“Sociedade de Vinhos Borges S.A.” is a wine company with a long tradition – founded in 1884 by the very entrepreneurial brothers António and Francisco Borges. The 1880s were a great time in Portugal, the mood was very optimistic, many start-up companies were founded. Factories with steam machines, fast steam-boats, global trading – all this was very exciting. The young brother Borges (26 and 23 years old) had worked several years already in the banking industry for “Casa de Câmbios António Inácio da Fonseca”, and when that company went bankrupt they decided to start their own company, mainly to do banking, but soon they also expanded into the tobacco trading and into the wine business. Little did they know that the founding of “Banco Borges & Irmão” would have – a century later – nearly killed their wine business.
The outbreak of Phylloxera was of course a terrible event for the wine trade and many families lost everything during that time. Others saw that situation as an opportunity – and Vinhos Borges took advantage of the situation and bought in 1904 a large estate in the Douro: “Quinta Soalheira”. This is a massive property, 340 hectares… and they paid the equivalent of EUR 40 for it. Today, a single bottle of their best Ports costs as much as the whole Quinta back then…
In 1918 the Lello-Family acquired a third of the company and the success story continued. The company became very famous – however, not so much for their Port Wines – they rather created a few very successful brands: “Fita Azul”, one of the most famous Portuguese sparkling wines and “Gatão”, one of the best known Vinho Verdes. The company made of course also very decent Port Wines and even created one of the first brands of still Douro Wines (“Lello” in 1913).
Having survived the Great Depression and two world wars, the company was suddenly facing its biggest threat yet in the 1970s. In April 1974 the “Carnation Revolution” happened – and the new, left government decided in 1975 to nationalize all banks. As Borges Vinhos was a part of Banco Borges & Irmão, the wine company was suddenly belonging to the government of Portugal.
It’s obviously easier to make a revolution rather than Port Wine – and the quality of the Borges wines suddenly deteriorated dramatically. The powers to be were very clearly more interested in the assets of the bank than the continuation of great wine making. The wine company got neglected.
Finally Banco Portuguese de Investimentos took over the Banco Borges & Irmão and ended up – more by accident than by desire – with Vinhos Borges. They decided to sell that business piece by piece. The stock of marvelous old wines was put for sale – and Taylor’s seized the opportunity and bought most of Borges’ wine. While at it, Taylor’s also acquired the two properties “Quinta do Junco” and “Quinta de Casa Nova”.
Well, what was left of the company? A Port Wine producer without wine… and only one remaining Quinta. But the name Borges was relatively well known in the world of wine – and so the company José Maria Vieira, SA decided to buy the brand – and the Quinta da Soalheira. JMV had been the distributor of Borges wines. The difficult part was to begin again with making Port Wine. If you have absolutely no stock, you can’t bring Colheitas or aged Tawnies to the market. Luckily the Vinho Verde, Dão Wine and sparkling wines helped with solid cash flow and gave the company some time to establish a stock of Port over the years.
So, when we see a bottle of Borges Port wine, we should have in mind to check from which time of the company’s interesting past the wine originates.
The first phase is all the wine until 1975. Solid wines, mainly coming from Quinta do Junco. The vintage Ports seem to have been made for relatively early consumption – there were not made to last many decades. Therefore, when you now see one of those old Borges Ports, most likely the wine doesn’t show as well as it would have 40, 50 years ago.
The second phase is between the nationalization in 1975 until the sale to JMV in 1998. The company lost a little bit its way; the wines seem quite weak during this time. James Suckling wrote that the Vintage Ports of Borges’ remind him of LBV’s – which is not a very nice thing to say. Also not very nice where the very low scores that he gave to Vintage ports of that time.
