Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Douro Boys with a Luxury Time Tasting Event

By | 29 February 2024

A tasting of top wines and Ports from the influential group of winemakers.

By Sarah Ahmed

The Douro Boys, the pioneering club of Portuguese table winemakers, provided a spectacular reminder of their Port-producing roots at a celebratory tasting, reports Sarah Ahmed.

By design, not default, the Douro Boys have been game changers for the Douro Valley. Looking beyond the family tradition of growing Port grapes or making Port wine, the group was launched in 2003 with the goal of winning equal acclaim for the region’s Douro DOC light wines. As the name suggests, the Douro Boys were a bunch of (predominantly) young guns who, with the honorable exception of Niepoort (a shipper), owned Douro estates—namely, Quinta do Vallado, Quinta do Crasto, Quinta do Vale Meão, and Quinta do Vale Doña Maria (which has since been sold, but its owner, Cristiano van Zeller, and his eponymous company remain in the group).

Collectively, the group now produces approximately four million bottles of Douro DOC wine. These are distributed across over 100 countries. Despite modernizing, the Douro Boys still respect their heritage. This is exemplified by Miguel Roquette’s tradition of blessing his newborn children’s lips with Quinta do Crasto Port wine, accentuating the sacred significance of Port wine. This is further shown by the prized Port bottles and casks aging in the Douro Boys’ cellars, and their growing collection of new Port brands and labels.

The 20th-anniversary celebration began with an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime wine tasting of rare and fine aged examples. The event took place in Niepoort’s atmospheric lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia. Surrounded by aging Ports in cobweb-draped casks and dust-covered bottles, we then tasted mature Douro DOC wines. However, the focus of this feature is the exceptional Ports presented by the group; only the Douro wines that I rated the highest are reviewed here. The mature red flight was expectedly more successful than the limited white flight. My selection primarily includes the fresher, more intricate mature whites marked by well-integrated oak.

Returning to the Ports, the Douro Boys earmarked ultra-premium wood-aged Ports, despite the fact that Vintage Ports usually attract more attention. The category’s growing significance was highlighted in 2022 when three new classifications were introduced: 50-Year-Old Tawny Port, 50-Year-Old White Port, and Very Very Old Tawny Port, for wines older than 80 years. 19th-century Ports reviewed here aren’t classified under these new categories and are labeled as “Very Old Tawny.” Some are vintage-dated, but they aren’t classified as colheitas. This is because the Port wine certifying body, Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto, was formed only in 1933. As Cristiano van Zeller clarified, the vintage is determined based on the private records of growers or Port houses. “Their quality and tasting age obviously confirms their age,” he added.

Astonished by the intensity and complexity, the Douro Boys’ wine antiquities having aged extensively in wood caught my attention. These Ports are highly charismatic and engaging. Broadly, the non-vintage Tawnies, specially those aged in the relatively humid, cooler, Atlantic influenced Vila Nova de Gaia, are generally fresher, lighter bodied and low in residual sugar. The traditionally hot and dry storage conditions in Douro Valley, prone to higher evaporation, result in denser styles having high viscous sugars, some even almost concentrated to an essence resembling a reduction sauce. Traditionally, a small quantity of these robust vintage Ports would be used in non-vintage blends; however, when bottled alone, these make incredible sipping wines.


Quinta do Crasto Colheita Tawny Port 1997 (Bottled in 2015; 20% ABV; 4.5° Baumé)

This is Crasto’s first colheita (single-harvest) Tawny Port. After spending 18 years in 550-litre Port pipes, there is an initial smoky aroma, moderately pungent with undertones of gum rockrose. Upon spending some time in the glass, it opens up to reveal delicate flavors of dried pear, pear skin and cedar, with a hint of candy apple. A strong backbone of tannins and minerals along with cleansing acidity make up its structure and lead to a focused finish. 93

Quinta do Crasto Honore Very Old Tawny Port
(Bottled in 2015; 19.7% ABV)

