That Bypasses the Port
By Jim Clarke
Absentee landlords own
most of the region’s vineyards and sell their grapes or wine
to the large Port companies downstream. Like Burgundy, the area’s
real estate has been sub-divided ad infinitum by Napoleonic laws
that divided all land equally between a landowner’s children,
each generation owning less and less land. Only persistent buying
made maintaining a large estate possible.
Quinta do Infantado was established
in 1816. Until very recently they sold their wine to Taylor and
other big Port companies, who brought the wine downriver for cellaring,
blending, and export. In the 70s, many shippers began buying grapes
instead of fermented wine; Quinta do Infantado decided it was time
to go it alone, making theirs the only estate-bottled Ports available
at that time. Since then other Quintas in the Douro have followed
At the time, bottling their own wine
must not have been an easy decision; without a cellar in Vila Nova
de Gaia, Infantado was forbidden by law from exporting its wine.
So their Ports were only available within Portugal until 1986, when
the Portuguese government changed the laws and Infantado could begin
marketing its wines abroad.
The Quinta’s vineyards are ideally
suited to making an estate-bottled Port. Vineyards in the Douro
are graded on an A-through-F scale according to a complicated point
system; twelve different factors, including grape variety, soil
types, productivity, and exposure, are taken into account. The cost
of the grapes is proportional to their class. Generally the more
expensive Class A and B grapes are used for Vintage Ports, LBVs,
and Tawnies, while grapes from lesser sites go into lower-level
Ports such as simpler Rubies. Infantado is fortunate to own exclusively
Class A vineyards. Because they grow their own vines, they are not
permitted to buy from other growers, so their entire range is made
from grapes grown on some of the best sites in the Douro.
The Quinta has about 100 acres of producing
vines; just over half of them are relatively new, having been grafted
at the beginning of the 90s. All of these new plantings are of the
five grapes considered most suitable to Port production: Touriga
Nacional, Touriga Francesca, Tinto Roriz, Tinta Barroca, and Tinto
Cão. Half of the older vineyards are planted with the same
grapes, the balance being filled out by lesser-known varietals.
In 1990 Infantado took another innovative
step and converted one of their vineyards – Barreiro –
to organic viticulture. The vines there were five-years-old at the
time and were gradually converted to organic farming; changing a
vineyard to organic farming too quickly risks damaging or killing
the vines, which need to adapt before the supports of pesticides
and fertilizers are removed entirely. The following year the Serra
vineyard was planted with 100% Touriga Nacional and was farmed organically
from the beginning; the resulting wine is doubly unique, being both
organic and made from one varietal instead of a blend.
Quinta do Infantado has two hopes for
organic farming: firstly that it will treat the earth more gently
and help preserve the environment, and secondly that vines so grown
will better express the terroir of the vineyard.
João Lopes Roseira bought Quinta
do Infantado at the end of the 19th Century; his grandchildren,
João and Catarina, now handle the day-to-day operations.
Catarina is the company’s CEO, and João is the vineyard
manager and winemaker, assisted by Fátima Ribas and Luis
Soares Duarte. Duarte is one of Portugal’s rising stars, part
of a young generation which is rethinking Portuguese winemaking.
College training in enology is relatively new to Portugal; traditionally
cellar workers handed down their knowledge as they went, and only
recently has a balance been struck between theoretical training
at the university and hands-on winery and vineyard experience. Duartes’
success in this regard earned him the title 2001 Winemaker of the
Year for Fortified Wines.
The Lucille Ball cliché of foot-treading
the grapes is not just a tourist exercise in the Douro; it’s
still considered the best way to get the most out of the grapes.
Infantado maintains this tradition, and also continues to allow
the native, wild yeasts to ferment their wines instead of inoculating
them with purchased yeasts; this can make the fermentation harder
to control, but many winemakers feel it allows one more element
of terroir to come out.
