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The Douro wine revolution
Part 6: Quinta do Crasto

Sociedade Agrícola da Quinta do Crasto, Gouvinhas, 5060-063 Sabrosa, Portugal
Tel: 254 920 020 Fax: 254 920 788

Looking down on Quinta do Crasto from the vineyards

In the Douro, driving is a bit of a pain. The road to Crasto is a particularly long and winding one, and I was feeling a little green by the end of the journey. However, I was travelling with Jorge Borges, so I was in good hands: he's a brilliant driver. [As an aside, Dirk later told me that Jorge had once gone on a racing event where he got to drive formula 1 cars with the Benetton racing team. When Dirk rang to ask how it had gone, Jorge told him that he’d been told off for driving too fast: it turned out that his times were only fractionally slower than the Benetton test drivers, much to their embarrassment. Despite the allure of a career in motor racing, for now it looks like Jorge is sticking to making wine for Dirk.]  n
Crasto as depicted in the famous old tiles at Pinhão railway station

The guesthouse at Crasto (part-hidden by the tree), with the winery buildings on the right
n Despite its out-of-the-way location, Crasto is a breathtakingly beautiful estate, brilliantly situated on top of a small hill, overlooked by steep sloping vineyards. I’d already met Tomás Roquette (he’s the technical director here; brother Miguel is in charge of the marketing) in Porto, and he’d kindly agreed to put me up in the guesthouse. Over dinner we tried a selection of Crasto wines, and I asked more questions than is probably polite.  

Currently, Crasto boasts 47 ha of vines, and work is underway planting a further 12 ha. Like many of the Douro properties, bulldozers are busy carving new terraces out of the hillsides. Of these, there are 18 ha of old vines that are used to make the Reserva. Most of the newer plantings are now a respectable 20 years old. There are also two single vineyards that are used to make special bottlings in selected years, Maria Theresa and Ponte. In most years there are also special bottlings of single varietals, so far Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz. Crasto have recently acquired an 80 ha property further up the river, where it is hotter and drier – plans are to plant this with another 40 ha of vines. Things are very much on the move here.  

1997 Douro
Typically 100–150 000 bottles of this fruity Douro wine are made each year. Impressive herbal-edged nose with red fruits and some mineral character. The palate is nicely balanced with a savoury edge. It’s quite ripe with a nice minerally, chalky edge to the herbal fruit. Mid weight and a nice wine for current drinking. Very good+

1997 Tinta Roriz
The first varietal Tinta Roriz to be released was this 1997. Typically 3–4000 bottles of the single varietal wines are made. This was aged in 100% new American oak. It has a wonderfully forward sweet nose with spicy vanilla, sweet fruit and minty coconut notes. The palate is rich and very concentrated; forward and accessible, but a little too dominated by the American oak for my palate. Very good+

Smart-looking lagares

In the winery

1998 Maria Theresa
This is the first release of this single-vineyard wine. It has a complex, forward nose of ripe, tarry sweet fruit with complex herbal elements. The rich, taut palate displays warm, spicy flavours with more herbal complexity. There’s some tannic structure hiding underneath the fruit. A very ripe, forward, almost new world style, but it works very well. Very good/excellent

1995 LBV Port
Crasto have a deservedly good reputation for their late-bottled vintage port. Typically some 35 000 litres are bottled each year, although three times this quantity is produced: the balance is sold to other Port companies. This compares with the 6000 litres of vintage port produced in 1999. The 1995 is a lovely mature wine with rich, spicy character and some tannin. Attractive and approachable now, although the fading colour suggests that you wouldn’t want to hold this too much longer. Very good+  

1997 LBV Port
Deep coloured. Attractive liquoricey and spicy, this is quite serious and structured, with an attractive herby complexity. A step up from the 1995. Very good/excellent

The next morning Tomás took me on a tour of the property together with new winemaker Susana Esteban – it was only her second day on the job. Crasto’s wine-producing history is a relatively recent one. The first Douro wines were produced here in 1994, when they were made at the Ramos Pinto winery. David Baverstock then began his involvement here in the 1995 vintage. Baverstock is an Australian who has spent two decades working in Portugal. His main job is as winemaker at Esporão in the Alentejo, although he has several high-profile consulting roles elsewhere.  n
Tomàs Roquette and Susana Esteban

In recent years another Australian, Dominic Morris, has been consulting here. He’s not based in Portugal, and over the last couple of vintages his involvement has been somewhat reduced, it seems. However, the arrival of the aforementioned Susana Esteban is the big news at Crasto. Susana, who is Spanish, was previously winemaker at another Douro property, Quinta do Côtto. Everyone I spoke to seemed to regard her very highly, so look out for further improvement in these already very good wines, perhaps also with a slight change in style – I for one would welcome a move away from the rather new-world veneer that these wine have, with a little less American oak influence.

The winery is pretty much state of the art, with appropriate traditional touches. There are some lagares, used for the port and selected table wines if the capacity permits – for example, Maria Theresa is foot trodden with the stems. These have an elaborate method of temperature control, which works by circulating the wine through refrigerated pipes and then back into the lagares. A basket press is used for pressing the red wines. There’s lots of shiny stainless steel here: I counted 24 tanks in all, 11 fermentation tanks (including two open-top fermenters) and 13 storage tanks.

The author standing by the famous Crasto pool   
n Tomás also took Susana and I on an extensive tour of the estate, which is spectacular. We even got to see the famous swimming pool (whenever I mentioned I'd be going to visit Crasto, this is the one feature that people commented on: 'don't miss the swimming pool!'). If it had been a little warmer -- it was unseasonally cool and overcast -- I'd have been tempted to jumped in. It looked so inviting, and from the water you can enjoy uninterrupted views down the Douro. Look for further tasting notes of Crasto wines from the tasting at Chanceleiros.