100 Most Iconic Wine Estates: Portugal & Spain

Blandy’s, Maderia.
The Blandy‘s starts with a mystery. Legend had it that John Blandy, founder of this esteemed Madeira Lodge, came to the island 1807 as a quartermaster to general Beresford, who was commander of the British garrison charged with protecting Portugal from Napoleon. But his name is not found in any of the army lists of those men based on Madeira. It was not until August 2006 when one Emmanuel ‘Mannie‘ Berk, a Madeira fanatic, unearthed the truth.
He discovered a letter sent from London to Messrs Newton, Gordon, Murdoch, wine merchants in Madeira, which immediately solved the family conundrum. It read, ‘Sirs! At the desire of our particular friend, Richard Fuller Esq., Banker in this City, we beg leave to introduce Mr John Blandy who visits your island on account of ill health, and wishes to obtain employment in a Counting House.‘
The letter was dated 23 December 1807, so it is assumed that John arrived in early 1808 rather than with the British army in 1807. Now that this mystery has been solved, my book can start off on a solid footing.
Graham’s Douro Valley
W & J Graham’s was founded in Oporto in 1820 by brothers William and John Graham. This successful Scottish family was already an established merchant with business dealings in India, but their venture in Portugal was to take them into Port production for the very first time. They focused on establishing a great brand and to this end they invested in property in the Upper Douro in order to source the finest raw material possible. Graham’s purchased Quinta dos Malvedos in 1890, and this masterstroke set the tone for the future. As one of the Douro Valley’s finest ‘river Quintas’, the quality of their grapes enabled them to make Vintage Port of the highest Order.
In 1970 another Scottish family, the Symington’s purchased the operation and have built on the hard work that the Graham’s had invested into their brand. Today five members of the Symington family, the 13th generation in the Port trade, work in the business and they are regarded as one of the most talented and dedicated wine companies in the world. They all own and manage their own vineyards up & down the Douro and these grapes are supplied to their business.
Graham’s range starts with a traditional, juices Ruby, a bright, crunchy, refreshing Tawny and a particularly fine White, but it is a wine called Six Grapes that quickens my pulse. The fruit is sourced from the same vineyards that contribute to the great vintage wines and it wears it’s heart on its sleeve. Graham’s tag line wine is ’everyday Port for the Vintage Port drinker’ and this is spot on! Once you’ve acquired a taste for the generous, all enveloping Graham’s style you can graduate to the fragrant LBV and the neat range of Tawnies. Not content with offering the usual 10,20, 30 and 40 year old styles there is also a wine called The tawny, which is one of my favorite chillable Ports for summer drinking. Moving up the scale you encounter Graham’s Crusted – an unfiltered, dense, brooding style which requires decanting to remove the thick ‘crust’, and which imparts hedonistic intensity on the palate. A favorite by many in the line-up, on account of its value and iconic flavor is the Graham’s Quinta dos Malvedos Vintage Port, coming from the heart of the estate and made in ‘undeclared years’. This dreamy creation has all the bravado and class of the Vintage wine, but more tenderness and an earlier drinking window. Finally, at the top of the estate sits the Vintage Port; an intensely powerful yet graceful wine that commands attention and sets it apart from its peers.

