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Alves de Sousa: An Afternoon in the Northern Baixo Corgo

Alves de Sousa

An Afternoon in the Northern Baixo Corgo 

Douro Valley

Portugal

The view from the Abandonado vineyard high above Santa Marta de Panaguião in the northern section of Baixo Corgo

On our last full day in the Douro Valley we started the afternoon with lunch in Regua at Michelin rated Castas & Pratos, an old train station converted to a wine bar and restaurant. I was finally able to order a bottle of the Niepoort Redoma from 2009 and it was all that I was expecting it to be, but the food was the real star of the meal. We split an appetizer of Iberico ham with truffles that would crush any prosciutto and a decadent fois gras and egg. My entrée was a fantastic goat braised in port wine with mushrooms and Lisa had a fantastic duck breast and pear dish. We got back in the car with some sparkling water, my lifeline I drink while on any wine tasting excursion, and headed north from Regua through ever more winding Douro Valley roads to our next stop Quinta da Gaivosa in Santa Marta de Panaguiãos.

Lisa in front of the original structure at Quinta de Gaivosa
Quinta da Gaivosa is the home of the Alves de Sousa family wine and port operation. There are other vineyards in the Alves de Sousa holdings, however they are spread out in other parts of the Douro Valley. We met Tiago, son of Domingos Alves de Sousa, upon our arrival and he asked if we wanted to see the vineyards to which we of course responded with an excited absolutely. One of the keys to understanding a wine besides tasting it in different vintages is to also see the land the grapes are cultivated from, its terroir. We hopped in the SUV and made our way up the steep graded and heavily pocked road to the middle of the hillside vineyards, passing eucalyptus trees that will come into play later in the tasting of one of the wines near that thatch of trees. From this focal point we could see all of the vineyard plots at Gaivosa ranging in age from 15 years to 100 years old. 
Looking North to the summit of the Alves de Sousa property from Abandonado
These beautiful bunches are destined for a bottle of 2013 Abandonado
A beautiful old vine in the Abandonado vineyard of Alves de Sousa (early September 2013)

We continued our trek to the top of the hillside and made our way to a ridge just below the summit. We stopped at the famed Abandonado vineyard and her 80 year old vines that barely grow in this harsh environment. Because of the constant winds, stark sun and poor soil (solid granite) the vines are in a constant state of stress as there is little to no ability to retain any rain water. If the vine roots cannot continue their search deeper in the granite to find any moisture, the plant will suffer and not grow, even possibly die. The vineyard was purchased from a neighbor with the hopes of replanting the dead vines, but they would not survive, so they left the vineyard as is and tended to it just enough to make sure the old vines already there were able to produce fruit. And produce fruit they did. The first vintage was so spectacular they decided to bottle is separately. The view from the top of the Abandonado vineyard is spectacular and one of the best sights in all of the Douro Valley.

German style vertical planting of vines at the peak of the Alves de Sousa property

We moved on to the summit where some of the youngest vines are planted in a style called German because of the vertical north to south direction of the vine rows, instead of the normal horizontal rows that dominate the terraced vineyards of the Douro. This style of course was pioneered by German viticulturalists.  We peeled off from there to head back to the Quinta a few hundred feet below and came upon one of the best cross-sections of a typical Douro soil composition I had seen so far. You could see the different layers of granite, soil and occasionally vine roots jutting out randomly along the wall.


