In the Douro: Niepoort

Niepoort's Quinta do Nápoles

Niepoort’s Quinta do Nápoles

Next stop on the Douro trip: Niepoort.


It was a real pleasure to spend a few days at Quinta do Nápoles with one of my favourite people in the world of wine, Dirk Niepoort. Dirk picks early, so when we visited harvest, this year a little later in the Douro, was well underway, with the bulk of the grapes about to arrive.

Quinta do Carril

Quinta do Carril

During our time at Nápoles we tried quite a few Niepoort wines, as well as many non Niepoort wines. Here are notes on the Niepoort Douro wines.



Niepoort Diálogo Branco 2015 Douro, Portugal
20% oak, 80% stainless. The oaked portion is wine that doesn’t make Redoma. Very fresh and pithy with bright lemons and herbs. Vivid and brisk with good acidity. Linear and refreshing with nice presence. 89/100

Niepoort Redoma Branco 2015 Douro, Portugal
12.5% alcohol. Linear, pithy and quite focused with lovely bright pithy, slightly herb-tinged fruit. It’s lemony with some white peach, fennel and a hint of mint, as well as a bit of spicy cedary oak in the background. Tight-wound and quite dense, this needs some time to open out. 92/100

Niepoort Redoma Branco Reserva 2015 Douro, Portugal
12.5% alcohol. Nutty, linear and vital with tightwound citrussy fruit. There’s a lovely lemon oil note here lurking above with some minerals and herbs. Lovely citrus core to the wine. Has great concentration and presence with good acidity, and it should age beautifully. There’s some cedary spicy oak here, too. 94/100

Niepoort Coche 2014 Douro, Portugal
Concentrated, linear, fresh and citrussy. Fine with incredible acidity and an amazing linear personality. Very fine and expressive with lovely mineral notes. There’s a touch of sweet pear and white peach fruit, together with lovely mineral framing. Such an expressive wine. 95/100

Niepoort Coche 2015 Douro, Portugal (cask sample)
Very fresh with lemons, and a pure intense mineral character. Has some ripe pear and white peach notes but there’s a lovely citrus drive and a hint of nuttiness around the edges. Lovely precision here and a bit of pithiness, too. 94-96/100

Niepoort Redoma Rosé 2015 Douro, Portugal
12% alcohol. Pale salmon pink in colour. Fresh with nice acidity and clean, slightly creamy, spicy, vanilla-edged fresh cherry and pear fruit. Nice spiciness. Very fresh and detailed with lovely personality. Fine and gastronomic. 89/100


Niepoort Redoma Tinto 2014 Douro, Portugal
Pure, focused raspberry and cherry fruit. Has freshness and grip. Structured and quite fine with red cherries and raspberries. Fresh and delicious. 94/100

Niepoort Redoma Tinto 1991 Douro, Portugal
Another chance to look at the first official Redoma. Spicy, vivid red fruits and herbs on the nose. The palate is vivid, fresh, peppery and juicy with detailed red fruits, and raspberries and cherries. Nicely linear and focused with some elegance. 94/100

Niepoort Redoma Tinto 1996 Douro, Portugal
Fine, spicy and expressive with red cherries, spices and herbs. Lovely raspberry and redcurrants here. Juicy and focused with good acidity. So fresh in style with some grip still. 93/100\

Charme fermenting in barrel

Charme fermenting in barrel

Niepoort Charme 2014 Douro, Portugal
The majority of the grapes for this come from Vale Mendiz, and there’s a lot of Tinta Roriz here. Sweet, supple and expressive with lovely red cherries, some redcurrants and herbs. So expressive and textured. Lovely balance to the red fruits with some spicy oak in the background. Youthful and primary with lovely personality and great potential for development. 94/100

Niepoort Vertente 2014 Douro, Portugal
Mainly from Covas de Douro. 40% our vineyards. Mix of different varieties. Vinified in stainless steel with a long maceration of around 3-4 weeks. Aged in French barrels, mainly Francois Freres for around 20 months. 30% new oak. Fresh and vivid with a bit of spiciness. Juicy and focused with good acidity, and fresh, bright raspberry and blackberry fruit. Some cherries too, with a spicy finish. Fruity and easy with nice structure, and a hint of new oak. 92/100

