It was during his tenure as manager of the nearby Quinta do Noval in the 1990s that Christian Seely first had the spark of an idea that the large but semi-abandoned estate of Quinta da Romaneira could be reborn. Seely explains that his daily jogging route took him through some of the estates pathways. A small area of vines around the original quinta was well tended by the owning family, but huge swathes of prime south-facing terroir were overgrown, the once pristine terraces crumbling, with weeds having swallowed many of the ancient vines. Seely made tentative enquiries to see if the estate might be for sale, but the owning family was not interested. However, persistence can pay off, and Seely – though by this time relocated to Bordeaux as Managing Director of AXA Millesimes global portfolio of estates – eventually managed to acquire the property, right, with the help of a dozen fellow investors in 2004.
Various theories exist as to the origins of the name ‘Romaneira’. Christian Seely likes to think that it dates back to a time when the Romans cultivated vines in the Douro, but records firmly place Romaneira as a vineyard from the 17th century, enlarged through to the 1940s by a succession of owners. Today Touriga Nacional still represents the majority of the plantings, (about 40%) and is still a key element in the estate wines, but the past decade has seen the nature of those wines change radically. Christian Seely has continued to make Ports of course, but his really mission was to establish the estate as a great table wine terroir. Terroir is something of a new concept for the Douro, because historically it was the skill of the cellarmasters way down river at Villa Nova di Gaia that was celebrated. The riverside lodges and blenders were believed to be the secret of one of the world’s great wines, not the vineyards. A new band of producers, including Seely, now sees that these terraces and soils, along with the Douro’s great red varieties like Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinto Cão, are capable of also producing profound table wines that have a definite sense of place.
Today red table wines account for 75% of Romaneira’s production. Romaneira is one of the largest estates in the Douro, with over 400 hectares of terraces, 85 of which are now planted, though as sales and funding permits Seely plans even more. The new plantings are very largely focused on the traditional Portuguese varieties of the region, though experimental plantings of Syrah and Petit Verdot are producing some superb results. The state of the art winery has robotic lagars to replicate the effect of traditional foot treading, and wines are aged in the Douro, not in Gaia as was traditional. Seely also has Quinta do Noval’s Antonio Agrellos as his consultant winemaker. The road so far has not been an easy one for Seely and his team. Tens of millions of Euros were sunk into not just the vineyards and infrastructure of the estate, but also a super-luxury Relais & Châteaux hotel built around the original farmhouse that was supposed to be an essential part of the financial future. The hotel business failed fairly spectacularly by all accounts leading to Romaneira teetering on the brink of liquidation and I am guessing financial disaster for at least some of the partners.
However, Seely managed to find a wealthy overseas backer with the means to buy out the original group of partners, so that the estate is now on a stronger footing and Seely’s purely wine-focused vision is at its core. I was recently invited by Christian Seely to join a small party to spend a long weekend in Romaneira, not only to get to know the estate and see the phenomenal amount of work that has been done to get it to the stage where it is today, but also to celebrate their 10th anniversary by way of tasting almost every wine made at the estate since 2004. It is a remarkable place, breathtakingly beautiful, and with a feeling of timelessness to the vineyards and pathways along its two kilometres of Douro frontage. And the quality of wines is testament to Christian Seely’s belief in this terroir. Before my tasting notes on 32 wines, click to watch this stunning film that captures the essence of the Romaneira estate:
See all Stockists of Quinta da Romaneira wines on wine-searcher. The wines are brought into the UK by Liberty Wines, though soon they will be available through Christian Seely’s UK business, Coates and Seely, too.
the table wines
As you will see below, there has been a steady broadening of the range of table wines from Romaneira over the first decade under the new ownership. In 2004 a single Douro red was produced, with a Reserva, a second wine, then some single varietal wines all coming on stream at different points. Today the estate produces half a dozen red cuvées as well as some excellent white and rosé too.
