With its natural ampitheatre and 8-metre high walled terraces, Quinta da Boavista is one of the most instantly recognisable and iconic estates in the Douro Valley – worthy of UNESCO World Heritage status on its own. And yet very few people are allowed here. Granted rare access to the estate, Peter Dean explores the historical, 80-hectare site, meets winemaker Carla Tiago for the first ever tasting of all the estate’s wines from the past five harvests and discovers how, under its new owners Sogevinus, and with the help of Pétrus’s Jean-Claude Berrouet, Boavista is set to cement its reputation as one of the best producers of still red wine in Portugal.
“Boavista wines have Port ‘parents’ and ‘grandparents’ but with ‘cousins’ in France… which they only meet later in life,” says winemaker Carla Tiago.
The winemaking region of the Douro has UNESCO World Heritage Site status for its outstanding universal value, but on visiting the wine estate of Quinta da Boavista in the Cima Corgo subregion you could be forgiven for thinking that UNESCO’s status applies solely to this most iconic of Portuguese wine estates. For, within its 80-hectares, Boavista is a microcosm of how the 2,000 year-old tradition of viticulture has developed here in the Douro.
Every part of the estate – vineyards and buildings – reflects the technological, social and economic evolution of wine in the region.
From the portrait that hangs in the living room of Douro pioneer, Baron Joseph James Forrester, who put the region on the map (literally with a map), to the vineyards that arch out around the natural ampitheatre that contains the estate, Quinta da Boavista in one stunning location reflects the evolution of Douro winemaking. The size of the terraces, the spacing of the vines, the abandoned small quintas on its hills, its proximity to the river and transport links all tell a tale of how winemaking began here and has changed over time.
Exploring the Boavista estate
Quinta da Boavista has changed hands many times over the decades but its most recent owner, since 2020, is the wine group Sogevinus that has amongst its portfolio major port brands such as Kopke and Cálem and still wine labels Quinta de S.Luiz and Quinta Do Bairro. It is Sogevinus’ viticulturalist and estate manager Marcio Nobredga who shows us around the vineyards, picking his way gingerly up the hair-raising tracks in a 4X4, precipitous drops making this a trip not for the feint-hearted. It’s like a scene from Wages of Fear.
We are climbing up to the top of Oratório, one of two key single vineyards here, and the one that has the unmistakable high terraces that hug the natural ampitheatre like contours of an Ordance Survey map.
These geometric schist terraces were built by hand in the 19th century and have unusually high supporting walls – eight metres in places. The altitude of Oratório varies between 80 and 175 metres and has over 25 grape varieties planted, not all of them identified yet. These terraces are wide and slightly sloping to catch the sun and were built after phylloxera decimated the region.
If you look closely you can see that the lower walls are well built and standing strong, when the quinta was in a good financial position but, as you climb up, so the walls and terraces are in worse shape – a reflection of harder financial times when the owners couldn’t afford better.
Once you’re at the top of Oratório the scenery is simply magnificent. You can see how Boavista’s buildings are tucked into the landscape, ideally located, while the river Douro drifts silently by carrying cruise boats that are a sign of the region’s booming tourist trade.
It is here at the top of the hill that you find an abandoned farm, one of three that merged to form the 80 hecatres of Quinta da Boavista with a commanding view of the estate. Not a lot of the buildings are intact except for the lagares, the oldest one made from slabs of schist, the youngest from concrete, and a large rusted iron press proudly bearing the name of a Porto foundry, that will stand here no doubt for centuries as a tombstone to viticulture of yore.
The ruined buildings are flanked by magnificent autochtonous vines that date back over one century which still bear fruit that all goes into the outstanding field blend that is Quinta da Boavista Vinha do Oratório, a wine of remarkable concentration and complexity. The vines here are grown on socalcos, the narrow and irregular terraces on which you find only one or two rows of vines and which were only permissible pre-1860.
The manner in which the limited land and water resources on these extremely steep slopes have been managed, is an exemplar of man’s unique relationship with the natural environment. Behind the farm is a man-made cave burrowed 50 metres into the hill, ingeniously to tap into a natural spring that now has salamanders resting in its inky silence.
There are ghosts too on many of the slopes opposite Oratório towards Ujo, the other significant single vineyard at Boavista. These hills are covered by abandoned vineyards that are beyond commercially-viable repair and are called ‘los muertos’ – magnificent, almost mournful, relics of the past. Of Boavista’s 80 hectares just 36 are currently planted to vine.
Running through the estate is a brook with a water wheel where you can imagine grape-pickers sheltering from the heat in summer, picking fruit from the fig trees or the many olive, orange and almond trees that have been planted over the years and line the road taking you from the river to the quinta.
No-one lives in the Quinta anymore and the wine is made off-site so it has survived the commercialism and modernisation of some of its neighbours.
Back to the future of Boavista
There’s no doubting the significance of Boavista’s acquisition by Sogevinus, in fact many of the Douro’s other major players were caught off-guard when the deal was finalised. Visiting the estate late last year you get the impression that this massive wine group is still working out how to best tap into its potential and how it fits into Sogevinus’s increasingly strategic play for the Portuguese still wine market.
