Five great Portuguese wine estates

And then there were five…

It was in 2006 that I published an in-depth report on six excellent Portuguese estates who had banded together as the Independent Winegrowers Association (IWA). Recently, during my tenure as Portuguese Wine Journalist of the Year, I have met up with the members on a few different occasions, to taste through their latest wines and keep up to speed with their developments. Sadly, however, the magnificent six featured in that first report are now five: early in 2010 Quinta de Covela was lost to the world, the business folding under tough trading conditions and considerable debts. *

But the five estates that remain are unbowed, and a more gregarious bunch of individuals would be harder to imagine.

iwa members

They are (from left to right) the eponymous Luis Pato of Bairrada, Pedro Araujo of Quinta do Ameal in the Vinho Verde region, João Pedro d’Araujo of Casa de Cello operating in Vinho Verde and the Dão, Luis Lourenço of Quinta dos Roques, also in the Dão and Tiago Alves de Sousa, now taking over the reins from his father Domingos, at the excellent Douro estate of Quinta de Gaivosa.

Making money from wine as an independent producer in today’s financial climate might be a tough business, but these five geographically and philosophically diverse estates each still strive for excellence, and they are achieving it very successfully. The tasting notes that follow on 36 wines from the IWA are drawn from two tastings I attended with the group in summer 2010 and early in 2011.

* Update 2014: Quinta de Covela has been purchased and is trading again.

Luis Pato

Ever inventive, it’s an almost impossible game to guess what Luis Pato will come up with next. His beloved Baga and Bical grapes are at the heart of his estate, but from ice wine to red wine made from white wine grapes (yes, that’s coming soon) there is always something new from this maverick but passionate producer. These wines are imported into the UK by Raymond Reynolds. See all Luis Pato stockists on wine-searcher. pato bottle

Luis Pato, Espumante Vinha Formal 2008
50% Bical, 50% Touriga Nacional and “Portugal’s first single vineyard sparkling wine,” according to Luis. The base wine is fermented in French oak for one month. Very distinctive nose, with some buttery, marzipan tones and herbs too. The palate has really leesy richness, with a lot of that coming from the Bical. There’s a real sense of sweetness, but Louis says only 1.5% RS, the Bical giving all the fullness and sweetness, with the sour lemon and apple acidity very good. 89/100

Luis Pato, Espumante Vinha Informal 2010
Sparkling free-run Baga, from the Vinha Pan vineyard, picked end of August. Lovely wild strawberry and earthy character, all the elegant, soft strawberry fruit. The palate is beautifully dry, with a really juicy, racy red fruit and delightful lemon zest finish. This has real Baga character, and lovely length. 91/100

Luis Pato, Espumante ‘Duet’ Bical and Cerceal 2010
Designated as table wine because it breaks all the rules, and from early picked grapes in the middle of August. Fairly restrained nose, with some crisp apple notes and very little yeasty character. Very tangy, refreshing palate, with a little smoky, flinty character and lots of bite. This has a really vivacious punch, and lots of flavour into a long, super-fresh finish. 90/100

Luis Pato, Espumante ‘Duet’ Baga and Touriga Nacional 2009
A 50/50 blend, this blanc des noirs has a pale coppery colour and delightfully subtle toffee note, a little herbal bite and plenty of Cox’s Pippin fruit. On the palate this has weight and texture, and plenty of fruit that is ripe, seeming slightly sweeter on the mid palate, but then finishing with lovely dry, savoury, waxy lemon and lime bite. 91/100

Luis Pato, Vinha Branco 2009
This is 100% Bical, in second year oak because the harvest gave very floral grapes which Luis wanted to express. Smoky, slatey mineral notes, with lots of lemon and waxy melon rind notes. The palate has a lovely lightness and brightness, with a light- to medium body, very refined fruit and still showing that little smoky edge. The sweetness of that Bical fruit is again mouth-filling and gives a real sense of smoothness. 89-90/100

Luis Pato, Quinta do Ribeirinho Pe Franco 2008
From ungrafted Baga on sandy soils. Some cold maceration to heighten aroma, soften tannins and improve colour. Aged in new French oak from Vosges and Nevers. Only 5 hl/ha yield “It is my fantasy” say Luis. Big oak nose, with lots of smoky, toasty and vanilla aromas with a lift of eucalypt character. The fruit is black and ripe, with a cassis and black cherry lift, and a bold minerality begins to come through. The palate shows a lot of oak at this stage too, but dense, ripe, fleshy fruit comes through on the mid palate, with great ripeness but then the tannins begin to grip and give a spicy, but still elegant grip to the finish with again plenty of elegant acidity. A very impressive wine. 91/100

