Jancis Robinson, jancisrobinson.com (June 2020)
About this WINE
Dow's Vintage Ports are among the longest-lived, possessing impressive backbone and structure; they are also at the drier end of the scale and often show magical qualities on the nose. Much of the fruit used in declared vintage years comes from the premium vineyards at Quinta do Bomfim, which also makes a very fine wine in non-declared years under that name.
The Symington family has been involved with Dow most of the 20th century, taking full control in 1961 and building on the legacy of the preceding Silva and Dow families. Dow dates back to 1798 when Bruno da Silva, a Portuguese merchant, moved to London and began importing wine from his native country. Through Bruno da Silva, Dow became the first and only Port Company to transport its precious cargo of casks of fine Ports under its own armed protection across the Bay of Biscay during the treacherous Napoleonic wars. Over the next generations there formed a partnership with the Frederick Cosens and they were later joined by George Acheson Warre. Finally in 1877 Silva & Cosens merged with another leading Port company, Dow & Co and it was decided to adopt Dow’s as the brand name.
In 1912 Andrew James Symington was invited to manage the Douro Valley vineyards of Dow and in 1961 the Symington’s finally became sole owners of Dow’s. Five members of the Symington family are currently engaged in the management of Dow’s which is the only surviving independent Port producer in the hands of just one family amongst all the great historic Port companies. Paul, Johnny and Rupert Symington (Andrew Symington’s grandsons) are the joint managing directors and together with Paul’s younger brother Dominic they work towards the development of new markets and customers. Charles Symington is in control of the winemaking. Being one of the most highly regarded winemakers and tasters in the Port industry, with more than 40 vintages to his credit, Peter has passed on his knowledge to son Charles.
The reacquisition of Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira in 1998, after having to be sold in 1954 to ensure the company’s survival at a time when the Port industry was in crisis, will further strengthen Dow's in declared vintage years, as this estate's top-grade fruit will be used in the blend. Along with Quinta da Senhora da Ribeira and Quinta do Bomfim the Symington family privately own Quinta do Santinho and Quinta da Cerdeira which also supply grapes for the production of Dow’s Ports. These four estates together provide Dow’s with one of the largest premium vineyard holdings of any Port firm.
Dow's, with Warre's, lies just beneath the top flight of Vintage Ports and consequently offers less market-driven prices; when one considers the time these wines will keep and improve over, one has to appreciate their sheer value for money.
In the mere 20 years or so since it joined the EU, Portugal has been transformed from a country of flabby, oxidized whites and dried-out, tannic reds to one of the most exciting and innovative wine regions in the world. Investment, modern technology and knowledge have been the key drivers.
Qualitatively-speaking, the Douro leads the way for the reds, epitomised by the Chryseia joint venture between the famous Symington Port family and Bruno Prats, former owner of Ch. Cos d' Estournel. Yet it is closely followed by its northern neighbours Dão and Bairrada. However, it is the large regions of the south – Alentejo, Estremadura and Terras do Sado – and Beiras in the north that laid the foundations with their excellent-value, modern, fruity reds and whites from the mid-1990s onwards.
Portugal has always been a bit different from its neighbours. Historically an ally of England against the French – offering itself, at the very least, as an alternative source of wine – it isolated itself for much of the 20th century, during the 42-year Salazar dictatorship that ended in 1974. It was also responsible for some of the most successful mass-market wine brands of the 1970s and 1980s – Lancers, Mateus Rosé and Vinho Verde – but has firmly held onto its range of weird and wonderful indigenous varieties.
Pockets of vines cover most of Portugal – a total of 400,000 hectares – and it is Europe's fourth largest producer (together with Germany), behind Italy, France and Spain. The country splits naturally into two halves: the north is hillier and wetter (except for farther inland), with granite, slate and schist soil. It is relatively densely-populated, with most vineyards owned by smallholders cultivating a hotchpotch of indigenous varieties. The hotter, flatter south, meanwhile, has limestone, clay and sand soil, is more sparsely populated, and boasts larger wine estates with monocépage vineyards, cultivating far more international varieties.
Portugal boasts an incredible diversity of wines from the fresh, spritzy whites of Vinho Verde to the rich, full-bodied reds and, of course, the powerful, fortified Port wines of the Douro. Portugal's fortified and red wines rule the roost, although the whites show excellent potential, and not just at the cheap and cheerful end. Excellent sweet Moscatels can also be found in regions like Setúbal in the south. Tannins and acidity remain relatively high here, but the wines share a lovely, voluptuous fruit that can be seen across the range.
Portugal's finest white varieties are considered to be Loureiro and Alvarinho (aka Albariño) in Vinho Verde, Bical (Bairrada), the aristocratic Arinto (in southern Portugal), and the full-bodied Encruzado (Dão). For the reds, the Port grape Touriga Nacional (Douro and Dão) is its trump card, followed by other Port grapes such as Touriga Franca, Tinta Cão and Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo), Baga (Bairrada), Castelão Frances (aka Periquita/João de Santarém in the south) and Trincadeira in the Alentejo.
Portugal's defined appellations are designated DOCs (Denominação de Origem Controlada), along with a second-tier IPR (Indicação de Proveniencia Regulamentada) – effectively DOCs in waiting – and a third, more flexible classification for larger regions, VR (Vinho Regional).
There are around 40 different grape varieties permitted in the production of Port - however the vast majority of Ports are produced from a blend of 5 grapes - Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesca, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, and Tinto Cão.
Touriga Nacional produces small, dark-skinned grapes that produce opaque black wines of great extract and high tannins - it gives grip, body, and structure to the blend.
Touriga Franca has a thinner skin and consequently produces wines lighter in colour and tannins than Touriga Nacional. It contributes fruit, aroma, suppleness and roundness.
Tinta Roriz is the Portuguese name for Tempranillo and its high sugar content and low acidity contribute colour and fruit.
Tinta Barroca which is normally grown at highish altitudes and on north-facing slopes, is prized for producing wines of delicacy, finesse and with smooth, velvety fruit. It brings elegance and sweet, ripe fruit to the final blend.
Finally Tinto Cão produces fine and complex wines, though it is probably the least important of the 5 grapes as its painfully small yields have reduced plantings to almost insignificant levels.