We were in Marialva in north-eastern Portugal that Tuesday, having arrived from Harrogate in the early afternoon. That evening we had dinner at Quinta do Ervamoira.
In 1974, José António Ramos Pinto Rosas, the then Chairman of Casa Ramos Pinto, was looking for an estate on fairly flat land that would allow for mechanisation. He found and bought Quinta de Santa Maria and re-christened it Quinta de Ervamoira.
Two years later, with the help of his nephew João Nicolau de Almeida, José Rosas embarked on a project to study and select the five best Douro grape varieties, not only for Port but also red table wine. This made Ervamoira a pilot project, the first Quinta in the Douro to be planted vertically and by fields.
Today, the Quinta has 234 hectares at altitudes between 110 and 340 metres. It has 150 ha of vines with an average age of 30 years – 10% white, 32% Touriga Nacional, 22% Touriga Franca, 11% Tinta Roriz, 7% Tinta Barroca, 7% Tinta da Barca and 21% others.
We left Casas do Coro in the early evening and drove the 27kms to Vila Nova de Foz Coa where Mafalda and the winemaker of Quinta do Ervamoira were waiting for us. The road to Ervamoira is still a wild, rocky dirt track through the hills with streams without bridges which need to be crossed. We left the minibus in Foz Coa and travelled to Ervamoira in two jeeps. Mafalda drove one. We passed numerous terraced vineyards and little stone cottages in valleys, isolated, quiet and surrounded only by vines. We did not meet any other vehicles and there were very few people about. We were entering a different and magical world.
Suddenly we were at the top of a hill looking down into a deep and wide valley covered in vertical rows of vines. A small stone house stood at the bottom. We stopped the jeeps and stepped out to breath the clean mountain air and gaze in amazement at Quinta do Ervamoira. There were no other signs of human habitation to be seen in the valley and apart from a lonely buzzard circling above, no living creatures either. The silence was absolute.
We drove down the winding dirt track to the stone house. Nobody lives there now but it is home to a little wine museum.
Mafalda mixed white port and tonic which we drank listening to the sound of silence and looking over the sea of vines at the tree line of the Coa River and the hills beyond. White port and tonic make a wonderful, refreshing long drink. You must have good quality white port without oxidation to start with. Mix one part of port with three parts of tonic in a tall glass with plenty of ice and add two crushed mint leaves and a slice of lemon. Sip it slowly and feel closer to heaven but make sure you come back for a second!
The table was already laid for dinner. Mafalda made salt cod salad, roast beef with port wine sauce and an almond pie. We drank Duas Quintas White, Duas Quintas Red and 10 Years Old Ramos Pinto tawny. Duas Quintas wines are made with grapes from two closely situated Ramos Pintos vineyards – Ervamoira and the 20 ha of vines from Quinta dos Bon Ares with schist soils at an altitude of 600 metres and dating back from Roman times. The white is a blend of Viosinho, Rabigato and Arinto. The red is made with Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca and Touriga Nacional. The Tawny is mainly Tinta Roriz and Tinto Cão.
It was past 9.30 when dinner was finished and we got ready to drive to the nearby Coa Valley Archaeological Park. More jeeps and expert guides arrived. We were sad to leave. Quinta do Ervamoira is a magical place.
IN PRAISE OF PORT & TONIC
Quinta de Ervamoira – Vila Nova de Foz Côa
Phone +351 279 759 229 /Mobile +351 935 263 490/+351 932 992 533 / Fax +351 223 775 099
MILES AWAY, Mafalda Nicolau de Almeida / Email: email@example.com / Cell Phone: +351 93 874 95 28
Address: Av. Dr. Artur Máximo Saraiva de Aguilar n.º 8 2.º Esq. 5150-540 Vila Nova de Foz Côa http://www.milesaway.pt