Seminar Notes: The Wines of the Douro Valley
The first Quinta Vale D. Maria wine was produced in 1996, but Cristiano van Zeller’s life as a wine producer did not start then. His family have been Port Wine merchants since the 1620’s. Cristiano van Zeller’s daughter, Francisca, represents the 15th Generation in the trade. The van Zellers have owned various Quintas and produced some of the greatest Vintage Ports in the Douro Valley, namely at Quinta do Noval which they owned and ran for over 200 years.
At the end of 1993, when leaving Quinta do Noval, it was Cristiano’s ambition to contribute to the development of independent producers in the Douro, thus not only contributing to the establishment of a new and strong wave of innovation in the region, but also complementing, and at the same time diminishing, the Region's dependence on one single type of wine: Port.
Cristiano believes the richness of the Douro Region and its promotion can be developed into new fields using the different characteristics that make it unique in the world - its geography, soil and microclimate; the numerous different high quality native grape varieties; the different style of wines those grapes can produce from all styles of Port and other fortified wines (Muscatels) to white and red still wines; all the different properties (Quintas) and their ancient history all serve to accentuate and enhance the uniqueness of the region.
Following these guidelines, it was very natural to start looking at having his own vineyard. Quinta Vale D. Maria was acquired in 1996 from his wife, Joana’s family. It has belonged to Joana van Zeller’s family since, at least 1868, as it was this year that it was obligatory to register the property at the local bureau. However these documents state that the property had already belonged to the family for many years before that. Its name seems to originate from the second demarcation of the Douro region, which happened under the reign of the Portuguese Queen, D. Maria II, around 1843.
Located in the Rio Torto Valley, in the heart of the Douro Valley, Quinta Vale D. Maria has 41 different varieties planted in the vineyard. Each plot of land at Quinta Vale D. Maria has a different blend of these varieties and varies in age and sun exposure (South, South West, West, East, South East). The vineyard is 45 hectares big, 23 hectares of very old vines (between 60 and 80 years old), 17 hectares planted 30 years ago and a new plantation of 5 hectares. Each distinctive plot gives us an exceptional base from which to produce wines of great quality but also of a unique character. From our vines at Quinta Vale D. Maria, we produce a range of very high quality and unique DOC Douro wines and Port wines. We show our special “terroir” in each wine and aim to bring out the strong character and clear origin of each single vineyard.
All our DOC Douro Wines
Rufo do Vale D. Maria Douro White / Rufo do Vale D. Maria Douro Red
Rufo was born during an after-dinner talk with some friends, while elaborating about how to better our agricultural practices to improve the environment and increase the Alectoris rufa’s population in Vale D. Maria (Alectoris rufa being the scientific name for the red-legged partridge). We agreed that the word Rufo, meaning red in Latin, would be a good name for a Douro red wine. But Rufo in Portuguese also means the sound of a drum, so when designing the new label, the drum quickly became the choice for the symbol of the new Rufo do Vale D. Maria, our entry level wine, and the one that announces and sets the beginning, the rhythm for our range of Vale D. Maria wines.
Vale D. Maria VVV Valleys Douro White / Vale D. Maria VVV Valleys Douro Red
Our family has worked in the Douro for 15 generations. Throughout this long history, there have been three main valleys where we have grown grapes. VVV The Three Valleys shows the unique character of the Pinhão, Torto and Douro Valleys, where we have found vineyards that we feel express the Douro we have known for many centuries. Each V marks the passing of five generations and was also a symbol used to show the quality of Wines within our cellar. The Douro is the combination of all these factors: family, history, grape variety, terroirs and wine - and this wine is its testimony.
In the Douro Valley, we owned our family’s first property – where the oldest single Quinta Port has been produced and bottled under the single estate name – Quinta de Roriz. In the Pinhão Valley, we owned Quinta do Noval, birthplace to one of the most renowned wines in the world the Noval Nacional Vintage port. And finally, in the Torto Valley, we currently own Quinta Vale D. Maria, where we are producing some of the highest quality red wines in the region.
Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro Red
A single vineyard wine, produced from the original 10 hectares of old vines located in the heart of the property. This is the wine with the greatest blend of different varities (41) and exposures (South, South East, South West, East and West). We foot tread these grapes in granite lagars and some parcels completely ferment in the traditional way. Other parcels will ferment in open stainless steel tanks. Malolcatic fermentation will take place in 60% new French oak barrels, where the wine is then aged for 21 months.
Quinta Vale D. Maria Vinha da Francisca Douro Red
Vinha da Francisca (Francisca’s vineyard) was planted in part in 2004, when Cristiano van Zeller’s oldest daughter turned 18. The second part of the vineyard was planted in 2007. It totals 4,5 hectares and five grapes were selected to produce this blend: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Francisca, Sousão and Rufete. The first vintage was in 2011. This wine is foot trodden in lagars and also partly fermented in lagar. Ageing is done in 50% new French oak barrels.
Quinta Vale D. Maria Vinha do Rio Douro Red
Vinha do Rio (River Vineyard) takes its name from the location of the plot. It is the oldest vineyard (around 100 years old), located close to the Rio Torto, and it is just 1,2 hectares large. There are 27 varieties planted in the field, with 49% being Tinta Barroca. This variety is known for its velvety tannins. This wine is pure silk and freshness. 100% foot trodden and fermented in granite lagars. Aged for 21 months in 50% new French oak Barrels.
All Port Wines
Quinta Vale D. Maria Reserve Port Lote No xx
Quinta Vale D. Maria LBV Port
Quinta Vale D. Maria Vintage Port
We also have a small range of Old Tawny Ports available, such as 10, 20, 30 and Over 40 Year Old Tawny Ports and a few Colheita Old Tawny Ports. These are supplied by Van Zellers & Co.