Tag Archive for: Vineyards

The Douro region can hit 40 degrees in high summer, so its spectacular terraced vineyards are best suited to the production of rich, full-bodied reds. Traditionally the grapes were destined for Port, notably Touriga Nacional with its ability to withstand heat. The jury’s perennially out on whether it is rewarding a single varietal table red but, blended with the likes of Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Bastardo, Tinta Amarela, Touriga Franca and Tinta Barroca from the highest sites, its fruity exuberance can be channeled into real elegance.

Thee days you’ll find the Douro increasingly populated with luxury cruise vessels where you can sample such increasingly appreciated wines on board or stopping off at the various quintas (estates) dedicated to wine tourism. 

You can’t stay at the winery of Alves de Sousa, alas. Which is shame since they are spectacularly situated above the winding Douro. Te de Sousa family cultivate their five estates containing 110 hectares of vines, some over 100 years old. The winery, open to visitors is at the Quinta da Gaivosa. Visitors are welcome all year round, by appointment only (+351 254 822 111. The whole range is outstanding.

Our VIP visit culminated in a hair-raising four wheel dusk drive up 1 in 4, rutted mud tracks through pine and eucalyptus forests to the topmost vineyard, which produces their Vinho do Abandonado. Wine of the Abandoned, the first of my five recommended Douro Reds.

The slopes of old vines are a tough terrain to make wine with but the results can be stunning

Alves de Sousa, Abandonado, Douro, Douro Valley, 2015 (£80)

‘Abandoned’ because it took year to recover the 85 year-old site. It was worth the effort. The 2015,  a field blend (mixed vines in one plot) is inky, spicy intense yet surprisingly refined on the palate, with liquorice and black berry dominating. At this price, it’ one for the committed Dourophile. Count me in. All prices below re rrp.

Nat’Cool Voyeur Nierpoot 2019 (£30)

Very much at the opposite end of the Douro spectrum – from the region’s most restless groundbreaker, Dirk Neeport, now dipping his toes into the natural wine sector. Six amphora reds and whites, from vines 40-50 years old, and from six varying sites each year. Each site spent 6 months in 1000L Spanish amphora, lined with beeswax, prior to blending in stainless steel, returning to amphorae for a couple of months, and then bottling with minimal sulphur added. Result is a very fresh red with soft almost silky tannins, pale because of the presence of some white grapes in the blend. It bursts with redcurrant and raspberry fruit but it’s also quite earthy. Worth chilling slightly. If you seek a more traditional Neepoort red go for Redom Tinto 2018 (£40) or the top of the range Batuta 2017 (£80), both of which were in stunning form at a recent Manchester tasting.

Pouring the Quint do Vallado at a tasting in sunny Manchester; below, the even sunnier Vallado estate

Quinta do Vallado Reserva Field Blend 2018 (£33.90)

The entry level Tinto is a field blend too, but I’d recommend upgrading to the Reserva, always one of my favourite Douro reds, from a beautiful estate that dates back to 1716 but has moved with the times by hosting two highly recommended boutique hotels. Their elegance is shared by this fig-scented red that unleashes oodles of cherry and plum fruit.

Quinta de la Rosa Reserve Red 2017 (£38)

This estate upholds the old Portuguese tradition of treading the grapes in granite lagares – before transferring to stainless-steel vats for fermentation. After which it is matured for 20 months in used French oak casks. Result is a medium-bodied charmer with balanced acidity and a beguiling freshness.

Quinta do Crasto Reserva Old Vines 2017 (£29.95)

Complex and concentrated with a strong herbiness, this one needs a a couple of years but its juicy cherry fruit is tempting now. Maybe one to decant. Or just choose a simpler Crasto from lower in the range.


If you ever get the chance travel up the valley from Porto. If you’re driving allow yourself plenty of time. Steepling hairpin bends offer spectacular views but make taxing motoring, particularly if you get stuck behind a tractor. Boat trip, as mentioned, offer a more laidback oenophile odyssey. Then there is the spectacular 175km Linha do Douro rail service up to Pochino by the Spanish border – one of the world’s great train journeys, much of it alongside the broad, swirling river, and on Saturdays offering a steam service from Regua to Tua (www.cp.pt).

