Six white grapes to watch in the Douro

Following on from our article on the red grapes to watch in Port country, we turn our attention to the potential varieties for making great white wine from the Douro.

Quinta do Ataide

Symington Family Estates has planted an experimental vineyard in the hottest part of the Douro to uncover which native grapes are best-suited to the extreme conditions of the Portuguese region.

While yesterday’s story on red grapes considered a selection of niche varieties for boosting the future quality of Port, today’s piece looks at a fresh set of possibilities for making a great white table wine from the Douro.

The grapes were recommended by the Symington’s head of viticulture R&D, Fernando Alves, who has been put in charge of a new experimental vineyard in the hottest part of the Douro to uncover which native grapes are best-suited to the conditions of the Portuguese region.

Within the site, which covers 2.25 hectares in the Douro Superior, are 24 white varieties, including international grapes such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

Symington Family Estates has already created a red fine wine from the Douro with Chryseia, a joint venture begun in 1999 with Bruno Prats, Frenchman and former owner of Château Cos d’Estournel in Bordeaux.

However, there is still scope for the Symingtons to craft a top-end white from the region.

“The Douro is one of the most interesting places in the world for wine right now, and we can make some really interesting white wines,” said Paul Symington, chairman of the company, which owns more than 1,000 hectares in the region.

Agreeing, Charles Symington, who is head of viticulture at the family company, stressed his belief in the quality potential of white wines from the Douro.

“Great white wines from the Douro is an option,” he commented, during a discussion with the drinks business earlier this year. Continuing, he suggested that, unlike for reds, making a top-end white might require the use of international grapes.

“We are much more interested in foreign grapes for whites than we are for reds, because the native red grapes in the Douro are exceptionally good”.

He also admitted, “I’ve been wanting to make a great white for many years, but I don’t know whether it will be done with local varieties or not… I’m thinking more along the lines of the white Rhône model, and if I can make a white like that with our own varieties, then that’s better, but if not, then I’ll go off-piste; it’s fun stuff.”

Currently, the Douro’s best-known producer of top-end whites is Dirk Niepoort, which makes barrel-fermented wines using a blend of Portuguese white grapes from very old vines grown at high altitude on schistous soils.

Indeed, some believe that Niepoorts whites are better than his red table wines.

Over the following pages we have listed six grapes that Symington Family Estates believe have the necessary characteristics to produce great white wines from the Douro.

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