The Douro – 20 Years On

Nearly two decades have elapsed since the Symington family launched their first Douro wines. With a number of established Port companies, some dating dating back to the 17th Century, it was a big step to add a completely new division in the late 1990s.  At the time Douro wines were relatively new. The region was only demarcated for unfortified wines in 1979 and, with a few notable exceptions,  these so called table wines were not very well received at the outset.  In effect the Port producers had to relearn their craft - in some cases 'grandmothers sucking eggs' comes to mind!  As Charles Symington said at the tasting, ‘we have learnt that there are few synergies between Port and Douro wine’.  Having focused on getting maximum extraction from their grapes in the past, the ‘new’ Douro became all about how to manage the naturally high tannins in the region’s indigenous grapes such that they didn’t produce the so called ‘blackstrap’ that led to the creation of Port in the eighteenth century.  It is indicative that there were no wines in the tasting from the late 1990s. When I asked why the simple reason was given that, at the time, no one thought to keep any.   So the oldest wine in this tasting marking twenty years of Symington Douro wine making is from 2004. It is fair to say that in twenty years the Douro has gone through a transformation and that it is now turning into one of the great wine river valleys of the world to be compared with the Loire and, more closely the Rhone, for its range of wines: white, red and of course fortified. More information on this transformation with be going into the Douro chapter of my book, Port and the Douro, which I will be updating this year. 

Altano White, 2017 ***/****

With a proportion of Muscat (Moscatel Galego) from high vineyards on the margins of the Douro, this is fragrant, verging on aromatic, fruit driven dry white wine with simple, clean, zippy freshness and a soft, sub-tropical pineapple finish. A really well made, straightforward wine for a hot day. 16.5

Altano White Reserva 2016 **/***

From a blend of 50% Viosinho with Arinto and Gouveio, aged in French, American and Hungarian oak casks (400 litre) with a touch of acacia thrown in: gentle aromas, rather dominated to my mind by savoury oak;  the oak continues to dominate the fruit on the palate, leading to a rather coarse, dusty-oaky finish. This is not my style of wine but it is well made and I can see that it might appeal to some palates.  For me this was much the weakest wine in the current Altano range. 

Altano 2015 ****

A classic blend of  Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barroca, mid-deep in colour with attractive, sappy spicy fruit aromas; soft, ripe berry and plum fruit on the palate, upfront, fresh and uncomplicated with ripe, broad tannins leading to a supple yet spicy finish. Well balanced red from a ripe year that was especially good in the Douro Superior.   17

Altano Organic 2016 ****

Another classic Douro blend, this time including some Touriga Nacional, all organically framed at Vilariça, high in the Douro Superior:  mid’deep younful colour; still a bit dumb on the nose with a touch of  attractive herbaceousness underlying and bergamot fragrance from the Touriga Nacional; lovely cherry fruit on the palate with a fresh streak of acidity running all the way through, firm tannins leading to a very expressive, pure finish. A very different falvour profile from its non-organic sibling.  18

Altano Reserva 2015 ****

A blend of 90% Touriga Nacional and 10% Touriga Franca, all from Vilariça; 
good, deep youthful colour, closed on the nose with very little expression other than an indication underlying tight knit fruit and tannins; firm and tight knit on the palate initially, big and spicy with lovely purity of fruit and fresh acidity leading to a lovely berry and plum finish. Still needs time to show at its best. 17.5 

Altano Reserva 2004 **

A blend of  75% Touriga Franca and 25% Touriga Nacional, the oldest wine in the tasting: mid-deep in hue, browning on the rim; warm, ripe leathery aromas, just a touch singed; rather dry tannins, fruit drying out and dominated by the tannin but retaining a  fresh streak on the finish. Perhaps just a bit over-extracted at the outset and part of the learning curve. 14 

Quinta do Ataíde, 2014 **** 

From a vineyard planted by Cockburn’s (for Port production) in the early 1980s and bought by the Symingtons in 2006, a classic blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca and Touriga Franca: mid deep youthful colour and a lovely expressive pure cherry stone fruit character on the nose and on the palate; supple cherry and plum flavours, mid-weight and not over ripe with firm gravelly tannins and a lovely fruit-driven finish. Attractive balance. A lovely wine from a very challenging year in Portugal (it poured with rain during vintage).  17.5

Quinta do Ataíde 2015  ****

Classic blend from a much more promising year: deep and youthful in colour; still closed and rather sullen with underlying depth; much more expressive on the palate, naturally sweet berry fruit backed by firm, spicy tannins leading to a firm, ripe gravelly tannic finish. Needs a year or two more in bottle to show at its best.  18

Quinta do Ataíde, Vinha do Arco, 2014 ****

Made entirely from Touriga Nacional including the original blocks of this grape planted in 1983, aged in 400 litre French oak casks for 10 months: very deep, opaque youthful colour; closed on the nose but with underlying ripeness and intensity, the characteristic bergamot is yet to express itself on the nose; lovely pure berry fruit on the palate with a touch of minty ripeness, not too obviously Touriga Nacional (which, on its own, can sometimes be a bit overpowering and verging on sickly), firm tannins mid-palate and a lovely pure, focused finish.   17.5

Pombal do Vesúvio 2016 ****

The second wine of Quinta do Vesuvio, a blend of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca aged in second year oak; mid-deep in colour; lovely open, ripe Touriga Nacional  aromas, floral and aromatic with a touch of heady richness; firm gravelly tannins initially with naturally sweet, ripe berry fruit not far behind, soft and supple mid palate with lovely acidity and a fine, expressive finish. 18 

Quinta do Vesúvio 2015 **** / *****

A blend of the finest Touriga Nacional (54%) and Touriga Franca 42%  with a touch of Tinta Amarela grown on this magnificent estate in the Douro Superior. 12 months in new French oak. Very deep and opaque in colour; closed and dense on the nose with underlying tight knit cherry stone fruit; firm and tight knit initially on the palate, ripe cherry stone fruit, lovely structure, big and deep with fine grained gritty tannins and wonderful profile on the finish. Still a youngster, hiding its finesse.  18.5   

Quinta do Vesúvio 2007 ***/****

This is the first vintage of this wine from Vesuvio and, as such with so much change having taken place in the Douro when it comes to unfortified wine, this is now bottled history: mid –deep in colour, showing its age on the rim; rich and tar-like on the nose, seemingly very traditional in style, showing its age; big and tough in style and structure, impressively ripe fruit but a bit rustic in style, rich but short on the finish without much finesse.  A hard one to mark. 16.5  



19 - 20 An outstanding wine (*****)

17 – 18 An excellent wine in its class, highly recommended (****)

15 - 16 A good wine, with much to recommend it (***)

13 - 14 An enjoyable but simple, straightforward wine (**)

10 – 12 A very ordinary wine without faults but with no great merit (*)

8 - 10 Disagreeable (no stars)

Below 8 Faulty