Portugal hopes to repeat Super Tuscan feat

Portuguese wine is “on the cusp” of breaking into the fine wine market, just as the Super Tuscans did during the 1980s, believes one major Douro producer.

Quinta de Roriz, home to the Prats & Symington Chryseia brand

Quinta de Roriz, home to the Prats & Symington Chryseia brand

“We’re a long way from having a cult wine like Sassicaia or Ornellaia, but I think it will happen,” predicted Paul Symington, joint managing director of major Douro wine and Port producer Symington Family Estates.

Looking back on the environment required for this Tuscan break through, he told the drinks business: “It needed critical mass, the economy had to be strong in the US, the wine culture needed to be developed and you needed a catalyst to light the spark.”

Transposing this to the Douro today, Symington reported: “There’s a whole bunch of people making really good wines. They didn’t all get it right to begin with – there was too much oak, decisions about treading or not treading, which grape varieties to use. Now there’s a new generation of winemakers all coming on and you find some phenomenal wines being made.”

Nevertheless, he acknowledged: “Still the Douro is not a default. The average shopper doesn’t know the Douro yet, but we do believe it’s on the cusp and sometime in the next few years there will be a catalyst. A lot of the boxes are already ticked.”

Despite the UK’s significant position within the global fine wine market and historic connection to the Port trade, Symington believes that, just as with the Super Tuscans the catalyst will come from the US. “The US is such a wealthy and diverse country,” he explained, adding: “Europeans are more sceptical of wine writing, but the US does take those suggestions.”

What’s more, Symington noted: “In the UK there’s so much in the big five retailers, but in the US you don’t have that. The US tiers are very complicated but it does mean there’s no massive buying power because it’s such a huge, complex system.”

Although the Symington family is most closely associated with Port through ownership of houses including Warre’s, Dow’s, Graham’s and Cockburn’s, its also produce a range of Douro DOC wines, as well as partnering in the high end Chryseia project with Bordeaux’s Bruno Prats.

While the core DOC range has “evolved quite a lot” in recent years, according to Symington, he noted that the major step forward for Chryseia in recent years has been the sharper focus on what was previous more of a symbolic home at Quinta de Roriz. “Chryseia is now anchored in Roriz,” confirms Symington. “All the wine is now made there from one property.”

A more detailed look at developments within Portugal’s wine industry will appear in July’s issue of the drinks business.

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