The SOMM Journal

April / May 2015

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{ }  71 sponsored by a different Portuguese pro- ducer, with its logo on the door and sam- ple bottles and memorabilia inside. All 82 participating producers are represented in the semiannually printed Wine Journal, and these wines are available by the glass or bottle in the Michelin-starred Yeatman Restaurant, at the indoor-outdoor Dick's Bar and throughout the hotel. "Clearly the success of the 2011 vintage created lots of interest in Port wine, not only in the USA, but the entire world," notes Wine Director Beatriz Machado. "Many of our guests are either huge fans of Port already or are very interested to experiment, and this is certainly true of our American visitors. I have noticed that they are particularly interested in young vintages, such as the 2011, but also in aged tawnies and the very old colheitas such as Taylor's 1863, which we have by the glass at the bar." Not to be outdone, the Graham's 1890 Lodge, owned by Symington Family Estates, completed a major renovation of its tast- ing room and visitor center in 2013, add- ing a Vinum Restaurant with commanding views of the river. The gastronomic menu, focusing on northern Portuguese fish and other local specialties, is designed to pair with an extensive selection of Symington wines by the glass and bottle. In the Vineyards Northern Portuguese winegrowers have been slower to see the benefits of tour- ism. One exception is Quinta da Aveleda in Penafiel, a short drive from Porto, where the Guedes family has been building a dynasty based on white wines for some 300 years. Aveleda's Vinho Verde whites— along with a more regionally sourced Casal Garcia line and the new Follies reds from the Douro—are widely available in the United States. The estate itself is a tour- ist destination, with spectacular gardens featuring ponds, flowers, an arboretum of trees dating back more than a century and a goat tower among other architectural "follies" (hence the brand name). The Douro Valley is a different story. Although grapes are now shipped to Porto by truck and train rather than river barge, and new superhighways can get visitors fairly close to the vineyards, it's still a hair-raising enterprise to drive from one estate to another. When my group attempted to reach Quinta de Roriz, the flagship property for Prats + Symington, we used two GPS systems that took us as far as the overlooking vineyard. At what seemed to be the end of the road, we found ourselves perched on a dirt path between rows of vines. Resident enologist Luis Coelho spotted our car and guided us the rest of the way down by cellphone. Like several other Douro producers in recent years, this joint venture of the Symingtons and Cos d'Estournel legend Bruno Prats has capitalized on the unique characteristics of the native Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca grapes to assemble award-winning red table wines. The first Chryseia, sourced from Symington properties, was the 2000. Since then, the partnership has focused on acquiring its own vineyards: the Quinta da Perdiz and the neighboring Quinta de Roriz, where Port has been made since at least the 17th century. All table wines, along with a small quantity of Quinta de Roriz Vintage Port, are now blended on site by Coelho, Prats and Charles Symington. Though proud of the astronomical ratings for his 2011 Chryseia ("it's not easy to make 2,500 cases with that score"), Coelho is just as fond of the second-label Post Scriptum and the entry-level Prazo de Roriz (the name means "lease," which describes the status of the vines throughout most of their history). According to Rupert Symington, the fam- ily partner responsible for North America, "I have no doubt that the hugely increased numbers of visitors to Porto in recent years has already translated into better export sales in certain markets, and with the Douro coming on stream, we expect the same effect. We are placing quite a big bet on tourists starting to make their way upriver to the Douro area. We are opening our own Symington Family tourist recep- tion at Quinta do Bomfim in Pinhão in April and have been quite pleased with the inter- est from travel agencies." Pinhão, essentially the center of the Cima Corgo—the heart of the Douro Valley—is still a sleepy railroad hub with small stores and a few restaurants. It's much easier to get there by train (two and a half hours from Porto) and take cabs out to the vineyards than to brave the white- knuckle car ride over tortuous two-lane highways. "The train is much faster than when I started going in 1994," says Hersh, "and the beauty along the train route is incredible. Back then, there were zero hotels open to the public; unless you were invited by the Port trade, you weren't going up there. Now there are 20 hotels. There's still a need for better restaurants, but I think they're on the verge. It's so spectacular that almost any other wine region looks plain." In the Future Thanks to the traditions of Port shipping, this is indeed a wine region like no other, with most of the grapes harvested 75 miles from most of the winemaking facilities. Thanks to the efforts of the now-famous Douro Boys and others, local enological expertise is finally rising to the level of the scenery. As Hersh adds, "I see that as one of the biggest changes in the Douro. With these French and Australian and other young winemakers who have worked all over the world, it will be easier for them to get importers in the U.S." To that end, Wines of Portugal has been sponsoring "Find Importer Days," in which groups of producers from all corners of Portugal join forces on whirlwind tours of American cities. In Denver last year, I found that the samples ranged in quality from mediocre to excellent. But the message was clear: Portuguese winemakers are serious about attracting U.S. consumers. American sommeliers need to pay attention. PHOTO: DAVID VOGELS Old vines at Quinta de Roriz in the Douro Valley.

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