Saturday, January 11, 2014

Quinta Vale Dona Maria & Lemos Van Zeller

Quinta Vale Dona Maria & 
Van Zeller

A Drive Through The Torto River Valley

Douro Valley

Arriving at the front gate of Quinta Vale D. Maria
  As we rode the twisting and winding road through the Torto River Valley to our next Quinta, the narrow and mostly guard rail free path hugged the steep hillsides and offered picturesque views across the valley to other Quinta literally hugging the hillsides with their steep and terraced vineyards. A common site in the Douro, it was very different for some reason to see the vineyards from this perspective. Maybe it was the different light, exposure or grade of the hillsides, but I quickly realized it really did not matter so I just sat back and took in the views. Somewhere 15 minutes down the winding road was our next visit to Quinta Vale Dona Maria in the Torto River Valley which runs south and east from the Douro River. The Torto River is a tributary of the Douro River that carved out the valley that carries its name many centuries ago.

Douro Valley terroir cross section, this is schist rock, not so much soil.
     At the gated entrance we drove by more cross sections of schist earth that are home to the vines of the Douro Valley. Finger sized roots were jutting out and penetrating back into the solid earthen rock ever in search of its life source hidden deep in pockets of the frail, but solid rock. The gates opened and we switch-backed our way up the bumpy and dusty road to the Quinta and its production facilities. Joana Pinhao greeted us with a warm smile and a firm handshake, a great start to a visit I was very much looking forward to. Mark Squires of the Wine Advocate had highly recommended we visit this Quinta so I had high expectations of the wines and was looking forward to understanding the vineyard sources, production methods and then of course tasting the wines.

The entrance to the Quinta Vale D. Maria facilities
      Joana gave us an overview of the vineyards that make up the estate property in the Torto River Valley. East of the Quinta, on a steep hillside facing us and then below us on what looked like a mound of earth, were prime vineyards that were some of the 60+ old vineyard sources for what I thought was the best wine I tasted that day, the Tinto Quinta Vale D Maria.

The dark green vertical vineyard on the far ridge is part of the source for Quinta Vale D. Maria

The main vineyard source of the Quinta Vale D. Maria and some of their oldest vines at about 65 years old.
     Cristiano van Zeller (married to Joana) is the rejuvenating founder and director of all businesses of the 200+ year old brand name that carries his family’s name and Vale Dona Maria. He was away on business during our visit so we did not get to meet him. The winemaker for most of the earlier vintages and current consultant was our friend from Wine & Soul Sandra Tavares da Silva. On this day though it was obvious that Joana was running the show, and she was busy making sure the Quinta is on schedule for the looming harvest that was just days away.

Lagares for foot treading of the grapes, the best wines in the Douro all receive this treatment.

     We got to see the entire production run, which was busting at the seams with barrels and tanks taking up much of the production space. 4 granite lagares were present, making sure the best grapes for the best wines were crushed traditionally in them by foot tread. We slinked by hoses and past rows of barrels stacked 4 high. The fermentation tanks were holding court and waiting for the first drops of juice for the 2013 harvest. The tour was fairly standard, but very informative and telling of the professionalism of the team that Joana manages. She knew every aspect of the property inside and out and shot back answers to my questions faster than I could ask. Joana is obviously someone that is passionate about what she does and works very hard at running two major wine labels under one roof.

Fermentation tanks and barrels busting at the seams.

Joana Pinhao explaining the wine making process at Quinta Vale D. Maria

Barrels racked 4 high.

     The history of the name van Zeller in the wine business goes back to the roots of the Port shippers in the late 18th century, 1780 to be exact. Though it has not been in consistent family hands all of this time, the history of this family operation is a little complicated. The important thing is that it made its way back to family hands in the 1930s and then later in direct family hands being acquired by Cristiano in 2006.

The four red wines we tasted at Quinta Vale D. Maria.

     The van Zeller and Vale Dona Maria wines are all quite good. We tasted 6 of their wines, a mix of Van Zeller and Vale Dona Maria. The wine that excited me the most was a Port wine, but the one that captured my spirit was the Quinta tinto from Vale Dona Maria. Hitting all of my buttons, the 2010 was impeccably balanced, with an amazing palate presence that you could taste, but barely felt was there, quite an achievement. This is a wine that deserves to be on the world stage as there are not many like it, but does have similar attributes of power, harmony and grace like many of the other top wines in the world. The CV (as in Curriculum Vitae or “Resume” for us non-Latin folks) was sold out and the new vintage was not yet ready for tasting so I would need to wait on that one. The most exciting wine was the Reserve Port Lot #11, 2011. Lot #11 was youthful, electric, engaging, multi-layered, full of depth, had solid persistence, with an amazingly silky and long finish. Clean and fresh, you would barely know you just imbibed a Port wine. The VZ white was also quite charming and for about $12 a steal, especially for Sauvignon Blanc drinkers.

Picture time at Quinta Vale D. Maria, what a view!

     We took a few more pictures of the property and posed for a few with the beautiful backdrop. This was the first place I left with a handful of wines to haul back to the US as the wines are thinly available in the US. Even though I could find it, I was not going to risk not having this wine in my collection. I currently have the 2007, 2008, 2009 tinto Quinta Vale D. Maria and will be adding the 2010 and 2011. Additionally the Reserve Port Lot #11 should be available soon for about $20-25 and is a steal compared to many of the vintage 2011 vintage ports that cost 3-4 times as much. Buy a few and stash them away, I know I will.

A bientot,


Tasting Notes from
Quinta Vale Dona Maria & Lemos Van Zeller

Van Zellers Blanco 2011

Van Zellers Douro Blanco (White) 2011 Fresh, with a little leesiness that adds roundness to the texture; mango, pineapple, some minerality and fresh citrus with a long, clean finish. 100% steel. 6,000 bottles produced

Rufo Douro Tinto 2010

2010 Hufu Douro Tinto (Red)
(Rufu translates to the sound of a drum in Portuguese & Red in Latin)
60/40 blend of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca
Aged 12 months in neutral oak barrels
Bright red flavors, juicy and exuberant, crushed raspberries, black cherry, very accessible and easy to drink. 40,000 bottles produced.

Van Zellers Tinto 2010

2010 Van Zellers Tinto (Red)
7 grape varieties, with the majority being Touriga France and Touriga Nacional. 20% comes from older 35 year old vineyards, 18 months neutral oak
20,000 bottles in 2009/11,000 in 2011
Notes of black cherry, tobacco, licorice, blueberries, with supple tannins and good acidity.

Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro Tinto 2010

2010 Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro Tinto (Red)
Made of 40+ different Portuguese grape varieties from vines averaging 60 years old. Dark ruby red in color with vibrant red edges. A beautiful and persistent nose, full bodied but seem like it is medium to full because it is so well balanced. Elegant red fruits like cherry, plum and currants abound. Suave and ripe tannins mesh well with ample acidity, a long and persistent finish. Well balanced and very classic in terms of well made old world red wines from Europe, a very classy wine.
20,000 bottles production; 21 months in oak, of which I am told 60% was new and the rest neutral barrel.

The electric 2011 Reserva Port Lot #11

2010 Reserva Port Lot #10 
Technically a non-vintage port, this is a small production Port of 6,000 bottles.
A juicy, drier style, in the glass as it settles down. A small streak of fine grilled herbs, black cherry, oodles of blue berries. The finish sails on, long and easy. 

2011 Reserva Port Lot #11
Dense, intense, yet elegant and crazy long, persistent and clean, fresh on the palate weight wise and on the finish. Oodles of blackberry, creamy blueberry, cherry and roasted herbs, this is a case buy for sure!

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