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Bruno Prats: The Douro needs to walk on two legs

Prats + Symington’s Bruno Prats has said that more people should recognise that the Douro can produce both high quality table wine and Port as he continues to drive the “table wine revolution” in the region.

Bruno Prats

The experienced winemaker and former owner of Château Cos d’Estournel was speaking at a vertical tasting of Prats + Symington’s top wine, Chryseia, in London yesterday.

At the tasting, Prats expressed his gratitude to James Symington for recognising, in 1999, that the Douro is capable of making both high quality Port and table wine.

Concluding proceedings at the Bluebird in Chelsea, Prats said: “The Douro needs to walk on two legs. It can do both [make Port and table wine] and it can be excellent at both”.

Prats began the evening by explaining that in 1999, when Prats + Symington was established, few people in the region were interested in making non-fortified wine, and Touriga Nacional – one of the two-grape blend used to produce Chryseia – was very much in decline. Since that time, Prats declares that there has been a “revolution” in Douro table wine.

Prats + Symington own two quintas: Quinta de Roriz and Quinta da Perdiz. The former was responsible for producing the first single estate Port to be sold in the UK market back in the 19th century. Now, both quintas are principally devoted to making table wine and are planted with a high proportion of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca varietals (23% and 17% respectively for Quinta de Roriz and 36% and 23% for Quinta da Perdiz.)

A small quantity of vintage port is made from the Quinta de Roriz but only in exceptional years and when conditions are suitable, although according to Prats, “a good year for Port is usually a good year for table wine”.

During the vertical tasting which comprised the vintages 2013, 2014 and 2015, Prats explained that all three years were very different.

“The 2013 and 2014 were not classic Douro years as they were wet and cool, very Bordeaux-like in fact,” Prats said. “2013 was the coolest of the two with some rain at the end of harvest which affected the Touriga Franca in particular.”

“In 2014 the conditions were better and I am particularly happy with the level of acidity in the wine.”

“2015 was one of the few years that conditions were good in both Bordeaux and the Douro. We had rain in spring and then it was dry with a cool August, in other words, perfect conditions. The 2015 is consequently richer than both the 2013 and 2014 but has the same drinkability, style and balance that I believe are the hallmarks of what we are trying to do at Prats + Symington”.

Due to the failure of some of the Touriga Franca grapes to ripen, the 2013 Chryseia is a blend of 70% Touriga Nacional and 30% Touriga Franca. The resulting wine is noticeably softer with more floral and mineral flavours than the 2014 and 2015, which both exude the characteristic notes of blackberry, menthol and resin.

Prats told the drinks business that the blend does change year-on-year but that he had not gone beyond using 70:30 of either grape.

Blending like the Bordelais

Considering both his experience and heritage, it is unsurprising that Prats takes great pleasure in the art of blending. He is, however, firmly against planting Bordeaux varieties in the Douro. Pointing to the 2013 and 2014, he told the drinks business: “why bother when we can do this”.

The 2013, 2014 and 2015 vintages of the Chryseia served up at the Bluebird in Chelsea.

According to Prats, a “blend should be better than the best component in the blend”. On a number of occasions, the winemaker has considered making a single varietal wine when the grapes are in particularly good condition. However, he told db, he would try the same wine in a blend and it would be better every time.

For the Chryseia, Prats uses just Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca, however, in Prazo de Roriz and Post Scriptum, they are joined by Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barroca.

Prats ensures different blocks of the same vineyard are picked at different times to ensure optimum grape ripeness and, he jokes, if he had his way he would isolate single vines. In addition, he does not add the press wine immediately after running off but waits to add in a percentage, prior to bottling, which changes every year but is usually between 2% and 6%.

New projects

Prats told the drinks business that the ‘scientific team’ at the Symington Family Estates were conducting a project which aims to recover forgotten grape varieties once used in the region, that could be used to make high quality table wine. Citing Touriga Nacional as an example, which Prats said had “almost disappeared” in 1999, he appeared confident that there were other varieties that may have been abandoned due to their low yields, but that could be used to make top quality wines.

Last week it was also announced that the Symingtons are trialling a vineyard robot called ‘VineScout’ in flatter areas that can be used to assist the winemaker with vineyard management, especially in regions where there is a labour shortage.

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