When Quinta do Crasto was purchased in 1918 by Constantino de Almeida, he moved his personal collection of Ports to the Port house he had started, Constantinos. In 2015, his great-grandsons, Miguel and Tomás Roquette, introduced Honore, a limited 400-bottle release from that collection, in celebration of the estate’s 400th anniversary. This release is thought to comprise Ports ranging from 127 to 135 years old. Their complexity is expressed in potent tones of Medjool dates, quince jelly, and honey. These flavors are supported by significant sugar content (304g/l) and high-toned, volatile acidity, generating a brisk, engaging palate experience. The finish is lengthy, nutty and deliciously appealing. 96

Niepoort Very Old Tawny 1863 Pipa
(Transferred to demijohn in 1970, then bottled in 1992; 21.5% ABV; 144g/l RS)

This Port comes from one of Niepoort’s remarkable 1863 casks that was moved to demijohn in 1970 to preserve its freshness. The bottling commemorates the birth of Daniel Niepoort, Dirk Niepoort’s eldest son. It displays a buoyant, long-lasting, and multisensory punch of flavor. As it unfolds, it saturates the senses with a pleasing medley of cedar and tamarind spice, spicy chutney fruit, and salted caramel, rounded out with a hint of green tomato. The rolling acidity beautifully enhances the flavors. The finish is long-lasting and resonates on the back of the palate. Simply divine. 99

Niepoort VV Tawny Port 170th Anniversary Port (Bottled in 2012; 20.5% ABV; 135.3g/l RS)

Dirk Niepoort’s exceptional work is clearly evident in this Port. This is apparent when you compare it to the origin VV from his grandfather, which originated from the same 1863 Tawny Port base, but was a more robust and vigorous pour. This current blend includes the younger 18-year-old Tawny Port and a little white Port to ensure it’s lighter and less saccharine, as per Dirk’s preference for precision and easily drinkable Ports over stronger ones. A harmonious and rich blend, the aged component gives a distinct flavour of bolo de mel (Madeiran honey cake). Artfully balanced and intense, it has potential for further aging, given its stellar composition. The finish entices with a mineral acidity. As an interesting side note, the mentioned 1863 Port (a pre-phylloxera Port) alone broke auction records in 2018 and 2019 when bottled in Lalique decanters. 98

Quinta do Vallado 50-Year-Old Tawny Port (Bottled in 2022; 19.5% ABV; 137g/l RS)

Vallado’s fortified range was launched impressively with a group of Tawny Ports, including it being one of the first to release a 50-Year-Old Tawny Port. This brilliantly topaz-coloured wine is refined, smooth, and radiates fresh, pure and nuanced elements following a sip of its silky, caramelized orange and crema catalana palate. Fennel, cinnamon, vanilla, pistachio, and milk chocolate-coated praline notes lend an intricate balance and complexity. Notably, this blend contains components from an 1880 Tawny (8 percent) and a 70-year-old Tawny (2 percent). 97

Quinta do Vallado ABF Very Old Tawny Port 1888
(Bottled in 2016; 19.5% ABV; 296g/l RS)

In celebration of Vallado’s 300th anniversary, we have the ABF, a tribute to António Bernardo Ferreira, the man who acquired the estate back in 1818. This limited-edition release of 933 bottles originates from three 650-liter casks of 1888 Tawny Port obtained from a Baixo Corgo cultivator and blended without rehydration. Fittingly, it displays a deep color and flavor, boasts of incredible concentration, and offers a texture likened to molasses. You can savor rich and lush flavors of Medjool date and dried-fig fruit, black cardamom, espresso, and bitter chocolate. A balance is struck with sour and tangy flavors of tamarind paste and antique furniture. This is no doubt a rich feast in a glass, with a hedonic level of residual sugar. Strongly rated at 97 points.

