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The Douro Verde

Text Ilkka Sirén

First let me start by saying: Vinho Verde is a region, not a wine style. When talking about the wines of Vinho Verde more often than not you hear people go “Vinho Verde? That fizzy plonk from Northern Portugal?” – and it makes me want to punch people in the face. Sure, Vinho Verde is known to produce this fizzy spritzer-like crap and it does seem to be quite popular even to this day.

And to be honest I don’t mind. But one thing people should know about Vinho Verde is that it’s a big wine region. In fact it’s one of the biggest in Europe. That combined with a bunch of great indigenous grape varieties makes the region a fertile ground for new wine projects, such as Quinta de Covela. The estate itself and its wines are not new but through a series of, shall we say “incidents”, it is now being reborn.

The wines started to get some national and international attention back in the day when Nuno Araújo bought the estate in the late 1980s. He was among the first in Portugal to start implementing organic and biodynamic viticulture. With their unusually “modern” labels and interesting grape blends, the Covela wines became well-known in the Portuguese wine geek scene. In 2008 Quinta de Covela fell in the hands of a bank. I don’t remember which bank it was, doesn’t really matter because we all know what happens when things fall in the hands of bank. It all goes to shit. Needless to say the bank didn’t bother to do anything with the estate so it was completely neglected. That was until 2011 when Tony Smith and his business partner Marcelo Lima salvaged the estate. And I must say, since then the rise of Quinta de Covela has been quite impressive. In a few years it has gone from being almost completely forgotten to the wine producer everybody is talking about.

Covela 1

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Quinta de Covela is a Vinho Verde producer, yes, but the quinta is located not more than 500 meters from the Douro river. Which I think is quite interesting and something you can detect in the wines. They have the granite soil of Vinho Verde but the climate of Douro. At first I thought “great, a Vinho Verde wine without the freshness”. But like always with wine it’s not that simple. It does give the wines an unique character but instead of being very ripe with tons of tropical fruit and all kinds of tutti-frutti elements, I would say the wines are actually a bit restrained. It’s the inexplicable magic of le terroir.

Covela 2

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I think one of the smartest things the new owners did was to get enologist Rui Cunha to work with them. Rui, who also works with Aphros (Vinho Verde) and Secret Spot (Douro), had worked previously with Covela for many years so he knows the place well.

The cellar is a beautiful house with high ceilings, pink walls and these amazing old concrete vats. Small but quite practical-ish. Due to the lack of space they have piled the barrels on top of each other and attached some kind of a valve-apparatus to the bottom of the barrels for racking. Where there’s a will there’s a way, right? The estate covers 49 hectares, of which 18 hectares are planted with vineyards. While Covela is well-known for their white wines they do make a few red wines as well. Besides Touriga Nacional they have planted a bunch of international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Not quite “Super Tuscan” but maybe a Super Douro Verde?

Covela 3

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Here’s my picks from the tasting:

Covela Edição Nacional Avesso 2013 (White)

One cannot talk about Covela without talking about the Avesso grape. This badass variety from Minho is rarely seen on its own but in the right place and in the right hands this little grape can make some seriously delicious wine. Edição Nacional Avesso: bucket full of mineral water, citrus, crushed rocks and a few slices of orange peel. Good stuff.

Covela Escolha 2013 (White)
Interesting blend of Avesso, Chardonnay, Viognier and a bit of Gewürztraminer. Starts off a bit like that iPad game Fruit Ninja. The fruits fly all over the place; combos of pear, peach and lime. But suddenly it all gets blitzed by a slash of acidity that cuts through the fruit like an overpaid plastic surgeon. Nice lingering flavors with a dry and sharp finish. Definitely has some promising gastronomic aspects to it.

Covela 4

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About the reds… The Covela Escolha Tinto 2005 was a beauty. Well matured wine with classic “barnyard meets a leather strapped gag ball” -aromas. Tasty stuff! The Covela Reserva 2012 on the other hand was a bit awkward. Obviously still a baby but with 18 months in 100% new oak I’m not sure if it will ever be my cup of tea. Rui said the percentage of new oak will be less in the future. He just didn’t want to buy second hand barrels because he wanted to be sure about the quality. Looking forward to it, but in the meanwhile I will happily keep drinking the oh so delicious Avesso.

Covela 5

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Quinta de Covela
William Smith & Lima Lda.
S. Tomé de Covelas
4640-211 BAIÃO
+351 254 886 298

About Ilkka Sirén
Wine Writer - Blend | All About Wine

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