The time has come for the high quality of Douro table wines to be reflected in higher pricing, according to Paul Symington, the chairman of Symington Family Estates. Speaking at the New Douro preview tasting in Porto last week, Symington said it was no longer acceptable to sell such 'extraordinary wines' at such 'ridiculously low prices'.
Unfortified wines from the Douro have reached a new level of overall quality in the past 10-15 years, since the inception of the New Douro, as producers have shifted their focus from exclusively making Port wine and begun to tap the region’s potential for making high quality table wine.
'If we have a failing it’s that we’re too modest about our pricing,' Symington said.
'I returned from a trip to Oregon and California last week where I tasted many, many wines. I was completely bowled over when I tasted these wines, good red wines, and I asked, "What’s the price of this to the public?" [When they answered] $60 $90, $120, I nearly fell off my chair. And here we are making these extraordinary wines and selling them at ridiculously low prices.'
Symington highlighted that the Douro is an expensive place to grow grapes, with some of the lowest yields in Europe – less than half the production level per hectare of Bordeaux, for example. Bordeaux averages a production level of 50hl/ha, while in the Douro the average is 23hl/ha. Moreover, all Douro vineyards are terraced and 100% picked by hand. In 2016 the average price for distribution of Douro table wine was €3.98/litre compared with an average in Rioja, for example, of around €8.80/litre.
Symington said that The New Douro had come a long way since its formation in 2004 and was now making world-class table wines on a par with the best wine-producing regions in the world - a fact confirmed by recent sales figures.
Value sales for Douro table wine shot up from €85m in 2011 to an all-time high of €140m last year, according to the Port and Douro Wine Institute, indicating that the time is ripe for the Douro to assert itself as a producer of premium and super-premium table wines with prices to match, the estate owner said.
'I think that in 2004 we were still taking hesitant steps in the Douro,' he added.
'We weren’t sure whether consumers would buy into the style of wine, made with Touriga Nacional, with Touriga Franca and all the other great grape varieties of the Douro. I think all of us are absolutely convinced that today, in 2017, the wines that we make compete with the very best of Tuscany, of Bordeaux, of the Rhone and of the New World.
'The Douro needs to affirm itself ever more at the higher end. We have no future at the bottom end. I think the nearest example that we in the Douro can use is the extraordinary transformation of Tuscany. 25 years ago, 30 years ago, Tuscany was the producer of cheap Chianti wines for pizzerias all over the world. Today the Supertuscans – Tignanello, Sassicaia – are the highest level of the world wines and fetch extraordinary prices.
'I believe that the Douro will one day have at least those standards because of the quality of wines being made, and that is why we created the name The New Douro and created this group.'