I first visited Quinta do Crasto, high above the Douro River, in June 2016. It is a beautiful place with a stunning infinity pool. I enjoyed walking in the vineyards, seeing the immaculately kept winery and cellars with suspended barrels, and drank delightful Douro whites and reds at lunch on the terrace. The Bacalhau was the best I have ever had!
This May I read Tom Harrow’s (Honest Grape) account of his tasting at the Quinta which included the two top reds – Vinha da Ponte and Vinha Maria Teresa. He wrote:
“Next comes a fascinating 100 per cent Tinta Roriz from 1997. Roriz is Spain’s Tempranillo but is planted less extensively in the Douro, as its strutting, aristocratic, highly strung sensibilities are less tolerated in this harsh land. But here it shows beautifully – all resin, menthol and varnished raspberries. By comparison, Touriga Nacional 2004 shows the sweetness and acid of the local bull’s heart tomatoes with a nose of salted caramel, roasted beets, a whiff of schist and the medicine cabinet.
Crasto’s Douro Reserva is as accessible an introduction to the Douro’s reds as you will find, being slightly softer, sweeter and more supple than some. The 2001 shows further integration and complexities, with key notes of balsa, sandalwood, camomile and cherries in dark chocolate. We then move up to two of the greatest reds of the trip, wines that would be highlights of any excursion to the Douro. Vinha da Ponte 2004, less than two hectares of grapes foot-trodden in a single lagar, is a “goosebump” wine: it was a warm night but the hairs on my arms were duly raised on first taste. It is a wine you feel in your cheekbones; my notes recall coffee bean, prune, lemon thyme and – inevitably from a 100-year-old field blend – one’s notion of the taste of schist.
Finally is Vinha Maria Teresa, an east-facing four-hectare vineyard producing one of Douro’s most prestigious table wines, which also has its own clinic of vines planted elsewhere to replace those dying, in order that its exact DNA can be maintained. Its 2007 – a little fresher than Ponte, with higher-toned fruit, more lead pencil, a sweeter core and slightly more bite – is gorgeous, all graphite and cherry and irresistible seduction. We are the first to taste 2011 (a week from being put into tanks prior to bottling) and, although in this nascent stage, it will clearly be a must for any serious collector.”
Over the past twelve months or so I tasted the full range of Quinta do Crasto wines except the two top reds and I was desperate to have a look at them. I bought the wines from Enotria&Co – the UK agents for the Quinta and tasted them last Thursday – Election Day, with a dozen colleagues from the Harrogate Medical Wine Society.
We first sipped a glass of Piper-Heidsieck Les Pionniers, (14.5) recommended by Tim Atkin MW, sat round a table and started the tasting with 2011 Tinta Roriz and Touriga Nacional 2012. The fruit for thess wines comes from 32 year-old vines on terraces. The grapes were foot trodden in a stone lagar, fermented in stainless steel tanks with robotic pistons to press down the cap and were aged for 16 months in 225 litre new oak barrels. The Roriz is darker and more extracted than your average tempranillo from Rioja, rich, fruity and very pleasing (16). The Touriga Nacional had more aroma, fruit and structure (16.5).
The field blend fruit for both Vinha da Ponte 2012 and Vinha Maria Teresa 2013 is from 100 year old vines from specific named vineyard plots on Socalcos – terraces supported by stone walls. Both wines spend 20 months in 225 litre new oak barrels. Vinha Maria Teresa is aged in 85% French and 15% American barrels. Both wines delighted all the tasters. I gave the Ponte 17.5 and Maria Teresa 18.
The field blend for the Colheita is also from socalcos and after fortification spends about 18 years in 550 litre Portuguese oak barrels. It is bottled without fining or filtration. (decanted two hours before the tasting). It was dark brown and had a nose of caramel, chocolate and honey. It was smooth and lovely and an absolute pleasure to drink. (18)
We drank two of the lesser wines of the Quinta with dinner. Douro Superior White 2015 – a barrel fermented blend of Viosinho and Verdelho aged for six months in 50% new French oak partnered asparagus wrapped in serrano ham with a balsamic glaze. The pale yellow wine with a citrus nose was crisp, fruity and rich. (17). Douro Superior Red 2014 – a blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Sauzao from vineyards with ‘vertical plantings’ – Vinha ao alto and terraces with one or two rows of vines – ‘patamares,’ aged in French oak barrels for 12 months, was deep purple in colour, had notes of wild berries, soft, balanced and long (17). It was drunk with chicken breast on a potato rosti with a rich tomato sauce and vegetables.
We tasted, drank and chatted late into the night. Topics for discussion were:
- What is the main feature of the Douro terroir?
- What are the common Douro grape varieties?
- What are vertical and horizontal plantings in the Douro?
- What is a field blend?
- What is a Colheita?
- “The Douro Boys“
(The tasting dinner was hosted by Tony Lee & Renna Benson in Knaresborough. Other tasters were: Gail Bent (Harrogate), Ramani Dias (Harrogate), Tony & Sian Gamble (Harrogate), Jane Greenwood (Leeds), David Lees (Wetherby), Peter & Carol Murphy (Ackworth), Gwynneth Owen (Leeds). The meal was prepared by Advent Catering)
- “We do hope the tasting was a success! Kindly let us know if you need any further information on any of these wines, I’ll be glad to send you. We can also invite you to visit Quinta do Crasto, if or when you have plans to be around in the Douro valley. Best of luck for the 08th 😊” – Rita Magalhães Camelo, Quinta do Crasto, Portugal
- “Well what a fabulous evening. Wonderful wines, food and company. Although it’s hangs in the balance as to whether it’s the Maria Teresa or the de Ponte that’s get the majority vote.
And many many thanks to Renna and Tony who make wonderful coalition!!
What a result!” – Tony & Sian Gamble, Harrogate
- “Thanks for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. The wines were excellent, I especially enjoyed the Maria Teresa closely followed by the Tinta Roriz. The Colheita was stunning.
Renna and Tony pulled out all the stops, and were the perfect hosts. The supper was lovely, a perfect summer supper in a happy atmosphere.
Thank you.” – Jane Greenwood, Leeds
- “Many thanks for arranging the Quinta do Crasto tasting; it was a lovely change with all of the participants able sit around one table and to taste the wines in a more intimate setting. Of course, the evening was only possible by the generosity of our welcoming hosts Renna and Tony; their labours in preparing, serving and dealing with the chaos of the dinner table afterwards deserve a special thank you.” – Gail Bent, Harrogate
- “What a very pleasant evening it was on Thursday – interesting wines and of course, delightful company!” – Gwynneth Owen, Leeds
- “We really enjoyed the wine tasting and meal last Thursday. All the wines were excellent if we had to pick out particular favourites they would be the Touriga Nacional and the Vinha Da Ponte and also the Maria Teresa . It was an excellent evening with topical discussions relating to the previous visits to Portugal and wine in general. Many thanks to Renna and Tony for hosting such an enjoyable evening. Perhaps with smaller numbers attending tastings this could be a new way forward.” – Peter and Carol Murphy, Ackworth
- “We thoroughly enjoyed hosting the evening and would have no hesitation in hosting future such events.” – Renna Benson, Knaresborough
- “This is very kind of you! I enjoyed reading your Blog and knowing how the tasting went. Our thanks for being such a great Quinta do Crasto ambassador. All the best, kind regards.” – Rita Magalhães Camelo, Quinta do Crasto, Portugal