Luis Pato, Vinha Pan 2003
A very hot vintage so the Baga was particularly softened and ripe. Huge, soft, sweet earth nose with masses of meaty, quite gamy character. Lots of development, showing those meaty, sulphidic notes with a touch of vegetal character on the palate, but the sweet black fruit powers through the mid-palate, with real concentration and intensity. Great finesse and approachability here, though the tart cherry acidity and little lift of liquorice makes a freshness in the finish. 91/100

Luis Pato, Molecular Wine Red 2009
Concentrated by use of technology, this is breezy, light, delicious stuff with dry extract and lots of schisty, almost ripasso quality and lovely cherry sweetness, Really quite delicate, and has a soft, gently-fruited finish. Delightful. 91/100

Quinta do Ameal

It is always a pleasure to meet up with the quietly-spoken Pedro Araujo of Quinta do Ameal, who indeed makes some of the most quietly beautiful white wines in Portugal. Pedro, who farms organically, has been at the forefront of the ‘new’ Vinho Verde with his single varietal wines that can also age beautifully. See all Ameal stockists on wine-searcher. ameal bottle

Quinta do Ameal Espumante 2002
Made from Arinto, this spent three years in vat then three more in bottle for its second fermentation which finished at end of 2008. Toasty, buttery with lots of brioche and nettle notes. On the palate a big, powerful wine with bruised apple fruit and lots of leesy richness. Outstanding stuff that will split the jury into lovers and haters. 90/100

Quinta do Ameal Vinho Verde 2009
With 11% alcohol, this is mostly Loureiro with 15% Arinto, which Pedro thinks will help it age. This has a beautifully delicate nose with light, fresh, very mineral aromas and just a touch of lime peel richness in the background. Beautiful palate with terrific finesse and lovely bite and juicy clarity. 90/100. Stocked in The Greenhouse and many other top restaurants.

Quinta do Ameal Escolha 2008
(Tasted Feb 2011) Much more nutty but closed aromatics, with a little juicy lemon but the palate has a gentleness and a terrifically clean, refined crab apple and lemon pith freshness and grip. It has a beautiful length and very good concentration without even a hint of anything clumsy. 91/100

Quinta do Ameal Escolha 2008
(Tasted July 2010)Loureiro fermented in used oak barriques – Pedro was first to do this in 2000 for this wine. Has a little more richness than the Loureiro, more herbal notes too and has a richer, much oilier texture, with lots of grapefruit skin richness and tang, and plenty of acidity pushing through giving this real bite and lovely length in the finish. 90/100

Quinta do Ameal Loureiro 2009
Beautifully fresh with mealiness and pear fruit, touches of lemon rind and pear skin those talcum touches. There’s a saline tang of minerality on the palate and lots of pure, long, limey fruit. Anselmo Mendes is consultant here, and Pedro thinks they now have the vines in perfect balance. 89/100

Quinta do Ameal Escolha 2003
Deep colour but still green. Beautifully fruity nose, with lots of limes and wax, very Riesling-like. Little herby notes, but the fruit is ripe and orangy, with lots of flesh and a sweetness, the clarity and precision of the acidity and fruit still perfectly pitched. 90/100

Quinta do Ameal Special Harvest 2007
Passito Loureiro with 12% alc, five months of drying. Fabulous nose, with cream and vanilla and lots of barley sugar creaminess, crème brûlée touches. The palate has absolutely delicious balance – the sweet, full fruit has a real sense of dryness with creamy texture and glycerine richness, Fantastic acidity bites against the 180 grams of sugar. Toasty, orangy, delightful. 93/100

Casa de Cello

Casa de Cello owns two properties, the lovely Quinta de Sanjoanne in the Amarante district of the Minho region making white wines, and Quinta da Vegia in the Dão, which is an exclusively red wine property. See all stockists of Quinta de Sanjoanne on wine-searcher and of Quinta de Vegia on wine-searcher. joanne bottle

Quinta de San Joanne Superior 2007, Vinho Regional Minho
The top level white, made from Alvarinho and Malvasia Fina. “A great Alvarinho from outside the Monçao area,” says João, referring jokingly to the move by producers around the town of Monçao to make it ‘Alvarinho central’. The winemaking is again overseen by Anselmo Mendes here. Delicately nutty notes, and the fruit is very fresh and crunchy: white fruit, but really the mineral notes dominate this wine. Lots of lemon and, silky, smooth, waxy apple fruit, with a really Riesling-like quality, with a huge core of concentrated lime acidity. 91/100

Quinta de San Joanne Escolha 2004
Alvarinho, Avesso and Chardonnay. This is the current vintage on the market, which João keeps for six years before releasing. A real waxiness, and some oxidation, with big, dry, parcel string charterer, like a maturing Semillon. There is a lovely acidity in the finish of this, playing against that waxy texture. Unusual, complex, with a slightly phenolic character. 87/100

