Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Wining and Dining at the Reborn Quinta de Covela, Vinho Verde Region in the Douro Valley, with Owner Tony Smith and Winemaker Rui Cunha, Portugal
The 2013 Digital Wine Communications Conference (DWCC) in Logroño, La Rioja, Spain, did not only take me to Spain, but also to Portugal. The conference included 3 pre-conference press trips, including one to the Douro Valley. The Douro Trip was my top choice and I was very happy when I heard that I had been selected. Off to the Douro Valley!
One of the highlights was our stay at Quinta de Covela in the Vinho Verde Region. We had a fabulous tasting in the wine cellar and a fun dinner with the co-owner Tony Smith, Winemaker Rui Cunha and Sales and Export Manager Vitor Mendes, who introduced us to the wines of the Vinho Verde region. Vinho Verde occupies a large zone of Northern Portugal, between Douro and the Atlantic coast.
he 2013 Digital Wine Communications Conference (DWCC) in Logroño, Rioja, Spain
A Douro Valley Tour from Porto Upstream to the Upper Douro Region, Portugal
Wine Producer Portugal
Portugal is a wine producer with a long history that is well known for its Port wines, but also for its non-fortified wines. With 250.000 hectares of vineyard area, it is the 7th largest wine producer in the world, compared with the US with 400.000 hectares and Germany with 100.000 hectares. Portugal possesses a large number of native varietals, many of them little known in the rest of the world.
Vinho Verde, in the northwestern corner of the country, where we spent one night at Quinta de Covela, is the only region of Portugal where white wine dominates. Douro is the region where port wine is produced, but increasingly also non-fortified wine. Continuing south of the Duoro into north-central Portugal is the Dao region, known for big, full-bodied reds.
Quinta de Covela
After a period of neglect, Quinta de Covela was purchased in 2011 and brought back to life by two impassioned wine lovers, one from Brazil and one from England. The latter, Tony Smith, orchestrated our visit.
Tim Lemke (who also was on the trip and who has written about the evening) had to say: "... A hail storm that year devastated much of their Chardonnay crop, a variety that they typically blend with Avesso for the vineyards signature white blend. The loss of so much Chardonnay left them with an abundance of Avesso, which transformed their plan to make an Avesso Vinho Verde as an experiment into their new “Plan A.” In other words, the Vinho Verde went to market and they were counting on the wines success. Fortunately for them, it was a smashing success. It was released under the name Covela Edição Nacional and the premier vintage (2012) sold out. Covela Edição Nacional vinho verde has a bright and floral nose with vibrant lemon aromatics. The palate is also amazing, with vivacious lemon, lime and peach flavors. It’s perfectly balanced and an amazing wine for food. Simply put, it’s amazing! But like I said, it has sold out. So it’s a great wine that you’re unlikely to have a chance to taste. However, we can all look forward to the next vintage."
Mindful of the prestige the Covela wines enjoyed for years among connoisseurs, the partners decided to rebuild the estate’s old team, starting with enologist Rui Cunha, who had been involved in the original Covela project since 1992 and was head winemaker from 1998 onward.
The wines are assemblages of Portuguese and international grape varieties, with local Avesso and Touriga Nacional continuing to be the cornerstones for Covela blends. Rui Cunha told us that grapes are hand-picked, by variety and by estate plot. Minute attention is paid to detail as the grapes are hand-sorted before fermenting in stainless steel, concrete or oak barrels. The cool, stone winery is an ideal location for aging wine. All bottling, labeling and storage are carried out on the estate.
The estate's location, on the right bank of the Douro; its topographical form - that of an amphitheatre facing south; its micro climate, almost mediterranean in its feel; its poor, granite soils that oblige the vine roots to burrow deep into the earth to find water and minerals; all these elements result in unique wines both in terms of their high quality and their distinctive style.
The Covela estate covers 49 hectares, of which 18 are planted.
Dating from the 1500s, the ruins of the old, stone Casa de Covela, today composed of the facade of the original Renaissance manor house and the more recent chapel of St. Quiteria, bear witness to the centuries-old agricultural and cultural importance of the estate.