Niepoort Redoma 2014 Douro, Portugal
The vineyards are always the left side of the Douro river. Carril goes mostly to Robustus, but when it doesn’t it goes to Redoma. Old vines, around 100 years old. Blends of different varieties. Vinified in lagars, mainly, with stems. This wine isn’t a fresh, elegant wine, but something that is more Douro. Aged in big foudres of 5 or 10 000 litres for 22 months. Robust, dense, spicy and vivid with lovely black cherries and firm tannic structure. Powerful and intense with lovely richness allied to spicy freshness. Grippy and a bit wild. Lovely. 94/100

Niepoort Batuta 2014 Douro, Portugal
Right side of the river. Mainly Tinta Amarela and Rufete. Very old vineyards, up to 130 years old. Fermented in stainless steel with a long (two month) maceration with very little extraction, and then 22 months in Francois Freres French oak, 20% new. Refined, structured, fresh and precise with lovely black cherry and raspberry fruit. Nice cedary structure here. Refined with good acidity and nice focus. Fresh and concentrated with lovely precision. This is tightwound and refined, and needs some time. But it’s really serious. 95/100

Niepoort Batuta 2013 Douro, Portugal
Focused and fresh with lovely bright cherry and raspberry fruit. Nice acidity. Powerful but balanced with lovely freshness and focus. 94/100

Niepoort Batuta 2011 Douro, Portugal
Brooding, intense black fruits nose. Complex, rich, tightwound blackberry and black cherry fruit with some tannic grip. Grippy and dense with richness and structure. Needs time. 93/100


Niepoort Clos du Crappe 2013 Douro, Portugal
Remarkable stuff. There’s some spicy reduction here but it’s nicely integrated into the smooth, quite elegant juicy red cherry fruit. Very interesting and detailed with some grip on the finish. 93/100

Niepoort Robustus 2009 Douro, Portugal
Comes from old vineyards, mainly Carril. ‘It’s not easy to make Robustus,’ says Carlos. ‘It’s difficult to keep the wine so long in old oak.’ This is the next release, and the one after this will be the 2012 or 2013. Vinified in oak and lagares, aged four years in big foudres. A warm vintage, but a big selection allowed them to keep the style. Brooding slightly earthy black fruits with some undergrowth and spice notes. Smoke, spices, blood and herbs. Some pepper, too. Concentrated palate has a hint of mint and spice. Dense and peppery with real intensity and structure. Lovely spicy wildness and a core of black fruits. It’s the essence of the Douro. 96/100

Niepoort Robustus 2008 Douro, Portugal
Complex, dense, focused and brooding with a hint of mint and lovely definition. Complex tightwound blackcurrant and black cherry fruit with a dry, tannic, slightly salty finish. This has a slightly Barolo-like character with lots of fruit but also firm structure and good acidity. 96/100

Niepoort Turris 2013 Douro, Portugal
The first edition was 2012. ‘This is the top of the top,’ says Carlos Raposa. ‘It comes from the oldest vineyard we know in the Douro that’s 130 years old.’ Some of this wine becomes Turris and the rest is going to Batuta. It’s on the right side of the river. Vinified Batuta style in a foudre of 1000 litres. Old foudres from the Mosel. Amazingly fresh and elegant with lovely pure black cherry fruit with some vital, iron, blood and mineral notes. This has such amazing elegance and presence with lovely sanguine character. The acidity is well integrated and there’s a lovely compactness, purity and floral quality to the red fruits. There’s a real spicy, tamed-wild character. Thrilling. 97/100

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Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay 2015 Nelson, New Zealand

neudorf moutere

I have a thing for Kiwi Chardonnay. Its day will come. It doesn’t currently get the respect it deserves, but with wines like these from Neudorf, and the stunning wines of Kumeu River and others, things will change.

Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay 2015 Nelson, New Zealand
14% alcohol. Complex, intense lemon and grapefruit with some rich pear notes, as well as subtle mealiness. There’s spicy, mineral notes as well as freshness, with a lemony core. This wine walks the tightrope between richness and precision really well. It’s so pure with a vital tension, and a bit of spice on the finish. Lots of potential for development here. 94/100

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Interesting wines from Bosman Family Vineyards with Corlea Fourie

bosman optenhorst chenin

Corlea Fourie is the winemaker behind Bosman Family Vineyards, based in the Wellington region of South Africa. I caught up with her to taste some interesting new releases, including the fabulous Optenhorst Chenin Blanc, made from vines planted in 1952.

Bosman Fides 2013 Wellington, South Africa
This is a skin-fermented Grenache Blanc. This particular vintage had 8 weeks skin contact, but this differs with the year. 30% is then aged in Russian oak; the rest is unoaked. Yellow in colour. Fresh, with a distinctive nose of mint and fennel, and nice mineral notes. Very pretty and expressive with freshness and grip, and a nice savoury twist. 92/100

Bosman Optenhorst Chenin Blanc 2014 Wellington, South Africa
This is a single vineyard, planted in 1952, with bush vines. This year it has been repackaged, and also a portion is fermented in concrete tanks (previously, it had all been oak aged). ‘We’ve always wanted to say more about the vineyard than about the oak,’ says Corlea Fourie. This has lovely textured pear and lemon fruit with real elegance and a subtle creamy hint. It’s mineral with freshness and purity. So textural. 94/100

bosman twyfeling

Bosman Twyfeling 2015 Wellington, South Africa
Juicy and fresh with fine, expressive raspberry and red cherry fruit. Textural and direct with fresh fruit and an expressive personality. Fine-grained tannins. Bright and elegant at the same time. 93/100

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Domaine des Ormes Saumur 2014: an amazing value Loire red


Occasionally I taste a wine with no idea of where it’s sourced from or how much it costs. This is one of those wines, and when I found out it was an inexpensive supermarket wine, I was stunned. So I tasted it again, from a bottle that had been open two days, and it was still lovely. So this is a hearty recommendation, if you have any love for Loire reds. I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but when they are good they are thrilling, life-enhancing wines. And this is stunning value for money.

Domaine des Ormes Saumur 2014 Loire. France 
13% alcohol. This co-operative made wine (Vignerons de Saumur) is from Pascal and François Champion. From one block, and mostly Cabernet Franc, on a clay, chalk, sandstone soil. Floral, aromatic black cherry, herb and forest floor nose. The concentrated palate shows sweet, textured, multilayered black fruits with green herb and pepper notes. Generous, a bit grippy, slightly sappy and beautifully balanced. Essence of Loire Cabernet Franc. 92/100 (£7.49 Co-op)

We have the wrong map: how false directions impede our search for happiness

happiness map

A while ago I posted on happiness, and in the short essay I mentioned that one reason people might be unhappy is that they have false beliefs about how happiness might be attained.

I am walking along a London street. I am approached by a tourist. She speaks good English, but they are clearly lost. I’m happy to help and I ask her to pass me her map, so that I can point out where she is. [This would be a helpful start.] Then I can show her the best way to her destination. She hands me the map and I start to look at it. But there’s something wrong: some of the parts of the map are accurate, but others are clearly wrong. ‘This map is wrong,’ I point out gently. ‘In fact, it’s completely useless: it’s just going to keep getting you lost. You need to get a new map.’

She looks surprised. ‘It’s OK she says. ‘I’ve had this map a long time, and it’s dear to me. I don’t want to change it.’

‘But doesn’t it keep getting you lost?’

‘Yes, often. But it’s my map. So could you at least point out where I am on it, and I’ll try my best from there.’

I decide that there’s nothing I can really do to help, so I point out where she is, once again urging her to consider changing the map.

So it is with our ‘map’ to happiness. We each have our own map, which we use to guide us through life. Some of it is written by our experience, and some is passed on to us by our family background. Other bits – usually quite substantial – are written on it by the cultural values we pick up from the societies we live in and the social groups we belong to. Films, books, broadcast media and the advertising industry also write our maps. And, like the London tourist, we have maps that simply don’t work when it comes to making us happy. Yet we are loath to discard these faulty maps. We are familiar with them, and we cling to them, resisting any opportunities to reform them.