Quinta do Vallado Adelaide Tributa Very Old Tawny Port 1866
(Bottled in 2012; 19.5% ABV)

This wine pays tribute to the formidable 19th-century Douro landowner Dona Antónia Adelaide Ferreira, a previous owner of Vallado and ancestor of the current owners as well as winemaker Francisco Olazabal. The Port’s sheer density and viscosity are so impressive as to prompt one to wonder if it might have been better off blended than bottled on its own. This Port however is undeniably astounding, with flavors of dark raisins, slightly bitter cardamom, high-toned balsamic/furniture polish notes (ullage and oak), and “third extract” molasses – elements that make for a savory finish, despite its high residual sugar of 283g/l. Much like Vallado’s 1888 ABF, this Port was sourced from another cellar with five chestnut barrels initially reducing to only two 550-liter barrels over time. After at least 40 years of ullage, these two casks were bottled without any correction or refreshment, producing a modest 1,300 bottles. It lands a commendable rating of 94 points.

Quinta do Vallado Very Old Tawny Port
(Bottled in 2023; 19.2% ABV; 190g/l RS)

Considerable age differences aren’t uncommon in unions. Fortunately, this blend of Ports, from 40 to 140 years old, is a glorious union. The depth of its mahogany color, impressive thickness, and strong concentration of raisin justifies its age. The acidity, which follows a luscious introduction, stimulates the torrent of flavors, including burned caramel, caraway, black cardamom, licorice, almonds, espresso, and a whisper of refreshing mint. Enjoy it slowly, it’s a vin de méditation. 98

Van Zellers & Co Colheita White Port 1940
(Bottled in September 2022; 20.5% ABV; 5° Baumé)

While Tawny Ports charm with softened fruit flavors and more pronounced acidity, white Ports lean towards sobriety, particularly after spending a significant time in the cask. Without a doubt influenced by an exceptionally arid, low-yield year, this colheita showcases its lineage in its intensity and structure. The complex mix of high-toned chutney, nam pla fish sauce, smoked almonds, pickled walnut is balanced by a hint of barley sugar. A firm acidity backbone carries the echo of the finish, merging with antique wood and warm spirit at the end. 92

Van Zellers & Co 30-Year-Old Tawny Port
(Bottled in February 2023; 20% ABV; 3.6° Baumé)

Cristiano van Zeller believes that 30-year-old Tawny Ports hit the perfect mark for showcasing the effects of cask aging. This is particularly true when they are enhanced with older Ports — in this instance from 1958, the year of van Zeller’s birth. The 100+ year-old cask lends this Port a distinctively aged character that, when combined with a subtle taste of green tomato, brings about a harmonious and refined beverage. Tasting notes include chocolaty pralines, toasted hazelnuts, honey, and caramel and you can also find hints of khoobani ka meetha – a rich, velvety apricot dessert served with pistachio and coconut cream at the highly-praised Darjeeling Express. 93

Van Zellers & Co Very Old Tawny 1860
(Cask sample bottled April 14, 2023; 20% ABV; 135.85g/l RS)

This cask sample, with a lower than usual residual sugar content and a refreshing, mineral acidity, offers outstanding subtlety and control considering its vintage. Aromatic notes of confectionery entice, with traces of freshly baked madeleines, apricot-glazed raisin bread, and the delicate aromas of lavender, cardamom, and saffron. Fernet-Branca notes are present along with the classic Douro tones of gum cistus, licorice, and black pepper. The finish is long-lasting, gently tapering off into a pleasing finale. Simply delightful. 97


Quinta do Crasto Vintage Port 2000
(Bottled in 2002; 20% ABV)

The Roquette family first launched a Vintage Port in 1978, but, said Miguel Roquette, Quinta do Crasto Vintage Port 1994 is regarded as “the first real declaration.” The 2000 Vintage Port is true to the south-facing Cima Corgo-based estate’s plush, fruit-driven style, with bergamot and orange-peel lift to its ripe but muscular fruits-of-the-forest palate, and smooth milk chocolate to the finish. Filigree-fine, iron-filing tannins add mineral nuance and inform the line and length. Hard to resist, it was sourced from 70+-year-old field-blend parcels. 2023–30. 93

