Nearly 130 years ago, a talented twenty one year old artist decided to market Port wine, and focused his attention on South America, especially Brazil. Adriano Ramos-Pinto established the company in 1880 and his name still adorns the bottles of wine his descendants produce today.
Early on, his Ports were just called “Adriano” and were Tawny Ports, but within two decades the young and aggressive Ramos-Pinto controlled half of all Port wine sold in South America.
Ramos-Pinto was shipped in both cask and bottle, although the Port shipped in cask often sold much better than in bottle during the early years. The Brazilian’s paid a significant premium for Adriano’s high quality Ports compared to nearly all other shippers at the time. His unbridled success enabled Ramos-Pinto to expand from the humble beginnings of the company.
Eighteen years later, Adriano brought in his brother Antonio – a photography studio owner – to help him grow the Port business and lend a hand in running the company. The new Ramos-Pinto Brothers business really took off and using Adriano’s creative ingenuity and great contacts, he commissioned a number of works with Portuguese artists and others across Europe to produce extraordinary lithographic poster art to popularize the Ramos-Pinto Port brand and augment sales.
The artwork created for Ramos-Pinto during the late 19th century through 1920s, often depicted scenes of Bacchus and naked young nymphs frolicking in celebration with glasses of Ramos-Pinto Port in hand. These avant-garde, often risqué advertisements were extremely successful in promoting Ramos-Pinto and gaining notoriety in circles of high society and in the press. Then in the 1920s, the Brazilian market imploded and created a downturn in Ramos-Pinto exports for some years to come.
Today these works of art have become part of a remarkable permanent collection, showcased in the museum-like ambience of the Ramos-Pinto lodge complex in Vila Nova de Gaia. Due to a fractured family ownership group consisting of over forty family members, eventually something had to give and in 1990 the family sold the Port business to the Champagne house of Louis Roederer. The immediate cash infusion aided in revitalizing the vineyards and quintas of Ramos-Pinto and in 1996 the Lodge in Gaia went through an extensive renovation project.
I had the distinct honor of meeting the late Jose Ramos-Pinto Rosas in May 1994. Rosas was the distinguished chairman of Ramos-Pinto, (and winemaker there for over 50 years) who was also the President of the Association for the Development of Douro Viticulture and was the founder of the Confraria do Vinho do Port (Port wine Brotherhood) amongst many other achievements. We met while attending a dinner at Quinta do Bomfim, accompanied by a couple of members of the Portuguese delegation involved in an important UNESCO project, which was being discussed with Mr. Rosas. I remember him recounting to me his mission of bringing mechanized farming to the Douro and details of some gruesome accidents involving bulldozers and harvesting equipment, which literally tumbled down the steep vineyard slopes at a number of Douro properties.
Years later I met Rosas’ son and nephew, and this decade I’ve visited both of them on several occasions. Jorge Rosas is a young and energetic director of the company and is responsible for managing the export markets. Joao Nicolau de Almeida is brilliant, engaging and extremely funny. Joao is a highly respected and innovative viticulturist, best known as the Ramos-Pinto winemaker and managing director.
Stylistically, the Ramos-Pinto Vintage Ports are no longer of the light, sweet, simple and early-aging ilk, which was typical of their efforts prior to the 1980s and dating back to their first VP in 1924. The Tawny Ports have always been their strong suit, renowned for providing freshness and sumptuous textural pleasure and they produce Single Quinta Tawny Ports with an indication of age. João Nicolau de Almeida is responsible for taking the Ramos-Pinto Vintage Ports to a new level and they are characteristically more densely concentrated and age worthy nowadays. I’ve really enjoyed both their 2000 and 2003 Vintage Ports.
Besides having a famous uncle, João’s father is the legendary Fernando Nicolau de Almeida, longtime oenologist for Ferreira and the creator of Portugal’s oldest and most celebrated “cult wine” Barca Velha. João was born and raised in Oporto, studied at the university in Dijon and in Bordeaux. He then returned to join the family business in 1976 working alongside his uncle Jose Ramos-Pinto Rosas and was involved in a variety of important viticultural experiments.