If we are to progress to happiness, we must discard these maps and allow fresh ones to be written. There are large obstacles in the way of this. First, we must admit that we can be wrong, and that we often are. Second, we must recognize where our current beliefs come from, and the degree to which they have been absorbed from the unreliable source of our culture. We need to cling less hard to our current beliefs and be open-minded and brave enough to assess them honestly.

One exercise I find healthy is to go somewhere busy, buy a drink, and sit and watch people going past. Then practice ‘sonder’ – this is the term used to describe the fact that the people around you all have lives that are as real and full and detailed and complicated as your own. All those people walking past. Imagine what is going on in their lives. How differently they might see the world that you and they are passing through. This is a helpful first step in putting our map down. To put our map down requires that we recognize that we are part of something bigger, and while we certainly matter, we are not at the centre of the world. We need to step aside from our ego that puts us in the middle of everything, and somehow look at ourselves from a distance.

In the Douro: Vallado

Francisco Ferreira

Francisco Ferreira

After visiting Vallado’s property in the Douro Superior earlier in the week, it was time to visit the original Quinta, which is on the border of the Baixo and Cima Corgo subregions. Vallado has some lovely old vineyards, and we tasted the whites at the top of the hill with Francisco Ferreira, winemaker and co-owner. Francisco started here when he was in his mid-20s, and together with his cousin João Ribeiro, has done a great job in developing the Vallado table wine portfolio, with some consulting help from Xito Olazabal of Vale Meão.


Both Francisco and João are direct descendants of the famous Dona Antonio Adelaide Ferreira: they’re the sixth generation.



The basic Vallado red is a really good value introduction to the Douro. We tried a couple of vintages.

Vallado Tinto 2011 Douro, Portugal
80% young vineyards, 20% 70 year old. About half Touriga Franca in this blend. 200 000 bottles. Sweet, fresh raspberry jam nose with some black cherry. Perfumed and attractive. Lovely fresh black fruits palate with a bit of grip. Really attractive and balanced, and amazing considering that this sells in Portugal for 7.5€. 89/100

Vallado Tinto 2014 Douro, Portugal
Lovely floral black cherry and blackcurrant fruit here. This was a tricky vintage with harvest interrupted by rain. At the beginning the wines were a bit tannic, but this is looking like a really good vintage now. This has lovely fresh, supple, yet structured black fruits with pepper, meat and a lovely herbal twist. So drinkable and very fresh. 90/100



Things are taken up a notch with the single varietal wines, of which the Touriga Nacional and Sousão are particularly noteworthy. Sousão does really well here, but less well in the Douro Superior.

Quinta do Vallado Tinta Roriz 2013 Douro, Portugal
Last made in 2003. It’s a variety that can be a bit rustic here. This comes from a rented quinta in the Douro Superior, and it has 40% American oak. Fresh and vibrant but with sweet black fruits. Has some tar and spice from the oak, with a hint of vanilla. Very spicy and rich with roast coffee hints. Concentrated, dense and tannic, this is quite interesting but a bit primary right now. 91/100

Vallado Quinta do Orgal Douro Superior Organic Vineyards 2014 Douro, Portugal
This is 60% Touriga Nacional. 37% Touriga Franca and 3% Sousão, aged in older barrels. Fro three year old vines. Concentrated and intense with structured black cherry and raspberry fruit. Really dense with lovely black fruits and a nice floral edge. Lovely fruit intensity here. Primary but with potential. 93/100

Quinta do Vallado Touriga Nacional 2014 Douro, Portugal
Very fresh and floral with good concentration and a salty edge to the black fruits. Quite mineral and with some savouriness. Vivid and grippy with a pretty peppery, meaty edge to the lovely dense black cherry and olive core. 93/100


Quinta do Vallado Sousão 2014 Douro, Portugal
Vallado were the first to make a single varietal version of this grape in 2004. Very powerful with taut raspberry and red cherry fruit. Very bright and intense with good acidity. Made in a lagar, foot tread and then during fermentation extract only gently. Primary and intense with some herby notes. Intensely fresh, sappy and with very high acidity (7-9 g/litre normally). 94/100


The Reserva is from old vineyards, which are, as is normal for older Douro plots, planted with a mix of dozens of varieties. These old vines all look a bit beaten up, and vary widely in their appearance, but the results are excellent.

