We at Maître Philippe et filles are always looking for exciting new products that win our hearts and that we can offer our customers. Of course, our focus is on French delicacies, but if there are interesting products to discover and taste elsewhere, we are curious and take a closer look... Portugal seems to be a real treasure trove in this regard!
We have had the fantastic Alento wines from Luis Louro from the Alentejo in our program for some time now, and since the beginning of the asparagus season we have also had the great Vinho Verde from Quinta de Teamonde in the north of the country. We wanted to complete this small selection with wine from the famous Douro Valley, which many of you should already be familiar with. So we booked a flight relatively spontaneously, packed our bags and set off with the family...
At the airport in Berlin at 16° ...
... at the station of Peso da Régua at 28°!
The Douro Valley is located in northern Portugal and owes its name to the river of the same name, which flows through the valley like a blue lifeline. The Douro Valley is one of the most famous wine regions in Europe and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011. In fact, it is the oldest protected wine-growing region in the world: Here, in 1756, the Marquês de Pombal laid down the quality characteristics for wine and viticulture. The Douro Valley used to be best known for port wine, but now more and more very good, especially red wines are being produced here, which are delighting more and more critics and happy drinkers worldwide.
In this extremely green and fertile valley, not only does the heat accumulate, but above all a lot of history, a lot of know-how and a lot of good wine!
View of the Douro Valley
Our journey began with a brief stop in Porto and then continued to Peso da Régua, a small inland town about 120 kilometers east of Porto. Here we set up camp in order to get to know selected winegrowers and their wines over the next few days.
View from our window
Our host's sister-in-law and her husband started with a spontaneous wine tasting on the evening of our arrival. Because of course they also have their own vineyards. Under the Arcadela brand, they produce origin-protected Douro wine and port wine, which they export to several European countries. The exception is the port wine. It is - as we should hear often in the following days - "only for family and friends" ...
We tried a white wine, a classic red everyday wine, a reserva and their tawny porto.
Our conclusion: incredibly nice people and very good down-to-earth wine.
The wines of Arcadela
The next day, at 10 a.m., we continued with the Quita do Judeu , where we were welcomed by André Marinho Pinto, who runs the Quinta with his wife. André is 38 years old, a very likeable and relaxed guy and speaks Portuguese with a slight Brazilian accent. Like his wife, he is one of the so-called 'returnees', Brazilian-born Portuguese who returned to their parents' motherland in their early 20s and made a living here.
Surroundings of Quinta do Judeu
Quinta do Judeu owes its name to an ancient Roman stone statue of a Jew, of which no one knows exactly what it is... The Quinta has been in the family for a long time, but was not worked until the early 2000s. It was not until 2004 that André's wife's father bequeathed the Quinta to the couple. With the expense of massive investments (including with the help of EU subsidies), the two restored the property and got the house, vineyards and facilities up and running again. Since then they have been running the Quinta with the help of an oenologist and a professional winemaker. Both of them are lateral entrants from business and marketing. The brand's coherent appearance reflects its capabilities in this area.
The Quinta do Judeu and the eponymous statue (the new version by a local artist - the original was stolen)
At the Quinta do Judeu, four wines are produced from autochthonous grape varieties that grow on A and B locations: a white wine, an everyday red wine ("Corgo") and two red wines at Reserva level, which are not declared as such ("By Quinta" and "Quinta do Judeu").
The wines of Quinta do Judeu
First, André welcomed us at the Quinta and showed us the entire facility. It started with the lagares. These are large granite troughs in which the grapes are crushed without crushing the pits. This gives the wine its beautiful intense red colour, but no additional tannins and tannins get into the wine. This ancient method actually gives much better results than any other mechanical method.
An interesting detail: On the Quinta do Judeu, all parts of the system are set up in such a way that gravity is used as much as possible. The stainless steel tanks and barrels are in a lowered room and the wine can flow straight down from the lagares without having to be pumped. Another part of the facility houses the warehouse, packing station and loading area, from where the orders are delivered all over the world. Around 90% of production goes abroad, including to Brazil, China, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland...
This is where the wine is stored – in bottles and in barrels
Next, we all got into André's jeep together to see his vineyards up close. One of the main characteristics of this growing area are the very steep slopes, which often make it impossible to work with tractors and machines and force manual harvesting. The vineyards of Quinta do Judeu are also terraced on the steep slopes of the Douro.
In total, the three vineyards extend over 27 hectares, which are quite scattered and sometimes far away from the quinta, which poses an additional challenge. Now in May there is not so much going on in the vineyards: the vines are pruned, tied down and treated as part of moderate pest control.
André explains the work in the vineyard to us
The vineyards on the steep slopes
Only in autumn does it really get busy again, because then it's harvest time. Then numerous seasonal workers, many of them from Eastern Europe, are hired, who work for an hourly wage that exceeds the German minimum wage. However, the work is really hard and the thermometer regularly climbs to over 40°C ... even hardened workers sometimes give up prematurely, says André.
