the spanish aquisition

Portugese Red Wines

The main story in Portuguese reds is, of course, the re-imagination of the Douro Valley. Still famous for it Port wines, with top Ports as wonderful as ever, the region is now increasingly home to remarkably subtle, complex and delicious dry reds, led by the 5 producers collectively known as ‘The Douro Boys’ – Quinta do Vale Doña Maria, led by man-mountain Cristiano van Zeller, practical and spiritual leader of the group; Niepoort, run by boy-genius Dirk Niepoort; Quinta do Vale Meão, one of the most important historical properties in the Douro; Quinta do Vallado and Quinta do Crasto.

Along with the Douro Valley, the adjoining A.C. Dão and Bairrada a little further to the south are the home to the premier red wines of Portugal. Further south in regions such as Alentejo, country wines predominate, with little available that we consider export-worthy.

In the Douro and elsewhere, you’ll increasingly see discrete mono-varietal plantings and bottled releases of single varietal wines, particularly Touriga Nacional. However, it’s usual to find that the best, most interesting wines are blends of several varieties, perhaps even traditional ‘field blends’ where a range of red (and sometimes white) varieties are co-planted, and often picked and fermented together. Key red varietals include: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Tinta Barrocca, Jaen (Mencia), Baga, Alfrocheiro … and many more.

Touriga Nacional: Considered easily the best of Portugal’s native varieties, yet only the 8th-most planted of Douro varieties. Low yielding, Its rich-coloured wines are intensely fruity and tannic but velvety, and age very well. Floral aromatics of violet/bergamot can be haunting andcontribute civilising, finesse aspect to Douro boldness.

Tinta Roriz (aka Aragonez or Tempranillo): A must-have in most Port/Douro blends, enriching both with its dark fruit. As one travels south, the predominant name changes from Tita Roriz to Aragonez, but it is rarely noble the way it is in Douro (or in Spain as Tempranillo). Well-suited to the climatic cycles of the Douro, it flowers late to avoid Spring frosts, and ripens early to avoid Autumn rain.

Touriga Franca: Another Port blender grape, the Touriga Francea brings accents of floral. High yielding and able to produce full sugars, deep colour andsupple structure. Has a marked earthy-rustic tendency, hence it remains a blender, virtually never bottled alone. Touriga, as we know it in Australia is Touriga Franca.

Alfrocheiro: A Portuguese original, it's used to create bold coloured wines with spice and an anise or minty note along with a predominantly blackberry aromatic/flavour. Good natural acidity, dense but finely grained tannins. At its best in the Dão. High quality, vigorous, somewhat prone to rot, but early ripening.

Baga: Native to the Barraida DOC and the Beiras region. It reduces into highly tannic-acidic wines that age beautifully. Vigorous, best when goblet pruned in bush vines, late ripening and susceptible to rot. Very high skin-to-juice ratio, leading to outrageous astringency if not de-stemmed prior to crush or fermentation.

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

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, Quinta Vale D. Maria has 16 hectares of fully owned very old vineyards (50 years+), around 5 more hectares of vineyards under management and a new planting of 3 hectares, finished in 2004.

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Quinta do Vallado, D.O.C. Douro

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. Douro

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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Quinta do Vale Meão, D.O.C. Douro

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 Olazabal and his son 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.

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Luis Pato, Vinho Regional Beiras

Luís Pato wine is the result of the association of two traditional families from Bairrada, the Pato family and the Melo Campos family. At the Quinta do Ribeirinho (Ribeirinho Estate, 72 ha) the documents reveal that wine has been in production since the 18th century. Vine husbandry and winemaking are the preserve of the eponymous Senor Luis Pato. Pato became the first producer-bottler after the demarcation of D.O. Bairrada in the 1970s.

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Quinta do Pellada, D.O.C. Dão

Alvaro Castro has two Quintas. Saes is where he lives and the winery is located. But the more dramatic is Pellada, in the region of Sierra d'Estrella (mountains in the stars), is situated on a hillside with wonderful views and a fantastic old building that he's restoring from a semi-ruined state.

Alvaro Castro inherited the historic Pelleda winery in 1980, but the property dates to 1570. Alvaro and his daughter are now full-time on the estate, after a family absence from winemaking of two generations. Both Qunitas are planted to more than 30 indigenous Portuguese grape varieties such as Alfrocheiro, Jaen (Mencia in Spain), Touriga Nacional, and Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo). Soils are granitic, with either clay or sand base.

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