Interestingly, Baron Joseph James Forrester always saw Boavista’s future as a still winemaking estate rather than port.
Back at the Quinta, once our fascinating tour has finished, winemaker Carla Tiago has prepared a special one-off tasting of all of the estate’s wines across five vintages 2013-2017, the first tasting of its kind, with one 2018 thrown in for good measure.
Boavista currently produces six wines: the flagship Reserva (10,000 bottles produced), two single vineyard wines, Vinha do Oratório and Vinha do Ujo (1500-2000 of each) and three mono varietal wines: Donzelinho Tinto, Alicante Bouschet and Touriga Nacional.
Because Sogevinus bought Boavista in 2020 none of these wines have been made by Tiago, they were under Rui Cunha when Smith & Lima owned the estate, but they give an invaluable insight into what she and the team will be working with – both in the way the wines express their growing seasons and, most importantly, this most extraordinary terroir. One aspect that will stay the same is the guidance from Jean-Claude Berrouet of Pétrus fame who has always advocated the enormous potential of the Boavista terroir.
“These wines have Port ‘parents’ and ‘grandparents’ with ‘cousins’ in France…which they only meet later in life,” Tiago smiles.
Incidentally her first vintage was 2020 which will be on the market in 2024.
A vertical tasting of Boavista wines from 2013-2018
A good but atypical year with large fluctuations in temperature and rainfall.
Boa-Vista Reserva Red 2013
25% each of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinto Cão and Vinhas Velhas (old vines)
Winemaking-wise the fruit for the Reserva wines is harvested and sorted by hand, de-stalking and gentle-pressing follows. Fermentation occurs in a mix of traditional granite wine presses (with foot-treading), steel vats and new French oak. The wine is aged in 500-litre barrels for 15-20 months. No filtering or cold stabilisation. Alcohol is largely 14% abv across all the vintages with acidity ranging from 4.7 g/l to 6.37 g/l.
Deep purple; fruity and spicy, intense bouquet. With time it gets more complex (25% is fruit from 90+ year-old vines) spicy, (curry leaf) textured, meat juice, soy, coal. Medium weight, great acidity and balance, fresh and lovely texture on the finish.
Quinta da Boavista Vinha do Oratório 2013
Field blend of 25+ varieties. East-facing Vinhas Velhas (old vines) average age 90+ years.
Much more fruity and floral than the Reserva; aromatics are complex with violets to the fore and a dusty-clay note; medium-weight in the mouth, complex, black cherry and blackberry notes; ripe integrated tannins, bright acidity, very dry slightly grippy finish.
Quinta da Boavista Vinha do Ujo 2013
Field blend of 25+ varieties. North-facing Vinhas Velhas (old vines) average age 90+ years.
A wine that creeps up on you – layered and mysterious. Less fruity than the Oratório there are floral notes, forest floor and a savoury component; in the mouth the wine has a wild streak, the acidity feels more pronounced and nervy, lovely, a fresh, dry, slightly resin and grippy finish. Seductive and elusive.
Another atypical growing season with a rainy spring, a hot and unstable summer, with an early and extended harvest – leading to wines with higher alcohol.
Boa-Vista Reserva Red 2014
A pretty, precocious wine that needs more time. The palate is youthful with keen acidity, finely woven tannins, notes of red and blue fruit with an almost citrus edge. Alcohol 14.5% abv and acidity 6.37 g/l
Quinta da Boavista Vinha do Oratório 2014
Fabulously complex and layered wine with dark plums and black cherries on the nose with suggestions of brioche and white field mushroom; in the mouth the wine is dense and fresh, with root vegetable notes such as beetroot.
Quinta da Boavista Vinha do Ujo 2014
Outstanding wine and highlight of the tasting so far. The aromatics are amazing, less fruity than the 2013, but with a pronounced rustic and savoury character – think miso, fire hearth, silage; in the mouth there’s a plush quality, ever so fresh, finely-woven, ripe tannins, with blueberries and blue plum skin on the very dry finish. Deep, broody and quite magnificent.
An extremely good vintage with healthier-than-average fruit. After the rainy 2013 and 2014 growing seasons, 2015 had a cold, dry winter followed by an unusually hot and dry spring and summer, particularly in June and July.
Boa-Vista Reserva Red 2015
One of the best if not the best wines of the tasting – certainly the best value money-wise. This is in an excellent place right now. The nose has such purity with the Touriga Nacional adding pretty, floral notes to the black fruit; the mouthfeel is silky, open, fresh and pure, beautifully elegant. There’s a Grand Cru quality to the wine – its fine detail, focus and precision.
Quinta da Boavista Vinha do Oratório 2015
Perhaps a bad bottle. This was the only wine that stood out as being disjointed, overly dry, tertiary notes with silage, dried mushrooms and smoky bacon. The palate was fresh and dense, plenty of juicy fruit but a wine to approach with caution.
