Douro Masterpiece

Winemakers craft beautiful reds in Portugal's classic 2011 vintage

Excerpted from the June 30, 2014, issue

The vintage also benefited from fortuitously warm and dry harvest weather, after a long and mostly uneventful growing season. The 2011s are destined to cement the Douro’s place as one of the world’s great red wine terroirs. If you have never tasted these distinctive and powerful wines, now is the time.

“2011 is an outstanding year and for sure is a vintage that stands apart,” says Manuel Lobo, winemaker at Quinta do Crasto, one of the Douro’s most highly regarded estates. “It will be a future reference for Douro wines and the Douro region.”

Based on native Portuguese grapes, led by Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (known as Tempranillo in Spain), Tinta Amarela and Touriga Franca, among others, the best of the 2011 Douro reds offer robust fruit flavors, silky tannins, alluring spiciness, pure minerality and impressive structure. They are delicious to drink on their own, yet also have the stuffing to match with a wide variety of dishes, especially roasted meats and poultry.

A dozen 2011s scored a classic 95 points or higher on Wine Spectator‘s 100-point scale in this tasting report, topping my list of the nearly 200 Portuguese dry wines I have tasted since my last report (“Portugal’s Value Appeal,” July 31, 2013). Overall, I rate the vintage 97 points for Douro red table wines. Having rated the vintage 99 points for Port earlier this year, I can now confirm that 2011 delivers an unprecedented bounty of quality from this dynamic region. (A free alphabetical list of scores and prices for all wines tasted is available.)

The 2011 vintage delivers the highest rating I’ve ever given a Douro red, 98 points for the Wine & Soul Pintas ($100).

Other producers in the classic range include Prats & Symington, whose top-scoring Chryseia red is a joint venture of Bruno Prats, formerly of Bordeaux’s Château Cos-d’Estournel, and the Symington family, the Douro’s biggest vineyard owner; Quinta do Vale Meão, a meticulously cultivated estate in the Douro Superior; Lemos & Van Zeller, where Sandra Tavares makes the wines for Cristiano Van Zeller, who once managed Quinta do Noval; Ramos-Pinto, owned by Champagne Roederer; and Quinta do Vallado, where the wines are overseen by Francisco “Xito” Olazabal, who also makes the wines at Vale Meão.

Among the values that offer a good introduction to the Douro are the Churchill Churchill’s Estates 2011 (93, $17), meaty, rich and brooding; the Delaforce Touriga Nacional 2011 (93, $21), filled with effusive red fruit flavors; and the powerful, intense CAP Wine Pilheiros Red 2011 (92, $22). For an amazing bargain, try the Symington Family Altano 2011 (91, $9), a lush and creamy style with concentrated dark fruit flavors.

Overall, 2011 benefited from a host of factors that resulted in wines showing a depth and breadth of flavor, as well as good production levels.