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I first came across Douro reds in the UK, around the early 2000’s. Quinta do Crasto comes to mind, and they were excellent. Full bodied and round, they wore the sun on their shoulders. Not the scorching stab of mid afternoon Australian sun, but a warm, cosy coat of juicy fruited pleasure. Delicious. So much so that I thought if you were to introduce Australian’s to European wines, this is where I would start. Italian and French were often too tannic, to acidy, to thin, for Aussies brought up on fat, fruity, oaky beasts – Douro reds offered a halfway point.

 

Angels from Ashes

And then I tasted the wines of Luis Seabra. All my understanding and knowledge of the Douro, admittedly limited as it was, had to be cast aside. In fact, it is hard to imagine that such a hot, hilly and dry wine region could produce wines of entirely translucent, ethereal, pure, delicacy. A lesson for all wine buffs who jump to conclusions and generalise a region’s wines according to numbers; vintage, rainfall, harvest dates, and so on.

 

Steeped in tradition

Perhaps I am only telling part of the story. Luis Seabra makes wines from not only the Douro, but from Vinho Verde, Moncao-Melgaco and now Dao. Curiously, he was head winemaker at Niepoort for a decade and these wines are a complete departure from traditionally made Douro wines, fortified or otherwise. Winemaking is kept simple, with very little sulphur additions and nothing else. Ferments are wild and unforced, and extractions are incredibly gentle. The vineyards are almost invariably remote and very old. They are generally planted to various varieties, many of them ancient and verging on extinction. Whatever the vineyard gifts, is what you drink in the glass.

Truly historic, idiosyncratic wines are rare. Made in tiny quantities they tell a story of the choices of previous generations. Choices made to ensure an ample supply of wine, regardless of weather conditions, and to the taste of the families and communities that planted, cared for, fermented and imbibed the wine. These are truly remarkable wines, utterly unique, that can only have come from the fields and villages they were planted in.

 

Tasting Notes

 

Luis Seabra Xisto Ilimitado Branco 2020

What a perfect wine to begin a tasting. A blend of Rabigato (60%), Viosinho (20%), Gouveio (15%) and Codega (5%), the Ilimitado is Luis Seabra’s village wine. The vines are from high altitude vineyards, 400-500 above sea level and aged between 30-60 years. Handpicked, all varietals crushed together and wild fermented. Aged in used French oak for 7 months on lees, with no malolactic fermentation and no battonage. Intense green apple, lime, white peach, nectarine, cherry, camphor and sage. Juicy, some pear, quince, gentle spice, honeydew and subtle grip. Long, pure and expansive palate that finish quite saline and mineral. Supple. Beautiful and tender.

 

Luis Seabra Xisto Cru Branco 2020

The DNA of the estate is present all wines, red and white, so it can be quite a surprise that varitals and vineyard locations are different. 100% Alvarinho (Albarino) from three plots. The vines are at least 25 years old, planted in granite soils around the village of Paderne, Melgaco. Handpicked, naturally fermented in old 1000-2000 litre Eastern European oak oval vats. Aged for 12 months on lees, before being racked to stainless steel for 5 months.

Peach, yellow and white, honeysuckle sage. blackcurrant, lemon zest and preserved vine leaf. Deep and concentrated, but in no way heavy. More yellow fruits on the palate, apricot, fresh lucerne, jasmine, gentle spice, mint and pithy lemon. Lanolin, fluffy, almost meringue in feel. Gentle persistence. Stunning, the best Cru Branco I’ve tasted.

 

Luis Seabra Xisto Ilimatado Tinto 2018

A genuine field blend, sourced vines aged between 25 and 60 years old from vineyards in Cotas and Ervedosa do Douro. Planted in Patamares, which are terraces made up of earth, as opposed to stones. High altitude, with loamy clays and yellow slate soils. Handpicked, foot trodden, and whole cluster ferments, with maceration times ranging from 8 days to 30 days. Aged for 14 months in used French oak barrels.

Lifted red fruits, Mourvèdre-like smoke, iodine, sage, pepper and violet. Plush and sleek, with chocolate orange, earthy notes, baking spices, buoyant red fruits of pomegranate, cranberry and raspberry. The texture of all these wines is really something, the stems adding width and firm precision, leading to long pumice like tannins. Very long carry, and has at least another 10 years of gorgeous drinking.

 

Luis Seabra Mono C Tinto Castelao Dao 2018

If you are in doubt, Castelao is the varietal. Grown on yellow slate over clay loam at an altitude of 490 metres. Hand picked, 100% whole cluster and wild fermented in stainless steel. A very long maceration of 25 days. Transferred to 500 litre French oak barrels after fermentation, for 16 months. Lifted and ethereal aromatics of curry leaf, kirsch and briary fruit. Texturally fascinating, beguiling – chalk to velvet to mineral. Ripe fruits are cut through pithy, strawberry pip and ferrous notes. Incredible wine of detail and exoticism and yet there is nothing weird or strange. The balance between the elements is perfect, gently persuasive and I think, though I’m not entirely sure, that this will age very well.

 

Luis Seabra Mono A Tinto Alfrocheiro Dao 2019

Dao, not Douro, from a 35 year old vineyard of granite soils. The variety is Alfrocheiro, which accounts for about 3% of total plantings in Portugal. Handpicked, wild fermented, with 40% whole cluster. A long maceration of 26 days, before being transferred to a 300o litre oak foudre for 14 months.

Dark colour and the fruits are darker too. Blackcurrant, blackberry, plum and violets. Just gorgeous. Deep core, but still only medium bodied, sleek and precise. Rich sweet fruit, with textured tobacco, cocoa, all wrapped in silk. Super bright and vivid, the sweetness matched by buoyant acidity and long satiny tannins. Absolutely stunning wine. Claret like effortlessness, Burgundian sexiness and Portuguese minerality.

 

Luis Seabra Indie Xisto Tinto Douro 2019

From vines at least 70 years of age. A single vineyard from Alijo at the very high altitude of 580 metres with blue schist soil. Variteals are Tinta Barroca, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Rufete, Malvasia Preta, Donzelinho Tinto, Touriga Brasileira and Touriga Femea. Foot trodden, naturally fermented with100% whole cluster, with only a 10 day maceration. After tasting the wine you will understand why. Aged for 18 months in used 225litre French oak barriques.

Bright notes of black fruits, violet, lavender, geraniums and pink peppercorns. The least textured of the wines, but this is not to imply weakness. Deep, brooding and mineral. Silky palate, round shape and smooth almost lulls you into a sense of sweetness. Until the rifling tannins kick in with a squeeze that is all tobacco. One of my favourite Seabra wines ever. Complete wine.

 

Luis Seabra Xisto Cru Tinto 2019

80 year old vines of Rufete, Touriga Franca, Tinta Carvalha, Alicante Bouchet, Donzelinho Tinto, Malvazia Preta and others. From 2 individual vineyards, vinified separately, with 100% whole bunch inclusion. Wild fermented, maceration of 29 days and aged in 228litre used French oak barrels for 22 months.

Stunning, gorgeous succulent fruits of cherry, cream, kirsch, blackberry, violets, fresh compost and ferrous nuances. Incredible power without heaviness, great palate width and ripe fruit without sweetness. Super tight palate, plush, mineral and chalky mouthfeel, tightening up on the finish. Curiously, the tannins tighten their grip with time in the glass, suggesting a very long and delightful life.

 

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