Vale Meão is an important property in the Douro Superior. It traces its history as a Quinta back to the end of the late 19th century, when Dona Antónia Ferreira was the first to plant vineyards in this part of the Douro. It was a difficult time for the regional council, and to raise funds, the local council auctioned off some land here. She bought some 53 parcels of common land between 1877 and 1879, which she promptly leased until 1886. In all, these parcels totalled 300 hectares.
She began developing the quinta in 1887, and started planting the first grafted vines two years later (remember, phylloxera had recently hit the region). While the purchase price was relatively low, the cost of establishing vineyards here was high because it was so labour intensive, and this was such a remote region. The granite stones from which the winery and home are constructed were transported 50 km by ox cart, for example. But choosing to plant vines here proved to be a wise move, because it is a very interesting place for growing top quality wine grapes. In large part this is because the soils are mixed: unlike in the rest of the region, which is schist, there’s granite here, too, plus a few more alluvial sites.
Dona Antónia’s descendants carried on running the quinta, and the grapes were used mainly to make Ports for the family-owned house of Ferreira. The big exception was Barca Velha, which was the first serious table wine to come from the Douro, first made in 1952. This Ferreirra wine was made at Vale Meão, and the original Barca Velha winery is currently being renovated for Port production.
We met with Xito Olazabal, who’s the winemaker here and son of Vito Olazabal, who decided in 1999 to begin to make table wines and ports under the Vale Meão label, after the family sold the Ferreira Port house and took back their quinta. The results have been really impressive, with the Quinta Vale Meão wine truly one of the first growths of the region.
Harvest 2016 was underway (20% was in), and we looked at a range of wines from 2016, with some near to completing fermentation, and others just beginning. We tasted a Rufete, with lots of freshness, a Cornifesto, rustic and intense, a deep-coloured Tinto Cão, and two as yet unfermented juices from the lagar: Tourigas Franca and Nacional, both so different. We also tasted a partially fermented Baga, which was interesting, structured and so fresh.
When it came to a tasting of finished wines, vertical tastings of 2011-2014 of both the Vale Meão and the Meandro were really interesting. All the wines were really good, but 2014 is clearly a very good vintage. The 2014 Vale Meão in particular is a very serious wine. While the quinta wine is rightly expensive, Meandro is one of the best values in the wine world. It’s serious and age worthy, as a bottle of the 2002, a terrible vintage in the region, showed when it was served at lunch.
Also worth looking out for is the Monte Meão Baga, and the Monte Meão Touriga Nacional. These are both very serious wines with distinctive personalities, from granite terroirs on the property. There’s also a Monte Meão Tinta Roriz, from alluvial soils, which is rich, dense and very attractive.
Published with permission by Jamie Goode.
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