By Rose Murray Brown MW   Published in The Scotsman 10 November 2018

“No other classic wine region in the world has changed as much in modern times as the Douro valley in northern Portugal.  The table wine revolution is one of the most exciting things to happen here, attracting dynamic producers making it a top quality red wine region”.

This is according to Christian Seely, director of historic Quinta do Noval one of the Douro’s most beautifully-sited Port estates (pictured above).  Like many of its neighbours in Cima Corgo in the heart of the Douro high above Pinhao, it is now producing table wines alongside Port – but the question you might well ask is whether there are enough grapes for both.

Christian Seely Quinta do Noval Axa”The reason this has been possible is due to a revolution in the way people plant vineyards in last 25 years.  Port has never been better, but there are enough good grapes to make table wines too”, says Seely (pictured right).

Seely reckons the main challenge is increasingly hot weather and drought.  “We need to change the grape profile, canopy techniques and allow controlled irrigation”, he says.  Their preferred grape for Port and table wine blends is Touriga Nacional, which does not like heat, so they are increasing plantings of heat resistant Touriga Franca and introducing more Syrah.

Another Port house at the forefront of Douro’s table wine revolution is Niepoort, on the other side of Douro river at Quinta de Napoles.  Owner Dirk Niepoort (pictured below) understood early on that to make the best table wine you need different vineyards to those for port. 

Niepoort worked in Australia and California, returning to his family Port house with an aim to make his own table wine.  He made Redoma red in 1991 and white in 1995.  By 2002, he realised how well both wines aged and what potential the Douro offered for table wines. 

Dirk Niepoort Douro Portugal“With Port we know what we are doing, it is just attention to detail – but with table wine it is a challenge”, he admits.  “A revolution is taking place as we are still working out which vineyards work for table wines”.

Niepoort believes old vineyards are the best for table wines.  His acclaimed Batuta is made from 100 year old vineyards from nearby Quinta do Carril. 

“I like old vines co-planted in old-fashioned field blends, as ripening is more even than when grapes are separated into varietal plots.  The average age of growers I work with is 75 years”, he says.  Like their Port, Niepoort’s top red wines are made from a blend including Tinta Amarela, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Cao.

“I don’t like over-ripeness, so I look for north-facing high altitude vineyards like Quinta do Carril which take longer to ripen, so you get concentration, freshness and elegance.  I pick on acidity rather than alcohol”, he says.

According to Niepoort there is actually a scarcity of good grapes this year.  “Hail and frost have reduced crops by 40%.  This is not a problem with Port as we spread the cost over years, but it is for table wines”, he says.

Heading south from the Douro (pictured right) into the more remote Dao region (pictured below) on a wild granite plateau surrounded by pine forests and Sierra de Estrela mountains – the table wine revolution continues.   

As in the Douro, hail and heat is again a challenge here.  “We lost 15 hectares in wild fires last year and this year yields are low from hail”, says Manuel Lourenco of Quinta dos Roques.  “Touriga Nacional is our important grape, but we are developing other grapes like Alfrocheiro, Jaen and Tinta Roriz (Spain’s Tempranillo)”.

Roques is Dao’s leading quality estate today, but their rise to fame is recent.   “My parents were Maths teachers and used to sell grapes, apples and hazelnuts from the farm to the local co-operatives”, says Manuel.  “Today we own two estates Roques and Maias producing 200,000 bottles, so are one of the bigger producers now”.

Dao wine Portugal Quinta dos Roques“We make wines with the objective of being able to age”, he says – but what is so successful about Roques’ wines is their fruit focus, freshness and approachability.  Their wines are also more affordable than those of the Douro.

Dao is a historic wine region, but for years made dusty earthy reds; now attitudes are changing in these remote farms, but there are still only a handful of quality producers like Roques making modern fruit-driven wines. 

One of the largest is 100 hectare Quinta dos Carvalhais, purchased in 1988 by Portugal’s largest wine company, Sogrape.  They focus on reserve wines buying grapes from local growers.  “When we started 80% of grapes were non-authorised, but now 80% are noble grapes like Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz; we are certainly witnessing a revolution here too”, says winemaker Beatriz Almeida.



Cedro do Noval Douro PortugalDouro: CEDRO DO NOVAL TINTO 2014
£18 Majestic, Selfridges, Tanners Wines, Lea & Sandeman
Named after the emblematic cedar tree which shades visitors as they sip their white port cocktails on Noval’s terrace.  Plummy spicy blend of estate-grown native grapes with 25% Syrah and aged 18 months in oak; minerally depth with earthy finish
£23 Lea & Sandeman
Damson fruits, elegant with soft silky tannins; the highlight in Romaneira’s range, Seely’s own private venture in a stunning riverside location.

Niepoort RedomaDouro: NIEPOORT REDOMA TINTO 2015  ***STAR BUY***
£29 Raeburn Wines, Oddbins           
From 70 year old grapes, foot trodden in lagares and aged in old oak; floral spicy aromas, vivid freshness, deep concentrated fruits and wonderful acidity; will age superbly

£10.50 Drinkmonger; Lupe Pintos; Luvians
Great value in Dao’s succulent style; crunchy red fruits, creamy texture and elegance.

£14 Oddbins, Oxford Wine, Luvians
Classic Dao with mulberry fruits and minerally undertones.

£21.99 Kirkness & Gorie; Fine Wine Musselburgh; Henderson Wines; Wine Reserve
Only made in top years, my highlight in Carvalhais’ range: violet hints, attractive spicy, good acidity and length.

Join Rose’s Portugal Masterclass: Douro v Dao Wine Tasting on Thursday 21 February 2019 in Edinburgh £45 www.rosemurraybrown.com

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