Quinta do Vallado Reserva Field Blend Tinto 2008 Douro, Portugal
Very old vineyards: schist soils, low vigour, high density so lots of competition, small bunches. Subtle spice and malt notes on the nose, with a hint of mint. Concentrated palate with herbs and spices and some lovely texture. Nice weight and combination of freshness and lushness with hints of dried meats, mint, herbs and warm spiciness. Grippy and structured with focus. Very stylish; beginning to develop nicely. 92/100

Quinta do Vallado Reserva Field Blend Tinto 2011 Douro, Portugal
20% Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, with the rest from very old vineyards. 18 months in 70% new French oak. Very pure, fresh and textured with powerful but silky tannic structure. Vivid, grippy black fruits here showing complex spice and cured meat notes. Broad but balanced with lovely focus. Stylish and complete, this has a massive potential. 93/100

Quinta do Vallado Reserva Field Blend Tinto 2014 Douro, Portugal
Just 5% newer vineyards, the rest very old. Less new oak, too. Amazingly fresh with lovely pure raspberry and cherry fruit. Stylish, vivid and juicy with lovely bright berries and cherries. Has good acidity and nice tannic structure. This is pretty serious stuff with a bright future, some herby hints, good acidity and lovely presence. 94/100

Quinta do Vallado Adelaide 2012 Douro, Portugal
Beautifully intense blackcurrant, blackberry and cherry nose with some spiciness. The palate shows great concentration with some minty, spicy freshness, firm tannins and good acidity. Real precision here. It’s taut, tannic and a bit backward, and needs some time. But it’s pretty serious stuff with great structure and intensity. 95/100

We also tried some cask samples of the impressive 2015s

Sousao 2015
Very inky, intense, vivid with high acidity and lovely tannins, but also lots of spicy oak. Amazing

Touriga Nacional from Orgal 2015
Incredibly aromatic and dense with really perfumed, pretty black fruits. Brilliantly intense.

Touriga Nacional, 20 year old vines, rented Douro Superior quinta
Pretty with lovely green-edged floral cherry fruit and lovely focused, high acid palate. Supple and pretty.

Old Vines 2015 (1)
Dense, structured, lovely fruit, nice complexity and exotic spices with really nice tannins.

Old Vines 2015 (2)
Dense and structured with good concentration and acidity, and real power. Quite backward.


Of late, Vallado have also been focusing on Port, and are building up good stocks of tawnies, as well as making very nice vintage.

Quinta do Vallado Vintage Port 2014 Douro, Portugal
Good concentration here with lovely, pretty black cherry fruit and nice spicy framing. Pure and quite lush with fine tannic structure and real purity. Fresh, juicy and lively. This is 100% old vineyards. Intriguing with nice purity and fine herby notes. Lovely wine. 93/100

Quinta do Vallado 10 Year Old Tawny Port NV Douro, Portugal
Lovely freshness with some cherry fruit and spicy raisin notes. Juicy and vivid with nice focus and purity. Fresh and complex, showing lovely balance. 93/100

Quinta do Vallado 30 Year Old Tawny Port NV Douro, Portugal
Pale coloured. Lovely mint and herb notes with fresh raisiny notes and pretty citrus fruits. Fine spicy notes here with real freshness. Marmalade, lemon curds and fine raisin and spice notes. So fresh and complex. 95/100


Vallado ABF NV Douro, Portugal
This is a wine from 1888, and it’s a follow-up from the Adelaide Tributa. It’s impossible to know that it’s the original wine, but from the analysis and the taste it’s clear that it’s a very old wine, and this is how it is sold. So complex and intense with cedar, spice, treacle, raisin and herb notes, with some mint and coffee notes, too. Very sweet but with amazing acidity and depth, and a savoury salty edge. So complex with freshness and a very long finish. Astonishingly intense and really beautiful. Profound. 96/100

Foot-treading grapes at Quinta de Vargellas, Douro


One of the remarkable things about Port wine is foot treading grapes. For top quality Port, it’s necessary to extract as much as possible from the skins as fast as possible, but also as gently as possible. The best way to do this is in shallow fermentation vessels called lagares, which are usually made of granite.




