The very hap­pen­ing wines of the Douro Val­ley

The China Post - - ARTS -

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.

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