Where to stay. In sleepy Pinhão, the heart of the quality vineyard area, where I recommend Vintage House Hotel, sister hotel to The Yeatman in Porto. This fomrer Port warehouse was repurchased and renovated in 2016 by the enterprising Fladgate Partnership, who own 500, hectares of vineyards nearby. So a great base to expand your knowledge of Douro wines.


OK, but let me stray leftfield to White Port. Served chilled, it makes a delightful aperitif. I first discovered its charms while staying at Vintage House. I’ve not drunk the Porto Quevedo since but a beautiful substitute, sharing the same honeyed colour and hints of pear drop on the palate with a long dry finish is The Quinta de la Rosa White Port (£15.95). It would be deceptively easy to sink the whole 50cl bottle but beware it’s 19.5 per cent.

The best foodie guide for any visitor to Portugal, with a strong section on Oporto and the Douro, is The Wine and Food Lovers’ Guide to Portugal by Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter (Inn House Publishing, £16.95).

Portuguese wines. To discover where to buy the finest in Britain visit www.viniportugal.co.uk.

So you think you know what Provencal rosé is all about? At the pale end of pale pink, ripe fruit with (you hope) some fresh acidity and a dry aftertaste? There will be a wide price range but a reassuring homogeneity, especially when chilled to within an inch of its roseate existence. 

Every summer now there seems to be a mad scramble to think pink, especially Provence. Hence an obligatory tasting of 300 in the current issue of Decanter magazine. Verdict of their rosé expert, Elizabeth Gabay MW: “Quality was consistently high, with some squeaky clean wines at all price points. The downside was an almost unending monotony of style.”

In the resultant Top 30 recommendations the rosé at No.5 (with 93 points) stands out as a ruddy maverick interloper among the pale brigade.

She describes Château Gasqui, Silice, Côtes de Provence Rosé 2019 as: “Pale red copper. Perfumed, almost grapey, red fruit aromas. On the palate a beautiful explosion of ripe red fruit, creamy apple compote, a touch of orange peel, marmalade, crushed citrus and some pretty leafy acidity. Quirkily different, intensely fruity and fresh. A gorgeous wine from a biodynamic producer, who is not afraid of ripe fruit and who makes wines which age with ease.”

What did also surprise was the UK supplier, https://www.owtleeds.comOWT of Leeds. Weren’t they the outfit that set up in the city’s Kirkgate Market with a menu generated from what was freshest on the stalls daily? ‘Owt!’ being the answer to what was available. It was a natural extension of co-owner James’s time as a volunteer chef at Real Junk Food Project flagship Armley Junk-tion. 

How does all this link to Southern France’s fields of lavender, sunflowers and vines? Bear with me for a paragraph. Well, OWT has now decamped from the Kirkgate to a cafe unit in the nearby Corn Exchange, Grade 1 listed, domed Victorian gem. The casual but precise food offering remains much the same – from breakfast to late afternoon but with a more expansive Thursday evening menu that wasn’t possible under market hours. 

Esther and James are, step by simple step, rising stars of the Leeds food scene

Oh and on the left as you go in among some chic OWT merchandise you’ll find a trio of exclusive Provencal wines from the family vineyard of James’s partner, Esther. Her surname, Miglio, is a clue to an Italian bloodline way back, but she is the very French daughter of Francois, winemaker for 30 years at Château Gasqui.

She’s proud of the Gasqui wines and so she should be. After hopping on a train to Leeds I can confirm what a complex belter the ‘Silice’ rosé is, like the Roche d’ Enfer! red, dominated by the Grenache grape. Yet just as striking was Esther’s favourite, the Roche d’ Enfer! white from 2013. The ageing has obviously benefited the Semillon that forms part of the cepage with  Rolle and Clairette. What struck was a hint of jasmine on the nose, a waxy mouthfeel and spice notes among the honeyed peachy fruit.