Modern thoughts about winemaking show
themselves in the fermentation itself. Many wineries in the Douro
transport their grapes in large trucks; the grapes warm up in the
region’s intense summer heat and ferment quickly at such high
temperatures. This can burn out some of the fruitier flavors of
the wine and impart a stewed character to the wine. By handpicking
the grapes, transporting them in smaller boxes, and cooling the
tanks during fermentation, Infantado extends the fermentation period
and preserves the flavors in the wine. A typical Infantado lagar
(Port’s traditional fermentation tank) takes three or four
days to ferment, whereas 80% of the region’s grapes ferment
in less than 24 hours.
Ports are blended wines, and one of
the great difficulties facing a smaller, younger Port producer is
that they may not have the reserves of wine that allow for greater
flexibility when they bottle their wines for market. Even before
they began marketing their own ports, Infantado was setting aside
stock instead of selling all their wine, so they also have a useful
backlog of wines available. Again, the A-class vineyards also give
them an advantage – there aren’t any inherently weaker
wines that need to be accounted for when blending.
In the Bottle
Quinta do Infantado has a definite house
style. Trusting in the richer fruit flavors that their vineyards
provide, they ferment their wines to semi-dryness, further than
most Port producers, for whom sweetness can be a crutch to obscure
flaws. Subsequently Infantado can use up to 30% less brandy to fortify
their Ports, which also means more room for finesse and expression
from the wine itself. I find it also makes the wine’s acidity
more pronounced, especially in the finish, which makes the wines
more flexible in food pairings.
- Vintage Ports: Vintage
Ports are only made in years when the producer thought the vintage
had been particularly good; these are the premier achievements
of the vineyards: deep, rich, and intense. They are made to age;
if you have a child during a vintage year, buy a bottle or a case
and save it for their 21st birthday. Drunk young, they are usually
enormously fruity and tannic; they shut down during their adolescence
and only emerge into their glory after 15 or 20 years. Today,
Infantado’s 1997 seems shy compared to the 2001; some dark
fruits and leather notes suggest that much of the wine is resting
in its cocoon. But a wine like the Infantado 1982 is a healthy,
mature adult. The fruits – quince, figs, dates – are
dry but crystal-clear, and share the glass with notes of walnut
- Late Bottled Vintage:
Ports of this type enjoy four to six years of wood-aging, generally
in large wooden vats. Many are then bottled and released as ready-to-drink.
Some, including Infantado’s, will merit 2-3 years of bottle-aging
after release to really express themselves. The Infantado LBV
1998 currently shows lots of blackberry, licorice, and raisin
notes; just a couple of years should lend this wine some other,
earthier aromas to round it out.
- Ruby: Ruby Ports
are blends of wines from different years, which have usually been
aged in concrete or stainless steel to limit the oxidative characteristics
that can come with wood-aging. The Infantado Ruby shows lots of
raisin and quince notes; it’s full-bodied, and the semi-dry
style makes it more focused and expressive than many rubies, which
can be cloying.
- Tawny: Tawny
Ports take full advantage of the effects of extensive wood-aging.
The wood used is not the new French Oak of Bordeaux and elsewhere;
these are larger vats of older wood, which has largely been sapped
of any flavors of its own. Rather the more porous surface of the
wood allows the slow seepage of oxygen, which can sap color from
the wine and promote the development of nut and caramel flavors.
Infantado makes two Tawny Ports. The basic Tawny is aged for about
4-1/2 years; its nuttiness tends toward lighter flavors like hazelnut
and almond. The 10- Year Tawny is more intense and suggestive
of walnuts; the dry finish reminds me of an Oloroso Sherry.
Quinta do Infantado makes a
few other wines, most notably the unusual Organic Ports mentioned
earlier. Like some other Port producers they have also begun producing
some dry table wines, but these are not yet available in the U.S.
All of their wines seem to reflect the house style so powerfully
that it seems endemic to the grapes themselves – terroir
coming through in a region where blending and aging often obscure
An Interview with João
Roseira of Quinta do Infantado, Portugal
By 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
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
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.
^ Top of page