Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas is one of the most famous and beautiful of all in the 220 km long Douro Valley. The valley has three sub-regions – Baixa Corgo, Cima Corgo and Douro Superior. The latter yields, the quality of fruit yielding the most intense wines.
Records show that the reputation of Quinta de Vargellas wines was already well established in London by 1820’s, well before Taylor purchased it over a period of three years from 1893 – 96. Today, the wines of this property are undoubtedly the most recognized of all “single Quinta” ports (Quinta= estate in Portuguese). In outstanding vintages (there are usually three in a decade), the wines of the Quinta form the backbone of the legendary Taylor Fladgate classic declared vintage ports.
Located on the south bank of the eponymous river, “A” class rated partially terraced, partially patamares, and partially vertical planted vineyards produce an average of 245 pipes of port. (One pipe = 550 liters). The classification of Douro vineyards is a complicated procedure and takes 12 criteria into account including, altitude, grape variety, and aspect.
The property has 68 hectares under vines with an average yield of 30 hectoliters per hectare and planted to touriga nacional, touriga francesa, tinta cao, tinta roriz, tinta barroca, tinta amarela and rufete. The Institute of Port Wine officially recognizes some 48 grape varieties, but at the Quinta de Vargellas only the best are planted.
After the purchase of the property, many changes were made including expansion of the guesthouse, and connecting to the electrical grid in 1970. The guesthouse overlooks the beautiful Douro River and meticulously maintained vineyards and olive groves. The extra virgin olive oil is used at the guesthouse and sold to selected gourmet stores all over the world. The living room, patio and guest rooms are tastefully furnished.
Taylor’s privileged guests enjoy the cuisine and selected wines, along with some memorable Taylor ports (the Chip Dry white for aperitif and between meals tawnies, LBV’s, Vintage ports and of course the very wine of the Quinta).
Nick Heat, whose guidance and exemplary hospitality is a member of the board of directors of the company.
We were fortunate to experience and see how the block-by-block, hand picked grapes are traditionally trodden in cement lagares to accompanying music well into the night. The state still treads, claiming that the human foot extracts more colour, flavour, and less tannins. The juice is then separated, skins pressed, and separately collected.
After a three-day fermentation 100 liters of 77 percent grape alcohol is added to 450 liters of semi-fermented wine, which brings up the alcohol level to 20 percent ABV.
Subsequently the wine is aged for 18 to 24 months in the valley, and then trucked to Vila Nova de Gaia at the mouth of the Douro River opposite to the city of Oporto.
Here the board of directors decides to bottle the wine as single Quinta vintage, or declare a vintage, in which case the quinta’s wine will constitute the backbone of the blend.
After an extensive tour of the vineyards and the winery, Nick Heat took us on a private boat tour to the location called the Devil’s Cauldron where Baron JJ Forrrester met his death in 1861. He created a detailed topographical map of the valle after studying and surveying it for 12 years. Baron J J Forrester succumbed to the weight of his money belt, whereas Dona Adelaide Ferreira, with whom he had lunch just a few hours ago, floated in her crinoline and was saved. Today, the Devil’s Cauldron is calm due to a dam built to generate electricity. We visited the plaque carved into the granite wall dedicated to this tragedy. Sipping Taylor’s impeccable off-dry white port while nibbling on roasted salted almonds, smoked pork loin, and stuffed olives, was one of the highlights of the boat tour.
Our farewell dinner was delicious, superbly prepared, and expertly presented. The Quinta de Vargellas 1991 single quinta served at the end of the meal was not only excellent, but memorable, with its blackberry and dark fruit aromas, wafting an unmistakable scent of violets, a hallmark of the estate. This wine is rich, opulent, smooth with an elegance, and depth, only few ports can offer. The after taste was long, pleasant and invigorating.
Quinta de Vargellas single-vineyard vintage wines are capable of aging longer than those of other estates, and consistently fetch higher prices in auctions than any other.
Taylor’s legendary hospitality like its wines is memorable.
Best vintages of the 20th century: 1905, 1907, 1911, 1914, 1925, 1934, 1937, 1947, 1952, 1958, 1961, 1964, 1965, 1968, 1969, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1991, 1995, 1996, 1998.
Best of the 21st century 2003, 2005.