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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