Friday, November 28, 2008

A Reportage on Douro wines (2): Quinta do Crasto - Quinta do Infantado - Niepoort

It's day 2 of my travel around the Douro wine region and the day started rather early, since I had to reach Quinta do Crasto on the right bank of the Douro river and I had a vague idea of how long it would take from Regua.

Actually, Quinta do Crasto is visible a few kilometres from Regua from the road running on the left bank of the river, a fantastic Quinta dominating the panorama over the Douro Valley, but this does not mean that it only takes minutes from regua, because there is no direct road on the right bank.

Finally the road proved to be much longer than expected, with a long detour that takes largely more than one hour on a winding road. However, the panorama of the hills was so beautiful that it simply looked like the perfect introduction to what would be a very stimulating day.

Quinta do Crasto is a very elegant quinta owned by the Roquette family who occasionally also lives in a beautiful historical house dominating the Douro Valley.

The Quinta started to self-marketing his wines rather recently, in 1994, but the investments of Jorge Roquette since the 1980's in the vyneyards and in the cellar produced important results. The wines that are produced with the 130 hectares of Quinta do Crasto have acquired great reputation and are largely praised.

While most of the red wines (vinhos de mesa) come from the vineyards around the quinta, the grapes for the port wines come from another property more eastern in the Douro Valley. The vineyards include both very old vines (some 90 years old) planted with a large number of grape varieties altogether (like in the rest of Douro) and an important part of vines planted in the 1980's (Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Cão and Touriga Francesa) where grape varieties are separated and which allow also for separated vinification.

Manuel Lobo, enologist of the Quinta for the red wines (Tomas Roquette is responsible for port wines) was my guide through the vineyards and the cellar. The main body of the cellar also includes the old granite lagares used for the maceration of the grapes for port wines and occupies a re-organised old fabric that keeps beautiful old azulejos (the typical Portuguese ceramic tilework that you find often in Portuguese old houses).

I had the opportunity to taste some of the wines of Quinta do Crasto:

  • Crasto 2007. this wine comes from the newly planted vineyards and includes several grape varieties. It is a wine which shows a good freshness on the palate combined with a good tannic presence and some black fruit flavor. About 500.000 bottles produced annually.
  • Quinta do Crasto Reserve Old Vines 2006. It is a wine produced from the oldest vineyards of the Quinta, including a large number of grape varieties (>25). After fermentation it ages for 18 months in French oak barrels of 225lt. It reveals some intense black fruit flavour combined with tobacco, while on the palate it shows already some soft and round tannins and a good structure and long persistence. About 80.000 bottles produced annually.
  • Xisto 2005. This wine is the result of a joint venture between Roquette and Jean-Michel Cazes of Chateau Lynch-Bages. It has a clear dominance of Touriga Nacional with part of Touriga Franca and Tinta Roriz and comes from 25 years old vines. The wine is dominated by some red fruit, but the taste appears to be rather closed at the moment.
  • Quinta do Crasto Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) 2002. I appreciated very much this LBV that has a very good elegance and persistence. A very well made port.

Quinta do Infantado

My second visit of the day was a few kilometres away from Quinta do Crasto, in the direction of Pinhao. Coming from Quinta do Crasto, one notes clearly the difference in style.

First of all I had some difficulties in finding my way to the Quinta do Infantado ( tel. +351-254 738 020), since no clear signs indicate it and it is not located on the main road, but finally I reached my destination through a narrow steep road.

When coming there, the order, perfect organisation and sense of grandeur of Quinta do Crasto was a striking contrast with the slight decadence of Quinta do Infantado, which gives a sense of being in the good old times of wine growing and not in the sometimes too perfect and aseptyc world of modern winemaking.

A group of "pisadores" (foot threaders) worked with continuity and relax in a room including five lagares filled with fermenting grapes. I felt reassured by such a timeless image.

After having spent some time walking around I found my way to the offices area, where an immense room overlook the valley in front. There I met Joao Roseira, and it would be a very rewarding visit also due to the personality of Joao, an open and passionate person who enjoys living in the Douro but also recognises the difficulty of wine growing there and who would share openly his views on this world.

Quinta do Infantado has been owned by the Roseira family for more than a century and is mostly focusing on port wines, with a very large of port wines of great character. They first started bottling and seling their port in the estate in 1979, mostly due to the organisation of port market until the '80s, characterised by the monopoly of the shippers of the city of Gaia that maintain the exclusive right of export until 1986. They only produce port and red wines using the grapes of their 46 hectares and based largely traditional techniques such as foot threading, long maceration and ageing in large oak barrel and "toneis" (smaller wooden barrels).

