Read Steven Spurrier's profile of this rare Portuguese wine, and a favourite of retired football manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Decanter Premium members can access Spurrier's exclusive tasting notes and ratings for 13 Barca Velha vintages stretching back to 1964
Barca Velha was born in the Porto Ferreira stable and named in honour of its famous matriarch, Dona Antonia Adelaide Ferreira, who was affectionately nicknamed ‘Ferreirinha’ – or ‘little Ferreira’ in Portuguese.
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Exclusively for Decanter Premium members: See all of Steven Spurrier’s Barca Velha wine tasting notes
Dona Antonia was a much loved and admired character within the Port trade, continually driving innovation as well as providing much needed support to the Douro families.
She believed that quality was the only route to success and so created and invested in some of the best Quintas in the Douro, at one point owning more than 20, including great names such as Porto, Seixo, Vargellas and Vesuvio.
She was also responsible for laying down the best and most complete library stock the Port industry had ever seen.
But the dream of transforming the elegant, fine and complex style of Ferreira’s Ports into a dr y wine was not realised until 1952, 56 years after Dona Antonia’s death, with the first vintage of Barca Velha, made by Ferando Nicolau de Almeida.
Casa Ferreirinha thus became the first house in the Douro dedicated to making a table wine, which has always come from vineyards situated at different altitudes in the Douro Superior region.
Today Quinta da Leda, with its 160 hectares of vines, provides the fruit that is meticulously blended to create Barca Velha, of which only 19 vintages have been released since the 1952, released in 1957.
Only three winemakers have presided over the production of Barca Velha: Fernando Nicolau de Almeida, from 1952 to 1998; Jose-Maria Soares Franco, from 1998 to 2003; and Luis Sottomayor from 2003 to the present.
A Douro legend, Almeida joined Porto Ferreira, where his father was head winemaker, at 16. In 1949, following a visit to Château Calon-Segur in Bordeaux, he found answers to begin to realise Dona Antonia’s dream of producing a table wine from the Douro Superior.
After taking over from his father the following year, against the wishes of the Porto Ferreira board he continued his pioneering investigation into table wine. The 1952 harvest offered conditions suitable for its realisation.
Luis Sottomayor joined the winemaking team in 1989, learning his trade under Almeida. Since 2003 he has led the teams responsible for Casa Ferreirinha, Ferreira, Offley and Sandeman.
Four or five of the main Douro grapes find themselves in the blend, those from lower altitudes for structure, those from the higher altitudes retaining acidity, all working together for a long-lived structure.
The wine is only bottled when there are no questions about its quality and it is deemed ready. Following three or more years of tasting, the final decision to carry the Barca Velha name rests with the head winemaker. A vintage not quite up to the highest standard instead takes the name Reserva Especial.
Although current winemaker Sottomayor has worked in other wine regions, his commitment to, and knowledge of, the Douro is unsurpassed. He takes great pride in the opportunity he has been given to perpetuate the Barca Velha story, while recognising that he is building upon the creativity and daring of those who first set out to produce this great wine, unaided by the technical advances of today.
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