Douro wine revolution
Part 7: Quinta do Vale Dona Maria
Lemos & van Zeller Lda, Quinta do Vale D. Maria, 5130
Ervedosa do Douro
Tel: 254 732 375 Fax: 234 731 591
view from Quinta do Vale D. Maria
Cristiano van Zeller was previously owner of Quinta do Noval,
but sold up to AXA in 1993. Since then he’s seems to have been pretty busy, and
his list of current projects makes exhausting reading. His own
property is Quinta do Vale D. Maria, an attractive 19 ha property in
the Rio Torto valley, with 10 ha of vines, most of which are 50 years
old. The vineyard has a south/southwest exposure, and has mixed
plantings of some 28 different varieties.
The estate has been in his wife’s (Joana Lemos) family for
150 years, but between 1973 and 1996 it was leased to
Graham’s Port. Joana and Cristiano took it back in
September 1996, and purchased it from the family. By this
time, the vineyard had been neglected for a while. Because
it’s difficult to replant the dead vines in the middle of
the rows, there are quite a few gaps, giving the vineyard a
slightly backward, rustic look.
Other Van Zeller involvements include a joint venture with
José Maria da Fonseca, called José Maria da Fonseca &
Van Zeller. This venture owns two Quintas in the Alto Douro,
Vale da Minha (5 ha) and de Mós (10 ha), and are producing a
table wine (called Domini), and LBV and vintage Ports. Van
Zeller is also responsible for the commercial side of things
at Quinta do Vallado, is in charge at table-wine-producing
Quinta da Portela, and helps his winemaker, Sandra Tavares,
sell the wines from her family’s Estremadura estate Quinta
de Chocopalha. Sandra, married to Dirk Niepoort’s winemaker Jorge Serôdio
Borges, is in full control of the winemaking here, with some input in
the final blending from Cristiano and Francisco Olazábal (winemaker
at Vallado and do Meão). She kindly spent some time talking me
through the winemaking process and showing barrel samples.
The old vines
Smart lagares in the winery
1 ha of vines are
picked each day, which works out at about 3.5 tonnes. Everything is
foot-trodden in the modern-looking lagares (which have temperature control),
and the table wines have 2 days of cold maceration before
fermentation. Some are fermented in the lagares, but normally go to
vats after a couple of days. All the ports are fermented and foot
trodden in lagares. The amount of stem contact varies depending on how
ripe they are, and is typically 10-15% for ports, and 5-10% for table
There’s been an increased shift towards table wines here
with the 2000 vintage. Whereas in previous years the balance was 70%
Port, 30% table wine, from now on it will be 40% Port, 60% table wine.
80% new oak is used here, almost all of which is French (there’s
just the odd experimental American oak barrel).
2001 was a tricky vintage in the Douro. Normally, as harvest
time approaches the potential alcohol increases by 1% a week, but in
2001 the unusual conditions meant that it zoomed up by 2.5% in the
same period. Alcohol levels in these wines are quite high (14.8-15%),
and it was necessary to add some acid.
Barrel 1 Quinta do Vale D. Maria 2001, north-facing parcel,
new Demptos barrel. Fresh, bright spicy nose with quite elegant herby
fruit. Some spicy oak evident, good acid and good concentration.
Barrel 2 Quinta do Vale D. Maria 2001, south-facing parcel.
Very concentrated purple with lots of ripe herbal fruit and spicy oak.
This is richer, with firm, spicy tannins: a lot bigger.
Barrel 3 Quinta do Vale D. Maria 2001, from vines near the
river. Opaque purple/black colour. Rich, concentrated sweet fruit on
the nose with a lovely herbal spiciness. A big, concentrated wine with
lots of spicy new oak. Lovely.
Barrel 4 Quinta do Vale D. Maria 2001, a
south-facing/north-facing blend, Cadus barrel. Focused bright spicy
nose. Lovely balance: bright fruit and good acidity, with dusty, spicy
tannins. Very attractive.
Barrel 5 Same as 4, but this time the barrel is new American
oak. What a difference! The nose is much more forward, and at a
superficial level is extremely bright, sweet and attractive. The
palate is very spicy, rounded and sweet, but the imprint of the oak
barrel masks a lot of the character of the wine. Sandra says that for
many American journalists this is their favourite barrel, but I think
it’s a rather ugly, forward caricature of a wine that lacks any
class or elegance on the palate. But the nose is highly seductive even
at this early stage. I’m not suggesting that American oak is never
appropriate, but for fine wines like these I suspect it’s a bit of a
Barrel 6 Quinta do Vale D. Maria 2001, south-facing parcel,
Cadus barrel. Deep herby, spicy nose with some chocolatey fruit. Quite
soft and lush on the palate with some tannins hiding underneath.
Barrel 7 Quinta da Portela 2001. Portela is an estate in the
Alto (upper) Douro, which is a hotter region with less than 200 mm of
rainfall each year. This wine, a blend of Tinta Roriz, Touriga
Nacional and Tinta Cao, shows rich, liquoricey fruit. It’s very ripe
and full with spicy tannins and a chocolatey, roast coffee edge.
Attractive in a different style.
Barrel 8 Casal de Loivos 2001. Casal de Loivos is located
high above Pinhão at an elevation of 400 m. Owned by the Sampayo
family, as well as a tourist lodge it has 2 ha of vines. The wines are
made at Quinta do Vale D. Maria with some help from Telmo Rodriquez,
and the first vintage was 1999. This is a rich, spicy herbal wine
showing lots of red berry fruits. Quite big but nicely balanced. Sells
for €10 at the house.
Later on I tasted the first two vintages of Casal de Loivos,
together with a couple of vintage ports.
Casal de Loivos 1999
The first vintage, this is a bit of a disappointment. Apparently it
was a difficult vintage and a lot of the grapes were in poor
condition. Slightly muted nose. Medium bodied palate shows berry
fruits with a spicy edge. Not bad, but not compelling. Very good
Casal de Loivos 2000
Attractive nose shows tight berry fruit with a smoky, spicy edge.
Lovely herbal complexity. The palate displays chunky herbal berry
fruit with plenty of complexity, some tannin and good acidity. Very
Quinta do Vale D. Maria Vintage Port 2000
Sweet, rich nose is a tiny bit closed but displays a spicy edge. The
palate shows great concentration of sweet spicy fruit. Lots happening
here. Very good/excellent
Van Zeller/José Maria da Fonseca Vintage Port 2000
First vintage. Bright, herby forward nose is quite expressive. Nice
balance and good structure on the palate: this is quite open already.