Quinta de San Joanne Passi 2008
Avesso and Loureiro. 10 alc, 90g/l sugar. Very floral and leafy, almost a geranium leaf quality. Lots of lifted, bright raspberry fruit. Very attractive and real sweetness on the palate but not at all cloying or dense – delightful acidity. Great freshness and an apple juice acidity that leaves it tangy and delicious. 90/100

Quinta da Vegia 2008
This is the entry level wine. Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinta ? Loads of spice – cinnamon and clove and lots of floral lift, geranium and roses and lifted black fruits. The palate has soft, earthy fruit with quite creamy texture, the palate quite crisp and racy, with a touch of liquorice raciness and plenty of edgy freshness. High acidity and lots of grippy tannin, giving a gravelly, grippy note to the finish. 89/100

Quinta de Vegia Reserva 2007
(Tasted February 2011) Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. Nice quality of subtle French oak here, with a delicate toast and a natural, lightly earthy character that blends nicely with the subtly meaty character of the fruit. The fruit on the palate is beautifully fleshy and fruity, the gravelly background of oak and tannins adding a pleasantly roughening quality, but a chocolaty ripeness and lots of spice come through. Very nicely balanced wine with very good length indeed. 91/100

Quinta da Vegia Reserva 2007
(Tasted July 2010) Bottled only five weeks ago. Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz, five months in oak, none of it new. Retains all that fragrance and freshness, with those floral notes, the lifted aromatic spices and fine, glossy, liquorice fruit. The palate adds an element of smoothness over the entry level wine, giving more creaminess to the texture on the mid-palate, those dry, spicy fruit tannins and the fine acidity giving it a savoury, edgy, a little leathery and chewy, but fantastic spicy length. 90/100

Quinta dos Roques

One of the larger estates in the Dão region, run by ex-teacher Luis Lourenço, who married into the vineyard-owning family in the early 80s and who says it was a wrench to give up teaching at first, though now he runs this estate with quiet authority and an ever-beaming smile. The Quinta das Maias wines are from a separate vineyard, but made in the same winery, See all stockists of Quinta dos Roques on wine-searcher and of das Maias on wine-searcher. roques bottle

Quinta dos Roques Encruzado 2009 Luis describes Encruzado as a very stable grape, producing good flavours year after year. Around 65% of this was fermented in new French oak to intensify the flavour as on its own “Encruzado is citrus, citrus, citrus.” This shrugs off the oak on the nose to show bright citrus character, just background toast and spice, but it does give a nice layer of interest. Touches of pineapple in the background. The palate has quite a rich leesiness, the oak sitting nicely beneath with a nutty, lightly creamy texture and a bold, long finish. Grippy, pithy, a very interesting wine. 89/100

Quinta dos Roques Reserva 2007
From a 33-year-old field blend, the main grapes being Touriga Nacional (around 45%) and Jaen. Luis says that planted separately these two mature two weeks apart, but planted together they mature simultaneously. Very soft, gently meaty notes and has a touch of chocolate and tobacco. On the palate this begins to sing, showing much more juicy, fleshy, broad fruit and a savoury, gastronomic quality that has savoury tannin and a lovely bloody, meaty depth. Very suave and yet muscular. 91/100

Quinta dos Roques Touriga Nacional 2008
(Tasted February 2011) Luis reduced the yields and the selection of fruit at the winery quite drastically in this wet year. Lovely meaty, chunky nose, with lots of fleshy fruit and just nice little glimpses of kirsch, tobacco and cherry brightness. The palate has a lovely fleshy smoothness, it has a fine edges of acidity and very good tannin that is ripe and has a supple ripeness. The oak adds some coffee and spice and this has a long, spicy, grippy finish. 92/100

Quinta dos Roques Touriga Nacional 2008
(Tasted July 2010) This is a sample, but blend is made and it is about to be bottled. Same barrel regime. Very fragrant nose, with lots of menthol and herbal and cherry lift, fine tobacco spice and terrific earthy and graphite characters. Lovely character here with really length and substance. 92/100

Quinta dos Roques Reserva Tinto 2007
Single vineyard wine from a 30-year-old vineyard that has a field blend of varieties. 55% Touriga Nacional, Alfrocheiro, Jaen, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Coa and Jaen. No new oak here, only two year old and older French barrels. Big, smoky bacon fat nose with lots of meaty character and a Rhône-like quality. Terrific fruit quality, with lovely spice and tight, grippy tannin structure, the acidity cutting through meaty red and black fruits. Lots of substance and structure. 91/100

Quinta das Maias Verdelho 2009
Lovely fragrance and aromatics. Lots of citrus but a hint of riper, more tropical character too, with very fine, sherbetty notes and a touch of oatmeal. The palate lacks a little concentration or weight perhaps, but that very clean, zesty lemon comes through powerfully and gives this some real tang and grip in the finish, with a little spice too. 88/100.

