Perched high on a strikingly steep mountain rising above the winding Douro River in northern Portugal -- one of the most stunning sites I've ever seen -- terraced rows of vines etched into the hillside lead up a winding road to the Quinta do Pôpa winery. The winery could trade on the scenery alone, but offers guests to the visitor-friendly tasting room excellent wine and an inspiring family story. This is mustn't-miss wine in the countryside east of the city of Porto.
Note: Quinta do Pôpa wines are distributed in the United States by NLC Wines in New York. Have a look at their New York Retail and Restaurant lists, as well as their National Distribution list. Ask about Quinta do Pôpa at these establishments... you will not regret it.
Journeying by car from Porto, it soon became clear that we were dealing with something special here as we emerged from behind mountains high above valleys where the land drops out from under you, chimney smoke and early morning fog blanket the open air beneath you, and miles of terraced vineyards stretch out as far as the eye can see.
We turn left up the hill to Quinta do Popa after about 90 minutes of driving. The vineyard's land stretches all 550 meters to the to the top of the mountain, where olive trees grow alongside grape vines. Older grapes produce some of the richest notes; the vines closest to the river are over eighty years old, growing "younger" further up the right bank at 40 years old. Many of the older vines are field blends, in other words, different grape varietals (about twenty in this case) planted in and amongst one another. This old practice in the Douro produces stunningly unique results.
A wonderful story of three generations, owner Jose's father bought the vineyard in 2003. For his father, it was a dream come true having worked in vineyards decades ago as a young man, but always wanting to own and keep his own. His nickname was Pôpa, the name of a bird with feathers... or of the perfect pompadour hair he was known to have kept. Stéphane and Vanessa -- Pôpa's grandchildren -- manage the winery today.
Pôpa's 70,000 bottles produced each year are the result of meticulous attention to detail evident in every corner of the winery. Using 25 kilo cases at harvest to avoid the grapes at the bottom being damaged by the weight of larger cases, the grapes following the traditional method of gently stomping by feet before fermenting about seven days in tanks. The majority is aged in French oak, though they are experimenting with American and Hungarian oak as well. The gravity of the mountainside means that not a single pump is used to fill the barrels. Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) are aged no more than four years in the barrels, and when all is said and done, 100 bottles from each wine each year are retained for further aging and special consumption in the rustic cellar library.
2015 Contos da Terra
At an outrageous typical retail price of €5, what should in our opinion be a €10 - €15 bottle would certainly make one of our House Hunter lists. Light acidity to compliment food gives way to a refreshing feeling where coconut notes play a big role. Viosinho, the primary blending varietal, offers the acidity in compliment to its Folgasão, Gouveio, Rabigato, and Malvasia Fina blending partners.
2015 Pôpa Rosé
This blend of 70% Tinta Roriz (again, Tempranillo) and 30% Touriga Nacional (Portugal's signature varietal, a common component of Port wines) is left in contact with the skin for eight hours before the start of fermentation. This one is tasty, very light and refreshing, very sweet on nose but moderated in the palate that we found to be quite nutty at first. Young, fresh strawberry carries throughout.
2013 Pôpa Vinho Tinto
An elegant experience, this red blends primarily Touriga Franca with Tinta Roriz to add body. The 10% made from old vines are stamped with feet and aged in oak. Tasty notes of very dry fruit, dark chocolate, and a little pepper remind us texturally of a Cabernet Franc.
2009 Touriga Nacional (TN)
We recommended this wine as a Best wine pairing for [American] Thanksgiving dinner, but would happily drink it year round. We wrote: "If you're looking for a still wine at dinner, consider the 2009 Quinta do Pôpa Touriga Nacional made from grapes grown on the steep mountainside that rises above Portugal's Douro River. We admit, Touriga Nacional isn't the easiest to find as a still wine, but this wine's authentic smooth style will linger on your tongue like whole cranberry sauce, making it one you'll thank us if you're able to find one for Thanksgiving."
2011 Vinhas Velhas (VV)
Oh my. Like having the Douro in a bottle, we could have immediately recognized this as so characteristic of the wonderful region if tried in a blind tasting. These are the Vinhas Velhas (Old Vines) from the field blend, so by definition the VV is a blend of all. The variety of varietals does make it challenging to decide when to pick the grapes, as maturation across the board is important. That said, the results are stunning. A humidor nose of tobacco, chocolate, and coconut is followed by spices on the tongue. The old vine fruit has integrated well with the oak, making for a more complex than the Touriga Nacional (TN) mono varietal above, and therefor the bottle we'd recommend to experienced wine drinkers. Pair with quail or lamb.
2012 Vinho Tinto Doce
Quinta do Pôpa was, we are told, the first winemaker in the Douro Valley to produce a sweet dessert wine in this style. They stop the fermentation with cold temperature, rather than fermentation with brandy (this, therefor, is decidedly not a Port wine). Menthol notes were very smooth. We'd serve this with vanilla ice cream or gorgonzola cheese for dessert.