Joao stressed that a key aspect of the philosophy of the quinta is to leave the greapes for port wine to ferment longer so that there is less residual sugar and more natural alcohol, which is then leaving a less part for wine brandy added. As I experienced in the tasting of the whole range of port wines, the results are some very enjoyable port, easier to drink and with a sense of freshness that is sometimes lacking in other ports, but at the same time rich in fruits and complexity.

  • White port. The quinta produces a single dry white port, coming for four grape varieties. I enjoyed very much this dryier version of white port.
  • Ruby port. The first port of the brand is a very good introduction to the philosophy of the Quinta. Only 15% of brandy added during fermentation and a port that can be drunk like a red wine. Very pleasant and very far from a standard ruby.
  • Reserva. This port is made from a single undeclared vintage which results in a very good, balanced and rich wine that anticipates the vintage
  • Tawny 10 anos (ten years). A spectacular example of aged tawny. An amber colour introduces to expressive flavors of flowers, nuts and black fruits. The taste is dominated by an impressive elegance and a long finish.
  • Vintage 2003. It is always difficult to evaluate a new vintage, because of usual strong tannic character and deep fruit expression of new vintages. The 2003 vintage of Quinta do Infantado surprised me for its readiness in the immediate while keeping the capacity for long ageing. A great achievement.
  • Quinta do Infantado 2006. This is the only dry red produced by the Quinta. Most of the wine after foot threading and maceration is aged in stainless steel and part of it in toneis of second and third passage. The result is a pleasant wine with moderate complexity.


After lunch, the moment came to take the direction of Quinta de Napoles (photo taken from the Niepoort website), tha main headquarters of Niepoort property in the Douro. Quinta de Napoles is located on Rio Tedo, a tributary of Douro river, and has recently been entirely re-built in order to better suit the expansion of the production of Niepoort of red and white wines in the Douro. I was welcome at my arrival by Dirk van der Niepoort, who is unanimously considered as the major actor in the new wave of Douro wines and has largely contributed to the increasing visibility of Portuguese wines all around the world.

Dirk comes from a dinasty of one of the most famous port wine shippers, Niepoort, a family of Dutch origin that has since 1842 been producing outstanding port. However, he is the first in the family who has really started to produce wines, when he acquired in 1987 Quinta de napoles and the Quinta do Carril in the Douro Valley and started producing red and white wines.

Dirk guided me through the impressive new quinta, magnificently overlooking the Rio Tedo, organised in different floors according to the phase of production and with a sober modern concrete walls and a number of beutifully coloured rooms where the wines are resting in the barrels.

Dirk is a real pleasure to talk with, his knowledge about wines is so comprehensive that during the discussion we move from the discussion on his projects and on his view on Douro wines to a view on Italian wines and anecdotes on his meeting with Italian producers (extremely funny was when I compared him to the Italian innovative producer Josko Gravner and Dirk told me that when he first wanted to visit him Josko refused the meeting but Dirk went anyway and they enjoyed very much each other even if disagreeing on a lot of points).

What is so enjoying about this man is his permanent research and passion for experimenting. During the visit to the installations of the quinta we tasted to a large number of barrels when the wine was in the fermentation phase and we tried both the major wines of the Quinta (Batuta, Redoma..) and some experiments that Dirk is running and that most likely will not be bottled and enjoy the lucky persons coming to the quinta. I have to say that among those to-be wines I found an enormous potential coming not only from the most renown ones but also from the "experiments", some of which I hope to be able to taste in the future.

Dirk is not only a great winemaker, as I had the opportunity to discover later at night in the large dinner room of the quinta, but also an excellent cook, since he perfectly managed a large size fish that he served to a small group of friends for a celebration of the end of the harvest. Sitting besides me at dinner was a young Douro winemaker, Jorge Moreira, who is running "Poeira" (very enjoyable his Poeira red with deep black fruits, spicey and a good long finish) and is enologist at Quinta de la Rosa. The dinner was particularly pleasant as Dirk kept bringing wines in decanters and the step by step discovery stimulated a discussion on various wine areas (a non exaustive list of wines opened includes an opening Batart-Montrachet of Mounier, a great Rioja of 1966, a classic Gruaud-Larose of 1979, a Vosne-Romanee of La Romanee Conti, a Madeira of 1876).

A great ending of a very instructive day.

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