by Fred McMillin
for May 25, 1999


Ramos Up Close


1880—Britisher Henry Vizetelly visits the source of Port wine on the Upper Douro and notes the area is very thinly populated. Consequently, at harvest time men and women are brought to a vineyard from as far away as 50 miles, dancing and singing on their way. Spirits were good, though costs were minimized. E.g., during the harvest they are given soup three times a day. For breakfast and supper they also are given a single sardine. Lunch soup is augmented with rice and one piece of salted codfish.

The Rest of the Story

Douro River What has this to do with today's Port wine? Well, in spite of the labor shortage, etc., in that same year of 1880 the Ramos Pinto firm was founded by two brothers, Antonio and Adriano...and their first Port labels featured some of the ladies rather scantily clad, quite risque for the times. The winery became noted for its strong family traditions; e.g., today's winemaker, Joao Nicolau d'Almeida, is a direct descendant of Antonio and Adriano.

And it has paid off. Today, Portuguese critic Guillermo Campos regards their standards as "impeccable." Grape quality has been of primary concern. They have pioneered a trellis system for the steep Douro slopes. They were able to save an important vineyard from dam inundation when prehistoric rock drawings were discovered in the area. In fact, 40% of the grapes for today's wine came from that Ervamoira quinta (vineyard).

Wine of the Day

1995 Ramos Pinto Vintage Porto, Portugal (dessert wine)
Descriptors—Currants, clove, chocolate, black cherries
Food Combinations—1) with cold, ripe melon, 2) with assorted strong cheeses including Stilton.
Serving temperature—No colder than 65 degrees.
Contact—Tina Caputo, (510) 286-2000 in Oakland, CA.
Price—$39 range


Until displaced by the truck, square-sailed vessels (barcos rabelos) brought all Port in barrels down the Douro River to the blending-aging town of Vila Nova de Gaia. I have seen the colorful boats (pictured) along a riverside road in that town. The name of the road? Avineda Ramos Pinto!

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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