In more recent times, the Covela estate belonged to Manoel de Oliveira, one of the most important European film directors of the second half of the 20th Century. The director enlarged and transformed Covela, that originally came to him as his wife's dowry.
At the end of the 1980s Quinta de Covela was acquired by businessman Nuno Araújo who invested heavily in the estate's vines and wines, and created the brand Covela. Over the next years, the wines gained a reputation nationally and internationally with their modern labels and distinct blends. Nuno Araujo carved out a reputation for very singular (very good) blends made from Portuguese and French grapes (which explains why they were labeled Vinho Regional Minho, not DOC Vinho Verde). Finally, in 2007, with the classification as a biodynamic producer, Covela cemented its place among the vanguard of winemakers in Portugal up to the point where it became the first Portuguese wine estate to be accepted into the prestigious ‘Renaissance des Appellations’ group, run by biodynamic-guru Nicolas Joly.
This all changed during the recent financial crisis: Nuno Araújo: “Last year we were “caught” by a world-wide crisis (we could face it) and by a meanwhile nationalized bank (over 4,2 billion euros bail-out so far…), this one unwilling to backing us up (maybe there are more obscure reasons behind this attitude, and time will bring them to light), and resulting in a death sentence to the project. Unnecessary, unjustified and stupid decision, I think; but definite and real.” In 2008, Quinta de Covela fell into the hands of receivers.
In 2011, Quinta de Covela was brought back to life by its two new owners, a Brazilian and a Briton with backgrounds in areas as diverse as finance, agriculture and media. Mindful of the prestige and excellent reputation the Covela wines enjoyed for years among wine lovers, the new partners opted to rebuild the estate's old team, starting with enologist Rui Cunha, who had been involved in the original Covela project since 1992 and was head winemaker from 1998 onward.
The wines will continue to be intriguing assemblages of Portuguese and international grape varieties, with local Avesso and Touriga Nacional continuing to be the cornerstones for Covela blends. Arinto, Chardonnay, Viognier and Gewürztraminer complement Avesso in the whites, while Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot Noir - the three main Bordeaux red grapes - blend with Touriga Nacional for reds of strong personality.
Rui Cunha explained that grapes are hand-picked, by variety and by estate plot. Minute attention is paid to detail as the grapes are hand-sorted before fermenting in stainless steel, concrete or oak barrels, depending on which wine is being produced: Covela Escolha reds and whites, and Covela Rose, are unoaked, while Covela Colheita Seleccionada and the rare Covela Fantastico editions, produced only in years of exceptionally good harvests, are aged in French, Austrian or Slavonian oak barrels stacked over 12 metres high above the cool, stone winery floor. All bottling, labelling and storage are carried out on the estate.
Since acquiring Covela in 2011, the ambitious duo have embarked on something of spending spree. While Covela will continue to focus primarily on white wines, their red capability has been very substantially enhanced following two Douro purchases: Quinta da Boavista from Sogrape (Offley) and the Quinta das Tecedeiras brand (with the right to produce wines from the estate) from Dão Sul.
The 4 Wines we Tasted
COVELA Colheita Selecionada Tinto 2004
Region: Entre Douro e Minho
Winemaking: Vineyard farmed organically. Long maceration at moderate temperatures. Fermented and aged in French oak (Allier and Vosges). No stabilization or filtration.
Grapes: Covela’s 2004 Colheita Selecionada Tinto, a blend of the Port wine mainstay Touriga Nacional with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which are grown on sun-baked terraces overlooking the Douro river.
Colour: Dark, intense ruby,
Nose: An expressive, complex nose with ripe red fruit, dried flowers, exotic spices and wellintegrated vanilla.
Palate: “Lots of pepper and spices, round texture, well balanced acidity, lots of freshness, excellent tannins. The finish is long, light and fresh.” Revista de Vinhos, leading Portuguese wine magazine.
