Douro wine pioneer hails progress

“There’s still a long way to go,” believes João Nicolau de Almeida of Ramos Pinto as the estate marks the 25th anniversary of his pioneering first Douro table wine.

Joao de Almeida presents a 25 year span of his Duas Quintas wines at the top of the Shard in London.

João Nicolau de Almeida presents a 25 year span of his Duas Quintas wines at the top of the Shard in London.

Having studied winemaking in Bordeaux under the late oenologist Emile Peynaud, de Almeida became inspired to make serious red wine in his native Douro.

However, he recalled: “When I came back to Portugal, I realised how late we were compared to France at that moment. All our varieties were mixed and the knowledge of these varieties was lost at the beginning of the 20th century.”

Having embarked on research to remedy this gap, de Almeida noted that he was forced to narrow his focus initially, “I couldn’t study 85 varieties so I took 12,” he told the drinks business. From these, de Almeida selected five grapes, each with different but complementary attributes, from which to create his red blend: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cao.

After putting his plans on hold while the family property was bought by Champagne Louis Roederer in 1990, de Almeida presented his first proposed table wine to then-president Jean Claude Rouzaud. “What are you waiting for?” Rouzaud asked, and 80,000 bottles of this Duas Quintas maiden vintage were released.

1991 saw the addition of a reserva level red, followed in 1992 by a white made from three Douro varieties, again chosen to give the right mix of acidity, structure, fruit and minerality: Viosinho, Rabigato and Arinto. They have since been joined by the structured Folgazão, while the red blend has been augmented by Sousão and Tinta Amarela.

“In 1992 no-one thought that white wine was a good idea,” recalled Almeida. “They said I was crazy and there wasn’t enough acidity. They never thought it would go so well.”

Today table wine accounts for half of Ramos Pinto’s total production, with the house producing around 650,000 bottles of the core Duas Quintas tier annually and 60,000 bottles of reserve level wines.

Marking a contrast with the balance seen across the rest of his region, Almeida observed: “In the Douro it is still more Port, but I don’t know until when. Things are developing and the wines are developing.”

Although acknowledging that before his project started it was common for Port houses to make a table wine, especially when their volumes exceeded the “beneficio” quota imposed on the Douro’s fortified styles, de Almeida suggested that these wines were usually consumed in-house and were certainly not a priority focus.

However, he tracked a steady change in attitude over the last two decades, observing: “Between 1995 and 2000 more people became interested and since 2000 everyone has started doing projects with wine. The young generation don’t have a chance to make Port because they need stock to sell.”

Welcoming this development of the Douro’s table wine category, de Almeida reported that, although Ramos Pinto has long enjoyed commercial success in Portuguese-speaking countries, “in the last five years it’s become more international. All the top magazines are talking about Portuguese wine and finally we have more wine to sell. It was impossible to create a brand with just one or two wines.”

With his three sons – and their wives – all oenologists who, like Almeida trained in Bordeaux, he expressed confidence in the future development of his own pioneering project as part of the wider momentum being enjoyed by Douro table wine.

“There’s still a long way to go and this generation is making a lot of new discoveries,” Almeida remarked. “My generation was more mechanised and about control; now it’s very seriously about being natural, the biology and biodiversity, leaving the place to tell the story.”

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