Ramos-Pinto Ports traditionally known for their fine Tawny Ports, the oldest of which I’ve tasted is from 1890, but I’ve had the last in line of their Colheitas, the 1937 on several occasions and from various bottling dates. João loves to blend his Tawny Ports and is well-known for his refined palate. But he doesn’t feel that Colheita is challenging enough due to the lack of blending. He is a firm believer that great Tawny Ports require blending and Ramos-Pinto maintains an incredible library of Ports.
Unlike most large Port shippers today, the grapes from Ramos-Pinto’s four quinta properties make up the vast majority of their own Port and they don’t tend to buy almost any grapes or juice produced by others. Quinta do Bom Retiro, (Portuguese for: “a good place to retire”) has been in the family’s hands since 1919 and had the first known swimming pool in the Douro region. Bom Retiro was the site of the very first patamares (contour hugging terraces) planted in the Douro and the property overall contains nearly 160 acres of vineyards.
Bom Retiro along with neighboring Quinta da Urtiga purchased in 1933 with some vines over 70 years old, are both located in the prime Cima Corgo sub-region close to Pinhão. Whereas Quinta dos Bons Ares an ancient vineyard site with 20 hectares of vines purchased in 1989, and Quinta de Ervamoira, a large property with nearly 400 acres planted to grapes, (known as Quinta de Santa Maria before the name was changed just after its acquisition in 1974) are both situated upriver in the Douro Superior closer to the border with Spain.
Quinta de Ervamoira has the distinction of being the only Douro property planted 100% vinha ao alto, as the land is fairly flat, the vineyards are situated vertically, instead of in horizontal terraces. In 1991, years after Ervamoira was acquired, the government-owned utility company (Portuguese Electrical Authority) was planning to build a dam on the Douro (and reservoir) right near the confluence of the Coa River, which would have devastated Ervamoira. The dam would have caused much of the property’s vineyards to be flooded. Ironically, Quinta de Ervamoira is located on a hot and possibly the driest vineyard site in all of Portugal.
João Nicolau de Almeida pleaded first to the power company and then to the government to reconsider the dam project. But to no avail, the project was still slated to move on. Then in 1995, Europe’s most prolific Archeological discovery of bones, Paleolithic rock carvings and etchings dating back to 26,000 BC, were found on the walls of the Douro and unearthed on the property of Quinta da Ervamoira. Unbelievably, even this did not hinder the government’s pet project and it looked like the future of Ervamoira was in grave jeopardy. Fortunately, scientists and the international community stepped in to lobby Portugal’s government to preserve this amazing anthropological find.
In the summer of 1996, the Foz Coa Archeological Park was opened with much fanfare, commemorating the anthropological heritage found in the area. A year later, Ramos-Pinto inducted a brand new museum, in the rustic confines of the Douro Superior at Quinta da Ervamoira; with wine exhibits and many of the aforementioned archeological discoveries. Then in 1998, UNESCO declared the area from the mouth of the Coa River to Quinta da Ervamoira as a World Heritage site and Ervamoira is now fully protected against any developments.
Ramos-Pinto has been producing Douro DOC wines under their own label, Duas Quintas since 1990 and they make a Reserva in most vintages and Reserva Especial too, but only in exceptional years. The Quinta Bons Ares is also used for table wine production and since it is just outside of the demarcated Douro region, it must be labeled as Trás-os-Montes (meaning: beyond the mountains). The Ramos-Pinto table wines are very solid and I have a current tasting note, later in the newsletter.
Website URL: http://www.ramospinto.pt
Address: n°380 Avenida Ramos-Pinto – 4400-266, Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal
Phone: +351 22 37 07 000
Owners: The Louis Roederer Group, since 1990
Winemaker: João Nicolau de Almeida Export
Markets: Angola, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Macau, Mozambique, Netherlands, Norway, Paraguay, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, USA and Uruguay.
Join the discussion on the FTLOP Forum about our favorite Ramos Pinto Vintage Ports.
