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Big Plans and Dreams, and an Impressive New Red in the Douro

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jun 2, 2008 6:49pm ET

Just north of Portugal's city of Regua, the gateway to the Douro, lies Quinta do Vallado. This is one of the estates that I visited six years ago, and today it reflects the scale of change that is sweeping the Douro. Since 2002, majority owner João Ferreira has overseen an impressive expansion and modernization of the winery, as well as the addition of guest rooms and culinary programs.

But there is more to come—much more. On a table, João spreads out blueprints of projects that will begin later this year to double the capacity of the winery and add eight guest rooms to the existing five. He is also planning to plant vineyards in the Douro Superior, an upriver region near the Spanish border, where many of the leading estates are expanding. João believes the Douro is just at the beginning of a boom in new wineries and facilities for tourists, and I have to agree given what I’ve seen so far. “Instead of having a few producers making good wine in the Douro, there will be dozens,” he says.

I’ve always liked Vallado wines for their fresh flavors, good value and the high quality of both the reds and whites. I taste a range of whites and reds with João and consulting winemaker Francisco “Xito” Olazabal, who oversees the cellars of his family’s magnificent Douro Superior estate, Quinta do Vale Meão. It’s a good day to be inside; a cool, steady rain falls outside. Xito and João comment that they are treating the vines to forestall an outbreak of mildew; it’s been uncharacteristically wet and damp in the region for nearly two weeks. The rain has produced an amazing display of wildflowers, but they now threaten the vines because they are flowering.

We taste a new 2007 white made from the Moscatel Galego grape. It is aromatic and fresh tasting, and I'd rate it very good, non-blind. The most serious of the whites is the 2007 Reserva, to be released this July. It is a 100 percent barrel-fermented blend of Gouveio (Verdelho) and Rabigato; it’s rich and delicious with a fresh acidity, and I'd rate it outstanding, non-blind.

We next taste through a range of tank and barrel samples of reds from ’06 and ’07. One fascinating sample is a pure Sousão: The wine is deeply colored with bracing acidity and intense currant and leafy herbal flavors. It is used only sparingly in the blends. “We put in 1 half of 1 percent and we find it too much,” Xito says, but he likes it for the color and structure it can provide.

A barrel sample of the ’06 Reserva red is very round and ripe, a typical profile for a wine from this difficult vintage. The quality is amped up by concentrated dark plum flavors that are accented by a lovely minerality. It is a blend mostly of old-vine Touriga Francesa, Touriga Nacional and Sousão.

The best comes last: a new wine called Adelaide that is a selection of the best old-vine lots in barriques. It is concentrated and elegant, with chocolate and dark fruit flavors and lush tannins. This wine is from 2005, and I'd rate it classic, non-blind.

The Douro red revolution continues apace and is reaching a critical mass. It is indeed exciting to see this region come into its own.

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