Oporto Dinner with Francisco Javier de Olazabal: Quinta do Vale Meao

DINNER AND TASTING WITH FRANCISCO JAVIER DE OLAZABAL, FORMER PRESIDENT OF FERREIRA AND CURRENT PRODUCER OF QUINTA DO VALE MEAO – Cafeina Restaurant, Oporto, Portugal (5/19/2010)


Photos courtesy of Stewart Todd

For our last night in Oporto, after we returned from tasting with George Sandeman at Quinta do Seixo in the Douro, we dined at a newish and very good restaurant, Cafeina. Roy Hersh had arranged for us to be joined by the dean of the Portuguese wine trade, Francisco Javier de Olazabal. Francisco is the great-great-grandson of the woman who was once the largest landowner in the Douro, Dona Antonia Adelaide Ferreira. Dona Ferreira turned Ferreira (renamed A.A. Ferreira after her death), the company her great grandfather started in 1751, into a powerhouse Port producer and major vineyard owner. Quinta do Vale Meao was the only property totally planted by Dona Ferreira, on 270 hectares of barren land purchased from the town council of Vila Nova de Foz Coa in 1877, and it eventually passed to the Olazabal family. Francisco bought out the other members of the family to own the property outright in 1994. Francisco himself was President of A.A. Ferreira starting in 1982 before the company was sold to Sogrape in 1986, and continued on after that until he retired from that position in 1998. A.A. Ferreira is the biggest selling Port producer in the Portuguese market, and their Casa Ferreirinha made the first great dry Douro red, Barca Velha, beginning in 1952, based in part on grapes from Quinta do Vale Meao. (It should be noted that the winemaker for Barca Velha was Francisco’s father-in-law, Nicolau de Almeida. The Portuguese wine trade is highly incestuous, and Francisco referred to many of the people he mentioned in the business that night as his “cousin.”) Francisco continued to sell the Quinta do Vale Meao fruit to A.A. Ferreira until 1998. He left A.A. Ferreira to develop his own winemaking project at his property under the technical direction of his son, Francisco de Olazabal y Nicolau de Almeida. The younger Francisco is also winemaker for Quinta do Vallado. The first vintage of Quinta do Val Meao’s dry red was 1999, and Francisco’s first Port from the property was 2000.

Quinta do Vale Meao is planted 40% to Touriga Nacional, which is a much higher percentage than most properties in the Douro. Francisco planted 20 hectares in the last four years, so that grapes now cover 80 hectares of the property. He also significantly added to the plantings of Touriga Nacional after studies of the Portuguese varietals showed Touriga Nacional to be the strongest and most characterful component, even though it can be difficult to grow, being prone to overripening and very susceptible to cool weather. The rest of the block plantings at the vineyard break down as follows: Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo) 30%, Touriga Francesa 15%, Tinta Amarela 5%, Tinta Barroca 5% and Tinta Cao 5%. Francisco also buys some grapes. Now Francisco is making two dry Douro reds from the quinta–Quinta do Val Meao, and a second label, Meandro do Vale Meao–as well as Port. The Meandro is made from younger vines, and aged in two-, three- and four-year-old French oak barrels.

Francisco has had the old lagares at Vale Meao completely restored and divided into two to create six lagares. He also invested in a robotic treading machine similar to the one at Quinta do Noval but using hydraulic rather than pneumatic pressure. The grapes for the dry wines are first foot trodden in the lagares and then transferred to stainless steel 10 ton vats where they complete fermentation under temperature control. The grapes for the Port ferment in the lagares up to the moment when grape spirits are added. Francisco also told us that they are looking into ways to shade the grapes. In 2006, the intense heat withered much of the crop, so they only yielded 10,000 litres instead of the usual 25,000.

These wines are quite impressive, and it was delightful not only to taste through multiple vintages, but also to spend time with the charming, suave Francisco, who knows everyone involved with the Portuguese wine trade. I asked Francisco what he drinks when he’s not drinking Portuguese wine, and he admitted a fondness for Vega Sicilia and wines from Ribera del Duero.

