A Portuguese Icon


A Portuguese Icon

For the first time ever, Wine Enthusiast has awarded 100 points to a Portuguese non-fortified wine. But what exactly makes Barca Velha so special? TASTE takes a look at a true Portuguese legend

TEXT: Cristina Alcock|PHOTO: Anahim Vella| 25 April 2017

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‘As a testament to the exceptional quality of a Barca Velha, only 18 wines have been deemed worthy enough to brandish the title in 65 years’


T WAS THE news that wine connoisseurs and oenophiles everywhere had been waiting for with bated breath, and in November last year, they got just what they had hoped for: the announcement of a new Barca Velha. The Barca Velha 2008, with its balanced, complex profile, deep ruby-red colour and notes of ripe red berries and spices, was the 18th wine of the same name to be released by Casa Ferreirinha, the iconic Douro wine estate now owned by Sogrape, since 1952.

It seems it was worth the wait: in April, the 2008 harvest, predominantly made from Touriga Nacional, was awarded 100 points by the specialist magazine Wine Enthusiast, the first time a non-fortified Portuguese wine achieved the maximum distinction. To truly understand the significance of Barca Velha, we must go back to the 1940s, when winemaker Fernando Nicolau de Almeida saw the potential to create a premium red table wine in a region otherwise famous for its fortified Port.

His theory proved correct. In 1952, Casa Ferreirinha released the first wine whose label bore the name Barca Velha (meaning old barge), made from only the finest grapes grown at Quinta do Vale Meão in the Upper Douro. In that year, a true Portuguese legend was born. Since then, the estate’s winemaking team – led by prominent winemaker Luís Sottomayor for the last 10 years – has consistently taken the greatest care to ensure the final nectar is nothing but the most divine.

Nowadays, the grapes used to create this iconic wine come from Quinta da Leda, the estate purchased by the company and whose vines were planted purposely in the mid ‘80s to increase the quality and quantity of production. While the sun exposure and the schist and granite soils of the estate, also located in the Upper Douro, can be credited for endowing the most iconic of Portuguese wines with incredible charisma and complexity, the construction of a state-of-the-art winery in 2001 further helped the winemaking team in their endless pursuit for perfection.

As a testament to the exceptional quality of a Barca Velha (and its associated price tag), only 18 wines have been deemed worthy enough to brandish the title in 65 years. In the years when the wine is considered to be of significant quality, but perhaps not absolutely exceptional, it is labelled as Reserva Especial. “This distinction, never achieved before, represents above all the recognition of the constant effort that Casa Ferreirinha has made since 1952 to ensure the sustained improvement of the Douro’s DOC wines,” said Luís Sottomayor in response to the accolade from Wine Enthusiast.

The recognition certainly rings true for the chief winemaker who, upon the release of the 2008 Barca Velha in November 2016, stated: “We are in the presence of a Barca Velha de grande gabarito; a wine for connoisseurs because it takes time to open up. It needs time and patience to reveal all that it is worth. And that’s a lot!”

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