Château Gasqui’s vineyards are set in and support an idyllic natural landscape in the South of France

All three wines are available by the glass at £5, £25 the bottle (which is also the takeaway price). Not cheap but worth it for the purity of fruit extracted by Francois, driving force behind Gasqui being one of only two biodynamic producers in the region. Pictures of the vineyards radiate healthy, blossomig terroir. The brand-heavy fleshpots of Saint-Tropez and the Med Coast may be only 40km to the east but this is a world away, a sustainable enterprise, the antithesis of vinous bling. 

OWT’s food is a perfect complement to the wines. I lunched mid-afternoon off a small menu offering a choice of summer tartelette, aioli with prawns, ‘pepper patchwork’ or panzanella. I went for(and didn’t regret) the £10 steak plate that consisted of a 7oz Yorkshire rump steak, properly rare as requested, plus a herb salad and salsa verde. Fries had run out for the day (it was 3.30pm), so I ordered a side of OWT pickles at £3.50. Carrot, cucumber, ginger and red onion, all fresh and tangy as Esther recounted how after a history course at Marseille University she decided to check out Manchester and fell in love with it gigs and bars. There she met James and he persuaded her a future together lay in his native Yorkshire. God’s Own Country got the best of the deal, you feel, when you taste the wines she has brought with her.

OWT, Unit C12A&B Leeds Corn Exchange, Call Lane, Leeds LS1 7BR. 0113. 247 0706.

A swift guide to biodynamic winemaking and how it benefits Gasqui

Biodynamics is often referred to as ‘super-charged organic’. Its roots are in the theories  of the Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Rather than simply reducing chemical inputs, biodynamic production is a proactive attempt to bring life to the soil with the use of natural composts and organic preparations. 

It’s more than just an agricultural system, rather an altered world view that then impacts on the practice of agriculture. Winemakers drawn to this philosophy tend to be creative, spiritual types, deeply connected to their land and always experimenting to see what works best. Which seems to sum up Francois Miglio’s approach.

Gasqui holds Demeter biodynamic certification after the Château’s owner was persuaded to go down this radical route, which forbids chemical fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides or fungicides. Instead insect life and spiders are encouraged to control pests; manure encourages organic growth. After hand-harvesting the grapes the wine is produced in a gravity-fed cellar without winemaking additives. Ambient yeasts are used, with no or scant sulfites and no fining.

More controversially all significant vineyard activities –  soil preparation, planting, pruning, harvesting – are done in accordance with the influence on earth by the moon, stars and planets. Finally, the aspect that can spark scepticism – the use of nine preparations 500-508 (a bit like homeopathy), using  plants such as nettles, dandelion and chamomile, to be applied in powdered form or as sprays. Most divisive is Preparation 500’, where cow horns are filled with cow manure and buried in October to stay in the ground throughout the dormant season. The horn is later unearthed, diluted with water and sprayed onto the soil.

In a magazine interview Francois said of the Steiner strictures: “It is important to understand that 50 percent is symbolic and 50 percent is real… it all helps focus.” 

All of which reminds me of a memorable trip to Ted Lemon’s Littorai winery in Sonoma, California. In Ted’s absence his young deputy confessed to not being a total convert to biodynamics (the perfection of the Pinot Noir was proof enough for us). And yet, as he put it, “It sure does make you pay attention.” 

We loved the copper hue of Château Gasqui but if rosé has to be pale pink for you?

Much has been made of a celebrity influx of Provencal rosé providers, led by Brad and Angelina, whose Château Miraval is made by the Famille Perrin, Chateauneuf du Pape royalty at Chateau Beaucastel. Majestic have it at £19.99  bottle, £14.99 in a mixed six case.

My Provencal pink alternative from a celebrity duo would be Domaine de Triennes, a joint venture by Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, and Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac in Burgundy. It’s a serious well structured wine without sacrificing all the  joyous fruit (£13.95 from Vin Cognito. A simpler favourite would be Coeur De Cardeline Rosé, better value at £8 than its Co-op stablemate, Brangelina’s ‘Studio de Miraval’ (£12).