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The Douro wine revolution
Part 5: Quinta do Passadouro

Quinta do Passadouro Soc Agrícola Lda., Vale de Mendiz, 5070 Alíjo, Portugal
Tel: 254 732 312 Fax: 254 738 180

Looking down on Quinta do Passadouro from the vineyards

Next stop was Quinta do Passadouro, a stunning estate looking all the better in the late afternoon sunshine. Passadouro was acquired by Dirk Niepoort in 1991, in partnership with financial backer Dieter Bohrmann.
I took a tour through the vineyards. Altogether there are currently 16 ha of vines varying in age from 4–70 years, but this is expanding: there’s a lot of new planting work going on here. Principal varieties grown include Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Sousão (a dark-fleshed ‘teinturier’ variety), but as with much of the Douro there are lesser quantities of a wide range of grapes mixed together in the older vineyards. Passadouro principally makes Port (Quinta do Passadouro plus Niepoort vintage and LBV), although a table wine is also made here, along with Charme (from Pinhão valley grapes).  n
Sousão vines growing in the schistous soil 

New plantings bulldozed out of the hillside
n Jorge gave me a tour of the winery facilities, and explained the production process for Port. The grapes are foot-trodden and fermented in lagares (shallow stone troughs), each of which has a capacity of 5500 litres. For vintage Port, the stems are kept in. No yeast is added, and natural maceration for a week is practised. For the treading, a team of 30 is needed, and the wine is trodden for 4 hours a day during this week. The human foot is ideal for this process: the result is a gentle but intense extraction from the skins that avoids any bitterness being leached out from the stems or grape pips.  
Once the sugar levels get to 8–8.5° Baume the must is mixed with brandy, stopping fermentation and resulting in a sweet wine. This is a crucial step: because the reaction is exothermic (it gives off heat), it is important that the brandy is added slowly. If it is added too fast, the elevated temperature causes loss of fruit character. After this the mixture is pressed using a basket press, and the wine transferred to large oak casks for maturation.  

After a while, it is time to decide the destiny of each vat. The very best will end up as vintage port; the slightly less impressive (but still very good) vats are destined to be LBV, and will spend longer in wood. 

Jorge drawing cask samples

Jorge gave me four barrel samples of 2001 to taste (two Passadouro, two Niepoort), to see what I thought. This has been a tricky vintage in the Douro, and is certainly in the shadow of the superb 2000 vintage. Fortunately, I picked out the one stand-out (no. 4) that is probably destined to be Vintage Port. Phew.  

Sample 1 Passadouro Very rich, liquoricey sweet herby nose. Palate is very rich and sweet with a lovely focused spiciness and some tannin. Quite forward. Very good/excellent

Sample 2 Passadouro The nose is much spicier: quite taut and savoury. Sweet caramel and herb notes dominate the palate, which is rounded, rich and quite sweet. Very good+

Sample 3 Niepoort  Lively sweet herby nose with a distinctive caramel edge. The palate is quite rounded and rich with some tannin. Very good+

Sample 4 Niepoort  Lovely liquoricey nose with some spice and herbal notes. The palate shows good density and concentration together with some tannic structure. Wonderful stuff with lots of complexity. Excellent