Quinta do Vale Meão Vintage Port 2000
(Bottled in 2002; 19.5% ABV)

Quinta do Vale Meão introduced a 1999 Douro DOC red. Once the Olazabal family had full control over their fruit (which was initially contracted to AA Ferreira), the first Vintage Port was crafted in 2000 (a universally declared year)—and almost every year thereafter. “All the wines stem from our own vineyard… We can produce great wines in ‘off’ years too,” said Francisco Olazabal. With great intensity, definition, and length, the core red-cherry fruit remains vigorous and is infused with dried herbs, licorice, a warming stroke of kirsch, and a “cooler” graphite note. Comprising primarily Touriga Franca, along with Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, and Sousão. A poor flowering season averaged a mere 300g per vine in yield; a quantity of 8,000 bottles were produced. An noteworthy debut. 93


Niepoort Coche 2018 Douro DOC
(11.4% ABV)

Originating from 80-year-old field-blend vineyards at elevations of 2,000–2,500ft (600–750m), Niepoort’s principal Douro white is tightly bound, intense, and sparkling, consisting of cordite, sencha green tea, freshly grated lime rind, minerals, and elegant structuring oak. A sword-like backbone of mineral acidity shapes the precise, enduring finish. Owing to its flavor intensity, partial malolactic fermentation, and clever lees work, Coche is elegant, rather than strict, with exceptional finesse. The 21st century’s coolest July was followed by the hottest day in August, which delayed ripening. Harvesting took place between September 5 and October 2. After light pressing, the must was left to settle for approximately 48 hours and then fermented in 228- and 550-liter French oak barrels (50 percent new). Maturation occurred over 12 months in barrel, before being bottled without clarifying or filtering. 97

Niepoort Redoma Reserva Branco 2007 Douro DOC
(13.44% ABV)

A blend of various vineyards aged over 80 years, stationed between 1,500–2,500ft (450–750m), this has proven durability in aging. The 2007 blend is noticeable, mainly due to its birth in a moderately mild year, with extended, slow ripening. Fine hints of pine resin and nuts harmoniously blend with fennel, litchi, and mineral notes. Resounding like ripples, a wave of white peach introduces a solid mid-palate presence, yet a light touch. Silky lees contribute to a lingering, harmonious aftertaste. This elegantly balanced and subtly impressive wine was fermented and matured for nine months, on lees in 228-liter French oak casks, with no disturbance or malolactic fermentation. 95

Quinta do Vallado Reserva White 2019 Douro DOC
(13% ABV)

Originating from a warm year with brisk nights preceding the harvest season, this robust estate blend of Rabigato, Gouveio, Viosinho, and Arinto, provides a savory and ample taste—a delightful mouthfeel. It unveils mature citrus and lemon peel fruitiness, with savory nuances of poached salsify and velvety oak. Highly saline, with fresh acidity, it lingers. Fermented and lees-aged with bâtonnage for several months in 500-liter French oak barrels (with 40 percent being new, the remainder second use). 93

Quinta do Vallado Reserva White 2011 Douro DOC
(13% ABV)

The color of this blend is yellow-gold, comprised of Gouveio (50 percent), Arinto (35 percent), Rabigato (10 percent), and Viosinho (5 percent). Despite its chewy character, it shares the bright acidity and salinity of the 2019 Reserva, which provides balance, vibrancy, and length to the lime flower-tinged, creamy white peach characteristics, and accompanied by a spicy, toasty oak dimension. Given the exceptional vintage, this powerful Douro white is performing well presently and is expected to maintain its prowess for several more years. It underwent a fermentation process and lees-aged with bâtonnage for quite a number of months in 500-liter French oak barrels (37.5 percent new, the rest second use). 93


Quinta do Crasto Douro Vinha da Ponte 2012 Douro DOC
(14.5% ABV)