RAMOS PINTO TASTING NOTES:
1890 Adriano Ramos Pinto Colheita Port – What an amazing way to end a wonderful visit to Ramos Pinto! This Colheita has a coffee color, with a greenish/yellow rim. There is a salty, chestnut nuance and the 1912 D'Oliveira Verdelho immediately comes to mind. Ahh, the voluptuous waves of acidity are prominent and enhance the espresso bean, tobacco leaf and sweet cocoa flavors with a tangy/tart citric edge which is quite pleasant here. A fabulous wine possessing a medium length finish, which may be because this has been open awhile. Thank you Jorge and João! 94 points
1937 Adriano Ramos Pinto Colheita Port – Bottled in 2000, showing an orange-amber color. Although it is open a week now, the nose is intense with citrus, vanilla bean and pralines that dance to the fore. Wow! Smooth and an amazing amount of glycerin here with full-body weight, yet velvety on the mouth feel and beautifully balanced with zesty acidity. It provides a complex aftertaste of caramel and butterscotch that hits my pleasure zone, although I detect just a slight degree of heat, otherwise fabulous, I am smiling as I know that this is the oldest Port most of our guests have ever tasted. 95 points
1985 Adriano Ramos Pinto Vintage Port – Medium ruby centered with a lighter, watermelon colored rim. Aromatics of cherry, cinnamon and bandaid upon decanting with a ton of spirit. I left this to decant for the long haul (24 hours) as that is the only way the alcohol would blow off the nose. Although it never really did fully disappear, it lessened to where it was no longer as offensive. I was sent this bottle by an FTLOP friend who wanted to see my evaluation. It is the first time I've had this particular bottling and was quite curious. It shows a medium body weight with nice plum and licorice flavors. The alcohol is still pretty dominant on the palate and finish and subtracts from the overall enjoyment. Drink 'em soon as these are not getting any better unless the spirit eventually melds with even more time in the bottle. 86 points
2003 Adriano Ramos Pinto Vintage Port – Inky dark color with full opacity. I'd have to say this is probably the best Ramos Pinto Vintage Port I've ever had. It has taken a big leap up since the tank sample I tried a year and a half ago. Floral, plum and cocoa powder provides a compelling profile. It is more densely populated than when young with lots of ripe and dense currant and plum flavors. The tannins are astringent and cheeky and deliver the requisite balance for the big fruit here. I'd have to say this will be a winner in a couple of decades. What a nice improvement, although even from my tasting of the cask sample I liked this youngster. Great finish! 93+ points
Adriano Ramos Pinto 10 Year Old Tawny Port – Orangeish-cola color with a yellow edge. It has gentle toasted almond, mahogany and caramelized sugar scents that swirl in the glass. Great nose for a ten year old. Light-bodied and elegant with sweet nutty nuances and a citrus smooth finish that I liked a lot, except for a touch of heat. Great complexity for a 10 year and I will be seeking out this bottling for sure, when I get home. I am not easily won over by less than 20 year old wood-aged Ports, but this drinks beautifully and more matured complexity than I find in most 10 year old Tawnies. 92+ points
Adriano Ramos Pinto 20 Year Old Quinta do Bom Retiro Tawny Port – This Bom Retiro, actually a Single Quinta 20 year old Tawny, was hot and after looking back at my previous notes realized that I'd need to let this sit open for a few days. I left it in a decanter for a full 24 hours and put it back in the bottle and did not touch if for nearly a week. What a huge difference as the alcohol really tamed down and became a very fine 20 year old. If only it showed this way upon popping the cork. I really like Ramos Pinto's Tawny Ports but they always show a slight hot streak initialy. This was light pinkish ruby in color and with an amber rim. Nutty on the nose with praline and butterscotch it delivered a smooth and rich palate presence and had gained weight since I opened the bottle. I recommend some significant air time to maximize the pleasure of this tasty Tawny. The flavors were all about caramel and liquid toffee. Very inviting and with a wonderful finish. Other examples of this wine were not as impressive. I guess the secret is lots of air. 91 points
Adriano Ramos Pinto 30 Year Old Tawny Port – This comes from the fruit of a few of Ramos- Pinto's combination of Quintas. Nutty and toffee nose with big, smooth and silky palate. Again the VA jumps out and is almost Madeira like, but the finish is long with caramel and vanilla nuances that bring it all together. Get rid of the VA heat and this would have been a truly great Tawny. 92 points