The very happening wines of the Douro Valley
Jorge Borges, one of Portugal’s most talented young winemakers, was last week personally checking bunches of grapes as they began to arrive at the sorting table. They’re to be processed to make Pintas, one of the very new wave of quality, now almost cult, red wines, which are making the Douro Valley one of the most exciting wine regions in the world right now.
The grapes on the table are coming in very clean and perhaps not just because of Borges’ painstaking viticultural work: 2015 is set to be a great vintage. He’s tossing away a few rotten parts from just a few bunches, but not the dried-out grapes: they are important to help achieve the perfect alcohol level.
It is difficult to identify what kind of grapes these are, even for Borges, because this, his premium wine, is made from a traditional field blend. It is estimated that there are more than 20 varieties in this century-old vineyard — and he is in the process of finding out exactly how many. Of the 350 grape varieties in Portugal, 100 can be found in the Douro Valley.
Borges, who used to work at Niepoort, is simultaneously taking a call on his mobile phone, perhaps about the harvest in process at the Douro’s Quinta do Passadouro, where he is also winemaker. Or from the Dao, where he makes the silky, subtle wine named MOB with two other very happening Douro winemakers: Jorge Moreira of Poeira fame, and Francisco Olazabal from the feted Quinta do Vale Meao.
Here then, with harvest in full swing, is where Douro port traditions and the dynamism of the new wave of Portuguese table wine producers are meeting.
Borges, together with Moreira and Olazabal, is part of the new generation responsible for the creation of world-class table wines that are now grabbing world attention. For example, Pintas 2011 (a truly great vintage for table wine and port alike) was awarded 98 points by Wine Spectactor in the U.S.
He is married to another winemaker, Sandra Tavares, who is also at the winery today, though she’s also thinking about the harvest at Chocapalha, an estate in Estramudura (a wine region close to Lisbon) owned by her parents, where she consults. She’s also involved in a small Douro project with fellow female winemaker Susanna Estaban, a red wine called Crochet. Everything is up for grabs, here.
Borges and Tavares launched Wine & Soul in 2001 with just two hectares and one wine, the aforementioned Pintas, which now sells at Cellar Door for 65 euros. Today they have grown their estate to 25 hectares by slowly buying up surrounding vineyards, and some further afield, and they now produce eight different wines. They also have 25 hectares of olive trees, and make a sublime, scented, olive oil.
The second wine launched was Pintas Character, which they named very carefully. It has the same “character” as the original Pintas but is made in larger quantities, from multi-vineyards, but still from multiple grape varieties growing together.
And then they turned their attention to white. While the central part of the Douro Valley is fantastic for red grapes, white grapes flourish in the northeast corner of the region, at high altitudes. The first two magnificent whites to emerge from the region in the early 2000s were Dirk Niepoort’s Redoma, and the Wine & Soul Guru.
Guru is made in a Burgundian style, with aging potential (10 years plus) and intended to be drunk with food. Yet the 2014 is already highly approachable with a charged min- erality (from the schist and granite soils in which the vines are planted) complemented by a rich, almost fatty texture. As per Douro Valley traditions, it is a blended wine, made with grapes including Viosinho, Rabigato, Gouveio and Codega do Larinho. One or two of these are likely to be become as well known as the Douro red grape Touriga Nacional.
The wine making for Guru is meticulous, with four weeks in new oak and then lees contact for five months with battonage. This wine is on sale at the cellar door for 20 euros.
Wine & Soul has seen astounding growth. This is probably due to their more “commercial” (10 euro) wine called Manoella. It is 60 percent Touriga Nacional with some Touriga Franca, which brings finesse, and there’s a delicacy about the wine which is somewhat unusual in the Douro Valley. It has an exuberant, glossy, blackberry nose and is very accessible yet still sophisticated. Production has shot up: before, Borges and Tavares were selling grapes as well as wine, but now they’re using their whole production and looking to buy more vineyards, too. A dynamic business model, indeed. Stephen Quinn writes about wine for a variety of publications in the region. From 1975 he was a journalist for two decades with the Bangkok Post; the BBC, The Guardian, ITN, the UK Press Association; TVNZ; the Middle East Broadcasting Center in Dubai and a range of regional newspapers in Australia. Dr. Quinn became a journalism educator in 1996, but returned to journalism full time in 2011. He is based in Hong Kong and is the author of 17 books. Annabel Jackson has worked in the wine industry for more than 20 years, and has written eight books about wine and food. She is an advanced ambassador of the Academy of Wines of Portugal, and teaches wine marketing at the University of Brighton in the United Kingdom.