The reason the extraction needs to be fast is that the fermentation period is short: just a few days. Then the wine is combined with brandy while it still has lots of sugar left in it, and fermentation stops. It’s at this stage that the wine is separated from the skins.


At Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas, where the foot-treading here is taken place, human feet are used for the top Ports. They also have some robotic lagares, designed to emulate the foot-treading process, for less expensive Ports. Pictured above is David Guimeraens, Taylor’s chief winemaker, standing next to the keyboard player who provides the musical accompaniment.


The lagares are trodden for four hours in the evening. The first two hours is the cut, which is done in an orderly fashion and in silence. Then it’s liberdade: music begins and people dance around for another two hours in a celebratory mood. It’s a remarkable thing to experience.





In the Douro: Quinta do Crasto

Quinta do Crasto

Quinta do Crasto is one of the most beautiful properties in the Douro, perched on a steeply sloped promontory sticking out from the right bank of the Douro, in the heart of the Cima Corgo.


We parked our rental car in Pinhão and caught the train to Ferrão. It’s a 7 minute ride along the bank of the river; by car, it’s a tricky 25 minute journey through some scary roads that go up and down the hills and through the middle of Covas de Douro. At Pinhão station, one of the famous tile graphics shows Crasto as it used to be in the 19th Century (it’s labelled a Quinta at Ferrão), and later that day we were to ascend the vineyards on the hill behind, which have been developed by Crasto, to catch pretty much the same view.


The vineyards here are pretty special. As you look down at the property, towards the river, the steeply sloped terraces to the left flank of the Quinta are a special old block called Vinha Maria Theresa. It’s 4.7 hectares, and by later afternoon it’s in shade. There are 49 different varieties here, and they are harvested in three pickings. They know how many because they have done a research project in which each vine (28 000 of them) is geotagged, and then DNA is taken to identify them. This research project has thrown up a couple of previously unknown varieties. In good years, Maria Theresa is bottled separately, as is the 1.9 hectare old vine Vinha da Ponte block just up the hill.

Manuel Lobos, winemaker

Manuel Lobos, winemaker

Crasto has been an important player in the table wine revolution. David Baverstock, ex-pat Australian winemaker, was involved at the beginning (1994 was the first vintage of the table wine era here), and he played an important but often forgotten role in the beginnings of the modern table wine scene. He brought in fellow Aussie Dominic Morris as consultant, and then Dominic hired Susana Esteban to work alongside him. The current winemaker is Manuel Lobos, who’s been here for seven years. He was previously at Quinta do Côtto, one of the even earlier pioneers of Douro table wines.


Crasto has 90 hectares at the Quinta, and also 114 hectares at Quinta da Cabrera in the Douro Superior, a project started in 2002, with the first vines planted in 2004. This runs for 2.5 km along the left bank of the Douro from Castelo Melhor. To keep the vines watered at Cabrera it’s necessary to pump 1 million litres a day from the river, which is distributed via 17 km of drip lines.


We took a ride to the top of the property, passing through the older plantings of Touriga Nacional (from the 1970s; the old vineyards were field blends and had very little of this star variety). Then we saw where new plantings of whites were going in, at the top of the hill where it’s much cooler.


Crasto wines have been known for their ripeness and reliance on oak in the past, but there are some signs that this is changing, at least for some of the wines. Lobo is a talented, thoughtful winemaker. ‘It’s very easy to have a wine in the Douro with high alcohol, lots of colour and also rusticity,’ he says. ‘We try to understand balance and preserve freshness.’ He recognises the excesses of former times. ‘I think in the past Douro wines had too much extraction. Crasto wines are big with oak, but one of my concerns is to have a wine of freshness from the entry level to the top wine.’ He adds, ‘In the Douro we have so many things to discover still.’