Warre’s Douro Valley

The story of Warre’s Port started nearly three and a half centuries ago, in 1670, when two two Englishmen, William Burgoyne and John Jackson opened an office in northern Portugal trading in wine, olive oil and fruit. Over the next 60 years the company evolved as new partners became involved and in 1729, it became Messrs. Clark, Thornton & Warre, with the arrival of William Warre in Portugal. Warre specialised in Port and by the end of the 18th century they were handling 10% of the total Port exports.
William’s grandson , also named William, was an exceptional man whose fortitude shaped the company’s future. He was commissioned as a British army officer and he played a vital role in nearly all of the key battles throughout the Penninsular War (1808-1812). Being Porto-born, Captain Warre’s knowledge of the language and the country made him invaluable to his commander, Field Marshall Beresford and the Duke of Wellington. The Duke ordered a hogshead of Port from William’s father and, in a letter noted to his father that ‘he does not care about the price’ – what fabulous vinous trivia and it’s nice to know that quality is, and always has been, far more important than the price! With Napoleon’s armies defeated, William received awards for gallantry from both Portugal and England in recognition of his valor. It seems fitting that Warres’s Warrior Reserve Port is the first and oldest Port brand in the old, habing been shipped continualy since 1750.
The Symington family has a 350 year history in the Port trade and Andrew James Symington was admitted to the partnership of the firm of Warre & Co. in 1905.
Today, Warre’s Port is run by the same team who runs Graham’s Port (q.v) and their flagship Quinta is Quinta da Cavadinha, located in the upper reaches of the Douro. Like Graham’s each of the family members owns and manages their own Warre’s property. With a full range od Port styles, my favourite starting point is the wine that inspired the whole company in the 18th century, Warrior. Made from fruit from their prestige Quintas da Cavadinha and do Ritiro, this is a mighty, Vintage-shaped wine that costs around the same as a bottle of Sancerre! This further highlights the fact that top flight Port is amoung the finest value wine you can ever hope to taste. Rising up the ladder you encounter Warre’s single vintage Colhheita Ports. These are ethereal beasts, made from one declared year, but aged for an extended period of oak, thus tawny in colour and flavour. Rare and savory, the great Warre’s Colheita Ports are similar in dimension to fine, old dry Sherries and you should drink them on the same occasions – as chic aperitifs with charcuterie and fresh crustacea.
So far, so traditional, but one of the Port marketing triumphs of the last two decades came in the form of Optima – a 50cl, cutting edge 10 year old Tawny Port, created to bring this engaging style to an audience other than the stereotypical gentleman’s club stalwart. This it did in style and in a 20 year old version was added to the range. Chillable, packaged in a clear bottle and good for any occasion this catapulted Warre’s and its other wines back into our collective consciousness . Following on, the sensuous LBV is a mellower creation with complex aromas and a satisfying finish. Warre’s Ports are contemplative wines and this is shown beautifully by the vintage, single Quinta release, Quinta da Cavadinha that comes exclusively from one of the finest vineyard estates in the Douro. This style of wine ages superbly but over a shorter overall timespan than the Vintage Port, so feel free to dive in after 15 to 20 years. Above this wine is the pinnacle production, Warre’s Vintage Port and while I have never tasted any of the great vintages from the late 1800’s, I have it on good authority that they are still sublime. The key to Warre’s longevity is their pristine acidity. This house crafts wines which have pronounced aromatics; sleek, but not muscular mid-palates and then fine, crisply acidic finishes. This bright acity is the battery pack for the wine to age, and I would wager that the 1994, 1997, 2000, 2003 and 2007 will all make the century mark if cellared correctly.
Taylor’s Douro Valley
Taylor’s Port house was established in 1692. As a specialist Port producer, with over 300 years of experience, this house is a veritable treasure trove for the committed Port enthusiast. Taylor’s also owns and operates two other famous Port houses in the Douro, Fonseca which it aquired in 1949 and Croft which it bought in 2001. Drawing on fruit from its famous Quinta de Vargellas estate and also the acclaimed vineyards of Quinta de Terra Feita and Quinta do Junco, Taylor’s has been able to craft a spectacular range of wines utilising the exact aroma and flavour characteristics from each of its distinctly different geographical locations within the Douro Valley. An independent, family-owned and run business, the drive and determination seen at Taylor’s is directly reflected in their powerful age-worthy wines.
