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An Interview with João Roseira of Quinta do Infantado, Portugal
By Jim Clarke

Jim Clarke: Why did you decide to make your ports in a semi-dry style – less sweet than most consumers expect for port?

João Roseira: This has to do with several reasons. First of all, when my father and my uncle started estate bottling Porto in 1979 – a pioneer move from Quinta do Infantado as there was not a single grower bottling Porto in the Douro at that time – they wanted to create a family style, different from what was being made by Gaia’s shippers. For me it is really logic to make semi-dry Portos. We think of what we do as Porto wine, and a drier Porto is closer to wine – you don’t have a “sugar wall” to block wine’s little things (both in the nose and the mouth) that we love in dry wines.

Our Portos are drier because we let fermentation go longer, obviously consuming sugar to produce more alcohol, so we have less residual sugar and more natural alcohol and need to add smaller quantities of wine brandy to stop fermentation and make Porto. As a consequence there is more grape juice and less wine brandy in a bottle of Quinta do Infantado Porto. I think most people don’t realize that in a “normal” bottle of Porto there can be as much as 25% wine brandy! At Infantado we work with 17% or less, which is, in my opinion, much better. It also has to do with pairing our Portos and food. Is it really necessary to have so much sugar? And such heavy Portos? At Infantado we believe in balance as the most important aspect of wine (including Porto) and that’s our bottom line, to make balanced Portos and wines.

JC: How does the lower sweetness change how you’d pair your ports with food?

JR: Pairing Porto and food is an exciting challenge. Everybody knows about Porto and Stilton or Porto and desserts. With Infantado, because of the lower sweetness and more obvious wine character, one can go much further. Our White Porto is great with a foie gras (something that Olivier Poussier proved at a press dinner at Le Jardin des Sens, the Pourcell brothers’ 3-star Michelin in Montpellier). The red Portos, especially Vintage and LBV, can be a fine match with a steak au poivre or an earthy prepared sanglier. The tawnies can be enjoyed with a number of cheeses, the persilées being an interesting pairing (it’s not just for Vintage). Anyway we love to think people will experiment pairing different food with our wines and make their own choices.

JC: What differences arise from aging your ports in the Douro rather than in Vila Nova de Gaia, where most of the large Port shippers cellar their Ports?

JR: Vila Nova de Gaia and the Douro have a different climate. The Douro is harder on wines because of higher temperature amplitudes, both annually and daily. We try to minimize this. Our cellar as very thick walls – over 1 meter – and good roof isolation to provide our wines with a good aging environment. Also all this is different whether we’re talking of Tawnies or bottle aged Portos (like Vintage or LBV). The famous “Douro baked” character is, in my opinion, when balanced, a good characteristic and a tipicity of the wine’s origin.

JC: You have two vineyards which you now farm organically; are you pleased with the results, and do you plan to convert more of your vineyards to organic techniques?

JR: I think wine made from organically grown grapes can only be better. We’re lucky that the Douro weather is great for grape growing and we do not need to use much sulfur and copper to fight mildium and oidium, our major problems. Besides fungus there isn’t anything, so far, that we can not deal with in an even less chemical way. So health grapes are not an issue (of course there are years when thing are more difficult than others). On the other hand as the soil is much better, alive and kicking, not being poisoned with herbicides and synthetic fertilizers, the plants can produce better grapes. There are higher costs involved, mainly because of manual weed control, but I think the market will pay a little extra money for a more natural wine. We have plans to be 100% organic over the next 10 years and to start biodynamic farming in some of the vineyards. Today, besides the organic vineyards all other are on a sustainable farming program which also limits the use of synthetic chemicals.

JC: Why did you bring in Luís Soares Duarte to assist with winemaking at the Quinta?

JR: I like to work in a team and I think two heads think better than one, three even more so. Today at Quinta do Infantado we’re three: Luís, head winemaker, Fátima Ribas resident winemaker and me. It’s a good team and we’re excited to work together. We don’t always agree but from learning how each one thinks and feels about any given wine is great for the group and I believe our wines benefit from that. Apart from that it is great because Luís is a truly good winemaker, Porto Winemaker of the Year in 2001 from Revista de Vinhos, Portugal’s more respected wine publication, and a close friend.

JC: Quinta do Infantado seems to concentrate more on Ruby and Vintage styles of Port rather than on Tawny; is that really the case, and, if so, why?

JR: When my family started estate bottling in 1979 they released 3 Portos: Ruby, Tawny and 20 Years Old Tawny. The Tawny and the 20 Years Old were probably too good and older than they should for each category. So, in a short period we sold a lot of our old Porto stocks which afterwards made it difficult to maintain a high standard in Tawnies as we can not buy wines from other growers. I think we’ve overcome that problem by developing an efficient aging program and our tawnies are much better in recent years. We love both styles and think each has their place at the table. Today we’re bottling Ruby, Vintage Character, LBV and Vintage in the ruby style, and Tawny, Reserve (about 6 years), 10, and 20 Years Old in Tawnies. And a White Porto, our driest Porto.

JC: Is Port in general becoming more diversified, or do the large shippers still dominate the industry as they have in the past?

JR: I think, at this point, we are moving away from diversification. Shippers are buying and merging, so there are fewer, bigger groups of negociants. In terms of market share they’re largely dominant, selling roughly 95% of all Porto, the rest being sold by growers and co-ops. In 2004 we’re commemorating the 25th anniversary of our first Porto bottled at the Quinta; at that time – 1979 – we were the only ones doing this in the Douro. So, in 25 years the growers’ market share has not progressed much.

JC: What about making non-fortified, table wines?

JR: We are making Douro DOC reds because, knowing our vineyards, we firmly believe in the potential of our grapes for dry wines. Our first release was 2001 and we’re currently selling the red Quinta do Infantado Douro DOC 2002, 11,200 bottles filled in September 2004. From 2003 we’re aging a blend of old vines that seems promising, maybe Quinta do Infantado first reserve red.

 




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     Published: January 2005
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