Borges: We’re just scratching the surface in the Douro

Winemakers in the Douro Valley are only just scratching the surface in terms of the potential in the region to make world class dry wines according to Jorge Borges of Wine & Soul.

Speaking to the drinks business during a recent visit to the Douro Valley, Borges said: “The new generation of dry winemakers in the Douro are well travelled and opened minded to new ways of thinking and looking at the past.

“The Douro has huge potential for table wine and there is so much still to discover from the region – we’re only just scratching the surface of the Douro’s potential and the best is yet to come.”

Borges and his wife Sandra Tavares run Wine & Soul, a boutique Douro project focusing on dry wines. Unusually for the region, they export 70% of what they make and are brought into the UK by Corney & Barrow.

Jorge Borges and Sandra Tavares da Silva of Wine & Soul

Having dreamt of making a top dry red from the Douro, their project began in 2001 with purchased fruit from selected sites in the Pinhão Valley and 2003 they bought a steep-sloped vineyard in the Vale de Mendiz planted with 80-year-old vines across thirty varieties.

The grapes are de-stemmed, fermented in traditional concrete lagares and foot-trodden. Top red Pintas is made from the old vine plot and aged predominantly in new French oak for 20 months. Just 5,000 bottles are made each year.

While the wine has depth and concentration, Borges is also seeking finesse. “The Douro reds in the past were too rustic and ripe. Our goal is to make lively, fresh, drinkable wines – a great wine needs to have finesse,” he told db.

He is confident that there is an appetite for Douro table wines outside Portugal. “I’ve just got back from the US and the door is really starting to open there. People are tired of tasting the same things and the quality is really there.

“People are much more open to dry Douro wines now so it’s a good moment to tell the story of our array of native grapes to consumers to show them something new.

“Our native grapes caught the attention of the press a decade ago and now consumers are starting to catch on.

“We have a wealth of old vines in the Douro from which we make field blends from dozens of native grapes. It’s our duty to be different and uphold this tradition and it would be such a waste to throw this opportunity away,” Jorge said.

“The Douro is such an impressive region and I think it’s the most beautiful wine region in the world, but in terms of winegrowing, it’s very difficult.

“It’s astounding that someone even thought to start planting vineyards here in the first place, but it has incredible potential,” Sandra added.

5 Responses to “Borges: We’re just scratching the surface in the Douro”

  1. Bear Dalton says:

    Dry Douro red is riding a wave of trade enthusiasm but, at least in Texas, has not achieved consumer acceptance. Virtually no one comes into a retail store and asks for it. The higher priced wines are a particularly hard sell. The wines are still too rustic and outside the flavor profile comfort zone for most US consumers. To my way of thinking, these grapes would be better used to make more Colheita Port for which there is pent up demand that will only grow.

  2. Euan Mackay says:

    Jorge and Sandra, are absolutely right, the potential of this sensational wine growing region is extremely exciting. We still have a long way to go to get the Fine Wine consumer fully on board but things are happening. It was particularly encouraging to hear from many of ours distributors in the Asia Pacific region during Vinexpo HK last month that Douro wines are beginning to find their space.

  3. Jason Brandt Lewis says:

    Texas aside, I can unequivocally state that Douro table wines — and Portuguese wines in general — have received significantly greater acceptance in both retail and restaurant settings both here in California and in the US as a whole. Indeed, while it’s understandable if Pintas¹ (an excellent wine, by the way) is in short supply, so too are other top Douro wines (Quinta do Crasto’s Vinha Maria Teresa and Vinha da Ponte, Niepoort’s Batuta and Coche, etc., etc., and lets not forget Casa Ferreirinha’s Barca Velha!). Even mid-priced wines (for today’s market) like Qta. do Crasto’s Reserve Velhas Vinhas, for example, are increasingly difficult to find.²

    Furthermore, the wines are hardly as rustic as they once were, back when table wine from the Douro was but an afterthought. Today, as Eric Asimov put it in his New York Times article, “Searching for Soul Among Douro Reds” (July 21, 2016): “It was not a problem of quality. We didn’t find bottles that were marred or badly made. If anything, the problem was the opposite: unimpeachable winemaking. Too many of the wines seemed too polished and glossy, with the flavors of ripe blueberries presented with a shimmer of oak and underlying wood tannins.”

    After spending some 40+ years in the wine trade, I can not only say that Portugal as a whole has come a long way since Lancer’s and Mateus Rosés were all one could find in terms of Portuguese table wines, but the Douro itself has made great strides in their table wines, and can take their place among some of the world’s finest red wines.

    ¹ If only 5,000 bottles of Pintas are produced annually, and 70% are exported, that’s 3,500 bottles for the world. How many of these go to the US, versus the rest of the planet? It will ALWAYS be a difficult wine to find, but where there’s a will there’s a way, and I have multiple vintages in my cellar.

    ². As with many wines imported in the US, a majority of the wines are sold in and around their port(s) of entry, and thus far more is available on the East Coast than on the West. That said, the term “far more” is relative. For many of these wines, production remains small to begin with, and so while one might find, say, Churchill’s “straight” Douro red, finding their Quinta da Gricha red table wine is infinitely more difficult.

  4. As Californians, we are in agreement with Jorge Borges and Sandra Tavares da Silva of Wine & Soul that there is an appetite for Douro table wines outside Portugal and that these wines are being increasingly recognized for their excellence. For example, Wine & Soul’s 2011 Pintas Douro Red received a score of 98 from Wine Spectator and the Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro Red 2013 made it to the “TOP 100 Wine Spectator List of 2016”.

  5. Great people-great valley – great wines

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