Five grapes to watch in the Douro

Symington Family Estates is pinning its hopes on five lesser-known grapes for raising the quality of Port and table wine from the Douro.

douroAs reported by the drinks business earlier this year, 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.

The new plot covers 2.25 hectares in the Douro Superior and contains 53 different vitis vinifera varieties – 29 red and 24 white – among which are five that the producer has particularly high hopes for.

Since the 1970s, a range of grapes have been recommended for Port production, which are dubbed “the big five” among Douro viticulturists, and comprise: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Cão.

However, speaking to db this year, Charles Symington, who is head of viticulture at Symington Family Estates, said that this grape selection was made on “questionable criteria”, pointing out that not all the varieties were chosen for quality; some were promoted for economic viability – either they were high-yielding or disease-resistant.

For example, he said that he wasn’t happy with the performance of Tinta Roriz, suggesting that the grape, which is the same as Tempranillo in Spain, does better in Rioja than the Douro, because the soil pH is too low for this variety in the latter area.

“Also, I’m not a fan of Tinta Cão,” he said, although he stressed that Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, and Tinta Barroca are “very good”.


Charlotte and Paul Symington at the experimental vineyard in the Douro Superior

On the other hand, he said that a grape such as Trincadeira (Tinta Amarela) was left out of the “big five” because it is “very sensitive to fungal diseases” – but, he stated, “It’s very good for dry areas, where you don’t get fungal problems.”

Symington Family Estates is particularly keen on Portugal’s native Touriga Nacional – which currently accounts for 25% of the producer’s 1,000 hectares in the Douro – and Charles told db he hopes to get that proportion up to 40% in the future.

He then said, “The next most important grape after Touriga Nacional is Touriga Franca – they are the Cabernet and Merlot of the Douro” – a view also held by Bruno Prats, the Symington Family joint venture partner for a Douro table wine project and brand called Chryseia.

He also praised Tinta Barroca, saying, “It is very good for making modern LBVs”.

However, over the following pages, we reveal five grapes beyond the aforementioned recommendations, all of which will take an increasingly important role in the future of Port and Douro table wine, according to Symington Family Estates.

2 Responses to “Five grapes to watch in the Douro”

  1. Jason Brandt Lewis says:

    It shall, of course, be interesting to see what comes from this over the next few years and decades. In California, as I’m sure the Symingtons know, Paul Masson used Sousão to produce their famous “Port”(-styled wine), and it was quite tasty.

  2. Great article in order to educate the wine enthusiast all over the world about the Portuguese grapes and what makes our wines so special.
    Watch out for theis year’s harvest!

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