COVELA Escolha Tinto 2005
Region: Entre Douro e Minho
Winemaking: No enzymes used. Spontaneous fermentation. Fining with Bentonite when necessary. Long maceration at moderate temperatures. Fermentation in temperature controlled stainless steel vats. No stabilization or filtration.
Grapes: Covela’s unoaked Escolha Tinto, a blend of the Port wine mainstay Touriga Nacional and international grapes, has become somewhat of a cult wine in Europe. “Deep coloured, this unoaked red … is really fresh and vibrant, with a gravelly, earthy edge to the sweet, focused dark cherry and blackberry fruit. Savoury and food-friendly, with good acidity. Quite serious.” – Jamie Goode. “Just pulses with life and vivacity. Low yields on sand and granite give something seriously interesting but quite ready to drink.” – Jancis Robinson.
Colour: Intense ruby.
Nose: Complex with wild, black fruit, black cherries and a hint of menthol.
Palate: Dry and elegant. Nicely-balanced structure. Ripe black fruits, soft tannins and a long, elegant finish.
COVELA Edição Nacional 2012 – Avesso
Region: Vinhos Verdes, Entre Douro e Minho
Winemaking: No enzymes used. Spontaneous fermentation. Fining with Bentonite when necessary. Light filtration. Fermentation in temperature-controlled stainless steel vats. Aged sur lies until mid-January.
Grapes: Quinta de Covela’s first-ever Vinho Verde. Edição nacional, or National Edition, refers to the use of Avesso, 100% Portuguese and typical of Covela’s sub-region. A dynamic, yet elegant Verde positioned alongside the best Alvarinhos and Loureiros.
Colour: Bright, citrine.
Nose: Intensely fresh with subtle minerality. Notes of zesty, citric fruits and meadow flowers.
Palate: Dry and elegant. Nicely-balanced acidity and fruity minerality, yet with a strength typical of the sun-soaked “Douro Verde” region (the southernmost part of the Vinho Verde region where vineyards also profit from the hotter climate of the Douro river).
COVELA Escolha Branco 2012
Region: Entre Douro e Minho
Winemaking: No enzymes used. Spontaneous fermentation. Fining with Bentonite when necessary. Light filtration. Brief maceration of selected grapes. Fermentation in temperature-controlled stainless steel vats.
Grapes: A characterful assemblage led by the sub-region’s main grape Avesso, blended with Chardonnay and a couple of other “spices” added by winemaker Rui Cunha, who has been involved in the Covela project since 1992 and has headed winemaking since 1998.
Colour: Bright, straw.
Nose: Expressive. Floral with heady notes of tropical fruit and good intensity. Undertones of the region’s granitic minerality promise a complex wine.
Palate: Dry, with nicely-balanced acidity and minerality typical of the region. Despite being fresh and refreshing, this wine has notes of ripe stone fruits and displays a certain creaminess against the mineral backdrop. Long, elegant finish. A wine with abundant personality.
We had a very nice dinner, with Tony Smith and Rui Cunha moving from table to table to give everybody a chance to talk to them.
Bacalhau (dried and salted cod)
Cheese and Pumkin Sauce
Night at Quinta de Covela
In addition to the estate's main house and winery, redesigned and extended by the director in the 1950s, Covela today also has three contemporary villas whose geometric lines are the work of José Paulo dos Santos, one of Portugal's most admired contemporary architects. With their stylish interiors, the villas offer sensational views over the vineyards and the Douro valley.
Quinta de Covela in the Morning
We walked down to the quinta and had another look before taking off.
Thank you Tony, Rui, Vitor and your team.
schiller-wine: Related Posting
Meeting Up-and-coming Winemaker Rita Ferreira Marques from the Douro Area in Portugal at Screwtop Winebar in Clarendon, Virginia
Meeting Rupert Symington from the Symington Family - One of the Oldest Families of Port Producers
The 2013 Digital Wine Communications Conference (DWCC) in Logroño, Rioja, Spain
A Douro Valley Tour from Porto Upstream to the Upper Douro Region, Portugal
Food Tour of Porto with André Apolinário from Taste Porto Food Tours, Portugal