Quinta da Romaneira, Douro Tinto 2004, Portugal
Lovely gentle nose, a touch of currant and dusty black fruit, lovely ripeness and spicy softness. Some delicate floral nuance, but there is a little touch of prune too. On the palate sweetness and a slightly drying tannins, perhaps a touch of alcoholic heat too, but there is a lot to like, the mid palate sweetness comes through. 89/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Douro Tinto 2005, Portugal
Much fresher, a sappiness, nice olive notes and savoury black fruit. There is some real bite and tang on the palate, the freshness (and a degree less alcohol at 13.5%) gives it lovely edge and savour, spice yes, but such freshness. 91/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Douro Tinto 2007, Portugal
A sweet earthiness and a touch of bracken quality, with olive and that sappy character again, and a certain meatiness. The palate has a juicy black fruit, olive and fruit skin tang, elegant, but grippy, and needing some time to come round still. 91/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Douro Tinto 2008, Portugal
Lovely dusty blue/black fruit, again that characteristic sappiness and olive savour, but delightful ripe fruit lift and elegance: buoyant cassis and cherry notes here. The palate has delicious juice, a big stripe of tannins and the juicy acidity, tangy fruit skin and gentle oak, just broadening the finish despite that sinewy lean core. Serious stuff. 91-92/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Douro Tinto Reserva 2008, Portugal
The first appearance for the Reserva. There’s a bold, more rounded and fat quality to the fruit, that extra ounce of concentration, of plump plum and black berry fruit, extra vanilla too, but always retaining that bite and that grip, fantastic muscular, meaty stuff with sinew and polish, but also sweet fruit at the core. 94/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Douro Tinto 2009, Portugal
Tight stuff, lean and concentrated, muscular with savoury black fruit, and all the grip and edge that says it is both serious and young. Tangy, a stripe of concentrated almost endive-like bittersweet tannin and acid, such lovely savoury quality. For the future. 91-92/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Douro Tinto Reserva 2009, Portugal
Again olive and a dusty sense of concentration and tightly wound, muscular character. Earthy and sappy. The palate has such juicy concentration, such a vital, taut core, high acid, plenty of bite, and will need considerable time. Lovely hints of fleshiness and of the light coffee of the finish that promises great future. 91-93/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Sino da Romaneira 2010, Portugal
2010 saw the introduction of a ‘second wine’. Only 12.5%, and there is an edge of green apparent here, dustiness, and lean black fruit but actually very attractive. The easy drinking palate has lovely quality – no great layering or complexity, but what a nice, serious, but easy drinking wine, the tannin and acid still authoritative. 88-89/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Douro Tinto 2010, Portugal
Quite elegantly fine, a precision about the black fruit, but some meatiness too. The palate has the liquorice and endive stripe of bittersweetness quite elegant and tight black fruit, and juicy. Does not have the substantial weight and concentration of the best vintages, but deliciously tangy, and nicely rounded by the oak background. Coffeeish, delicious. 90/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Touriga Nacional 2010, Portugal
2010 also saw the release of a single varietal Touriga Nacional. Lovely tobacco hints, lovely floral nuances too, the little lift adding a lovely dimension of freshness. The palate has a slightly leaner feel than the 2010 Tinto, perhaps lacking just a little flesh, but would be so nice with the right food, that lean, long, focused finish is lovely – very precise, very focused. 89-90/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Douro Tinto Reserva 2010, Portugal
Immediate sense of concentration, the layering of dusty blue-black fruit, the elegant lift of some violet notes, a very attractive wine. The oak has a little impact n the nose, a little resin and vanilla, but the palate bursts through with fresh cherry and berry fruitiness. Delicious stuff, so elegantly defined, with racy acidity, a tight, forward tannin that propels the fruit and spice into a long finish. 93/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Sino da Romaneira 2011, Portugal
Again a hint of green, of dustiness and sappiness, the black fruit beneath. The palate has a clean, black fruit juiciness, with lots of bite and clarity, the fruit with a little raspberry freshness. 87-88/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Petit Verdot 2011, Portugal
Both a single varietal Petit Verdot and Syrah (below) joined the Romaneira stable in 2011. Pepper, spice and elegant black fruit, dusty and with an underlying sense of vanilla-touched richness and plushness. The concentration is fantastic on the palate, but so unforced, so natural, with no sense of thickness or weight. Mouth filling and fleshy, it’s a bountiful style of Petit Verdot that has superb ripeness but length and focus too. 93-94/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Syrah 2011, Portugal
This has real Syrah expression, peppery, sweetly black fruited, with fine hints of herbal character, but not remotely underripe, just adding lovely edge to the plush black fruit. The sweet blackberry and black cherry concentration on the palate is superb too, so sweet and fine, but finishing with elegant structure, grippy, the tannins adding a roughening edge, but superb finish. 92-93/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Douro Tinto 2011, Portugal
Back to a black fruited dustiness and a little inky, sappy note that is dry and with a grilled meat note in the background. The palate has delicious juicy fat and texture, the keen edged but voluminous cassis-like black fruit edged with tobacco and spices, and a long, tangy finish with a bite of cherry skin acid and tight, tight tannins. Fabulous potential. 93-94/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Douro Tinto Reserva 2011, Portugal
Dustiness, concentration, and evocation of the sun-kissed Douro for sure, with the char of the barrel still showing a little at this stage, but delicious earthy black fruit. The palate has real concentration too, that extra ounce of intense black cherry and plum fruit, leaning into tobacco and leather (but not baked – it’s about fruit concentration and dry intensity) and such a fine, juicy finish with great focus and length. For the future. 93-95/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Sino da Romaneira 2012, Portugal
