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The New Douro

by Tom Cannavan, 10/2011

There is absolutely no doubt that the Douro Valley, which runs east from the city of Oporto to the Spanish border, is home to many of Portugal's most exciting table wines. Traditionally these vineyards where the source of grapes for the Port wine industry, but over the past couple of decades a table wine revolution has seen many established Port houses focus equally on table wine production, to be joined by many dedicate table wine producers, exploiting the slate soils and fantastic old vine material here to make distinctive, high quality wines.

One of the secrets to that quality is the preponderance of old vineyards growing indigenous grape varieties, often in 'field blends' - ancient mixed vineyards where different varieties were planted together. Though most newer plantings are being done in single variety blocks, many find the old field blends have a magic about them where the blending is already done before the grapes reach the winery, and where nature had persuaded vines of different varieties to bud, flower, grow and mature together. The vineyards of Quinta do Romaneira pictured below show the classical terraces of the steep-sided valley (click on photo for a larger version).

romaneira

Originally the new breed of table wines were sourced from established Port vineyards, but many winemakers are now seeking specific table wine sites near the top of the hills, or on the cooler, north-facing slopes that were once regarded as second rate. These allow the production of both white wines and reds with a more cool-climate character rather than the powerful, rich and tannic wines made from the sun-baked lower slopes. Though there is some Syrah and other international fruit in the valley, the vast majority of planting is with traditional varieties Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Spain's Tempranillo), Tinta Amarela, Tinta Barocca, Tinta Cao and Touriga Francesa. There's been a revival of planting of old varieties like Bastardo and Sousão too, and for white wines, Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato, and Viosinho.

Many of the Douro's best producers come together under the umbrella of 'The New Douro' to pour their wines for the UK trade and press, bringing their roadshow to the UK for the past few years. The notes that follow are from the 2011 event, which offered proof positive that this is one of Portugal's top wine regions. Its greatest wines compete with the best in the world.

the producers and wines

Symington

Chryseia Altano Reserva 2008
Lovely nose in this organically grown wine from the Symington's own vineyards. Meaty and cherry fruit, lovely creamy quality to the oak, spicy and moreish if a little closed at this stage. 88/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Tuella 2008
Cherry ripe and plum fruit, lots of smooth, elegant fruit and quite crisp. The palate has very fine tannins and searing acidity: great thrust and tang, if a little tough and spicy. 87/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Prats+Symington Post Scriptum 2008
Elegant blue/black fruit quality. Nice little violet and floral lift, lots of crunch and vivacity. The palate is beautifully decisive. Real length and silky but decisive. 91/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Prazo de Roriz 2008
Schisty, deep, powerful fruit and tannin, lots of muscularity though perhaps lacks a little finesse. 86/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Prats+Symington Chryseia 2008
Just adds another layer of beautiful coffee and chocolate depth, but ripe, pure fruit sweetness too. The palate has an elegant, soft fleshiness too, the tannins super fine and the balance exquisite. This speaks of the Douro grapes and heat and dust of the terroir, but with wonderful finesse, polish and freshness. 94/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Churchill's Estates

Churchill's Estates Douro 2008
Very nice blue-black fruit crunchiness on the nose, a little schisty, slatey character. The palate has lovely sweetness too, finishing with a fine edge of acidity and very juicy fruit. Delicious. 88/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Churchill's Estates Touriga Nacional Douro 2008
Plenty of oak at this stage, and quite a nice gamy character from the Touriga. A really creamy sweetness to the fruit and then decisive, juicy acidity pushes through over chalky, fine tannins. 92/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Churchill's Estates Reserva Douro 2007
There's a biscuity toasty to this, some very soft, sweet fruit and quite mellow, perhaps lacks a bit of flesh on the finish, but lovely quality. 91/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Lavradores de Feitoria

