Tales from Alentejo: Contemplating a Mistress at Dona Maria

I have been chronicling my trip to Portugal last Spring. The trip started on a Monday in late May with a visit to the medieval town of Monsaraz, the wineries of Esporão, and José de Sousa. Tuesday started with a trip to Cartuxa, and Wednesday morning we found ourselves at Dona Maria.

The story of Dona Maria starts in the early 18th Century when the King of Portugal, João V, built a palace for his mistress. The “country home” (quinta in Portuguese) soon became known as Quinta do Carmo after the chapel, dedicated to “Our Lady of Carmel,” was added in 1752.

The Quinta do Carmo—the 18th Century’s answer to Ashley Madison?

The tiles in the chapel are some of the best preserved examples from the beginning of the 18C.

The Quinta do Carmo, which always had vineyards and produced wine, changed hands several times over the three centuries that followed, before it was acquired by Júlio B. Bastos in the latter part of the 20th Century. Bastos was determined to make a much higher quality wine than what was being produced in Portugal at the time, but unfortunately for him, following the revolution of 1974, the government seized the Quinta,  and the building and vineyards quickly fell into disrepair. Once Bastos regained ownership of the winery in 1985, he and his son (also named Júlio Bastos) decided they needed an influx of cash to restore and improve the vineyards.

Júlio Bastos (the son).

They turned to the Rothschilds of Bordeaux fame, to whom Bastos sold 50% of the winery. Soon after, it was clear that the partnership was doomed as the Rothschilds wanted to rip out much of the old vine Alicante Bouschet and replace it with more widely recognizable varieties (i.e., Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.).

After just six years of partnership with the Rothschilds, Júlio Bastos sold off their shares in the Quinta do Carmo brand, but retained the building and a small vineyard.

Not one to be on the sidelines for long, Júlio Bastos the younger decided that the turn of the millennium was a good time to start making wine again. But he needed a names he could no longer use Quinta do Carmo. So, he went back to the origins of the Quinta, back to that mistress of King João V, and named his new line of wines Dona Maria, with the first vintage in 2003.

Júlio prefers using large concrete tanks over stainless steel as he feels it is easier to maintain a cooler temperature.

The winery includes a stunning main room with vaulted brick and wood ceilings.

Over the past decade, Dona Maria has expanded to 80 hectares (about 200 acres) which are dry farmed, and produces just over 20k cases, of which 50% is exported. One of the major export markets is the U.S., but it remains difficult to convince Americans to buy more expensive Portuguese wines—many big producers had flooded the U.S. market with inferior, yet cheap wine, which is how many consumers still see Portuguese wines.

Before the tasting, we strolled the grounds, including the large walled garden that dates from the building of the Quinta.

The entrance to the garden.

The gardens were impressive, but sadly, the 125 year old palm trees have been infected by disease, and only one survives (for now).

A majestic Poseidon reigns over an irrigation pond.

Trying to be a nature photographer….

After the tour, we sat down in the main building to taste through about a dozen wines. Here are the wines that stood out:

The rosé was so good that when I saw it on the list of a Lisbon restaurant, it was a no-brainer.

2016 Dona Maria Rosé: Retail $15. 60% Arogonez 40% Touriga Nacional. True Rosé. Júlio has been making a Rosé since 2008 because “Rosé in Portugal was so terrible.” First vintage he made 2000 bottles. Gave half away and kept the other half for himself now makes 5500. Pale orange perfumed and peach. Whoa. This is fantastic. Round initially with plenty of fruit and finishes quite tart. The best Portuguese rosé I’ve had. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.

2016 Dona Maria White: Arinto, Antão Vaz, and Viosinho. Perfumed and white peach. Again great mouthfeel with waves of fruit and then acidity comes in. Amazingly no oak nor any malolactic, but creamy and rich. Very nice. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.

2015 Dona Maria Viognier: Floral but perhaps not quite as floral as others with some yeast. Unoaked. Bâtonnage. Another winner. A bit of spice and a ton of spice. Perhaps the most un-Viognier Viognier I’ve had. Nice. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.

2014 Amantis (Lovers) White: Retail $22. 100% Viognier. 2nd year 400 liter barrels with bâtonnage for five months. Again, subdued nose but slightly floral. Rich gold color. Silky and rich. If I tasted blind? Might take me a while to get to Viognier. Incredible. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.

2014 Dona Maria Red blend: Retail $15. Arogonez, Alicante Bouschet, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon. Black plum, black (and a touch of green) pepper. Great fruit without being fruity. Balanced and lovely. Some tannin but pretty integrated. Could go for a while, but tasty now. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.

2013 Amantis Red: Retail $23. Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Touriga Nacional. Recently bottled. Spent one year in 2 year-old oak barrels. Dark red fruit and a little funk with savory characteristic (fennel?). Surprising on the palate with tons of fruit but depth and plenty of tannin. Another stunner. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.

Dona Maria has some of the most impressive lagares—the large pits used to foot trod the grapes—that I saw all week. Júlio still foot treads 240k kilos of grapes every year as he feels it means better skin contact and leads to more color, texture, and depth.

2013 Dona Maria Touriga Nacional: Foot trod and fermented in “lagares” the ancient marble pads. Inviting nose of red fruit with a touch of meat. Tons of juicy fruit not as rough as other TN that are overly tannic and jammy. Big but inviting. If you like more fruit and plenty of body this is it. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.

2012 Dona Maria Grande Reserva: Retail $45. 50% Alicante with Touriga Nacional, Petit Verdot, and Syrah. 14 months in oak in 80% new oak. Savory, mint, eucalyptus. Cassis and blackberry.  Even a dark chocolate covered cherry. Also made in “lagares.” Really wonderful wine that could use a little more time as the tannins are there but not over-bearing. Outstanding now, 91-93 Points. Possibly 93-96 Points in a half-dozen or more years.

2012 Júlio B. Bastos Alicante Bouschet: $120. “This wine is dedicated to my father who I’m sure would have thoroughly enjoyed tasting it.” 16 months in oak. Vineyards 60 years old. Alicante is usually much darker. But these berries have some white pulp. Whoa. Black raspberry and mocha. Tons going on the nose. Whoa. Juicy but never jammy. This is extraordinary. Outstanding Plus. 97-99 Points.

1986 Quinto do Carmo: Júlio brought this out as a special treat at the end of the tasting. 87% Alicante Bouschet, “and the rest from the worst grapes in Alentejo: Moreto and Castelão are the worst and Trincaidera is the second worst.” Six years before he partnered with Rothschilds. Aged in Portuguese oak since the French refused to sell him barrels. Made in the garage essentially with minimal equipment. Definitely an older nose of caramel and a bit of must. But the primary fruit is gone, replaced by dried dates and fig. Meaty and Christmas spice. Acid is still vibrant and tannins still noticeable. Could go for a while. A long while. Outstanding. 94-96 Points.




About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Alicante Bouschet, Antão Vaz, Aragonez, Arinto, Cabernet Sauvignon, Castelão, Moreto, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Touriga Nacional, Trincadeira, Viognier, Viosinho, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

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