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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Neil Beckett

The classification of Douro vineyards, by which all 140,000 separate holdings are ranked as Class A-F, should attach three times as much importance to grape varieties as it currently does, according to Miguel Crte-Real Gomes, commercial and viticultural director of Allied Domecq's Cockburn Smithes, one of the most highly respected viticulturists in Portugal. Crte-Real told Harpers that the classification system, devised by Alvaro Moreira da Fonseca in the 1940s, had been expected to require far more revision than it has, and that it has stood the test of time well. But while he still regards it as fantastic', he feels that the proportion of points awarded for grape varieties should be raised from roughly 10% to 30%. As it is, grape varieties have a relatively low priority among the 12 physical variables, almost 70% being awarded for altitude (21%), yield (21%), soil (14%) and locality (13%). Crte-Real said he believed there was enough support among leading producers for a revision to be undertaken. At the same time, he expressed concern that the World Bank-subsidised plantings of the top five' grape varieties in the 1980s - Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesa, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Co - risked the loss of biodiversity. He said that Cockburns would continue to plant more Touriga Nacional, clones of which he has been developing at Quinta do Tua for many years, but which still, despite its high reputation, represents only 2% of the region's vinestock. But the company is also planting other varieties which are not among the top five - Tinta Amarela, Tinta da Barca, Tinta Francisca, Bastardo and Mourisco, which is particularly suitable for aged Tawnies.