Francisco decanting for us

Dinner Wines

These are definitely the best dry Douro reds I’ve tasted. I can see why they already have a cult following in Portugal, and the limited production sells out quickly. The 2004 and 2000 were particularly excellent, and very ageworthy. For a second wine, the Meandro is also quite good, a relative bargain, and good for drinking while the first wines mature, although the Meandro itself ideally should have a few years in bottle. I don’t have experience with Barca Velha, which used to be based on grapes from Quinta do Vale Meao, but I’m told that the quality declined some since these grapes ceased to be available to them.

  • 2007 Quinta do Vale Meão Douro – Portugal, Douro
    Dark purple violet color; rich berry, violets, very aromatic nose; silky textured, mocha, berry, blackberry, sweet cassis palate; medium-plus finish (38% Touriga Nacional, 45% Touriga Franca, 12% Tinta Roriz, 5% Tinta Barroca; 90% matured in new Allier oak barriques and 10% in 2-year-old barriques) (94 pts.)
  • 2006 Quinta do Vale Meão Douro Meandro – Portugal, Douro
    Dark purple violet color; nice berry, dried berry nose; tasty, smooth, berry, blackberry, vanilla palate; medium-plus finish 92+ pts. (needs 2 to 3 years) (92 pts.)
  • 2007 Quinta do Vale Meão Douro Meandro – Portugal, Douro
    Dark purple violet color; lovely berry, scented, violet, subtle herb nose; tasty, silky textured, tart plum, berry, subtle herbs palate; medium-plus finish (needs 3-4 years; 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinta Roriz, 20% Touriga Franca, 5% Tinta Cao, 5% Sousao; matured in 2 and 3 year old Allier oak barriques) (93 pts.)
  • 2000 Quinta do Vale Meão Douro – Portugal, Douro
    Dark red violet color; intriguing, black fruit, tobacco, berry nose, very aromatic; tasty, berry, blackberry, black fruit, tar palate, deep, with grip; long finish 95+ pts. (35% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinta Roriz, 15% Touriga Franca, 10% Tinta Amarela, 5% Tinta Barroca, 5% Tinta Cao) (95 pts.)
  • 2004 Quinta do Vale Meão Douro – Portugal, Douro
    Very dark red violet color; mocha, chocolate, rich black fruit nose; tasty, rich black fruit, berry, blackberry palate with richness and depth; long finish (60% Touriga Nacional, 20% Touriga Franca, 15% Tinta Roriz, 5% Tinta Barroca) (95 pts.)

Ports

These were delicious, powerful Ports, among the best we had on our trip, and certainly on a par with the younger vintages of Quinta do Noval, Dow, Taylor, Graham and Fonseca I’ve tasted. Grapes from this vineyard used to make up an important component of Ferreira vintage Ports, until more of the grapes started to go into Barca Velha in the ’50s. My favorite of these was the 2000, but they were all excellent. Francisco father and son clearly know what they’re doing.

  • 2007 Quinta do Vale Meão Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    From magnum – opaque black red violet color; tart black fruit, rich berry, blackberry nose with depth; rich, sexy, luscious, surprisingly approachable, berry, blackberry, black fruit palate with good structure and sweet tannins; long finish 97+ pts. (40% Touriga Nacional, 35% Touriga Franca, 25% other varieties) (97 pts.)
  • 2004 Quinta do Vale Meão Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Opaque, black red violet color; spicy black fruit, prune, tar nose; rich, deep, spicy black fruit, pepper, bitter chocolate palate with lots of potential; very long finish 96+ pts. (96 pts.)
  • 2000 Quinta do Vale Meão Porto Vintage – Portugal, Douro, Porto
    Opaque black red violet color; bittersweet chocolate, tar nose with depth; deep, bittersweet chocolate, rich berry, tart blackberry, blackstrap molasses palate; long finish (98 pts.)

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