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The road to Conceito Vinhas

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(Courtesy Karen Norton)

For many, the thrill of the wine experience is the search, finding that great value or rare hidden gem that you read about somewhere. During a recent visit to Portugal’s Douro Valley, I pursued such an opportunity and survived to tell my story.

For centuries, Portugal has been known for producing the finest port in the world, using native grapes like touriga nacional, touriga francesa and tinto roriz, called tempranillo in neighboring Spain and other countries. In recent years, they have used the same varietals to produce acclaimed red wines.

In 2014, three Douro Valley red wines, the Dow Vintage Port 2011(#1), Prats & Symington Douro Chryseia 2011(#3) and Quinta do Vale Meao Douro 2011(#4), dominated Wine Spectator magazine’s annual top wines list.

Most recently, critics have made note that quality white wines have emerged from the Douro. One such release, the Conceito Douro Branca 2016 (white blend) and its story intrigued me and, although they were in the midst of the harvest, I reached out to winemaker Rita Marques Ferreira to arrange a visit.

As with most wineries, Conceito’s small three person staff were in the throes of harvest, something that is time consuming and must be undertaken within a precise window to maximize potential for greatness.

Before leaving the hotel, I asked Lisa, the concierge for directions to the village of Villa Nova de Foz Coa-Cedovim. She said that it was a beautiful ninety minute drive from our hotel in Peso da Régua. An hour and a half to travel 43 miles should have been a clue.

What followed was a scenic, but harrowing drive up and over a mountain pass, via a long and winding road without many barriers. At one point, we were behind a small truck carrying freshly harvested grapes. For once, I didn’t mind the slow moving truck. It gave us some reprieve from being the only snail on the road.

Our GPS did a yeoman’s job of getting us to Cedovim. From there we were on our own, left to find Conceito with no commercial signage. We turned to the right and began to improvise.

In a few miles, we past a small white building where a woman was observing a man on a fork lift dumping a tub of grapes through a de- stemmer. From her photos, I thought I recognized Rita, so we stopped and approached her.

“We are very busy today, so you will meet with my mother, Carla,” she said. “Besides, she speaks better English for you.” I am always impressed how multi-lingual most Europeans are.

Unecessarily apologizing for the mess and her broken English, Carla Costa Ferreira, Conceito’s owner, gave us a tour of their small, non descript facility including the crush pad, large stainless steel fermentation tanks and the barrel rooms.

Afterwards, she led us to a small table with several bottles of their current releases to taste. I noticed a bottle of 2017 Conceito Douro Branca and inquired about the vintage 2016. She left and soon returned, smiling. “We have very little left, but I found a bottle,” she said.

The 2016 Douro Branca is a field blend of esgana cao, folgosado and verdelho, all native white varietals in the Douro. This wine was not a “fruit bomb”, dominated by one overpowering varietal, but a perfectly balanced blend with a subtle minerality and lush mouthfeel that lingered throughout a seemingly everlasting finish. A truly pleasurable experience. Although it is priced at 20 euros in Portugal, consumers in the US must pay $45 a bottle for the experience.

I asked Carla if she was aware that Wine Spectator had given the wine a 92-point rating in their national magazine.

“Yes, I am aware,” she said, “but I think they taste wines too early. This wine will continue to improve for the next five to ten years.”

I believe her, but this wine was tasting very fine today. We continued to taste their top red blend, the 2015 Conceito Douro Tinta, another superbly balanced blend as well as their “Contrast” label red and white, designed as everyday wines at a lower price point. Carla said that the Contrast red was actually her favorite wine.

Conceito wines are authentic, created by a small team in a remote mountain village that does not seek notoriety of any kind. Somehow, it still managed to find them.

Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at sfewine@gmail.com.

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