Very elegant, very floral, the best nose yet for this, with buoyant cherry and touch of sappy briar. Lovely elegance, cherry bright and has those floral aspects, but a little grip and tension from elegant, light but firm tannins and juicy acidity. 89/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Petit Verdot 2012, Portugal
Like a basil hedge, so aromatic, peppery and touched with elegant green but not at all underripe notes. So beautifully fruited on the palate, all the plushness and solidity of black fruit you could ask for, but terrific grip, chocolaty richness to the tannins, delicious length and so juicy and luscious into the finish. Another terrific PV. 92-93/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Syrah 2012, Portugal
Much meatier than the 2011, perhaps slightly reductive, with meaty and earthy black fruit coming through. The sweet and round concentration is obvious on the palate, tight and muscular, the black berry concentration is there. This is a baby, the tight tannins, the core of juicy acidity and the dense fruit suggesting longevity. Highly promising and delicious substance and matter. 91-92/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Douro Tinto 2012, Portugal
Hugely concentrated, with that fine sheen of tobacco, that lovely earthiness and fat, but all the time there are such substantial fruit intensity and weight here, mouth-filling ripeness. Smooth, juicy and creamy. Lovely weight and concentrated quality here. Spicy, fruit-packed and structured. 91-93/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Touriga Nacional 2012, Portugal
A little more herbaceous and smoky, with a touch of bacon fat and floral character, but a smoky and earthy note too. Slick black fruit in the palate, with liquorice and endive bite of bitterness that is lovely against the burgeoning black fruit. Tight and sinewy, elegant dusty tannin and huge concentration. Fabulous potential. 92-94/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Douro Tinto Reserva 2012, Portugal
A fairly subdued but obviously complex and complete nose here, the intense, meaty, bacon-fatty concentration is there, but a welter weight of black fruit and polished oak all melding beautifully. This is a wine that is finely tuned and concentrated. There is real fresh juiciness on the palate – it slices through all that concentration with lovely bittersweet bite and finesse. Long, charry, but juicy and intense. 92-94/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, LBV Port 2005, Portugal
Lovely dusty, fresh, bright cherry nose, with intensity and concentration, the voluptuous sweet cherry fruit, licked with chocolate and fine smoky charm, little floral notes always weaved through the plush and upfront fruit weight. 89/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, LBV Port 2007, Portugal
There’s an extra layer of complexity on this, a herbal, tobacco and tar elements joining the fruit and chocolaty richness. The fruit has fabulous weight and richness, really mouth-filling and fine, absolutely deliciously thick and rich, with tannins powerful and lovely acidity. 89-91/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Vintage Port 2004, Portugal
Dusty, tarry, with some high notes of violets and coal dust amongst the very plump and lush black fruit. Such lovely sweet concentration, the juiciest black plums, a sweet, tea-infused compote, a delicious dryness and density, with so much black berry skin grip and acidity as well as the gorgeous fruit richness. 93/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Vintage Port 2005, Portugal
Little herbaceous, greener note to the sweetness and the meatiness of the black fruit concentration. Delicious sweetness and mouth-filling black cherry and cassis richness but that lovely dusty dryness too, the fine tannins, elegant acidity and the raft of savoury flavours balancing the sweetness. 92-93/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Vintage Port 2007, Portugal
Deliciously fresh but tight and relatively straightforward at first, the fleshy black fruit and the smooth espresso richness are lovely, glossy and so attractive. In the mouth there is gorgeous, enveloping lusciousness and richness, so weighty and fleshy, filling the palate with that concentrated, lightly meaty but pure black fruited sweetness. Long and so together. Fabulous stuff and young. 93/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Vintage Port 2008, Portugal
Interesting high note to this, perhaps a little gamey, herbal, but with lift and elegance. The fruit is so sweet on the palate, so dustily fresh and full, with delicious balancing tannin that is fine, racy, tight yet also chocolate rich, and the excellent acidity. So young, tight, and elegant. 92/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Vintage Port 2009, Portugal
Earth, sappiness and youth, with a resinous quality that says it is young and needs time. What a wonderfully confident burst of black fruit, so plump and juicy, so rounded and plush, but the chocolate sweetness and smoothness of the tannins, the elegance of the spirit, it is just deliciously full, rich and serious at the same time. 91/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, Vintage Port 2011, Portugal
Again a very young, herbal and grassy, event resinous character here, plenty of freshness and crunch, but there is delightful fruit on the palate. Very promising, with a slick of blue-black fruit and cherry skin bite, very young and promising. Relatively raw at this stage, but clearly that is youth. 92-93/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, 10 Year Old Port, Portugal
Deep, ruby-touched tawny, there’s a beautiful touch of old shellac and walnut, but there is cherry and still quite vital fruit too. Chocolate and tea, and lovely complexity. There’s a delightful vanilla and marzipan richness on the palate, with also some real cherry freshness, the racy fruit and the elegance of this is gorgeous, flitting between richness and mellowness and tight, precise, black cherry fruitiness. 93/100.
Quinta da Romaneira, 40 Year Old Port, Portugal
Remarkably ruby rich colour still, and the nose is walnuts, straw and wonderfully mellow notes, leaf tea and a touch of bracken and old polished wood. Fabulous palate, glycerine rich and super sweet, with masses of currant and such intense black cherry such fabulous sweetness, thickness and lusciousness. Superb 40 year old – it is the freshness and vitality that is gorgous in a 40-year-old. Intense. 94/100.
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