Quinta de Chocapalha
Portugal - from the Douro to the Alentejo
15 - 21 October 2012
This superb Classic wine tour of Portugal takes us from the steep sided valleys in the depths of the unspoilt Douro Valley where we’ll discover the superb “table” wines produced by a clutch of dynamic younger wine makers, then heads south via the long established wine regions of the Dão and Bairrada, ending up in the vast expanses of the Alentejo, before heading back towards Lisbon to discover the historic fortified wines of Setubal. Throughout the week we’ll enjoy traditional Portuguese meals as private guests at many of the estates, enjoying the famous hospitality, which the Portuguese offer with such grace and charm.
Arblaster & Clarke’s first ground breaking wine tour of Portugal took place 24 years ago and was our first major wine tour (after Champagne which we first offered in May 1987), which revealed for the first time to the UK wine drinker the quality wine revolution that was just in its infancy – and which seemed to wane for a while but is now thriving again! At that time only a few specialist merchants were active in Portugal and little had been written in the wine press about what was going on. However, Lynette Arblaster had spent several years living in Portugal and had been fortunate to make friends with the Australian wine makers Peter Bright and David Baverstock, who based themselves in Portugal and were in a large part the instigators or at least the catalyst for these changes.
This delightful wine journey is based in extremely comfortable 4* and 5* hotels. In the Douro we stay at a 4* which was the first of the luxury hotels to be opened in the valley – peacefully situated in the hamlet of Pinhão. It’s a short stroll from its quaint railway station, whose walls are decorated with the beautiful traditional blue & white “azulejos” (tiles) depicting the story of the harvest. The railway line itself was romanticised by Michael Palin who chose it as one of his “Great Railway Journeys of the World”.
Our next base is Coimbra, capital of Portugal from 1139 to 1256 with an impressive university founded in 1290. The city sits on a steep hill with an upper town housing fine old churches and narrow streets and the lower town by the river being the commercial heart of the city, with lively cafes, pastry shops, restaurants, boutiques and further important early churches.
Our final base in the Alentejo is the ancient town of Evora, UNESCO World Heritage Site. Amongst the ancient winding streets there is evidence of the Roman era, with the Temple to Diana; one of the best preserved Temples in the Iberian peninsula; a 16th century university, reopened in 1973; a huge town square surrounded by colonnaded walkways; narrow winding cobbled streets lined with pretty whitewashed houses and a series of ancient churches to explore. It is simply an enchanting town! We stay in a recently refurbished 5* hotel.
Our visits on this special wine tour will prove to you without a doubt that Portugal deserves to be considered as one of the most important and fascinating wine regions in the world. We’ll discover native grapes, with impossible sounding names, such as “Esgana Cão” (the dog strangler). There is no bland and boring supermarket wines or painfully ubiquitous pub style Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio or cheap Pinot Noir (well if there is any to be found in Portugal you certainly will not be drinking it on this tour!).
The Douro is the oldest officially demarcated wine region in the world. The Marques de Pombal (also responsible for the rebuilding of Lisbon after the earthquake) introduced the classifications in 1756. Until relatively recently the area of course was principally known for Port and we’ll see this fascinating process first hand, more than likely just as the harvest is finishing. There may even still be some traditional treading going on at the time of our visit. Here, we will visit and lunch or dine with a series of the top single estate Port lodges who also produce some of the best table wines and meet some of the characters who have worked so hard over the last 10 to 15 years or so to really prove that this region is capable of producing perhaps not just the world’s most famous fortified wine, but also some superb, full of character, robust reds too.
These will include Quinta do Vale d. Maria, a small, but excellent estate was bought by Cristiano Van Zeller, whose family owned Quinta do Noval. Here superb wines are made from old vines by winemaker, Sandra Tavares da Silva Borges. She also produces wines with her husband, under their own label Wine & Soul.
We’ll take a trip on the River Douro by private boat to Quinta do Crasto, on the right bank of the Douro between Pinhão and Regua to visit and taste the red table wine that they have been making here since 1994, when the winemaking was in the hands of the Australian David Baverstock. The current winemaker is Susanna Estaban, who, like Sandra is an honorary “Douro boy”, the unofficial club of young men who have driven the winemaking changes in the Valley. The wines from their single vineyards of the traditional Port grapes, Touriga Nacional & Touriga Francesa and Tinta (which simply means “red”) Barocca & Tinta Roriz are wonderfully complex with great ageing potential. We’ll also dine at another of the famous Port quintas.
The area to the south of Porto is the heartland of Portuguese quality table wine. Its denominations Bairrada and Dão have not always lived up to their potential, however the top estates, which we visit, make superb wines of great character. In the Bairrada we’ll visit the estate of Luis Pato, where Filippa Pato is following in her father’s pioneering footsteps. Here we discover the “Baga” grape, which thrives on chalky clay soil and in addition to truly splendid red wines, we’ll enjoy some of the best sparkling wines from Portugal. Our visit in the Dão is to Quinta dos Roques and here we discover yet another unfamiliar grape – the Jaen. The main grape of the Dão though is the Touriga Nacional. At both estates we’ll enjoy a delicious lunch and warm hospitality, the way great wine visits should be.
We continue South to the Alentejo in time for our lunchtime appointment at the relatively new estate of respected wine author Richard Mayson- Quinta do Centro. Many of the estates here had been invaded and taken over as worker’s co-operatives in 1975, and by the time their original owners had recovered them, much of the vineyards and the wineries themselves were in disrepair. Nowadays Alentejo produces some of the greatest wines of the country. We’ll see a modern state of the art winery at Herdade do Esporao where we will have a full tasting followed by dinner.
Our final day ends with two further highlights, a visit in the Setubal peninsula to J M da Fonsecas to taste their superb Moscatel de Setubal and other classic Portuguese table wines, and then continuing just North of Lisbon to a final lunch with the charming Tavares family at their home, Quinta do Chocapalha.
Come with Tim Clarke, who is leading this tour, and discover the Portugal that we know and love!