Louis Dressner Selections - Wine Importer

Quinta de Infantado: The Terroir From A to E

There is much to be said about honesty, for real wine and real winemaking. Porto is a landmine. Here's why.

Estate-Bottled Porto remains a marginal part of the production. Shippers account for 95% of all Porto sales. Infantado was the first estate to domaine bottle in the Douro, breaking the monopoly of the shippers in the late 70's.

The Terroir - A to E

Why is this important? All vineyards (120, 000 acres) in the Douro are classified by site location, from A (best) to F (worst). Class A and B grapes are mostly used for vintage Porto, then LBV and aged Tawnies (10 through 40 years old).

Quinto do Infantado owns only Class A vineyards Nothing else. Everything from their basic Ruby through their Vintage comes from Class A sites!

The large shippers who dominate the market use E and F sites for their Rubies and every so often there is a scandal when a shipper is caught using cheaper grapes outside the Douro.

Why not use A site like Infantado? The B through E grapes are cheaper for shippers to buy than A grapes. A Burgundy négociant pays more to buy Richebourg than they do for Bourgogne Rouge. The grapes from lower classifications come from more fertile and humid Douro vineyards, where yields are considerably higher. Ever wonder why there are so many cheap and horrible Rubies in the market?

Infantado has no choice. Since it makes only estate-bottled wines, they can only bottle them from their Class A vineyards. Not only are these vineyards great terroir, Infantado also has an original mix of grape varieties. Although there are more than 70 red grapes in the Douro, Infantado grows about 15, all among the noblest of the Douro. The most important for Infantado are Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barroca.

Remember, not all 70 grapes are great! Guess who's using the big berried, high yielding of little character grapes grown in the Douro?

Making the Porto

Quinta do Infantado Portos are fermented in lagar and foot treaded, This is the traditional, labor intensive way of making Porto. After years of of ultra-premium-high-tech-state-of-the-art-stainless-steel-fermentation-tanks most of the shippers came back to lagares for their best grapes. But Infantado's been doing this since 1816 and uniquely does this for everything from Ruby to Vintage.

Infantado wines ferment naturally with no yeasts added. Normally an Infantado lagar takes 3-4 days to ferment. But in the rest of the Douro, 80% of the grapes ferment in less than 24 hours. How do they do it? Grapes are transported to the shopper's wineries in enormous metal containers holding over 3000 pounds, that are loaded throughout the working day. Typically, a truck will carry 2-4 containers, and will hit the road only after the end of the working harvest day. It is hot in the Douro and the grapes arrive fermenting at 95 degrees.

At Infantado, everything is loaded into 44lb boxes, all picked by hand. This means grapes arrive at the winery as if they were still hanging on the vine. This takes time and costs money, but makes an enormous difference in the final quality of the wine. Again, from Ruby to Vintage, Infantado takes the same care.

Although shippers account for more that 95% of the Porto sales, they only make 45% of the total. Most of their wines come from a series of Cooperatives who are "wannabe" wine industrialists. Co-ops, for the most part, remain outdated facilities, are badly designed, badly run and working for quantity and not quality. They sell only about 3% of the Douro's production but ferment 50%. Hmm, who do you think is buying co-ops bulk Portos, blending them and selling them, maybe even labeled as "coming from our best vineyards in the Douro Valley"? Growers, like Infantado, do not have the right to buy wines.

Infantado has always been known for its' semi-dry port style. That is, they let the grapes ferment longer and add less alcohol. But this is something they can do only because they own such great Class A sites.

Class A grapes are picked at 13-14% (or more) potential alcohol. Lower Class, (B through E), have higher yielding grapes and are very often picked at 11%. To compensate for the lower level of maturation, it is permitted to add larger amounts of wine brandy to the juice from lower classifications. This procedure is strictly controlled by the Oporto Port Institute, which allows more added brandy for wines from lesser sites.

Ever wonder why so many Portos taste like syrup or cough medicine? Infantado works with ripe grapes and makes Portos half-dry, reducing the use of wine brandy by as much as 30%. This means more finesse, more pleasure, more wine!