Quinta do Vesuvio
“The Quinta of all Quintas”
Our afternoon appointment in the Douro was in the western part of the Douro Superior at the legendary home of the Queen of the Douro, Quinta do Vesuvio. Home to Antonia Ferreira while in the Douro, Vesuvio is nestled at the bottom of a large series of mountain-like hills that rise from the banks of the Douro. The resulting steep and multi-faceted terroir provides multiple amphitheater-like sites ideal for planting vineyards made up of 7 peaks and 31 distinct valleys.
We were running a little late so we put the petal to the metal as we zigged and zagged our way along the Douro and then up and over a series of mountain tops to descend through the Vesuvio vineyards down to the Douro River and the Quinta far below.
We were greeted kindly by the winemaker, Bernardo Napoles, and we discussed the day and apologized for our delay. We discussed the history and great significance that Vesuvio has not just in the Douro but all of Portugal and beyond. The conversation turned excitedly to the recent vintage 2015. The harvests across Europe seemed to have all done well in 2015 and based on our discussion the Douro seemed to be no exception.
Quinta do Vesuvio makes just one Port wine consistently and it is always a vintage Port made in almost every year. This is unique because most of the big names in Port only make their marquee Port wine in what are known as “declared” Port Vintages that typically occurs only 3 times every 10 years. Capela is a single vineyard, single site (Vale da Escola) Port wine only made in special vintages such as 2011. Red table wines are also produced in small amounts and are rare to see outside of Portugal. The terroir of Vesuvio encompasses a great swath of land, 329 of 806 acres are planted under vine, with an elevation range that starts at 130 meters and peaks at 530 meters.
We did not have the time to get into the vineyards, but we did get to inspect the living and breathing organism that was the wine production building. Built to control air flow and temperature as well as use gravity to move the wines through the production cycle, this was a brilliant achievement way ahead of its time erected way back in 1827, almost 200 years ago. Before 1827, Quinta do Vesuvio was known as Quinta das Figueiras but was changed in name by Antonia Ferreira’s father António Bernardo Ferreira.
Since the building was built on a hillside, it was built along the grade so that every level was accessible by foot or auto. The top level at the back of the building is where the lagares are located. Grapes are brought in after careful selection from the back of the building. The grapes are crushed under foot by a team of workers. Foot trodden maceration is an old tradition that is still practiced and celebrated at each harvest after the grapes come in from the vineyards. It truly is a sight to behold should you witness it or if you are lucky enough to partake in one yourself. The human foot is perfect to crush grapes as they will never crush the seeds which would release bitter astringency into the must. This process and the macerations takes place for about 3 days before the must is moved to large cask to finish fermentation and finishing.
On the next level down are the large wooden chestnut casks that finish fermentation and where fermetnation is stopped and the wines are fortified (inoculated) with a grape brandy spirit. Gravity does all the work here, gently handling the wine as it makes its way into the tanks from the lagare on the upper level. Some producers make their own neutral grape spirit for inoculation, though the majority buy it from regulated cooperatives or import it from other countries that can vary in quality.
We stood in front of that last section tasting the wines just a few steps from the Douro River. The bottled Port wines we sampled were from the 1990s and 2000s, each one unique with vintage character and paced perfectly apart with 2006, 2000 and 1996. We tasted a few barrel samples from 2015 that were extraordinarily expressive, almost glowing at the edges with purple-red intensity and a dark, opaque core. There is no doubt in my mind that if this is the quality to expect from the Douro in 2015 we will have a newly declared Port vintage, the first since 2011. We should also have on our hands a great table wine vintage. Lots to look forward to in Portugal every year, but watch out for 2015, it’s going to be a great vintage.
Tinta Amarela & Tinta Roriz
Of the 3 barrel samples, this was showing the most apparent gassy aromas of the recent fermentation, along with plenty of red fruits and a shade of herbal notes like sage and bay leaf. Not likely a component of the Porto 2015 as Tinta Amarela is not a grape used in the main VP Port cepage.
Showing the floral and more elegant fruit side of the blend, Franca also adds a lot of structure and power in the texture of the wine with a very full body and very firm tannins. The fruits are red and fresher, with the schist mineral character coming through on full power here. A long, grippy finish, this will add the structure and power the vintage port will need to age.
Touriga Nacional 50%, Sousa 50%
Intense and full of energy, easy to drink now with bright and lively acids with ripe and full-bodied tannins coated in the ripe glycerin of the wine. Freshly crushed blackberry, black raspberry, and black cherry easily rise from the glass and coat the palate. Crazy length on the finish, easily 2 minutes+ or more. This will be an exquisite component of the Porto 2015. One of the many joys when a Port is made in an undeclared vintage.
Not surprisingly open, though that is mostly due to mother nature making 2006 a somewhat difficult vintage and small crop and thus the wine wears the elegance and refinement very well on a style that is already beautifully elegant. Red raspberry, cherry, and sweet licorice aromas and flavors complement a very open and easy drinking fresh Port.
Plenty of gusto and power this one needs maybe another 5 years as it is still a dense wall of texture with a thick viscosity and very firm and ripe tannins. Loads of brambly fruit from start to finish where fairly straightforward. I would expect these aromas and flavors to get more complex and defined as the wine matures further and the layers of density start to peel off.
The deep opaque core has given way to a deep crimson and brick edge to the color at the rim. In a terrific place right now as the nose and the palate are open, complex and deeply pleasing in flavor and aroma. With mostly mature tertiary characteristics of dried fruits, sweet tobacco, a little bitter cacao and mellow spices with a beam of minerality from the heart of the schist terroir of this unbelievable property.