Portugal Tasting Report 2018 - It's not just about the Port!

Portugal is not just about the Port, and that is what I learned after spending a week tasting dozens of wines both in Porto and the Douro. I arrived in Portugal excited about the 2016 Port vintage, that had been released only a few months earlier. I heard reports it was the Port of the century. However knowing that only 15% of Portuguese wine makes it to Port, something told me there was something else, to this small country, apart from the wonderful Fortified sweet wine, which has been drunk by the British for centuries.

Points on Wine -  Top Dry Portuguese Wines 2018

My tasting trip to Portugal had two parts, tasting through the vineyards in the Douro, followed by a tasting in Port houses in Porto. Both parts were important since both places told a different story on Portuguese wine. The trip started in the Douro, this is probably the most beautiful setting for vineyards in the world. I cannot think of a place more picturesque than the Douro. I could just drive around this region for hours admiring the view and trying to keep all 4 wheels on the road! The two vineyards I visited were Quinta do Vallado and Quinta Vale Dona Maria. Both of these vineyards are the benchmark, for top quality Portuguese wine, and so I was excited to see what they had on offer.


Quinta Do Vallado offers both white and red wine from entry level to top end wines at over $200 USD. They buy most grapes for their entry level, however, grow and bottle their medium to top end range. I was taken around by Ricardo, who explained how the vineyard was also trying to go Organic or at least sustainable. It is a long-term project, however significant progress has already been made. It was an exciting time to be at the vineyard since harvest was in full swing. One of the first questions I had, was whether they picked by hand and if they picked the grapes at night. Ricardo told me it was impossible to pick at night or by machine due to the steep slopes. Well, I think I won the dumb question of the day award! Hand picking allows for a better product. Nighttime harvest is more or less impossible, so they try to pick early in the morning to ensure they do not damage the berries. In terms of the 2018 vintage, he was not over-optimistic, after three good vintages, 2018 was a challenging year, with too much rain early in the summer and then a very hot July, August. Mildrew was difficult to control and the grapes struggled in the heat not to over-heat and whither. Yields would be low, however, he hoped that the quality would be good. Only time will tell. 

Points on Win -Quinta do Vallado

I tried through the majority of what Quinta do Vallado sold to the market. I was incredibly impressed with the quality of what was on offer. The entry-level wines were lean, simple yet enjoyable. The highlights were the Quinta do Vallado Rosé, 100% Touriga Nacional(91 points), with notes of fresh raspberries, strawberries, with a simple but elegant finish. Moving on the to the mid-range end, I was blown away by the Quinta do Vallado Douro Branco Reserva 2017 (92 points), a blend of Rabigato, Gouveio, Arinto, and Viosinho. This wine showed aromas of tropical fruit and pear, the palate was full of pear, pineapple, white pepper with great minerality and seductive finish. Finally, the Quinta do Vallado Touriga Nacional Douro 2016 (92 points), was a 100% Touriga Nacional. This wine showed the full potential of the Touriga Nacional grape and how it is has a bright future, not just in Portugal but potentially outside of the country. This wine was elegant and floral, with notes of blackberry jam, pepper, and spice. We also tried some of their Port which I will cover in a separate post. The quality of Quinta do Vallado wines really surprised, their mid-range wines really showed very well. They were easy to drink, well made and affordable. 

Holding Touriga Nactional grapes at Quinta do Vallado

For lunch, I then headed an hour along the Douro to Quinta Vale Dona Maria. I was met by Cristiano van Zeller. Cristiano's history is worth writing a book about. He has previously worked or owned Quinta do Noval, Quinta do Crasto and Quinta do Vallado. So pretty much the most famous vineyards in Portugal. Cristiano then set up his own vineyard Quinta Vale Dona Maria(1996), and recently extended his vineyards by acquiring Van Zeller's from his cousins, João and Pedroin in 2006. It was previously managed by Cristiano when he was in charge at Quinta do Noval. I found Cristiano to be one of the most interesting, humble and knowledgeable gentlemen in the world of wine, that I have come across. I refer to him as the godfather of the wine of Portugal, he is the face of Portuguese wine, and I am convinced the transformation in Portuguese wine in the last 20 years is partly due to Cristiano. 

Quinta Vale Dona Maria has incorporated all of Cristiano's knowledge, lessons learned and passion towards making wine over his career. He explained to me, that the last 20 years the quality of winemaking in Portugal has exploded. These gains are especially significant in the dry Douro wine space. 20 years ago, the focus was solely on Port. This meant the harvesting focused solely on the perfect time to pick the grapes for Port wine.

Points on Wine - Quinta do Vallado

Wine of the tasting, you will have to wait for my report on Port to find out, which bottle it is!

By law there is only a certain amount of Port which can be made, this left a lot of overripe grapes hanging in the vineyard, once the Port harvest was completed. So the remainder of the grapes were fermented and made in to dry (but sweet) still wine. This was not a great success. The tables started to turn, and with the popularity of the dry Douro wine increasing, grapes were picked prior to the Port grapes and not after. These not so overripe grapes produced excellent quality wine, and the resurgence began. 


