By Robert K. Stephen (CSW)
(TABUAÇA, PORTUGAL) – Accessible off the main road and then on another tiny dirt road winding up the hills is Quinta do Seixo which is a Sandeman owned estate and is translated as a “block of rock”. We are given the obligatory tour of the winemaking facility by Sandeman’s owners, Sogrape, a huge Portuguese winemaker. Our contact on this sunny and hazy Douro Valley day are Joana Pais (Media Relations) and the slightly shy but passionate winemaker Luis de Sottomayor. As to natural surroundings, architecture as well as a spectacular view of the Douro below this is a very impressive Quinta.
Sogrape is owned by a Portuguese family. Sogrape owns Sandeman, once a Scottish owned Port house. Sogrape cultivates some 480 hectares in the Douro, and owns five vineyards as well producing both table wines and Ports. 30%-40% of its wines are made from grapes purchased from growers. There are 15,000 guests a year at Quinta do Seixo. The tasting room has a cosy interior with tables and arm chairs on one side and benches on the other. The star of the show is the exterior terrace with a magnificent view of the Douro River far below. You can see Pinhao to the right.
After our tasting we had Sandeman Splashes with light and crisp Portuguese almonds with Bola Frango. A Sandeman Splash is white port with tonic water. It’s a great cocktail as the bitterness of the quinine in the tonic water offers a perfect foil for the slight sweetness of the white Port resulting in a zippy and fresh drink. We are in a terribly good mood after cocktails and enjoying the warm fall air and the spectacular view.
We move into a private dining room as Luis pours and describes the wines with lunch. The Caldo Verde Soup is served with fresh bread and estate olive oil (not for sale). We are served a 2012 Vila Regia D.O.C. white Douro D.O.C. which is a blend of Malvasia Fina, Gouvieo, Codega and Viosinho. It’s crisp and lemony and hums in harmony with the cabbage based soup.
The main course is a superbly grilled octopus with green beans and killer roast potatoes. The octopus is tender yet incredibly rich like a rare cut of beef so much so a hearty Vila Regia 2011 Reserva is served and does wonders dancing with the octopus and the roast chestnuts on the side. The wine is a blend of the usual Douro red grapes, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. The dessert is a Chocolate Mousse with orange peel served with a Vau 2003 Vintage Port and then yet another fulsome Portuguese cheese platter. In the late afternoon sun we head back to Porto but stop near the Quinta for some Medronho Berries growing by the side of the road. Louisa, our IDVP companion warns us no more than 3 or you risk certain Timothy Leary effects. I eat one which is a cross between a strawberry and lychee but terrified of some Jimmy Hendrix flashbacks discretely toss the rest out the window.
Up and down the hills with ears popping we hit the motorway and zip into Porto some three hours behind schedule and facing a too long tasting and dinner with my friends at Dona Matilde….and this was supposed to be an off night.
Before I go I should say all the wines and Ports sampled were very good and no dogs appeared. Once again the 2011 Vintage Port reared its beautiful head. Sandeman’s has hit the mark with a well structured and powerful 2011 Vintage Port with some bracing acidity and thick tannins hinting at ageability. On the nose lots of chocolate, cherry jam with plum and on the plate a deep base drum vibration. Again this one scores a 91 like many other of the 2111 Vintage Ports.
Lagging behind at 89 points is the Vau 2003 Vintage full of rich black fruit. The Sandeman’s LBV 2009 Port holds its aromatics very close to its chest with blackberry, blackberry and bacon. On the palate a penetrating fruitiness yet tight and distinct. Another 89.
As a bit of a treat we are treated to an unlabelled and unintended to be released to the public 2013 Tinta Franco/Tinta Cao/ Sousã Port which will be used for blending purposes. It is very youthful and aggressive rip roaring with blueberries, blackberries and tar.
What a day!