Visits in the Cima Corgo and Baixo Corgo

With a very relaxed 10.30am start, our first visit was to Quinta do Beijo, in the north of the Cima Corgo, the middle region of the Douro Valley and home to the many of the most prestigious vineyards.

We arrived a bit early and had time to admire the sparkling pool in the front of the quinta, but then the whirlwind that is João Monteiro arrived.  João is the fifth generation of the Monteiro family to run the estate, and had clearly adopted a sales oriented role, in a good way.  He led our visit with entertaining anecdotes and made us feel very welcome in his somewhat indiosyncratic way.

João explained that in addition to growing grapes on their 15ha of ‘B’ classified vineyards, and making the wine from them, he also acts a broker between other local growers and port houses.  The family have only made their own wine for the last 15 years, starting with port and now making still wines as well.  They sell directly, from the cellar door and by mail order, and it was clear João’s natural salesmanship was key to their success.

In the winery we quickly moved to tasting their wines – our first flight was of three still wines:

Their Grande Reserva white, which had a spicy oaky nose and a lovely creamy texture and fresh finish.  The basic DOC Douro and Reserva, both from 2019, showed the increased power of the latter, both had lovely fruit and were very well balanced, and the basic wine was a bargain at €8.

We moved through to the granite lagares, and then in the barrel cellar, the largest barrel held 19,000 litres, and the oldest was 170 years old!  After a short masterclass in how the huge barrels are cleaned, including an example of the tarar/sugar coating that builds up over time, and must be manually scraped from the inside,  we tasted their 10 year old tawny, their 10 year old white, and then, as a special treat from Tim, their 40 year old tawny.  All three were super, but the 40 year old, made in fact from wines that have been ageing for on average 70 years, was wonderful, with a silky texture and flavours of coffee and honey.  

Salesman João couldn’t let us leave without an opportunity to buy, and many of us obliged.  

The coach then took us south, back over the Douro River at Régua, to Quinta do Tourais, where we were greeted by the youngest of the family, Antonio who was at pains to tell us he was very new to winemaking, having studied architecture, though he was very informative and gave a lovely family perspective.

The estate has 8ha of vines, grown organically.  Antonio’s uncle, Fernando Coelho, is the winemaker and is very innovative.  They have planted varieties not grown widely in the Douro, such as Baga and Alfrocheiro, and are equally experimental in the winery, as we were to learn.  By the granite lagares, Antonio explained that harvest had started with whites in early August and had recently finished – the last wine having been drained from the lagares only 4 days ago.  The red grapes are foot trodden, and mainly free run juice is mainly used in the wines, though some of the press wine from the remaining skins and pips may be added for a bit of power, or to calm down brand new oak barrels.

White wines are put in the basket press as whole bunch, allowing better draining of highest quailtiy juice.  Wines are fermented in a number of different vessels – a clay amphora, oak barrels, stainless steel.  Some whites are fermented with skins, and there is even an aromatised wine – more later.  Grapes for port (the estate has a high classification for port wine so its grapes are very desirable) are sent to a bigger winery.

Our tasting accompanied a stunning lunch, made by the family.  Liliana explained each wine in turn, with great passion, and also explained their logo – the ‘shy bull’, who would not fight, but was still powerful.  Manuela was the power in the kitchen, and our spread of salads, pastries, cheese and meats attested to yet more pride in the fruits of the land and innovation in cooking.  Main course was melting pork shanks, and the pudding selection set Tim’s heart on fire!

The wines were of course fabulously interesting and lovely.  Their white blend, with so many grape varieties we lost track, had been matured in amphora, stainless steel, oak and a proportion fermented with skin contact.   The same blend was also presented as an orange wine – all fermented on the skins, half in amphora.  I’m normally not a fan of orange wines, but this was a super wine, with great texture but still plenty of fruit character and freshness.  Our final white had been aromatised – hops had been added during fermentation, and this added a really interesting citrussy flavour to the wine which had a lovely creamy texture.  A nice ‘bookend’ to our 2022 experiences, which started, of course, with some lovely retsinas in Greece!

The first red was a single varietal Tinto Cão, which was a revelation – Liliana advised that at home it should be drunk in a Burgundy glass, and it did have a lot of Pinot Noir characteristics – pale in colour, spicy and earthy with red fruit and lovely acidity.  The second red was their field blend from old vines, with dense dark fruit and ripe pronounced tannins.

With pudding we had, what else, a 10 year old port, though in this case it was a white and went beautifully with the creme caramel, apple cake, creme brulée and coconut biscuits.

Throughout our meal the family chatted to us about their wines, their philosophy, and made us feel hugely welcome.   We dragged ourselves away, and it was a very quiet coach ride back to Vila Real, with a fairly reduced level of consumption that evening, though it was still fun to stroll round the streets and watch the antics of the University freshers going through their induction exercises supervised by the cape wearing second years.