You can find some of Portugal’s best red and white wines in the Douro Valley. A renaissance has taken place in this region in the last few decades, previously only known for port wine. Wine & Soul is one of the pioneers. When Sandra Tavares and Jorge Borges started Wine & Soul in 2001, their aim was to show the world that the Douro Valley can produce high-quality red wines. Nobody doubts that today. We met Sandra in October 2020 on one of our very few wine tours that autumn. She told us how it all started.
Previously, the spectacularly beautiful Douro Valley was only known for its port wines. But today, the Portuguese region is also a successful producer of non-fortified red and white wines. These wines are simply called Douro wines. The conditions here are excellent for producing dry wines. It is hot and dry in the summer, but the grape varieties have been grown here in the valley for a long time, and they have adapted.
This article has been published in a shorter version on Forbes.com.
In the 1990s, there were a lot of things changing on in the Douro Valley. One reason for all the activity was that new rules, introduced in 1986, when Portugal became a member of the EU, made it easier for small producers to produce and export their own port wines, without going through one of the big houses. But port wine was not always the primary focus of the young producers that emerged at this time.
“We wanted to show that the Douro Valley can produce top quality dry red wine”, says Sandra. “At the time, people only new port wines.”
Watch this video with the stunningly beautiful landscapes in the Douro Valley:
Sandra Tavares da Silva created the now very successful company Wine & Soul with her husband, Jorge Borges, in 2001. “This was a good time to start”, she says, “there were a lot of new projects happening.”
“We are both from wine families,” explains Sandra, “Jorge is a fifth-generation winemaker in the Douro, and I am the fourth generation, but from the south of Portugal, close to Lisbon.”
When they met and decided that they wanted to make wine together, they both worked as winemakers for other Douro producers (and they still are actually). “The idea was to just to make a wine together, to learn, we didn’t have the idea to make a company like this.”
Wine & Soul has grown, step by step. They bought an old port lodge in the small village of Vale de Mendiz, a few kilometres from Pinhão, across the river. Their first vineyard was Pintas, 1.5 hectares of old vines. Now, 20 years later, they make eight different wines and olive oil.
“Pintas is a field blend, so it is a vineyard with an amazing diversity; around 40 different grape varieties grow together. We don’t know exactly how many; we are still identifying some of the vines,” says Sandra.
“We wanted to work with old vines, vines with long roots, for the balance. We also wanted south-west exposure to have a good ripening. We work traditionally with the grapes foot trodden in stone lagares although 2020 we couldn’t unfortunately [due to corona restrictions].”
“Pintas has a very strong personality”, says Sandra. I agree; it has. Pintas 2017 is like an explosion of herbal and minty notes on the palate. But it is still very balanced, very fragrant, with black currents, liquorice, spices, a lovely texture and structure and vibrant acidity. A beautiful wine, drinking well now. (80 euro at the estate)
Pintas is very successful but always made in small quantities, around 6,000 bottles, as the vineyard is only 1.5 hectares. Sandra and Jorge wanted to add a wine in the same style as Pintas, but with a little bigger volume.
So, Pintas Character was born, made with grapes from vineyards around Pintas. It is also a field blend; the vines are average 50 years old, and it is also foot trodden in lagares. The wine spends 18 months in oak barrels. It is powerful but elegant with intense, concentrated fruit aromas. (22 euro at the estate)
Quinta da Manoella is an estate t in the Pinhão Valley that belongs to Jorge’s family since 1838. The 60 hectares include 40 hectares of cork oak forest and olive trees. From the Manoella vineyards, Jorge and Sandra make two reds and one white wine.
Quinta da Manoella VV is from a field blend with 120-year-old vines. VV stands for vinhas velhas, old vines in Portuguese. It is a superb wine with concentration, a dense texture and, as always in the wines from Wine & Soul, a refreshing acidity. (72 euro at the estate).
Manoella Red 2018 is easy-drinking, easy to enjoy, light and fruity, with aromas of dark berries and liquorice. The grapes are 60 % touriga nacional, 25 % touriga franca, 10 % tinta roriz, 5 % tinta francisca. It is not a field blend, but the grapes ferment together. (11.50 euro at the estate)
For the white Manoella Branco 2019 they use a field blend with 50-year-old vines, mainly local grapes such as rabigato, codega de larinho and viosinho. The rock here is granite, whereas, in the Douro, it is usually schist for the ports. The alcohol is only 11,5 %, and it is very fresh and crisp, light and elegant with aromas of citrus, melon and white flowers. It has personality and is excellent value for money. (11.50 euro at the estate).
Guru White 2019 is a more full-bodied white. The wine ferments in used French oak barrels and is aged for eight months in the barrels with some batonnage (stirring of the lees). It has a lovely, full-bodied texture, refreshing citrus aromas and some notes of honey. (25 euro at the estate)
Port wine was not their focal point to start with. “But”, says Sandra, “it would be a pity not to produce port”. They make two, a 10-year-old tawny and a vintage port, both amazing wines.
As the demand for port wines has decreased, the interest among the growers to make dry unfortified Douro wines have increased. I bet some growers are happy not having to deal with the many rules surrounding the port wine production and the long ageing that many port wines require.
But thanks to dynamic growers such as Wine & Soul and others, the port wines are gaining new customers. “People”, says Sandra, “that normally only buy our dry Douro wines become curious about our port wines after a while”. So, everybody wins in the end.
The Douro Valley is an exceptional wine region. You can visit the vineyards, taste the wines, meet the winemakers, on a wine tour to the Douro Valley with BKWine.
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