Portuegese Master class with Christian Seely at Medlar Restaurant, Chelsea, London, Thursday 6th Oct

06th Oct 2011

An exciting and unique opportunity to try not only one of Liberty wines’ top Portuguese wine offerings but also to meet Christian Seely who is very well known and established in the wine industry.

Quinta da Romaneira, Douro, Portugal

An exciting and unique opportunity to try not only one of Liberty wines’ top Portuguese wine offerings but also to meet Christian Seely who is very well known and established in the wine industry.  Born in 1960, Christian Seely was educated at Harrow School and Trinity College Cambridge where he took an MA in English, graduating in 1982. His trademark bowtie I suspect stems from this time and is part of his legendary attire. During the months following his graduation, he accompanied his father, James Seely, the wine merchant and went to Bordeaux to work with him on his book “The Great Wines of Bordeaux”. Following this experience he founded his first company “Presents of Mind” specialising in wines and gastronomy. After obtaining is MBA at INSEAD in 1987 he went on to work for L’Oreal. His reputation since then for managing the turnaround and success of multinational corporations can be traced back to here. In 1993 he was finally able to unite his work experience with his passion for wine when he was named Managing Director for Quinto do Noval, a new investment for the AXA Millésimes group.

In 2000 Christina took up the post of MD of AXA and since then has managed the AXA Millésimes group of vineyards from the illustrious headquarters of Château Pichon-Longueville Baron in Bordeaux. Christian through AXA is also responsible for Château Pibran in Pauillac, Petit-Village in Pomerol, Suduiraut in Sauternes, Mas Belles Eaux in the Languedoc as well as Domaine de l’Arlot in Nuit-St-Georges, Disznókő in Hungary and Quinta do Noval in Portugal.

Apart from these AXA Millésimes companies, he is Managing Director and part owner of Quinta da Romaneira in the Duoro and co-founder and joint owner of Coates and Seely Ltd in Hampshire. England – a producer of quality English sparkling wine.

Christian lives in Bordeaux with his wine making wife Corinne who is in charge of wine making both at Romaneira and Coates and Seely.

We were hand talked through the top shelf of Romaneira’s wines by the owner himself and overall the quality was top notch. The estate is situated in North Portugal in the Cima Corgo district in the heart of the Douro. The location of the vineyards across a 2km stretch of the Douro River provides ideal conditions grape growing offering a more moderating climate against the famous heat from the region. There are 85 hectares planted in total all classified “A” grade and 5 of these hectares are reserved for Malvasia and Gouveio at the top of the very steep terraces for their aromatic white wine. Grapes here benefit from the cooling high altitude.

We started with the 2004 vintage of the Quinta do Romaneira which was the year Seely acquired the vineyard. He had significant input into the wine making this vintage even before they sale was complete although not in the 2004 growing season. By 2005 Seely already talks about a wine that he was much happier with and the percentage of blending changed almost overnight. the 2004 was 80% Tourgia Nacional and 20% Tinto Cão with aging in 100% new French oak, 2005 was 45% Tourgia Franca, 35% Tourgia Nacional, 15% Tinto Cao and 5% Tinta Roriz, again with 100% new French Oak, 2006 was a “duff” vintage where none of the grapes went in to making the Quinta or the port but all went into the “R” which by definition was a great year for their “house” wine. By 2008 Seely was making wine in a style he is much happier with now, using 50% Tourgia Nacional, 40% Tourgia Franca and 10% Tinto Cao with only 25% New French oak. This is a balance Seely seems to feel comfortable with. He prefers the fruit concentration to shine on these wines and the oak to add vanilla and butter not dominate. Although these wines are so big that they would be able to withstand more oak, the restraint clearly offers a fresher purity of fruit and as we worked through the vintages, we all felt that the winery was in the hands of someone who clearly understood its soul.

Tasting Notes

Quinta da Romaneira Douro Red, 2004 (80% Tourgia Nacional 20% Tinto Cão)

Dark red ruby wine with a pale ruby rim showing very little signs of age for a wine 7 years old. Aromas are of concentrated dark red fruits, morello cherries with some herbal notes and a hint of violets. Palate with no surprise offers a very concentrated dark red fruits, softening to riper black fruit on mid palate finishing with high acidity and dry ripe tannins. The tannins feel a little coarse but only a touch and the over-riding elements on this wine of the high acidity and the fruit character make this a wine very ready and enjoyable for drinking now.

Quinta da Romaneira Douro Red, 2005 (45% Tourgia Franca, 35% Tourgia Nacional, 15% Tinto Cão, 5% Tinta Roriz)

The nose here offers less bright red fruit and more savoury and herbaceous nature, damp blackcurrant leaves and almost peaty nose is in stark contrast to the more perfumed aromas of 2004. The Palate again offers more vegetal than fruit. What little fruit there is is developed and very soft and fades very quickly off the primary palate. Palate finishes with soft ripe and developed tannins. There is a hint of ripe, cooked blackcurrants on end palate and offers a degree of concentration and integration but very little complexity. Not a great hit in the flight.

Quinta da Romaneira Douro Red, 2007 (70% Tourgia Nacional, 25% Tourgia Franca, 5% Tinto Cão)

There is a distinct difference as we move on 2 years in the character of this wine. Moving towards just 50% use of oak and the more traditional blend of grapes that Seely prefers we see a difference in the overall style of the top wine from this house. On this wine the deep ruby core is accompanied with a hint of purple on the rim. The nose has a good concentration of dark red fruits, cassis and hint of jasmine. The palate shows good development of redcurrants, blackcurrants and morello cherries. There is a sense here of significant structure and is underpinned with ripe and only slightly coarse tannins. These are easily attributed to the wine’s youth. This is a compelling wine with a good degree of integration and complexity. It succeeds here to use the oak influence to offer vanilla rather than obvious oak to the wine and whilst still young, this gives a perfumed almost violet hue. This is a distinct move towards the subtle complexity rather than the brash concentration that Seely is striving for and this is often why it is great to do vertical tasting like this.