Quinta das Maias Flor das Maias Tinto 2007
A special selection of 80% Touriga Nacional with Alfrocheiro and Tinta Roriz – recipe changes from year to year, but based on Touriga Nacional. Eighteen months in French oak, one year old barrels used previously for the Encruzado, but brighter, lifted raspberry and red fruit freshness on the nose. The palate has lovely raciness and fruity lift, with smooth, ripe tannins and a lovely acid structure, and delightful energy in the mouth. 92/100

Alves de Sousa / Quinta da Gaivosa

Father and son team Domingos and Tiago Alves de Sousa produce both Ports and table wines from various Quintas in the Douro, their most famous estate being the Quinta da Gaivosa and in particular the extraordinary Abandonado, literally an 80-year old abandoned vineyard were vines struggle to survive but which makes great wines in exceptional years. See all stockists of Quinta da Gaivosa on wine-searcher sousa bottle

Alves de Sousa Reserva Pessoal Branco 2005
This wine started as an experiment, taking white Port grapes but re-thinking the viticultural strategy with their old vines, to create a white that would respect tradition but do something new. Around 15 varieties in here, from a 70-year-old vineyard, picked late and overripe. Fermented with skin contact, lots of pumping over with oxygen then into new French barrels for one years. The nose has massive creaminess and has a marzipan element to it with leesy pear skins, a touch of herbs and lots of pure apple fruit still there despite the bruised fruit and skinny oxidation. Fantastic mouth feel with tannins giving grip and spice and the smoothness of the sweet fruit flowing through. Occupying the world of Gravner and La Soula, but just gloriously fruity and persistent. Decant and serve not too cold. 93/100

Alves de Sousa Reserva Pessoal Tinto 2005
Meaty, dense, ripe and spicy, with quite a soft, open, earthy appeal. There is liquorice and that grilled meat smokiness in another complex profile. The palate has huge sweetness of fruit, with a smoky, charry quality backing it up. There’s great concentration here that feels very natural, with grippy but ripe and quite supple tannins. The spices and that dry fruitiness add lots of savoury depth to the finish with chocolate, but also that bite of sour plum and cherry. 91/100

Quinta da Gaivosa Douro 2005
Eighty year old vineyards, a field blend of 20 different varietals. Each of their plots vinified separately since 2003 to try to home in on exactly which vineyards brought what characters to the wines. Lovely cherry ripe fruit, with a very soft red fruit pulp, and a delicate cedary background. This has beautiful freshness and silky tannins, but there is huge concentration too. There is a liquorice character, but that bright appearance to the fruit stays focused and the meaty, concentrated tannins power through. Lovely wine that has a long time ahead of it. 92/100

Quinta da Gaivosa Abandonado 2007
(Tasted February 2011) A mild summer that was cool and showery, and did not promise well for the Douro. Fantastic smokiness, and that lovely minerality and hint of meaty, earthy character. The palate has beautiful fruit – the juicy, ripe, plum and black fruit has a chocolaty edge and has plenty of lean, sinewy, structure. The acidity is really nice, but has such wonderful, almost leathery and meaty concentration, but that minerality and that juiciness is just thrilling. Long and tingles in the mouth. 93/100

Quinta do Gaivosa Abandonado 2007
(Tasted July 2010) From an abandoned 80-year-old vineyard. Has a eucalypt lift, with lots of resinous quality – almost pine like, with liquoricy black fruit beneath. Delightfully rich, deep but tightly-wound on the palate with a certain muscularity and depth, huge spicy concentration and a delicious fruit sweetness that is wrapped in the smooth, but grainy, grippy tannins and structure that leaves it spicy, meaty and deliciously alive. 93/100

Quinta do Gaivosa Vinha de Lordelo 2007
The 15.5% alcohol is swallowed up in this wine. 30 different varieties in an old field blend. Some Tinta Amarela which they love and are replanting. Quite smoky and schisty but with lovely lift too showing floral notes and great delicacy, touches of Sandalwood and a currant dryness too. The palate has the lift and the juiciness of red fruit, but layered with those spicy, herby notes and backed up with super refined tannins. Very, very juicy and bright with a real sense of harmony and suave polish. 92/100. Have tried special yeasts, reverse osmosis, all techniques to reduce alcohol, but the wine is best when natural and the balance is more important than the alcohol.

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