Quinta da Boavista Vinha do Ujo 2015
Very concentrated and intense but fresh at the same time, well balanced and put together. Black fruit, oaky notes, with mocha and a cranberry twist on the finish. The tannins, while not being aggressive are less friendly than in the previous two vntages.
Vines that were higher or less exposed held the advantage in this extremely hot and dry summer, which ended up being a classic year for port.
Boa-Vista Reserva Red 2016
Savoury, broody, intense and concentrated with the ripe fruit exuding cooked and coffee notes. The mouthfeel is structured with lots of ripe fruit and meat juices. The tannins are finely-meshed, tight and quite tense with a very dry finish and a touch of liquor.
Quinta da Boavista Vinha do Oratório 2016
Gorgeous freshness at its core, this wine is very fruity with ripe red cherries, nutmeg, clove and violets; in the mouth the wine is very fresh and open, welcoming and giving, fleshy with cedar and dark chocolate notes. Drinking well.
Quinta da Boavista Vinha do Ujo 2016
Harder, more structured with power – this vintage is more austere and needs more time, but it promises much with a terrific nose, complex and layered. Red cherries, plums and blackberries abound, the wine has this terrific freshness at its core, although this translates too to the tannins that have a tougher edge and end abruptly. Squirrel this away and return to it in a few years’ time.
An extremely hot and dry year which led to one of the earliest harvests on record – three weeks early. The quality of the fruit was excellent with good levels of sugar and phenolic compounds.
Boa-Vista Reserva Red 2017
Less complex than some of the other vintages but this wine has a voluptuous ripeness and concentration, balanced well, which made it one of my favourite wines of the tasting. Oodles of black fruit, as you might expect, with violets and white pepper on the nose, a lifted eucalyptus note too that comes from the Touriga Nacional, a twist of orange peel on the finish, which has just a wee grip to it. In a very good place right now.
Quinta da Boavista Vinha do Oratório 2017
Oustanding example of what this vineyard can bring to the party – such freshness and incredible depth – one of the wines of the tasting. Beautifully floral and fruity on the nose, the wine draws you into an intense, black-fruited experience with cassis, bramble fruit, plum, spicy oak and dark chocolate. Yummy, fresh, generous and gorgeous. At the start of its drinking window with decades to go.
Quinta da Boavista Vinha do Ujo 2017
Fresh and intense with blueberry fruit, cherries and blackberry, although there is plenty of sweet blackberry fruit on the palate I found the tannins mouth-puckeringly dry – a hint of sloe even. Great balance, very dry but not my favourite Ujo in the line-up
We only tasted the Vinha do Oratório in the 2018 vintage because that is the only wine that Boavista made in this year. August and September recorded some of the highest temperatures of the past decade (before 2022 that is) which led to great quality but very low yields.
Quinta da Boavista Vinha do Oratório 2018
Primary, fresh ripe black fruit and spice, violets and orange peel notes on the nose; the mouthfeel is young and intense with ripe firm tannins, with time in the glass more layers and complexity reveal themselves. This is a young wine, obviously, but even at this stage it’s showing amazing potential.
Boavista’s mono varietals
Boavista currently produces three small-scale production mono-varietal cuvées. They are priced at £40 RRP – the same price as Sogevinus’ other premium still wine range Sao Luiz Winemakers Collection. The wines were launched in 2015 so the wines in stock have been inherited from the acquisition.
Donzelinho Tinto 2017, Boa-Vista
Donzelinho Tinto is a grape variety used to add acidity in Port production. The fruit hails from a 2 ha vineyard with the grapes being thick-skinned with small, compact bunches. The fruit is fermented and aged in 500l French oak for 15-20 months, bottled without filtering or cold-stabilisation.
Light ruby, almost transparent this is a fresh, fruity wine with high acidity (6.4 g/l). Aromas of red fruit – red plum, mulberry – herbs, quite shy at first; in the mouth the wine has an open, generous mouthfeel changing to high-toned and austere in the mouth, a long finish, with grippy green tannins – zingy acidity and huge length.
Alicante Bouschet 2017, Boa-Vista
From a 2.5 ha site with more Alicante now being planted on the estate. This is gently pressed in granite then spends 15-20 months in 500l French oak barrels – not filtered or cold stabilised (6.2 g/l acidity / 14% abv). This is an un-jammy example of this sometimes hefty grape with deft extraction and possibly early picking making this hugely pleasurable. Aromas have red fruit and spice. In the mouth the wine has wild red cherries with a fresh, clean and pure mouthfeel. There’s a sturdy structure here with robust and ripe tannins, bright acidity. Lovely example of Alicante Bouschet.
Touriga Nacional 2017, Boa-Vista
Not tasted as the sample was corked.
Where to start buying?
The wines that were outstanding and would be on my buying list were the:
Boa-Vista Reserva Red 2015 and 2017; Quinta da Boavista Vinha do Ujo 2014 and Quinta da Boavista Vinha do Oratório 2017
Hayward Bros is stocking some of the wines, while Sogevinus is also looking for extra distribution in the UK.