Quinta da Romaneira Douro Red, 2008 (50% Tourgia Nacional, 40% Tourgia Franca, 10% Tinto Cão) √√

A high concentration of cassis and red berries with strong presence of violets, sweet spice and white pepper. The primary palate offers great upfront red fruit with a distinctive vanilla undertone. The soft floral and perfumed notes of violet, ginger and nutmeg are well integrated on the secondary palate and finishes with the added complexity of blackberries and noticeable high acidity. Tannins are ripe and smooth with feels very well integrated with the alcohol and overall structure of this wine. Overall, this was the winner for me and around the table. Seely agrees that this is drinking beautifully now and is obviously very proud of what he has achieved in such a short space of time in the winery, under his wife’s direction.

Quinta da Romaneira Douro Red, 2009 (70% Tourgia Nacional, 30% Tourgia Franca)

A move in this vintage to just 25% new oak which, for Seely is the ideal balance he believes. The nose very distinctive and offers the same concentration as the 2008 of dark red and black fruits with the new creamy vanilla present. This wine, however on the palate feels very young and nowhere near as integrated as the 2008 even though there is only a year between them. All the elements are present and correct, with good levels of fruit, high acidity, good aroma balance; tannins are ripe but a little coarse. However, it needs some time to marry together. Time that the house can comfortably give. This level of the wine is not about selling bottles to generate revenue it is a project of pride. Only when the wines are ready will Seely put his mark of approval on this wine. And his hand is poised on this wine, just, not quite ready to stamp it yet.

Quinta da Romaneira Douro Red Reserva, 2008

With only 2-300 cases made each year, this is always in high demand and all allocations are sold quickly through Liberty wines. This wine is a very full and concentrated wine on the nose with primary black fruit taking dominance and a rich buttery undertone. The very fine, decadent and rich wine is made from the oldest vines on the estate and offers developing flavours of cassis, gingerbread, blackcurrant leaves and hint of menthol with the medium + acidity. This wine, for me, was very intense, rich and satisfying. It offers a massive amount of concentration, complexity along with balance and structure. A very well made wine from a very good year. Definitely a success at the tasting.

White Wine

Quinta da Romaneira Douro White. 2009 √√

Aroma offers developing aromas of lemon curd, baked pastry, peaches and baked pears. On the palate, which is soft and fresher, the flavours are less developed but just as complex and intense with water melon, lemongrass, caramelised butter and some braebrun apple crumble. I really enjoyed this wine which reminded me of a white Rioja, rich and robust and not ashamed to be more intense and rich on the nose but softer on the palate.


Again noting that 2004 was the first vintage that Seely had the influence on the wine making in the cellar but not how the grapes where grown and harvested so it may not offer exactly the style he is hoping to achieve.  The 2007 & 2008 are very much made in the “Seely” style. Romaneira, like many smaller Quinta’s can trace their port making back many generations. Indeed, records indicate a Romaneira Port was the first Portuguese wine to be sold at a Christie’s auction in London in 1872. They have been making very good very well known port not just under their own label either. Previously, grapes from this house where used to make Taylors Vintage Port. And so we were all eager to see what they are currently producing.

The grapes, typically a make up of grapes – usually 60% Tourgia Nacional, 30% Tourgia Franca and 10% Tinto Cão, are harvested every year around the second week of September. Whole stems are placed in 4 metre square by 5 foot deep granite lagares. In the early evening they are then trodden by foot for 4 hours. They are then left for about 2 ½ days to ferment to a point where half the sugars will have been fermented. Brandy is then added to stop the fermentation and the finished product therefore will retain some levels of sweetness. The wine is then aged for at least 20 months in 640 litre wooden barrels and usually bottled in the June, 2 years after harvest.

Quinta da Romaneira Vintage Port, 2004

Opaque ruby red wine with garnet rim and evidence of small, prominent legs. Very concentrated and developed aromas of baked blackcurrants, nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla and a distinctive menthol notes. The palate offers a very prominent acidity with very dry ripe tannins. Sweet baked black fruits and a good complexity of orange peel, nutmeg, sultanas and sweet spice. The acidity on this wine is very high and offers a distinctive style of port, not to my particular liking but a style held in high esteem by some.

Quinta da Romaneira Vintage Port, 2007 √√

The nose here is much more subtle with good levels of developing dark red and black fruits. Aromas also of mint leaves, cassis, vanilla and marzipan. The palate here is a different animal to the 2004, with and more integrated sense of all elements of the wine. The baked fruit, vanilla and sweet spice are balanced with just enough acidity to keep wine youthful and fresh, but not overpower it too much. The end palate offers fresh menthol undertones and some sweet nutmeg. A lovely, very enjoyable wine ready to drink now but would easily keep in bottle for 12-15 years.

Quinta da Romaneira Vintage Port, 2008

This wine has a primary very developed fruit aroma with caramelised oranges, wet mint leaves, cassis and blackcurrants. The palate is once again complex and concentrated but with a more marked acidity on this wine and the fruit doesn’t yet feel as integrated as it wants to be. It offers a peak at some some sweet spice and dried fruit character but it is still very much on the periphery and will take some time in bottle to marry its potential.


Further reading