The Other Vesuvio

Arrived home in Piedmont after a month of touring, loaded with a cargo of wine: sprightly Vermentino for the final flush of summer, Valpolicella Ripasso for our fall soups, and a mixed case of Port for the long stretch of winter ahead.

To accompany a round of aged pecorino flecked with hay, last night we uncorked something new to us: Pombal do Vesuvio. No, it’s not from the volcano south of Naples. This is the other Vesuvio, a famed wine estate, or quinta, in the remote upper reaches of Portugal’s Douro Valley. First planted with grapes in 1565, the Quinta of the Fig Tree was renamed Quinta do Vesuvio by Dona Antonia Ferreira in 1827 after a memorable honeymoon on Italy’s ancient coast. The twice-married Dona Antonia was Portugal’s answer to Veuve Clicquot, being the largest landholder in the Douro Valley, with 30 quintas to her name. As one historian wrote, “There were never two men who spent more money in the Douro than the husbands of Dona Antonia.”

She certainly knew how to pick ’em. The wines from this remote property are something to behold. This impression is no doubt bolstered by the awesome splendor of the upper Douro. Traveling by train from Pinhão, one passes through craggy chasms and past steep terraced vineyards while following the impetuous river. Our Passion for Port tour grouphung from the train window clicking like paparazzi as the UNESCO World Heritage valley passed by.

The Vintage Port from Quinta do Vesuvio is also breathtaking. I fell hard and deep for the 1996 Vintage ($65), a thing of wonder with its dark purple hue and brooding blackcurrant fruit. On this historic property, now in the Symington fold, Port is made the old-fashioned way—with foot-treading in granite lagars. The only modern appliance on the quinta is the coffee machine.

While there, we bought a bottle of their newest creation to take home: Pombal do Vesuvio($25), a dry table wine named after the stone dovecotes called pombais. Like many wineries in the Douro, Quinta do Vesuvio has recently begun adding dry table wines to their roster. And how right they are!

Pombal do Vesuvio has the same multilayered black fruit as the Port, coming from the same ancient, low-yielding field blends. It’s a kissing cousin to their Vintage port—same, but different. As a table wine, it’s finished dry, for course, but carries only 13% alcohol—surprising for the scorching summers upstream. But that heat creates ripe fruit with appealing depth, and gives this wine a roundness that makes it approachable and seductive now. While too fruity for our farro and porcini soup, it paired wonderfully with that aged pecorino.

The Douro DOC wines are going to be high on my Must Try list this coming year. It’s one of the few zones in the world where vintners are working with ancient field blends of 40 or more grape varietals coming from vineyards older than you or me. It pays to respect your elders; they’ll certainly be at my table this winter.