Lavradores de Feitoria 2008
Bright, primary, very attractive fruit with plenty of sweetness and a silky refinement to the tannins. 87/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Lavradores de Feitoria, Três Bagos 2008
More schisty and earthy, the red fruits still coming through. The palate has a bright focus, with plenty of fresh, cherry acidity. 87/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta da Costa 2008
Much firmer, more solid black fruit. Quite meaty, with a much firmer tannin structure: tight, slightly impenetrable at this stage, but lovely definition and length. A structured wine for ageing. 91/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Lavradores de Feitoria, Meruge 2008
I like the nose on this, with its hints of green, slightly less ripe aromatics and smoky edge to the fruit. I love the strawberry and redcurrant softness to the fruit, and the silky, coffee bean oak and sweet, supple tannins adding a sweet polish. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Niepoort

charme Niepoort Drink Me 2008
Fine, schisty, pure and easy drinking. Delicious, lip smacking stuff. 87/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Niepoort Vertente 2008
Slightly greener tinge to this, with a lifted, herb and briar note and very clean, pure black fruit. Crunchy fresh fruit. 88/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Niepoort Redoma Tinto 2008
Lovely nose, very tight, very fine, lots of tightly wound structure with crisp, beautifully delineated fruit. Lots of tight, sinewy with a long, pure finish that suggests huge future potential. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Niepoort Batuta 2008
Lovely undertow of espresso to the tight, creamy cherry fruit. The palate has great concentration, the firm structure broadening out slightly and adding lots of sweet, plummy depth. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Niepoort Charme 2008
Dirk Niepoort's mind-bending trick of turning the Douro into Musigny before your very eyes (and nose and mouth). Soft, sweet, seductively earthy and leafy with sweet mouth filling fruit, coffee bean and damp earth underpinning and fabulously seductive harmony. Genius. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Ramos Pinto

Ramos Pinto Duas Quintas Reserva Red 2008
Big, ripe, rich, very coffee-edged and slick fruit, lots of density and concentration here, lovely essence of Douro fruit in its essential form. Thick, chocolate rich tannins and lovely weight and power. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Ramos Pinto Collection 2008
Cedary and almost Bordeaux-like, with subtle earthiness and delightfully fragrant, lighter tones. The palate has that lean, savoury, grippy edge with lots of. Lean, savoury and food-friendly definition. 91/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta do Crasto

Quinta do Crasto Superior 2008
Includes some new planted Sousão. 12 months in oak. Oak beautifully integrated, with a coffee and very nice fruit concentration. Lovely creamy fruit concentration, with lovely purity to the fruit and plenty of silky, ripe and refined tannin. Very nice wine with fantastic balance. 92/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta da Gaivosa

abandonado Quinta da Gaivosa Vale da Raposa Touriga Nacional 2008
Very nice nose, flooded with sweet, cherry and mint ripeness and with a lovely cedary quality. The fruit is very tight, very ripe and chewy with lots of deep mid-palate concentration. The tannins are deliciously chewy and the chocolate-rich finish flecked with tobacco warmth is delicious. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta da Gaivosa Red 2008
This has a nice schisty quality, with a very blue-black depth to the fruit. There's a touch of minerality here too, and a very juicy structure. The oak is quite powerful at this stage, but there is great fleshy depth. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta da Gaivosa Red 2000
Delightful stuff, lovely silky tannins and such great resolution. Soft but also has that wonderful gamy quality and tight, sinewy finish with great backbone. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta da Gaivosa Abandonado red 2008
Fantastically wild, floral and gamy nose, lots of kirsch and lifted herbal notes. Fantastic exotic spice, the coffee and exotic spice of the oak but the fruit quality. Fabulous but may not be released. 94/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta do Vale Meão

Quinta do Vale Meão Douro 2008
Pure, creamy and dense black fruit from the original Barca Velha vineyards. Lots of oak on this, prominent at present. Very tight, but the tight, wonderfully focused and creamy fruit is constrained by the pure, blue/black finesse of the tannins. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta do Vale Meão Meandro 2008
Tight, schisty, juicy black fruit. Lots of grip and lots of clear, clean, pure fruit. Love the hint of meatiness and the tight, pure, cherry acidity and tannin. Really very pure and elegant. 92/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta de la Rosa