“the best cross-sections of a typical Douro soil composition I had seen” – yup, that is solid rock
Vinha de Lordelo Tinto amphitheater shaped vineyard, 100+ year old vines

We continued lower to a vineyard that is shaped like an amphitheater that protects the 100+ year old vines from the harsher parts of the Gaivosa terroir. Nestled just below the middle of the mountainside and centered in the middle of the vineyard matrix, the vineyard has a nice south/southwest exposure that allows the vines to catch a good portion of the sun without the strong winds.  You can taste his in the wine as it is a very generous, warmer style with solid tannic structure.  After this thorough vineyard schooling we were ready to go to tasting class and see how the vineyard affects the character of the wines.  At Alves de Sousa we had one of the longest tasting sessions and one of the best vineyard tours, if you can score an appointment it is definitely worth a stop.  My latest search on wine-searcher.com showed that Abadonado is available in limited amounts, the Port and the regular Quinta bottlings are also available.  But my biggest regret is not bringing back some Vinha de Lordelo Tinto as that is not available.

Below are the tasting notes of the extensive tasting we had of these good to exceptional wines.

The sweet spot of the Alves de Sousa dry table wine portfolio


Reserva Branco 2005
This white initially goes trough a 48 hours cold soak on the grape skins. The skins are then pressed and the wine is pumped over in tank for a few hours. After initial fermentation the wine then goes for 1 year in 100% new French oak.  The color is a golden honey as it is meant to be similar to an “orange” wine. Mature aromas mix with juicy golden fruits, and some wood that is well integrated at this point being 8 years old. Nicely balanced with good acidity this clocks in at only 12.5% abv and is made in minuscule amounts (1,500 bottles). The wine is purposefully held back 6-7 years for release from the vintage year so the wine can integrate properly and be drank at the proper time the winemaker intended.

2010 Vale da Raposa Sousao
Sousa is a red fleshed grape and this wine has an extra dark color without tasting or feeling like it is over-extracted. The red flesh permits darker color with less skin soak and this is helpful for tannin extraction of the grape skin as this wine does tend to be a fairly tannic wine. Countering the tannins is also a solid core of acidity, which reminded me of some wines from Italy, such as the Etna wines from the volcanic Italian island of Sicily. Darker sure, but similar fresh acidity and firm tannins. Rustic and fleshy indeed, the nose and palate showed tobacco, tar, violets, and flowers. The tannins are rugged, but ripe; the acidity is amazing as it lends ample freshness. Another wine of small production at 2,000 bottles.

2008 Quinta da Gaivosa
From 80 year old vines and 20 different grape varietals the namesake wine of the Quinta reveals black cherry, pain grille, and a touch of roasted herbs with a beautifully elegant and wide beam of bright and fresh fruit. Great complexity and depth, solid freshness and length, fine to medium tannins, this is a beautiful and elegant wine that will age 15-30 years. It spends 15 months in oak barrels, 50% new/50% old French.

2009 Vinha de Lordelo Tinto
From 100 year old vines and 30 different grape varietals this vineyard sits in a natural amphitheater. Limited in production, these vines average 1 bunch of grapes per vine. The nose and palate show black plum, juicy black cherry, and chocolate. Fleshy and dense on the palate, this wine carries the most concentration of the 4 major De Sousa table red wines. Very polished and sexy, the tannins are ripe and provide a nice backbone of structure.

2010 Abandonado
From 100 year old vines and an unknown amount of mixed grape varietals, this is also a small production wine of only 3,000 bottles. Meaty with eucalyptus, tar, and floral notes, the Abandonado has a crazy complex nose and palate. Great freshness, ripe red, blue and black fruits mesh well with medium+ tannins. This spends 18 months in mostly new French oak barrels and s small amount of Portuguese oak.

10 Year White Port (Tawny like)
Made from multiple vintages similar to how a Tawny Port is made, this was one of the better white Ports we had the entire trip, but overall I am still not convinced of the viability of White Port as a stand a lone beverage.

20 Year Tawny Port
Fantastic, the best 20 year Tawny I had encountered the entire trip, but it was not yet ready for sale as it was not yet approved by the powers that approve new Port wines and regulate the Port wine industry as a whole. Candied orange peel, caramel, crème brulee with a sharp cut of acid this is great stuff. Like many of the newer producers, they bottle this in the hand grenade like bottles that are short and stout.

A bientot,
Tom

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