One of the most highly respected names in Bordeaux and one of the great families of Port have teamed up to produce a table wine from Portugal's Douro Valley. Bruno Prats, the former owner of second-growth Chbteau Cos-d'Estournel, and the Symingtons, producers of Ports from Graham, Warre and Dow, among others, are making red wine together from the northern section of the delimited vineyard area for Port wine.
"I am sure that we can make extremely rich and concentrated wines in the Douro Valley," said Prats, 56, who now lives in Switzerland following the sale of Cos-d'Estournel to a group of Argentine investors in the fall of 1998. Prats still makes red wine in Chile at Domaine Paul Bruno, a 48-acre estate in the Maipo Valley that he co-owns with Paul Pontallier, the technical director of Chbteau Margaux.
The first release of the yet-unamed Portuguese joint-venture wine should be out sometime next year and will be priced at about $30 to $35 per bottle. About 2,000 cases of a 1999 red were produced primarily from old vines under the control of the Symingtons. The blend is from grape varieties indigenous to the Douro, mostly Touriga Nacional with Tinta Francisca. The young red is now aging in new French oak 400-liter barrels in the Symingtons' cellars in the town of Regua, on the Douro River.
"We thought that the first wine would simply be an experiment, but the quality was so good that we have decided to release it," said Prats. Tasted from a barrel sample, the wine was extremely aromatic, with smoky, floral and fruity aromas that followed through to a full-bodied palate with loads of fruit and tannin concentration and an elegant, polished texture on the finish. It's an extremely impressive red, even more so coming from the Douro Valley.
According to Rupert Symington, 36, a director of family-run Symington Port Shippers, the firm hopes to designate vineyards specifically for the project, as the 1999 red was made with grapes that were originally intended for use in Port. Also, the partners wish to have a winery dedicated to table wine production. "You have to focus on making table wines in the Douro to make serious wines," Symington said. "It's too difficult to make Port and table wine at the same time. The needs of the two are very different."
The Symingtons produce about 1.5 million cases of Port annually. They own nearly 1,000 acres of vines in the Douro Valley, although a large percentage of their Port production comes from grapes and wines bought from hundreds of small producers in the region. "We know a lot about making excellent Ports, but making serious table wine is something very different," Symington said. "That's why we asked Bruno to help us."
The Symingtons met Prats through Primum Familiae Vini (Latin for "First Families of Wine"), an association of which they were members. When Prats left the group, after the sale of his winery, James Symington, Rupert's father, asked Prats if he would be interested in making table wine in the Douro Valley.
"I think there is great potential," said Prats. "The wines of the Douro have much more concentration than those from Chile, but they don't have the depth or length of great Bordeaux. We will see how well we can do in the future."
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