‘Who are these gentlemen?’ my wife asks, as two debonair men dressed in dark sunglasses and long coats lead us to a black Mercedes in the depths of Porto airport’s car park. One of them, I tell her, is veteran port producer Albino Jorge, the main shareholder of the revamped port and wine producer Quinta da Boeira. Once in the car, Jorge introduces us to his colleague: ‘This is Carlos, The Surgeon.’
These spirited and determined men are part of Quinta da Boeira’s team of port detectives. It turns out that Jorge, 74, and his associate, Carlos Pinto – a former surgeon who is now general manager at the estate – have both come out of retirement to salvage and revive what was a defunct producer originally established in 1850. And part of that work seems to involve scouring the Douro Valley in search of liquid gold.
Through its network, the team has been able to unearth old pipes of Quinta da Boeira port hidden within the local community. The hunt for old liquid led them to discover a rare cask of 1917 port, which had been stored for decades in a cool, dry water mine seven metres below farmland, located in the Douro Valley municipality of Peso de Régua.
Jorge explains that the 1917 port had been kept by the Strecht Ribeiro family of growers for generations, stowed away by their ancestors as an insurance or pension policy. Despite the First World War, 1917 ports were declared vintage ports by many producers; the late wine critic and auctioneer Michael Broadbent describing the vintage as ‘light, supple, elegant and attractive.’ Now, some of Quinta da Boeira’s 1917 port is being sold for €125 in the avant-garde format of a 100ml perfume bottle (as pictured above).
Drinkers are urged to embrace a new way of enjoying port – by spraying it four times into the mouth
Drinkers are urged to embrace a new way of enjoying port – by spraying it four times into the mouth, resulting in an explosion of flavour and aromas. A novel way to taste an old drink, indeed. A perfume-shaped bottle may have seemed a mere gimmick had it contained a young drink. But the format means that more people may now have the opportunity to sample this ‘Very Old Port’.
At over 100 years of age, it’s still remarkably fresh. It is richly textured, balanced with notes of nutmeg, caramel, coffee, and dried fruits on the palate; the fruit is still intact, with bright acidity which leads to a persistent, long finish. It’s also being sold ex-cellar for €2,500 in elegant crystal 75cl ‘Zeus’ bottles.
On the port trail
The discovery of this 1917 port three years ago has inspired Quinta da Boeira to extend its hunt for old ports, unearthing secret stashes around the region by ‘word of mouth’. Having spent more than 25 years working in the port industry, Jorge, a former board member of Taylor’s, has an extensive contact book and is putting it to use.
This year, they found a batch of Colheita (single-vintage Tawny port) near Vila Nova de Foz Coa, close to the Portuguese-Spanish border. ‘We have acquired ten pipes, each holding 5,500 litres of Colheita 2001 ports, from a widow,’ Jorge says.
Finding old pipes of port is no mean feat. They can generate more than €1m in sales. ‘Old ports are a rarity,’ says Bento Amaral, technical director of the IVDP, Portugal’s Port and Douro Wines Institute. ‘Some years, we may receive two or three samples of old ports from potential buyers, but they are increasingly rare,’ he says. Once old ports are found, samples are sent to the IDVP’s laboratory in Porto for analysis.
The identification process is not all plain sailing. On April 14 this year, Quinta da Boeira announced it had acquired two further Colheita ports: 300 litres of 1942 port and 550 litres of 1962 port, from the same owner as that aforementioned 1917 relic. However, because the seller had not registered them as Colheita ports with the IVDP, Quinta da Boeira is not be permitted to mention the year of harvest on its labels, and can only sell them as ‘Very Old Tawny Ports’.
From the past to the future
Together with his team of investor friends, Jorge came out of retirement to buy Quinta da Boiera in 2017 (‘When I retired, I suddenly realised that I was becoming an Uber driver for my family,’ he quips). Quinta da Boeira’s early-19th-century buildings in Vila Nova de Gaia, along with three hectares of ancient trees surrounding, were effectively saved from property developers after Jorge, Pinto and a further eight friends answered a plea from the local community. As well as salvaging the building and park, they raised €39 million in funds to build the eco-friendly, five-star Boeira Garden Hotel, which opened in 2021 and is now leased to Hilton.
Members of Quinta da Boeira’s club, which is free to join, can obtain discounts on port and bookings at the hotel, and there are plans this year to open a physical Boeira Port Club in a 19th century building found next to the hotel and currently under restoration. It will provide luxury accommodation, tasting and dining facilities for buyers, distributors, and journalists.
Last year also saw Quinta da Boeira acquire 20-hectares of vineyards with an average altitude of 350 metres in Alijo, in the Cima Corgo heartland of the Douro Valley. Joining them there is young winemaker Helena Teixeira, a microbiologist who previously made port for Churchill’s. In her first still wine range Teixeira, who employs low-intervention practices, is releasing a delicate, elegant, unoaked white wine made from a field blend of local grape varieties.
The port sector needs to wake up
These intrepid port detectives may have their work cut out for them. But Jorge seems driven to continue as an advocate of port and its place in the world of wine. He shows unbound enthusiasm in his quest to revive not only Quinta da Boeira, but the wider port category. ‘The port sector needs to wake up,’ he says.
A proposition for ‘Young Harvest’ ports, a category that would see premium ports released prior to Christmas each year after harvest, is yet another initiative for a new era being championed by this restless enthusiast. ‘I believe there is still so much to do with port,’ he says. ‘I’ll have plenty of time to sleep in the future.’