The Crasto Superior wines are impressive, with lots of focus on fruit and with plenty of freshness. Lobo uses acacia heads on the barrels for the whites, to tighten the wines up a bit and give less obvious oak character. He also uses the oxoline system, which allows battonage without opening the barrel simply by rolling it to suspend the lees. The reds have a lovely floral perfume and the oak is very much in the background.


Of the estate wines, I find the Reserva Old Vines still a little too oaky and ripe, although newer vintages seem more focused than older. The star of the tasting, though, was the Maria Theresa 2007, which shows just what a top old vineyard can achieve. It’s rich, but it’s fresh and elegant. The Ports are also good here, and this is an increasing emphasis of Crasto, as with some of the other Douro boys who made their reputation first with table wines.


In the Douro: Quinta do Vale D. Maria

Cristiano Van Zeller

Cristiano Van Zeller

We arrived at Vale Dona Maria late afternoon in a torrential downpour. A rather sodden Cristiano Van Zeller walked over to us and greeted us warmly. It was nice to be back: this is the third time I’ve visited in four years. It’s a beautiful spot, and Cristiano purchased it from his wife’s family back in 1996 when it had just 10 hectares of old vines.


The first few wines weren’t made here; the 1999 was the first made at the property. Now the vineyard area has been extended, and Cristiano now has 50 hectares that are owned or leased long term, with 5 of those white. Quinta Vale Dona Maria itself has 28 hectares of vines. There are over 40 different varieties planted here.

Granite lagares full of fermenting red wine

Granite lagares full of fermenting red wine

There are changes afoot in the winery. Cristiano is in the process of expanding his lagares so that he can ferment all his premium reds this way. The lagar, a shallow-sided fermentation vessel, was designed to allow for foot treading to get rapid yet gentle extraction for Port wines. The advantage for fermenting table wines in them is the large surface to volume ratio, which means that there’s a more even and more rapid extraction from the skins. Granite is important, because of the friction (which helps extraction), and because it keeps an even temperature throughout. His lagares are fitted with cooling.

All the premium reds here go through lagares. The expanded capacity will mean that he can do the whole of fermentation for all these wines in lagar. He has conducted trials for a few years and the wines made from lagar are so much better, he’s convinced it’s the way to go.

A white wine started as a Port (foot treading with fermentation on skins) and then taken to barrel to ferment to dryness.

A white wine started as a Port (foot treading with fermentation on skins) and then taken to barrel to ferment to dryness.

Increasingly, he’s taking a parcel approach. ‘I look at the Douro as Burgundy with little parcels,’ says Cristiano. ‘Each parcel makes wine with its own character. Identifying those parcels is the fun of what we do here.’ He also notes that he’s getting a higher price for the smaller volumes of parcel wine. ‘That’s why we have the Burgundian bottle: it’s more the idea of a domaine than a château. I get more fun out of it and I get more money out of it.’

How’s 2016? Cristiano describes it as ‘the most difficult vintage I’ve experienced in 35 years.’ Even though there have been worse vintages, at least it was clear they were bad early on. 2016 has had a confusing, complicated growing season. But some good wines will result. ‘I’m happy with it,’ he adds, although it’s 45% down in quantity.


The wines? I like them quite a bit. In the past there’s been a touch of over-ripeness and some generous oak regime that’s not my cup of tea, but the new releases show balance and a fair bit of elegance. The CV Branco in 2015 is a lovely wine, as is the Vinha de Martin 2015 from the quinta. They are potentially quite serious and will repay ageing. The Vale Dona Maria 2014 tinto is ready for bottling but not yet bottled, and this shows intensity and some tannic structure. It’s fresh and quite dense, and will be very good indeed. The 2014 Vinha da Francisca, from vines planted in 2014 with half Sousão is really good, with power and elegance, and nice freshness. Aromatic and vital, this is serious stuff. Vinho do Rio is more expensive, but it’s denser and riper, hence I prefer the Francisca. I also really liked the VZ Vintage Port 2014, which is vivid and powerful with great intensity.