Quinta de la Rosa Passagem white 2009
Intense minerality here, a fantastic, searing core of salty lemon and dry, apple fruit, but the structure tantalising with very firm acids and that stony, mineral backbone but lovely complexity. 90/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta de la Rosa Douro Tinto Estate 2008
Very nice, bright, lovely focus to the fruit with bright cherry and crisp, crunchy and vibrant fruit. Lovely tannin structure, with a liquorice intensity and lovely freshness and balance. 91/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta de la Rosa La Rosa Reserve 2008
More concentration and more earthy and smoky oak, lots of gamy character, but the silky, dry, savoury and spicy quality is delightful. This has great charcoally definition, a big dour cherry and orange acidity melding with some coffee bean oak on the finish. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta de la Rosa Passagem 2007
Some sweet earth and gently leafy notes. The sheer, pure, crisp-edged purity of the fruit is magnificent. Fabulous edge of concentration and savoury, graphite-like tannins and a long, long finish. 94/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Poeira

Poeira Pó de Poeira red 2008
Lovely nose, the fine, refined red fruit and edgy, sinewy, bold fruit powering through. There is lovely edge of definition to this, with some tobacco and spice and a very firm charcoal edge. Lovely freshness here. 90/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Poeira 2008
A ripe, pure, but slightly leafy nose, with immediately tight, sinewy structure. The palate has lots juicy fruit, but it is bold and grippy, with chewy, deep, sinewy mouth-feel and plenty of dramatically dark fruit. Great presence here: masses of fragrant cedary oak, but the fruit retains that floral lift too. Lovely. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta do Vallado

vallado Quinta do Vallado Sousão Douro Red 2008
Fascinating, lifted, herbal and aromatic nose, intense blue black fruit. Laser-like focus, very tight, very sinewy, with dry tannins but a chocolaty substance developing. 92/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta do Vallado Touriga Nacional Douro Red 2008
Lifted, violet notes, the aromatics of the Touriga Nacional beautifully captured. A very ripe black cherry fruit beneath. Tight, dry, sinewy tannins, lots of grip and structure. Maybe a touch more charming than the Sousão, a touch too chocolaty and oaky though? 91/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta do Vallado Reserva Field Blend 2008
Roses and floral notes lift from the glass, with soaring, kirsch-like character. Tight, glossy fruit, the tightly-wound, sinewy drama of the deep fruit and tannins adding real meaty substance. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta do Vallado Adelaide Douro Red 2008
A fragrant elegance to the obvious concentration of black fruit here. Very sweetly focused, the coffee bean and cassis fruit packed into the mid palate. Huge, impressive length, the tannins super silky and naturally concentrated. Great sweetness to the fruit. 94/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Van Zeller/Quinta Vale Donna Maria

Van Zeller Rufo 2008 Douro Red
Nice fruit, very pleasantly balanced and has a sweet silky finesse. 90/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Van Zeller 2008 Reserva Douro Red
Great fruit density here, fantastic concentration and density, but retains that floral edge of lightness. Fabulous stuff. Chocolaty bite. 92/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta Vale Dona Maria Curriculum Vitae 2008 Douro Red
Gamy, huge, masses of personality. Fabulous sweet damp earth richness and flesh, lovely sweet fruit. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Pintas Wine & Soul

Pintas Wine & Soul, Guru Douro white 2009
Quite a lot of oak and nutty weight here, melon and dry apple beneath, and a fantastic minerality. Really tight, dry, pithy acidity and lovely clarity. Very delicious and fantastic structure to age. 93/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Pintas Character Douro red 2008
Lovely, sweet fruit based on the elegant, floral Touriga Franca. Elegant smoky and smooth palate, elegant tannins. The ripe, sweet fruit has a firm cherry edge and lots of precision in the finish. Long and comes to a lovely point in the finish. 92/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Pintas Douro red 2008
Single vineyard 70 year old field blend, made to age 10 to 15 years. Lovely charcoally concentration. Really elegant lift to the fruit, very fragrant incense like oak, lovely sweetness on the palate, with magical brightness to the acidity and very firm tannins, but the tight, ripe density of the fruit is superb. 95/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Sogrape

Sogrape, Callabriga Reserva Douro Red 2008
Tight, sinewy, lots of freshness to the fruit with a lovely cut of firm tannin and plum skin, roughening acidity. 91/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

Quinta de Macedos

Quinta de Macedos 2008
A barrel sample with lovely composure and immediate cedary finesse. The fruit quality is delicious, with masses of creamy ripeness but edged with a love floral and tight, sinewy, chewy tannin structure. Terrific spice and sinewy structure. Good potential. 92/100. See all stockists on wine-searcher.com

See all Douro table wines listed on wine-searcher.com