The return of the native

 In Companies, Exports, In Focus, News, Wine

Carvalho, Ribeiro & Ferreira is a household name in Portugal among discerning connoisseurs of fine brandies, liqueurs and spirits.

A popular drink in the United States and among the Portuguese-speaking diaspora spread throughout Europe, Canada and the US, the company has survived over generations by successfully reinventing itself.
In Portugal both brandy and white spirits are generally referred to a ‘aguardentes’, literally ‘firewater’.
This particular ‘firewater’ is a market leader among the best Portuguese brandies in this category and has been made using the same recipe since it was first produced in 1895.
Traditionally, these drinks are served in a warned brandy balloon glass the end of a fine dinner, but the current family which head CR&F say to do so with this vintage brandy is almost a hanging offence, as is the idea it should only be consumed at the end of the meal.

A drink for anytime, anywhere

Enologist Mário Louro debunks this idea and say the brandy can be drunk as an aperitif, or on its own at any time.
“Heat evaporate the alcohol and releases the main notes and with a new aguardente that’s fine, but with a reserve, NEVER says the enologist who worked for Carvalho, Ribeiro & Ferreira between 1977 and 1995, the year in which it was celebrating its centenary and was sold to a multinational.
Founded in 1895, CR&F today is back in Portuguese hands as this year it celebrates its 125th anniversary with an online ‘fireside chat’ from its current owner João Portugal Ramos who bought the company from the group Beam Suntory, the third largest producer of distilled drinks in the world — in 2016.
The brandy is produced in Estremoz, at the seat of the wine group which owns various vineyards up and down the country and CR&F represents 20% of the group’s turnover, is exported to 14 countries and holds 60% of the national reserve aguardente market.
“We are market leaders” explains Raquel Almeida, director of marketing for the Portuguese group.
“The habit of rounding off a lunch or dinner with an aguardente is back in fashion and this has been reflected in the company’s results.


The Solera method

“Over the past year we have sold a historic record of 100,000 boxes of CR&F, each one with nine litres and why is that different, you may ask? It’s because it is the only Portuguese reserve brandy authorised to use the Solera method which lends it a unique quality,” Raquel Almeida explains.
Solera (meaning ‘on the ground’ in Spanish) is a process for ageing liquids such as wine and brandy by fractional blending in such a way that the finished product is a mixture of ages, with the average age gradually increasing as the process continues over many years.
The purpose of this labor-intensive process is the maintenance of a reliable style and quality of the beverage over time.
Solera refers to the lower level of the set of barrels used in the process; the liquid is traditionally transferred from barrel to barrel, top to bottom, the oldest mixtures being in the barrel right ‘on the ground.’
Products which are often ‘solera aged’ include CR&F brandy, Sherry, Madeira, Lillet, Port wine, Marsala, Mavrodafni, Muscat, and Muscatel wines; Balsamic, Commandaria, some Vins doux naturels, and Sherry vinegars; Brandy de Jerez; beer; rums; and whiskies.
In the case of CR&F the liquid that is extracted from the barrels to bottle always ranges from the least quality to the best quality, in this case three levels of quality reference: two fortified wines (reserve and extra reserve) and a ‘bagaceira’ or vintage brandy.

A fine investment

A reserve bottle of vintage brandy from a particularly fine year will set you back around €245, but Mário Louro admits that these are for collectors who generally hold onto the reserves which gain in value on the collectible wines market over time.
The CRF Old Brandy Reserve, one of the best sellers at an accessible price at between €20-
€22 a bottle, is aged in oak barrels that give it a dark topaz colour at a 40% volume.
Regarding the pandemic, João Portugal Ramos, the current owner, says that while consumption of the fine brandy has stalled in restaurants, direct sales have increased.
“In the last market research study which we commissioned in which we covered the places and occasions the brandy was consumed, we saw that 69% of CR&F drinkers also drank it at home,” he says.
“Of course an aguardente mostly being drunk among friends and family members has suffered too, but if sale via the HORECA channel have fallen (supplying hotels and restaurants), retail sales (through off-licences, specialist wine shops and supermarkets) have risen by around 10% on 2019,” says João Portugal Ramos who believes that things will get back to normal next year with CR&F once again being drunk around the table at family gatherings,” the owner of CR&F, João Portugal Ramos concludes.