The third and current phase started in 1998. A clean, fresh start. New ownership, new vines, new everything. The beautiful thing is that Borges now controls the whole process, from the planting to the harvesting and to the bottling and distribution. They offer now the complete set of entry level Ports (White, Fine Tawny & Fine Ruby), the reserve Ports (also White, Tawny and Ruby), wood-aged Ports (10 year old Tawny and 10 year old White and also already the 20 year old Tawny). The last Borges-Vintage declaration is the 2007 – which means that the company was one of the very few producers that haven’t launched a 2011. The launched a 2012 Soalheira, a Single Quinta Vintage. They have also an LBV in their offering, the 2010.
I have the feeling that the company doesn’t strive so much for making the perfect, esoteric wine – they make solid low- and mid-entry wines, as also their “Coroa” Ports show. The Coroa White is a blend of 3 year old wines; the Coroa Ruby is a 5 year old blend. These wines are supposed to be very young and fruitful; the company calls them “Fresh Style Ports”. They are somewhere between the Fine and the Reserve wines.
The Quinta da Soalheira is very remotely located (electricity reached it only in 1988) – however, with today’s infrastructure this is no longer a big issue. The Quinta is large, consisting of 340 hectares – but “only” 120 hectares thereof are planted with wine. It still is quite a large size Quinta for the Douro. The interesting fact is that the average age of the vines is only 12 years – all a sign of the fresh start. We can expect that the wines will constantly increase in quality, as the vines get older and the grape-quantity declines and the concentration in the grapes increases.
The vinification happens at the massive vinification center near Vila Real – this is where the Port and Douro Wines are made.
Speaking about the Douro Wines: The company offers also a vast range of Douro still wines (they also have wines from the Vinho Verde-region and Dão-region – but we focus on the Douro and pretend the other regions just don’t exit…).
First, there is the “Lello”-brand, established in 1913 – this must be one of the longest existing brands of still Douro Wines; I don’t know any other table wine brand from the Douro that would be around for more than 100 years. There is the white wine (grapes: Gouveio, Viosinho, Fernão-Pires and Rabigato), the rose wine (grapes: Touriga-Nacional, Touriga-Franca, Tinta-Roriz and Tinta-Barroca) and two red wines: The “Lello Tinto” is made from the usual Douro-grapes (Touriga-Nacional, Touriga-Franca, Tinta-Roriz, Tinta-Barroca and Tinto-Cão) and while a part of the wine matures in stainless steeltanks, the other part spends 4-6 months in French oak barrels. The “Lello Reserva” is made from only three grapes (Touriga-Nacional, Tinta-Roriz and Touriga-Franca) and spends approx. 12 months in French oak.
The next label is “Borges Douro”, where we find a white and a red wine.
The red wine (grapes: Touriga-Nacional, Tinta-Roriz, Touriga-Franca and Tinta-Amarela) matures up to 24 months in French oak barrels. The white wine consist of wine from the following grapes: Gouveio and Viosinho. The grapes do all some from the Quinta da Soalheira… but Borges Vinhos S.A. has also a label with the name of the Quinta.
Within the Borges Estate program we find the white and red wine “Borges Quinta da Soalheira”. The red wines (made from Touriga-Nacional, Tinta-Roriz, Tinta-Barroca, Touriga-Franca, Tinto-Cão and Sousão) matures 9-12 month in French oak; the white wine is made from the following grapes: Gouveio, Viosinho and Arinto.
To complete their offering, they also offer under the brand “PÉROLA” a white and also a red “Vinho Regional Duriense”.
The wine makers must be quite busy, as they offer – alone from the Douro region – 5 different red wines, 3 different white wines and one rose wine…
So, on which wines would I focus right now? If you want to drink a Port right now, go with the LBV 2010. If you want to store the bottle for 5-7 more years, then go with the Single Quinta Vintage 2012 Soalheira. If you are happy to wait 10 or more years, then get the Borges Vintage 2007.
Borges has a pretty decent web-page, offering really good fact sheets about their wines. Just one thing puzzles me a little bit: The nationalization of the Borges Group and then the sale of parts of the business up to the purchase of the brand and Quinta by JMV are quite interesting – I wish there would have been some information on the web-page about that. But no, not one word is mentioned there. But without those events, JMV wouldn’t have been able to buy Borges.