the spanish aquisition

Port Wines

Port production commences in the Douro, of course, but historically much of the work has taken place in Vila Nova de Gaia - a twin city of Oporto on the southern bank of the Douro at the coast. Traditionally, the large Port houses are based in Gaia for ageing, blending, marketing and exportation. Many of the newer, modern Single Quinta houses (such as the Douro boys) now do all of the cellar work on the estates up in the Duoro itself. Growing in the Duoro has traditionally taken place on terraces (socalcos) carved out of the schist in the steep hillslopes rising up from the river.

Making Port is achieved by a relatively short, vigorous process of extraction and fermentation. Roga (gangs of foot-treaders) extract colour, flavour and tannin by treading in the shallow stone lagares before a short fermentation of just 2-3 days, after which fermentation is stopped by the addition of 77% a/v aguardente (fortifying spirit), in order to leave the requisite residual sugar in the wine. It is then racked to barrels and allowed to 'fall bright' over winter, with sediment and tartrates dropping into the bottom of the vat. Note that the 'traditional' Ports we know, with relatively high levels of residual sugar are in fact quite recent - prior to the 19th century, most Port was both dry and fortified.

Quinta do Vale Meão, D.O.C. Porto

Vale Meão is a historic Quinta that is now one of the front runners in the Douro table wine revolution. It started life in 1877 as one of the shrewd acquisitions of the celebrated Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira, and has been owned by the family since. One of the most important vineyards in Douro history, Meão exists in its current form since 1999.

In 1998 Francisco (Vito) Olazabal and his son Fransisco (Xito) decided to leave the family wine business and go it alone, using the grapes from the Meão estate to make their own wine. The old cellar was renovated and turned into a modern winery, keeping the old granite lagares. The estate consists of a sizeable 62 hectares of vines, with three different soil types: slate, granite and alluvial gravel. These different terroirs are important for the final wine: for example, the Touriga from granite tastes almost like Dão, whereas from schist it is much richer and fuller. The first release was the 1999, which was met with great critical acclaim.

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Quinta do Vale Doña Maria, D.O.C. Porto

Quinta do Vale Doña Maria is the property of Cristiano van Zeller, former owner of legendary Port house, Noval. After his family sold Noval, Cristiano set out to promote and foster a certain attitude and marketing thrust in the Douro - the specialist small-volume vineyard-based Quinta. He is unarguably the driving force behind 'The Douro Boys'.

Vale Doña Maria is situated in an off-shoot (cooler) river valley to the Douro, Rio Torto. It's a property long held in ownership of Cristiano's wife Joana's family. To date the Quinta has 16 hectares of fully owned very old vineyards (50 years+), around 5 more hectares of vineyards under management and a new 3 hectare planting of 6 year old vines.

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Quinta do Vallado, D.O.C. Porto

Quinta do Vallado, 30 minutes downstream from Pinhão, spreads along the banks of the Corgo River, where it meets the Douro. With references dating back to 1716, the property belonged to legendary D. Antónia Adelaide Ferreira and is now owned by the family's sixth generation.

Vallado has had Cristiano van Zeller consulting during its decade or so of modernisation: the shift from grower for the big Port houses, to high grade estate producer. A new gravity-fed winery was completed in 1997, and the 68 ha of vines (around 300m altitude) have been radically renovated. Parts of the vineyard are still young, aged between 6 and 10 years old. But the best plots, about 26 hectares are more than 60 years old.

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Niepoort, D.O.C. Porto

Niepoort has been an independent family business since 1842. Fifth generation Dirk joined his father Rolf in the family business in 1987, and was challenged to innovate while maintaining the business' traditions.

The first important step in modernising the business was the acquisition of their own vineyards: Quinta de Nápoles and Quinta do Carril in Cima Corgo, a region that traditionally produces the best Port Wines; 15 hectares of vineyards were newly planted, and 10 hectares 60-year old vines were carefully maintained.

Now head of the business, Dirk is one of the most important thinkers on the Douro scene, and a noted innovator. His passion for wine and the humble respect and curiosity for the Douro terroir has defined the Niepoort spirit over the past two decades.

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