The historic vineyards of Quinta de Chocapalha, dating back to the 16th century, are beautifully sited on the sunny hillsides of Portugal’s Estremadura region, north-east of Lisbon. Owners Paulo and Alice Tavares da Silva bought Chocapalha in the eighties, totally convinced about its true potential. They immediately embarked on an investment programme, starting in the vineyards. By 2000, the most recent plantings were reaching maturity and quality had already greatly improved. At this time most of the production was sold on to larger cooperatives. Whilst Paulo and Alice were making progress at home, their ex-model daughter, Sandra, was fast establishing her reputation as an extremely talented winemaker, working alongside Cristiano Van Zellar at Vale Dona Maria in the Douro. With Cristiano’s encouragement, the family elected to refurbish their chais and start producing their own wines.
Sandra Tavares da Silva was born in the Azores and brought up in Lisbon, where she studied oenology. Sandra then went on to Italy, where she achieved a masters degree in the same field. In 1999, leaving her former supermodel status well behind her, Sandra joined Cristiano Van Zellar as winemaker at Dona Maria in the Rio Torto Valley in the upper Douro. She now works with Cristiano on a number of Douro projects and, with her husband Jorge Serodio de Borges, established Wine & Soul , famous for its Pintas wines.
Quinta de Chocapalha – the vineyards
Quinta de Chocapalha comprises forty hectares of vines within the parish of Aldeia Galega, in the Alenquer region within Estremadura. The vineyards are now over twenty years old and the wines today show greater intensity than when we first discovered Chocapalha, due, in part, to the increased maturity of the vines. The soil is calcaerous clay and the slope has a south/north aspect. The varieties planted are Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Syrah, Alicante Bouschet, Castelão, Arinto, Viosinho, Chardonnay and Vital.
Quinta de Chocapalha – the cellar
The grapes are de-stemmed and undergo a cool, pre-fermentation maceration followed by fermentation in traditional lagares (stone troughs). The human foot has been replaced here by robotics, with the grapes successively pressed over fourteen days. Temperature is controlled and never exceeds 28ºC.
Quinta de Chocapalha – the wines
Quinta de Chocapalha Cabernet Sauvignon can, in fact have a touch of Syrah added. After fermentation, the Cabernet goes into stainless steel, in contact with the lees, for thirty days. Ageing and maturation is affected in oak; 50% new, 50% second wine French oak barriques, for 18 months. Average production is 5,500 bottles. The finished wine tends to be deeply coloured, tinged with violet, intense and pepper-spiced.
Quinta de Chocapalha Tinto (red wine) comprises 40% Tinta Roriz, 35% Castelão, 10% Touriga Nacional, 10% Syrah and 5% Alicante Bouschet of between ten and nineteen years. Here, fermentation is partly in the lagares , part in stainless steel, over twelve days, with the temperature controlled so as not to exceed 28ºC. The wine is then aged in wood for sixteen months in barrels of two and three wines, before bottling. Total production is around 42,000 bottles. Good concentration, warmth and floral charm are typical here.
Quinta de Chocapalha Reserva The fermented Reserva is a blend of 60% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinta Roriz and 10% Syrah. After fermentation this then goes into 90% new French oak barriques for nineteen months, before being bottled. Average production is 7,000 bottles. Stylistically, Chocopalha Reserva is generous, seductive and concentrated, with very ripe fruit, supported by ripe, rounded tannins.
Quinta de Chocapalha White is produced from 45% Arinto, 30% Viosinho and 25% Vital – a really interesting blend, from indigenous varieties with an average age of fifteen years. Fermentation takes place over 25 days in stainless steel and the finished wine enjoys seven months of lees contact before blending and bottling. Production is around 5,500 bottles. Lustrous and fresh, this combines floral, citrus and semi-exotic aromatics.
Quinta de Chocapalha White Reserva provides an admirable foil for the red, a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 20% Voisinho and 20% Arinto, from 15-year-old vines. Chardonnay is fermented over 25 days at low temperatures in French oak and then remains in the same oak on the lees for seven months, with bâtonnage . The Viosinho and Arinto are fermented for twenty days in stainless steel vats, with lees contact for seven months. The blend is not done until after the seven months, richness coming from the Chardonnay, refreshed by citrus and floral aromatics from the remainder. Around 4,000 bottles are produced.
Quinta de Chocapalha – the history
Quinta de Chocapalha has an impressive history with links to both Ireland and Scotland. Records show that Constantino O’Neil, a descendent of a family of Chiefs of Ireland, owned the property from the beginning of the 19th century and endowed it to a Scottish nobleman, Diogo Duff. Duff was held in particularly high regards by King D. João VI, who awarded him with the highest pinnacle of the Portugese honours system – the Militar da Torre e Espada do Valor, Lealdade e Mérito (The tower and sword of valour, loyalty and merit). Alice and Paulo Tavares da Silva bought Quinta de Chocapalha from the Duff family, Diogo Duff’s descendents in the eighties.