Portuguese wine

Tellingly, port’s governing body dropped the yield for this year’s production to reduce stocks and this – coupled with a reported 60% hike in the price of wine brandy (used for fortifying port) – will see port prices rise. Despite the hurdles facing the port industry, Symington believes there is still sufficient requirement for ‘premium port’, particularly in the ‘after-dinner’ markets, but says the Douro has “a brilliant future, although that progression will probably take time”.

Some wineries will take longer than others. Oakley illustrates the point: “Quinta Nova was taken over by the Amorim family as a 25ha port estate. It’s now an 85ha table wine estate. They still make a little bit of port but the conversion to table wine is almost absolute and it’s happening left, right and centre in the Douro.”

The JP Ramos group, a protagonist in Alentejo and Tejo, Portugal’s engine rooms, has also moved in. The easterly region of Douro Superior, dubbed the “promised land”, has seen a gold rush-like exploration in recent years as it is the last of the Douro’s uncultivated land. JP Ramos’ Duorum winery has some exalted company – nearby are the Amorims (Quinta Nova) and Sogrape (Quinta Leda and Quinta Granja). The project, which started in 2007 through the marriage of former Sogrape winemaker José Maria Franco and João Portugal Ramos, saw the high-altitude Arizona-like scrubland planted, and is now producing wines to market.

The attraction for Franco was to produce blends – fresh, fruit driven wine of high acidity and medium alcohol – a move away from bludgeoning 15% heavyweights associated with the Douro.

The winery lends its name to the range Duorum but heading up the portfolio is Tons, an affordable Douro at £8.99 in the UK. Launched in red and white styles over 2010-2011, 200,000 bottle sales were split equally between international and domestic markets. According to export manager Roque de Ferreira, the “much talked about project” has resulted in innovative wine suited to the palate of the consumer, not the winemaker. “Tons is the wine that enables us to democratise the Douro,” he says. Ferreira is doing well on that front – he recently helped broker a deal that would see the JP Ramos’ group supply wine for the UK supermarket group Tesco’s Finest Douro. A move, according to Oakley, which was “the success story of this year”.

As Ferreira says: “The only thing left for Portuguese wine to do is get into the mouth of consumers”. It seems so simple – and the Douro is clearly closer than most wine regions from Portugal. Just as Rioja has garnered international resonance and has led consumers to other Spanish wine, Douro’s continued march will leave tracks back to Portugal. That, supported by an unbroken line of communication, should see that the rest of Portuguese wine isn’t left behind.