Vinha da Ponte and Maria Teresa, the notable single-parcel reds of Crasto, are renowned for their remarkable capacity for aging. Particularly in cooler years like 2012, Ponte exhibits exceptional performance, achieving full phenolic maturation as reported by Crasto’s winemaker, Manuel Lobo. Demonstrating this fact, Ponte’s palate presents a combination of exquisite, smooth tannins and impressively fresh and sharp acidity. It leaves a prolonged impression of vibrant bergamot, orange peel-infused blackcurrant, and berry fruit. While being concentrated and opulent, it maintains an admirable balance and shows almost no sign of aging. Originating from an eastward-facing parcel of 97-year-old field blend, the wine underwent a 20-month aging period in anew 225-liter French oak barrels.96

Niepoort Turris 2021 Douro DOC (13% ABV)

Niepoort Turris 2021 Douro DOC, unusually light in complexion and body, is aged for 15 months in two 1,000-liter barrels that have been seasoned for over 60 years, originating from the Mosel. Cultivated from a field blend of 130+-year-old bush vines at high altitude, it displays an intriguingly wild side, with a slightly high-tone. It offers a buffet of violet-emphasised kirsch and slivovitz fruit (sans the body warmth or spirit), with fragrances of pine needle, mushroom, and forest floor. The crunchy acidity combined with sandy, even granular, tannins gives the wine a unique vitality and personality. Absolutely pleasing and one-of-a-kind.96

Quinta do Vale Meão 2011 Douro DOC (14.5% ABV)

Francisco Olazabal candidly confessed that, in this banner year, he was initially dismayed with this “big” wine, as it had shut down following bottling. Now, however, he is content, and with good cause. This is a smooth, seamless wine, filled with blackberry and plum flavours, complemented by a hint of dried herbs and bergamot. Now truly coming into its own, it is made up of 55 percent Touriga Nacional, 34 percent Touriga Franca, 6 percent Tinta Barroca, and 5 percent Tinta Roriz. Noteworthy for its finesse. It was matured in 225-liter French Allier oak barriques, 80 percent of which were new. 97

Quinta do Vale Meão 2008 Douro DOC
(14.5% ABV)

This release comes from a milder year—4.5°F (2.5°C) below the average growing season temperature, according to Olazabal. Consequently, the wine is lighter than usual, and both the tannins and acidity have been elevated a notch, resulting in a vibrant, energetic structure. It conveys mature notes of decaying rose petals, sweet bergamot, and savory oak alongside juicy blackberry and plum fruit. The oak provides a degree of creaminess, but the mineral acidity takes center stage, underscoring the year’s freshness. This blend of 55 percent Touriga Nacional, 30 percent Touriga Franca, 10 percent Tinta Roriz, and 5 percent Tinta Barroca was bottled in July 2010, following its maturation in 225-liter French Allier oak barriques (80 percent of which were new). 95

Quinta do Vallado Adelaide 2015 Douro DOC
(14.5% ABV)

The flagbearer product is extracted from exceptionally aged field-blended plots, containing over 30 varieties of grapes. About 30 percent of the blend is Touriga Franca, reflected in its deep hue and captivating bergamot and violet scent. The wine showcases beautiful equilibrium and a fine structure due to the evenly ripened fruits. It is characterized by its seamless texture, fine tannins, lasting acidity, and graceful length. The intense dark berry essence effortlessly incorporates the oak as it has been aged in 100 percent new French oak for 20 months. It is still dominantly youthful and is set to age well in the bottle. 96

Van Zellers and Co CV Curriculum Douro Red 2008 Douro DOC

(14.5% ABV)

When contrasted with the 2012 vintage, which was also a balmy, low-yielding year, the 2008 vintage asserts itself with a firm structure. With ripe but sturdy tannins, the wine flaunts its concentrated yet refined fruitiness, featuring spicy plum and kirsch flavors. It is complemented by layers of savory oak, graphite, iodine and has an undertone of beef carpaccio and silverside. There’s an excellent continuity in its taste. The wine has primarily been extracted from 80-year-old vineyards located in the north-, northwest-, and west directions of the Torto Valley. It was seasoned in French oak (90 percent new) for about 20 months. 96

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