On Sunday, I meet Sandra Tavares and her husband Jorge Borges at the Douro’s most exciting new restaurant, called D.O.C., which borders the river in the small village of Folgosa. It is run by a chef of bantam-rooster energy by the name of Rui Paula.
At a table set outside on a long deck over the river, we taste the releases from the couple’s winery, called Pintas, which is located in a small village above Pinhão near the famed Quinto do Noval estate. Jorge also makes excellent wines at Quinta do Passadouro, which is also on the tasting agenda.
We start with a small vertical of the white wine they named Guru. I loved their initial release, the 2005, when I tasted it in our New York office last year. It was barrel fermented and aged eight months in new French oak—the influence of which was obvious but not overdone. But since that initial vintage, Sandra and Jorge have steadily decreased the amount of oak in this blend, which is comprised of the Portuguese white grapes Viosinho, Rabigato, Arinto, Gouveio and Codega from a 46-year-old vineyard. Grapes such as these were traditionally used in the production of white Port, a fading category. “I think we have enough quality, and we want these whites to age,” says Jorge. “We learn more with each vintage. We learn how to balance the oak.”
The 2007 Guru is a fascinating mix of flavors, with an intense Burgundian minerality but the freshness of a dry Riesling. The alcohol content of the ’07 is 12.5 percent. I find it amazing and eye-opening that a wine this rich could have such low alcohol. I would rate it 90-92 points, non-blind. It will be released later this year and should stand as a hallmark for the potential of Douro whites.
The key to quality whites is to grow them high on the slopes of the valley where the climate is cooler and the freshness of the fruit can be preserved, explains Jorge.
Next are the reds from Passadouro and Pintas. In both cases, the best of the recent bottlings are from 2005. The vintage was hot, says Jorge, but the ripening of the grapes was extended, which provided the raw material needed to make high-quality reds. He notes that ’05 "was a vintage where we could balance the fruit and the intensity and freshness of the flavors.”
Later we drive upriver and through Pinhao to visit Passadouro and Pintas. Passadouro is owned by a German businessman who has invested steadily in improving its physical plant since buying it in 1995. The results are beginning to pay off handsomely in terms of quality, and plans are to increase production, says Jorge. A barrel sample of the Passadouro Reserva is the essence of Touriga Nacional—filled with crushed red fruit flavors—with plenty of raspberry, mineral and wild herbal touches. I'd rate it 90-92, non-blind.
We pass by thick pine and cork groves, scrub, steep terraces and crumbling stone buildings on the way to the small Pintas winery in the village of Vale de Mendiz. Six years ago, it was a ramshackle affair, but today it is updated with new tanks and a new roof, and the couple has ambitious plans to expand. Sandra and Jorge are still searching out vineyards, and their holdings now cover about 13 acres. They still live in a small rented house in Pinhão as they pour capital into the winery—and raise their new baby boy.
The ’07 Pintas from barrel is potentially their best ever, complex and intense with a peppery aroma and concentrated red fruit and spice flavors. I'd rate it 92-94, non-blind. Their wine company carries an English language name—Wine & Soul—to appeal to an international audience and also convey the spirit they hope to represent.
“All of us,” says Sandra about Douro winemakers, “we have learned a lot in the last six years.” And they are learning very quickly. California, Italy and France may be looking over their shoulder very soon at another emerging region.