"The wine is the boss: When it sleeps, we sleep, when it needs work, we work"
(Andre Marinho Pinto)
To be honest, even at 34°C we can hardly imagine doing gymnastics around here with a heavy basket on our backs. And so we prefer to continue listening to André's explanations and enjoy the breathtaking view ...
Panoramic view from the São Leonardo viewpoint
After this excursion we will be taken to a small hidden restaurant in Régua – an insider tip for the locals. In a relaxed 1970s atmosphere with competent and friendly waiters and fantastic food (including bacalhau and grilled octopus) we can finally enjoy the wines.
At the wine tasting
We are particularly interested in the "Corgo" and also the 2012 white wine, which is produced with grapes from 85-year-old vines. An absolute winter wine that doesn't look out of place in the air-conditioned room. It is beautifully round, fat, full and has a slight sweetness. It goes perfectly with the bacon mushrooms that we get as a starter.
The 2013 Corgo is a great everyday red wine with a lot of character and 14% alcohol, but you don't notice it. The Touriga Nacional dominates the nose, bringing a beautiful floral note. In the mouth, the wine delights with a light acidity and subtle tannins. We can imagine it going well with any kind of food, but we find that it doesn't necessarily have to be accompanied by food. The two higher-priced and heavier red wines "By Quinta" and "Quinta do Judeu" are different, of course.
Our conclusion of the meeting: an interesting and pleasant company with fantastic wines - bingo!
The second appointment of the day is in the evening at Quinta do Monte Travesso . It's on the other side of the Douro where, according to André, the roads are better but the wines are worse because it's on the shady side and the slopes aren't always that steep... :)
In fact, the vineyards of this quinta are less steep, but their wines really don't need to hide!
The vineyards of Quinta do Monte Travesso
The Quinta do Monte Travesso is run by Bernardo Napolés and his father José and has been owned by the Napolés de Carvalho family, an old Portuguese aristocratic family, for 5 generations. The quinta dates back to the early 19th century and breathes history from every angle. All the rooms – even the inhabited ones – look like they are from a museum: there are old artefacts of wine and agriculture everywhere, as well as the uniform of the great-grandfather, which was hung with medals, and souvenirs he brought from Asia (he was a commander in Macau). Of course, an in-house private chapel with an imposing altar should not be missing. He himself was baptized here, José tells us proudly.
In the museum ...
Bernardo, who is in charge of representing the family business, has always worked in the wine business. He divides his time between the family business and the large Portuguese-British port wine group Symington, for which he acts as a consultant.
Our wine tasting begins with casual, multilingual small talk on the terrace with an excellent rosé - a rarity in the region, which otherwise tends to rely on red wine
The Rosé Monte Travesso in a suitable setting
Then Bernardo begins with a short tour of the property. Although everything is much more traditional here than at Quinta do Judeu, you can tell that the son brings a fresh character to the company. Not only the bottles and their boxes are quite minimalistic, the entry-level wine Travesso also surprises with a very modern and playful label that sticks in the memory.
The grape presses - unfortunately empty.
After a tour of the grounds, we head to the lagares and stainless steel vats where we taste the 2013 Monte Travesso red wine and the 2014 Reserva red wine. So straight from the tank in the midst of hoses and other equipment, such a wine tastes completely different - a nice experience!
Bernardo pours and explains his work
Then we sit down with the whole family, including Bernardo's mother Theresa and his sister Ana, who by the way sticks all the labels, at the set table in the middle of the traditionally decorated dining room. Theresa prepares Portuguese home cooking specialties and of course the wine.
The offer includes a total of five wines ("Travesso", the red entry-level wine; the three Monte Travesso wines in white, rosé and red; the Reserva), as well as a port wine - "only for friends and family" - an interesting mixture made of ruby and tawny.
Surprisingly, we liked the rosé best of all. He is very characterful, beautifully vinous and has a great intense color, like freshly crushed raspberries or grenadine. It goes well as a pure drink, but also goes well as an accompaniment to light to hearty dishes.
Our conclusion: a warm-hearted family, an interesting family, exciting wines!
Head and heart full of impressions, we happily return to Berlin after three exciting days. Our yield is at least one new rosé and one beautiful red wine, not only for autumn. We have learned under what sometimes very difficult circumstances in the Douro Valley the wine that we so carelessly pour into our glasses a few thousand kilometers away and that makes us so happy is produced.
We also met extremely friendly people, including our host Roberto from the Casa Grande do Serrado in Sanhoane (fifteen minutes from Régua) , where we slept two nights, his neighbors who gave us a basket full of fresh oranges and lemons without being asked in their garden, Edith, the plump, hearty village cook, who prepared us an evening feast with her homemade bacalhau and potato chips, and so many others...
The Douro Valley is definitely worth a trip and we will definitely return. If you can't set it up so quickly, we simply recommend our new wines for the time being. Saude!