Last Of A Dying Breed

Just past Regua on the Douro River look up and you’ll see a huge white stone marker bearing the name “Dona Matilde”. Look to your right and further up the steep slope you’ll see their newly renovated Quinta house with olive trees planted down the slope from the house. Photo by Robert Stephen.

Just past Regua on the Douro River look up and you’ll see a huge white stone marker bearing the name “Dona Matilde”. Look to your right and further up the steep slope you’ll see their newly renovated Quinta house with olive trees planted down the slope from the house. Photo by Robert Stephen.

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By Robert K. Stephen (CSW)

(REGUA, PORTUGAL) – There are few Portuguese owned Port houses these days. Dona Matilde is an exception. Just past Regua on the Douro River look up and you’ll see a huge white stone marker bearing the name “Dona Matilde”. Look to your right and further up the steep slope you’ll see their newly renovated Quinta house with olive trees planted down the slope from the house.

Dona Matilde was briefly in the clutches of a Spanish bank in May 2006 after a sale of Dona Matilde by the Barros family. The bank also owned Calem, Burmester and Kopke all big Port houses. Then on 27 December 2006 Manuel Barros purchased Dona Matilde back from the Spanish bank so it once again remained in family hands. Felipe Barros, Manuel’s son handles the marketing and certain technical aspects of production. Manuel seems to have his hands in viticulture and vinification.

45% of total acreage has been planted in the past 12 years with traditional Douro Valley grapes. No single grape is used in their Port but rather a blend. All wines produced are to be found on their website. There are 28 hectares under cultivation. Presently some 40,000 – 50,000 Douro table wines are produced but there is capacity to ramp up to 150,000 bottles according to Manuel.

Manuel notes the stiff competition in the Port industry has been worsened by the world economic picture. 40% of production is exported to the United States, Canada, Brazil, China and Macau. Dona Matilde actually makes the wines with a joint venture partner. Manuel mentions a surplus of grapes and low prices makes the Port and wine market a difficult business to be in. Manuel states reputation is hugely important and that a new image for Douro wines must be created which focuses on Portugal, the Douro and the Douro brands.

Dona Matilde can be visited by appointment but a planned tasting room is not yet open to the public.

Felipe (left) and Manuel Barros recently regained control of Dona Matilde from a Spanish bank. Photo by Robert Stephen.

Felipe (left) and Manuel Barros recently regained control of Dona Matilde from a Spanish bank. Photo by Robert Stephen.

We are invited by Manuel and Felipe to a restored beach house converted into a restaurant in the fashionable Voz seaside district of Porto. Cafeína Restaurante is swank, modern and very relaxing. Although visiting the WC is a treacherous experience. One wrong move and you’ll have a broken hip. The food is bang on but at times the service meanders.

I am very impressed with our first wine a 2011 Dona Matilde white a D.O.C. Douro with indigenous grapes of Rabigoto, Arinto, Viosinho and the aromatic Gouveio. Wonderful aromas of apple, pear and quince with good minerality. Pineapple, pear and grapefruit on the palate. An excellent match with white fish served simply and not a bad sipper too. I give it a 90.

The two pre dinner reds tried are perhaps indicative of a new style of Douro reds I am noticing on this trip. The traditional Douro reds come on strong with big aromatics of black fruit and lavender. With age they can be tamed into soft and supple beauties but initially they are about power. The newer style Douro reds are restrained if not elegant. Same grapes but different results. The Dona Matilde Douro D.O.C 2008 is made with Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and a less common Tinta Amarela an aromatic red susceptible to rot.

The wine is made from 40-60 year old vines and has cheerful aromatics of raspberry, cedar, cherry and tobacco while the palate has raspberry and cocoa powder elements to it with good acidity. A wine made for food and I score it an 88. At 89 points the Douro Red 2008 Riserva has aromatics of cocoa powder, pomegranate and black cherry and with good food friendly acids.

Enough of these table wines. Let’s try the 2011 Vintage Port that all winemakers visited so far produce at a very high level. Can Dona Matilde rise to the challenge?

Blackish and purple appearance suggests extreme richness on the nose and on the palate. Aromas of blackberry jam, black cherries, coconut and raisins. On the palate a penetrating coat of rich black fruit, liquorice with some spice and pepper on the long finish. Tannins are certainly present with this is wicked and smooth velvety hammer. It is immediately approachable, immediately drinkable and terribly enjoyable. Forget the food matching’s on this pure beauty.

(Quinta Dona Matilde 2011 Vintage Porto, Quinta Dona Matilde, Porto, Portugal, 20%, $60,Square Media Group Rating 95/100).

Currently unavailable as the original offering in late November sold out within hours of its availability through the Small Winemakers Group in Toronto. More may be arriving shortly. Please direct your inquiries to The Small Winemakers at 416.463.7178. The Small Winemakers have the Dona Matilde 2004 Colheita Port at $39.20 (case of 6 required) and the Douro Tinto at $19.95 (case of 12 required).

If Manuel believes reputation is important he has my vote and personal voucher for the wines of Dona Matilde.

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)

Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC.

Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden.

Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, “Have Story, Will Write.”

Email Robert Stephen

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