While this distinguished estate estate has three centuries of history under-pinning its name it is the last 50 years which has shaped its modern -day image. In 1966, Richard Yeatman, Chairman and owner of Taylor Fladgate and Fonseca suddenly passed away. His widow, Beryl, asked her nephew, Alistair Robertson, to return to Oporto from working in the wine business in the UK, to assume management of the firm. This key appointment set Taylor’s on a stunning trajectory. Robertson hit upon an idea which transformed the Port market. He produced a style of Port that had already been filtered (unlike traditional Vintage Port), so that it could be drunk, un-decanted, for ease, as soon as it hit the market. Port matures faster if it is left in the oak barrel. The leviathan Vintage Port can take two decades to mature and soften because it does its ageing very slowly in the bottle. So by keeping the Port in the barrel for longer and bottling it later, you could mellow the Port significantly and bring it right up to its drinking window. Taylor’s Late Bottled Vintage was launched in 1970 with the 1965 vintage. Nowdays LBV Port is commonplace, but Taylor’s pioneered this immensely enjoyable style of Port. Back in the 70’s this style of Port was viewed somewhat suspiciously by those used to cellaring Port for aeons, but the convenience and affordability of Taylor’s LBV, coupled by it’s true ‘Vintage-flavour’ soon won people over. With the Taylor’s name buzzing they became market leaders in another style; aged Tawny Port. Taylor’s cleverly built up significant reserves of fine, cask-aged Tawnies. This forward-thinking manoeuvre was to pay great dividends when, in 1973, the instituto do Vinho du Porto, created new rules allowing producers to write the age of the Tawny Ports on the labels. Taylor’s was the first major house to take advantage of this change in regulations, launching a full range of 10 , 20, 30 and 40 year old Tawnies.
Quinta do Noval Douro Valley
Back in 1715, this property was gifted by the Prime Minister, Marques de Pombal, to the Rebello Valente family, later passing by marriage to the Viscount Vilar D’Allen. Disaster struck in 1880 though when the phylloxera bug struck, destroying many of the property vineyards and those of the Douro estates. This downturn forced Quinta do Noval onto the market and it was bought in 1894 by Antonio Jose da Silva. Da Silva’s visionary talents prompted him immediately to set about replanting the vineyards and renovating the property. His inspired efforts, widening the terraces to maximise the sun exposure can still be seen today. This work lived on through his son-in-law Luiz Vasconcelos Porto and his declaration of the 1931 Vintage Nacional – made from vines that had dodged the phylloxera bullet – catapulted Noval’s rarity coupled with its unquestionable quality set this historic estate up forever. Noval has pioneered stencilled bottles, aged Tawny ports and even the Late Bottled Vintage style. In 1981, a raging inferno destroyed Noval’s lodge, bottling plant and officesin Vila Nova de Gaia. Two hundred years of records were lost along with 20,000bottles of the 1978 vintage and 350,000 litre of stock. A year later Porto’s great grandchildren, Cristiano and Teresa Van Zeller took over, built a vast lodge at Quinta do Noval and continued to spread the word about their delicious wines. In 1993 the Van Zeller family family sold Noval to the insurance group AXA, which had extensive interests in Bordeaux, owning Chateau Pichon-Baron, Petit-Village and Suduiraut, as well as Hungary’s Tokaj producer Disznoko. Englishman Christian Seely was appointed MD of the entire AXA Millesimes portfolio.
His vision and faith in the winemaker Antonio Agrellos has led to a third renaissance for this illustrious Port house and another wave of replanting and renovation. Thanks to changes in regulations, Port could now be shipped from the Douro rather than Vila Nova de Gala and so Seely orchestrated the installation of a bottling line and new warehouse, making it the first traditional shipping company to move its operations to the Douro.
A 145ha property, with nearly half of its replanting less than a decade old, Quinta do Noval is now set for the 21st century. The Nacional plot is just 2.5ha and only produces 250 cases when it is declared in special years, but the rest of the portfolio is equally as captivating with every single bottle oozing class, distinction and a profound respect for its origins. From Noval Black, the stunningly packaged, black-fruit soaked entry level Port, via the celestial, unfiltered single vineyard LBV, to a singular Vintage Port called Silval and culinating in the mighty Vintage Port itself, Quinta do Noval inspires the drinker every step of the way. Add 10, 20 and 40-year-old Tawnies and a stunning Vintage Colheita into the creativbe mix and the depth of feild is extended. The strength and distinction of the red wines made at Noval DOC and Cedro do Noval, both Douro reds leading the feild. Far from being a one wine estate created nearly a century ago, Quinta do Noval is a guiding light with a powerful portfolio of wines imbued with passion and integrity.
Bodegas Hidalgo Sanluccar de Barrameda
Established in 1792, the family-owned Hidalgo Sherry business is now in its sixth generation and it’s the region’s definitive Manzanella house. I will never forget flying down to Sanucar de Barrameda to meet Javier Hidalgo and to visit his ancient winery. It seems to me that nothing had changed in two centuries, as I tasted and toured the incredible facility. With extensive vineyard holdings, on the famed albariza soils of the region, coupled with an impressive bodega in the centre of the town, Javier is a local hero and a market leader in one of the most delicious and under appreciated white wine styles in existence – Manzanella Sherry. His world famous brand La Gitana (the ‘gypsy’ depicted on the label) is a sensational wine, sold at an everyday price point.

