior shows the rugged beauty of the Douro Superior region in a glass. Full bodied with wild fruit notes, the tannins were more than happy to ratchet up the complexity and structure of this bold red wine.

My favorite of the tasting was also one of my favorite wines we had the entire trip, a single varietal Touriga Nacional bottling from 2005 that was absolutely spectacular. Some bottle age, exuberant fruit, good structure from the ripe and silky tannins and some lively acidity lent this wine a regalness not seen often by those outside of Portugal. It’s hard enough to find the current vintage of this wine, never mind one 8 years old.  However it is well worth the time and money to seek out a few bottles.

The last of the bottle for the evening was the Quinta do Crasto 'Xisto' Roquette e Cazes. This is a wine made by with participation by the Bordeaux winemaker for Chateau Lynch-Bages, thus the family name Cazes. Roquette of course is the family that owns Quinta do Crasto. The influence of Bordeaux is definitely apparent with new, but subtle toasty oak notes, red and blue fruits, with supple medium grain tannins and ample acidity.

As we finished off the dessert, we started to top off the last glasses of wine for the evening and head home to conclude an unforgettable evening. We picked up a few bottles from Crasto to take home and Miguel drove us back to Vallado to retire for the evening. On the way back we had a nice drive, unleashing a chorus of sing-along with Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Beleivin’. Flashes of The Sopranos, my college days and The Douro Valley were flipping through my head, what a great end to an incredible day. We will be back to the Douro Valley and when we do we will make sure to visit Crasto again. If you find yourself headed to the Douro I cannot recommend more a stop at Crasto, who knows maybe if you make an impression you may be able to stay for dinner. Andrea and the staff at Quinta do Crasto made us feel at home, like we were hanging out with family around the dinner table. What more can you ask for?

Below are the tasting notes for the wines we tasted during our first visit to Crasto.

2012 Douro Branco
Made from traditional Douro white grape varieties Gouveio, Roupeiro and Rabigato, this wine was pale straw in color; waxy lemon notes, flowers and a touch of honey in the nose. The palate is fresh, clean, stony and chalky, with bright citrus lemons.

Crasto Superior 2011
Made from Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, and Sousao, this wine has a very dark core. The Sousao grape is a red fleshed grape that contributes to that additional depth of color. It spends 1 year in 2nd use French oak barrels. Blackberry, black cherry, licorice, Asian spices, and meaty notes rise from the glass. Fresh and clean, there is good depth, medium+ tannin, with a long and persistent finish for the class this wine lives in.

2010 Riserva Old Vines
The Riserva was open for 2.5 hours when we tasted it. Crafted from vines averaging 70 years this is a classy and elegant wine; beautiful, with great persistency and balance. This is an outstanding wine of aristocratic nobility. Impeccably balanced, fresh and long in the finish. Black cherry, creme d'cassis, and subtle oak notes meld well in the palate. The flavors stretch on for what seems a very long time. The Riserva will age nicely in bottle for 10-15 years depending on the vintage.

2004 Riserva Old Vines
A red core with lighter red edges, this wine was in a real sweet spot for drinking. Mature notes of dry red fruits, haunting forest floor, cigar wrapper, cedar, and a mild oak influence, it was so open and broad, complex, yet finely elegant. Good depth, persistency and excellent oak integration. This is a world class wine, refined. So easy to enjoy and savor, the flavors unfold in layers over the palate.

2007 Vinha Maria Theresa
From the oldest vines on the estate averaging 98 years old, the fruit from these vines is minimal, yet excellent in quality. The wine is not made every year, but only in excellent years when the character of the vineyard rises to levels above the rest of the estate old vines. The name Maria Theresa came from the daughter of the prior family that owned Crasto. 1998 was the first vintage and has only been made in 6 vintages since then. The 2007 was aged in 15% American oak barrels and the rest in new French oak barrels. The 2009 was aged in 100% new French oak barrels for 20 months. A dark ruby core, with vibrant red edges. Coaxing the nose brings out 
black and blue berries, cherry, charcoal, licorice, and earth tone aromas. You can barely notice the oak but for a hint of creaminess and roundness on the palate. This was really big on the palate with tons of complexity. It sailed on to a fine and elegant finish that was long and clean.

2008 LBV
This was newly bottled 1 week prior to our tasting but one would never know it from what we tasted. Violets and purple flowers, pepper and spice, savory herbal notes. Fresh and powerful, this attacks the palate with intensity and opens nicely across the palate, giving way to a long palate staining port experience. A huge bargain, this is one to seek out for more frequent consumption.

A bientot!


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