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The new Douro: part 8
Quinta do Vale Dona Maria

Lemos & van Zeller Lda, Quinta do Vale Dona Maria, Apartado 12, 5085-000 Pinhão, Portugal  Tel: +351-254 732 375 Fax: +351-234 731 591
E-mail: cvanzeller@mail.telepac.pt

Cristiano van Zeller has a long history in the Douro. He was manager and co-owner of Quinta do Noval, but left in 1993. Two years later he purchased the first of his own vineyard (Quinta de Vale da Mina), and a year later in 1996 he took control of Quinta do Vale Dona Maria, which had been in his wife Joana’s family for a long time but had been leased out. This old quinta consists of 15 hectares of vineyard in the Rio Torto valley with a south-south east exposure in the Cima Corgo region of the Douro. It’s a raggedy old vineyard with the odd gap here and there, and a mixed planting of fabulous old vine varieties (a view from the vineyard is pictured).

First release was of the Vale D. Maria table wine was 1996, although Van Zeller had only been in control of the very latter stages of the growing season. The wine was good, though, and some made its way to Oddbins in the UK – this was one of the first new wave Douro table wines I remember trying (a tasting note is here). Just 2400 bottles of this ‘experiment’, made from grapes treaded in lagares was brought on the market, and an LBV which had undergone elevage at Niepoort was also released. Spurred on by the positive response, Van Zeller made a 10-year plan for the renovation and repair of the quinta, and the total vineyard area is projected to reach 20 hectares in the future. Subsequent vintages have all been strong.

The old lagares have been renovated and all the red wines are foot-trodden and macerated in lagares before temperature-controlled fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Robotic lagares were introduced in 2004. Elevage is almost exclusively in French oak for 15–24 months. Sandra Tavares (now also of Pintas and Chocopalha) is winemaker here. Vale D. Maria is emerging as one of the true stars: the wines are ripe, with lovely elegance and supple tannins. They’re big, tending a little to new world in style, but with lots of Douro character. They aren’t 20 year wines, but are absolutely delicious on release and offer some of the best value of all the front-ranking Douro reds, at under £15 a bottle.

Quinta do Vale D. Maria 2001
Ripe, intense, spicy nose with vivid fruit. Quite pure and expressive. The palate displays lovely pure, elegant ripe fruit: juicy and rich with smooth spicy tannins. The structure is really appealing: modern but elegant. Very good/excellent 94/100

Quinta do Vale D. Maria 2002
Slightly more savoury and elegant than the ripe 2003, with a lovely spicy intensity to the nose along with red berry and black cherry fruit. The palate is rich, dense and spicy with a tarry edge. Quite tannic with a fair bit of spicy oak. Nice definition and good structure. Fantastic for the vintage. Very good/excellent 93/100

Quinta do Vale D. Maria 2003 (cask sample)
Dark colour. Lovely dense, spicy, sweet rich fruit on the nose. Big but still quite elegant. Some toasty, tarry oak notes. The palate is very rich and forward, tending towards new world in style, but with fantastic fruit quality. Very good/excellent 93/100  

Quinta do Vale D. Maria LBV 1999
Nice savoury, spicy nose with good definition. The palate is open with some soft, sweet spicy character. Herby, spicy finish with some tannin. Tasty. Very good/excellent 90/100

Quinta do Vale D. Maria Reserve Port
A blend of 2000 and 2001. Dense, spicy liquoricey nose with sweet fruit. Sweet bold palate showing good concentration and a nice, savoury, spicy finish. Good structure here. Very good+ 89/100

Quinta do Vale D. Maria Vintage Port 2001
Inky dark red/black colour. Deep brooding nose showing dark fruits and a firm spiciness. The palate shows sweet, dense, herby fruit. Very firm and a  bit closed at the moment. Powerful, concentrated but not showy. Very good/excellent 90(+)/100

Quinta do Vale D. Maria Vintage Port 2002 (cask sample)
Harvested after the rain, 5200 litres made. Dark colour. Amazingly perfumed nose showing lush ripe blackcurrant fruit. Remarkably fruity. The palate shows more lush, open fuit with some tannin and lots of sweetness. There's a savoury kick and a bit of hollowness in the middle of the palate, but amazingly forward fruit quality. Unusual. Very good/excellent 90/100

Availability in the UK: Corney & Barrow, Bibendum, Tanners, Wine Society, Lay & Wheeler (among others) 

see also: earlier report (June 2002) of Quinta do Vale D Maria

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