Valdespino Jerez

Valdespino Sherries are among the best value wines in the world. Deliciosa is the strident, energetic Manzanilla in the pack and Inocente is the mouth-watering, tangy Fino. Tio Diego is a very serious Amontillado and the old Don Gonzalo Amontillado label has been re-released in the VOS range of older Solera-style wines. The prize for the best name and label though goes to Contrabandista, a medium-dry Amontillado sweetened with a dribblw of boozy, raisny PX. And finally, the Pedro Ximenez, El Candadois regarded as the finest of its kind.
Beyond the famous La Gitana brand is a veritable treasure trove of other Sherries. Pasada Pastrana is an aged single vineyard Manzanella – if you like a Grand Cru version of La Gitana. The Palomino grape performs at its finest in the Miraflores district and this wine, from the single vineyard of Pastrana, is the pinnicle of production.
Javier’s premium range includes four further styles; a rich, dry and nutty Napoleon Amontillado, an extraordinarily smooth Oloroso Seco Faraon, a figgy, sweet Alameda Cream Sherry and Triana Pedro Ximenez, a sweet and raisin-like potion for ice cream and toffee puddings. Beyond this range you will find the VOS (20+ year old Very Old Sherry) and the VORS (30+ year old Very Old Rare Sherry) wines. Here you will discover Jerez Cortado Wellington. These are stunning old wines drawn from ancient casks and they are some of the most remarkable creations that I have ever tasted.

Vega-Sicilia Ribera del Duero

This estate, founded in 1864, makes the most incredible wines in Spain from the Tempranillo variety, known locally as Tinto Fino, also using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and possibly Carmenere in the mix. Unbelievably complex and powerful on the palate, these wines need at least 15 years to shed their tannic cloak. A more forward-drinking cuvee, Valbuena 5, is also made here along the same lines as the Grand Vin but from more precocious barrels. In addition to these two classic wines, a modernist’s dream, Alion also recruits thousands of acolytes to the cause via its slick , exuberant fruit which is immediately appealing and very showy.

Miguel Torres Penedes

It is hard to know where to start with a subject as talented, influential and iconic as the great Miugel Torres and his exemplary, eponymous wine company. The respect that he commands in the wine industry, globally is staggering. Founded in 1870 Miguel is the fourth generation to run this family owned business. He has extensive vineyard holdings in Penedes, in his home region of Catalonia and has also branched out to Priorat, Ribera del Duero, Jumililla, Conca de Barera, Rioja and Toro.. He also has outpost in South America, Miguel Torres Chile, which operates a five tier portfolio, including the fabulous Santa Digna range. He spotted the Chilean opportunity as long ago as 1979, a decade or so before other ‘flying winemakers’ started whizzing around the globe. You can be assured of tiptop quality whenever you open a Torres wine be it his inexpensive crisp, floral Vina Sol white, the enigmatic Vina Eseralda – most wine lovers’ first glimpse at a deliciously exotic, dry white – or, Sangre e Toro red, made from Garnacha and Carinena which always outperforms entry level South French red wines. With over 25 Spanish brands, Torres is also a master craftsman when it comes to rarer cuvees like like the cult Grans Muralles made from a single walled vineyard of an ancient Spanish grape varieties, or the world-class Cabernet Sauvignon , Mas Plana. It was this wine, back in 1979 when it was called Black label, which catapulted Torres into the big time with wine collectors and the restaurant wine lists. The 1970 vintage of Black Label trounced many famous names in a blind tasting in Paris. This not only shone the spotlight on Torres and his beloved Penedes region but also on newer wave, modern, yet authentic Spanish wines. A new dawn of artisanal Spanish wines coupled with world-class cooking started to attract global attention – this is the Spain we know today and Torres has played a huge part in its image.
Torres is a phenomenal operation, headed by Miguel, but with his daughter, Mireia Torres Maczassek, managing the Priorat and the Jean Leon wineries, and his son Miguel Torres Maczassek assuming the role of general manager, you can be sure that this hard-working and family operation will continue to go from strength to strength. With an active environmental program that is leading the way in the country, a charitable foundation run by his wife Waltraud which provides schools and shelters all over the world and a sister, Marimar, who runs her own winery in Sonoma County, California, this is a very successful wine family.

La Rioja Alta Rioja

In 1890, five Basque and Rioja-based vine growers created the ‘Sociedad Vinicola De La Rioja Alta’ in order to make very high quality wines. One year later they changed its name to Rioja Alta. In 1942 they invented Vina Ardanza – a brand that still makes waves today. In 1970, Vina Arana and Vina Alberdi were added to the fold, and are once againb very strong brands today. Throughout the last century, the winery has constantly been upgraded and all of the barrels used are coopered at the property. In addition to the three aforementioned lines, named after three of the founding families, there are two Gran Reserva wines, 904 and 890, with 890 being the pinnacle of production. These are traditional style Riojas with intense cherry, pipe smoke and cederwood notes on the nose that age amazingly well. The wines of La Rioja Alta are a wonderful example of the essence of the historic Spanish wine trade.
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