Back at the house at Quinta Vale Dona Maria, and the lunch was set up looking over the Douro and Cristiano's vineyard. You could sense a certain level of pride he had towards what he built. Maybe he knew, maybe not, but we were about to taste through the best wines on offer from Portugal.  Winemaking at the Quinta was very traditional, all red grapes went through a foot crush (similar to Port winemaking), this allows for a slow extraction of color, tannins, and flavors. The lunch can be seen below and was as good as what it looked!

I started with the white's from both the Van Zellars vineyard and Quinta Vale Dona Maria's vineyards. The two highlights for me were the Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro Vinha de Martim 2016 (95 points), this was highly layered and rich on the nose, with notes of stone fruit and apple, the palate I found round and full with layers of fruit, little spice, and a slightly buttery but elegant finish.  I was also impressed by the 2016 Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro C.V. ("Curriculum Vitae") 2016 (94 points), this had sweet citrus fruit, peaches, and a wonderfully balanced mid-palate with an acidity which kept you on the edge of your seat. On to the red's; The Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro Vinha da Francisca 2015 (96 points) was the highlight of the tasting, I could see the vineyard from our lunch spot! This wine showed a wonderful bouquet of dark red fruits, the palate showed blackberries, raspberry, and some baking spice, there was a fantastic purity of fruit alongside seducing soft tannins which had a finish which never ended. The other red which stood out for me was the Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro C.V. ("Curriculum Vitae") 2015 (95 points), this was rich, lush and full of fresh fruit. I found secondary notes of fresh earth and spice box, however, the smooth tannins and purity of the fruit really stood out again. This is one of these wines which you can enjoy today, but keep knowing it will just improve over the next 10-15 years. The Port I tried will be published in a separate post. 

Points on Wine - Quina Vale D. Maria
Points on Wine - Quina Vale D. Maria

Cristiano pointing to the Francisca vineyard! The wine of the tasting

Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro Vinha da Francisca 2015

96 points


Was able to see this vineyard from where we were eating lunch at Quinta Vale Dona Maria! This was named after one of Cristiano's daughters and was located on terraces next to their house! The nose had wonderful dark fruit aromas a bouquet of blackberry, dark cherry and violet, this led on to a palate full of ripe and delicious dark fruit of blackberry, raspberry, there were additional notes of baking spices, however the purity of the fruit on this wine was second to none, and really showed the beauty of this little terroir on the side of the Douro. The wine had firm but seducing tannins and a fine and elegant finish, this is so young and I will just keep the bottle I have for another 10 years and I know it will only go up 1-2 points from here!

Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro C.V. ("Curriculum Vitae") 2015 (red)

95 points


The nose was full of strawberries, herbs, raspberries, the palate was full of fresh fruits with ripe tannins, spice box, fresh earth. It was rich and lush however with an elegance than ensured the finish was fresh and interesting. It is a wine that makes you keep coming back for more. Fantastic!

Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro Vinha de Martim 2017

95 points


Only 1200 bottles, An 8 year old vineyard planted with a variety of local varieties located in the village of the Martim located 50km to the north of the Douro. 80% new oak. This white is off the charts in terms of flavor profiles with a rich and elegant palate. I found notes of stone fruit, apple, peach a little spice with vanilla and a long elegant finish which seemed to never stop. Well balanced, with a great balance between the creamy textures of the wine and the acidity which bounces around in the palate. This is a benchmark in terms of Portuguese whites. This will probably increase by a point in the 7-10 years.

Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro C.V. ("Curriculum Vitae") 2016 (white)

94 points


Another fantastic white from Quinta Vale D. Maria. A blend of multiple grape varieties from a plot of land in the Douro. This white shows wonderful stone fruit and sweet citrus notes with a well-balanced acidity and mid-palate textures. The balance of this wine is truly remarkable and even at this young age, I am surprised at how well it is drinking. The finish is layered and lasts for enough time to appreciate and take another glass,  I recommend at least 5-10 years of aging to see the full potential of this wine.

Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro Vinha do Rio 2015

92 points


29 different grape varieties. The nose was quite shy at first with more spice and cocoa than fruit. The palate had notes of blackberry, raspberry, cacao, coffee. The tannins were smooth and the finish elegant. 

Quinta do Vallado Douro Branco Reserva 2017

92 points


Blend of Rabigato, Gouveio, Arinto, and Viosinho. This had been aged in oak barrels (40% new), notes of tropical fruit, melon, and peach dominated the palate, little white pepper and excellent minerality which gave way to a soft but elegant finish. Full potential to age 10 years. This blend tasted like a mix of a Chablis and a Riesling. Did not know Portugal made whites this good!

Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro 2015

92 points

The purity of fruit here is fantastic with lush raspberry, blackberry and cherries, the mid-palate also has notes of black pepper and baking spice, however not overdone, everything is in the right proportion. The finish is of medium length and the tannins are still not perfectly settled, however, this will mellow out over time for sure. Hold

Quinta Vale D. Maria VVV Tinto 2015

92 points


I found the nose shy with some dark fruits, which on the palate gave way to a blackberry bramble jam, spice and freshness, the finish was elegant and refined

Quinta do Noval Touriga Nacional Douro 2015

92 points

Nose of violets, flowers, blackberry, on the palate I found leather, lavender, dark red fruits with a fresh finish. This is lush with a great complexity which shows off the Touriga Nacional grape.

Quinta do Vallado Touriga Nacional Douro 2016

92 points


Made from 100% Touriga Nacional, this has been aged in oak barrels for 16 months with 40% in new oak. I found this quite floral and elegant, blackcurrant jam with a little black pepper and spice. The finish was nicely done, however, I would wait to allow this to mellow out a little more, ripe tannins a little too present however this will mellow out over a couple of years

Quinta do Crasto Douro Branco Superior 2016

92 points

A blend of 60% Viosinho; 40% Verdelho, this has been aged in used oak barrels for 6 months. The nose is quite closed, however, the palate opens up to citrus, orange blossom, and a stone fruit texture, and finishes with a light persistent finish. This is a wonderful white and tasted blind I would have guessed Chardonnay! Drink now or hold for a couple of years

Quinta do Noval Syrah Labrador 2015

92 points

Dark red lush cherries, with baking spice, black pepper, nutmeg and a touch of black pepper, this is a lush Syrah with fresh but firm tannins which leads to a delicate finish.

Quinta do Noval Douro 2015

91 points


Dark fruit on the nose with a whiff of smoke, leather and spice, a medium palate showed signs of dark cherries, cacao, baking spices and blackberries, the finish lingered on the palate for a couple of seconds, this was very easy to taste.

Muxagat Vinhos Douro Os Xistos Altos 2014

91 points


Excellent white from the Douro, comprising of 100% Rabigato, this local Portuguese grape variety showed excellent notes of white flowers, lemon peel, ripe peaches with additional notes of tropical fruit and a soft slightly creamy finish, this reminded me of a chardonnay in texture. Very similar to the Vallado Reserva white.

Quinta do Vallado Douro Rosé 2017

91 points


100% Touriga Nacional, raspberries, cherries, good acidity with a nice lean and straight finish. Enjoyed this rosé.

Quinta do Noval Cedro do Noval 2015

90 points

Blend of Portuguese grape varieties and Syrah. Notes of black pepper, spice, nutmeg, and cedar. Tight grippy tannins, palate filled with dark black fruit, cassis, and a grippy finish.

Van Zellers Douro VZ White 2016

89 points


Citrus peel, ripe nectarine, light and fresh, short finish. Perfect for a hot summers day.

Vinha Paz Dão 2017

89 points


Blend of Encruzado 60%, Malvasia 30%, and Gouveio 10%. Notes of citrus, tropical fruits and stone fruits, good minerality. Fresh and well-balanced acidity

Quinta do Vallado Douro Reserva Field Blend 2016

89 points


A blend of close to 45 different grape varieties, the majority made up of Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela, Touriga Franca and Tinta Barroca. Aging is done for 18 months in 60% new oak. I found notes of tobacco, dried herbs, cherries, blackberries, and firm drying tannins. This needs to be kept a couple of years to show it's full potential. Decant in advance.

Vinha Paz Dão 2015

88 points


Very Beaujolais style, cherry , strawberry with notes of candy pop, very fruity.

Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro Rufo 2017

88 points


Stainless Steel fermentation, light, fresh white with notes of citrus, tropical fruit, pineapple, great acidity.

Quinta do Vallado Douro Vallado Branco 2017

88 points


A blend of Rabigato, Códega, Viosinho, Gouveio, and Arinto. This entry level white had notes tropical fruit, citrus with good minerality, light and refreshing.

Quinta do Vallado Souzão Douro 2015

88 points


100% Souzao, intriguing grape variety, quite a lot of pepper, tobacco, acidity with a good amount of staying power. Tannins were grippy. This needs a while to balance out. Interesting to experience this wine as a single variety.

Quinta do Crasto Douro Crasto 2015

88 points


Quite tart and spiky, red plums, black cherry, spice, anise, licorice, tastes like a Cote du Rhone village. Finish is reasonably well balanced, lack of complexity. 

Quinta do Vallado Douro Prima 2017

88 points


100% Moscatel Galego Branco, This is a bone-dry muscatel! less than .5 g/l. Very floral, racy acidity. Fresh

Quinta do Vallado Douro Vallado 2016

87 points


A basic blend comprising of mainly Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Sousão. From Bought grapes. Quite acidic, balance is ok with raspberries, cherries. Fresh and light, lacking complexity.

Casa Ferreirinha Douro Papa Figos 2016

87 points


Notes of plums, cherries plenty of red fruits, a little licorice. Nicely balanced not much to the finish but enjoyable. For the price would buy again. Drink now

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