Cristiano has been focusing on Douro table wines since he started here in 1996, and has been an important part of this transition movement. ‘If it weren’t for the Douro revolution with the pioneers of Douro wines, the region would be in huge trouble,’ he says.

We had dinner, accompanied with a magnum of the Quinta do Vale Dona Maria 2010. At age six, this wine is just hitting its stride. It was a lovely visit.

Answering questions about achieving online success


Wineanorak as it looked back in 2000

I was recently asked some questions (quite good ones) by someone researching a book. It took a while to answer, so I thought I’d share the responses here.

1) Tell me about your life before your wine blog. What was going on in your personal and professional life that led you to this project? Did you try other projects before this became a hit?

I was working as a science editor and I developed a wine habit. Then along came the internet: this would have been 1996/7, I guess. It was the done thing for people to start hobby sites on platforms like Geocities. So I did. I started a site called New World of Wine, and this then morphed into wine anorak. I registered the domain name in November 1999 and then started my hosted site shortly after. The blog aspect to the site began in 2001, and so in wine blogging terms it was the second, after Joe Dressner, as far as I know. At the time bulletin boards were very active, and hanging around bulletin boards was a really good intensive education in wine. So it has been this project pretty much from the beginning, and it has just kept growing.

2) The Internet is so noisy and crowded. What is special about you that resonates with people? If you had to describe that “it factor” in 1-2 sentences what would it be? Did you know this strength from the beginning or was it a process of discovery?

If I have some success, I reckon it’s because I have a distinctive voice. I’m aiming to write about the wines that I like, and I’m honest. I reckon the only people going on wine sites are those who are quite committed wine nuts, so I’m writing for people like, and fortunately there are enough of them to make it a success. Authenticity resonates with people. I’m me: some people like me, some don’t. I hope that there’s a real connection with the people who read my work. I know it sounds like false modesty, but I’m just a dude who drinks rather too much wine and likes to talk about it.

3) The thing I like about your site is that it is obviously an expression of your talent and passion for wine but it has also found a sizable audience. What steps did you take to build your audience? What advice would you give to somebody trying to have your level of success?

I haven’t really taken any special steps, other than posting daily and making an effort to provide unique, useful content with a bit of a personal twist. I was lucky in that I arrived on the scene when there were far fewer voices out there. This enabled me to develop and grow without a lot of competition. Also, I didn’t have to make a living out of this at first, so that took the pressure off a bit. If I were starting out now it would be much more difficult, but not impossible. I’m wary of offering advice when I had first-mover advantage, because if I did the same now as I did back in 1999, I’m not sure the results would be the same. I’d also say, be prepared to do something different. Everyone follows all the rules and ends up in the same competitive space. If you end up there, you are just one of a crowd. What can you do that is different, and still uniquely you? What are you going to be known for? Why would someone read what you write rather than the many existing voices?

4) Tell me about the reward of doing this work. It could be financial, a sense of achievement, making a difference, etc. What fuels your emotion behind what you do and keeps you going?

First and foremost, it’s satisfying. To have an audience and a platform is not something I take for granted. I know how fortunate I am. I also make a living from doing what I do, and I need to keep making a living, so this keeps me motivated. I have to pay my own way, and I work only in wine. Really, though, I just love wine and have an immense curiosity. If I lost this, then I’d have to find something else to do. For this sort of field – geeky wine talk – then that over-used term ‘passion’ counts for a very great deal. If you aren’t excited about something, then why would your readers be interested?

5) What one piece of advice would you give to a person who wants to be known for something on the web? What was the major lesson you have learned that could help others?

Perseverance. Lots of people have talent, and few convert that talent into something meaningful. So decide to do something, and persevere. If a project fails, don’t let it be from not having tried hard enough, and kept going long enough. Some projects will fail and you have to move on to something else. But there’s nothing sadder than seeing a media project die a slow death before its time.