The Douro – More than Port
Once known only for its Port wine production, this area is now regarded as a major producer of fine table wines. The climate in each area, as well, of course, as the grapes themselves affect what is possible.
I am happy to share that the June issue of the Algarve Plus Magazine has already been published, with my new article!
The magazine is readable online or downloaded for free here.
Or read here the whole article:
Douro beyond the Port wines
The Douro wine region, located in the northeast of Portugal, stretches approximately 90 km from the city of Porto to the Spanish border. It got its name from the Douro River, which completely crosses the country from east to west, from the Spanish border, and then meets the Atlantic Ocean at the city of Porto.
Nowhere else in the country are the traces of human intervention more visible than there, in the form of terraced vineyards located on steep slopes. Because of its beauty and monumentality, the region was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
The area of the Douro is about 250,000 hectares, but only 26,000 hectares of it are authorized for the production of port wines. And most of the table wines produced here (about 90%) are red wines, and the rest is more or less equally divided between whites and rosés.
Archaeological finds prove that in this region as early as the III-IV. wines were also made during the 18th century, but the Cistercians were the first to have a really significant impact on the region’s wine production, in the 12th century. from the middle of the century.
The first table wine of Douro is attributed to Fernando Nicolau de Almeida, who at the time worked as a winemaker in Porto at the Ferreira winery. Almeida visited the French Bordeaux region during the Second World War and this gave him the inspiration to create a high-quality table wine. This is how the red wine called Barca Velha was born in 1952, from the grapes of the Quinta do Vale Meão plantations in the Douro Superior sub-region. The wine was an instant hit. Since then, only 18 vintages have been produced, because when the harvest does not reach the desired quality, the winery bottles the wine as a Reserva Especial.
The Douro River not only had a huge impact on the region in terms of terroir, but it was also a great help to the producers, as it made their products more accessible. The barrels full of Porto wines from the distant plantations were transported by ships called Rabelos to the cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia, located opposite Porto, on the other side of the river, for further maturation. However, it took days for the shipments to reach the cellars from the vineyard.
The change was initiated by an unfortunate accident. In 1861, the ship of a British wine merchant and mapmaker named Joseph Forrester capsized on the river due to a large cargo of gold of considerable weight. In the accident, the merchant and all his products were lost, and only the ladies traveling with him survived, it is assumed that the crinoline they wore, which was fashionable at the time, kept them afloat.
After the accident, the boats transporting the wines were gradually replaced by trucks, and 12 years after Forrester’s death, the construction of a single-track railway line began, which currently stretches from Porto to the Spanish border, passing through dozens of tunnels and bridges, and which railway line, due to its special beauty, has since also been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This railway was a revolutionary innovation for producers.
The region has three sub-regions, each located along a different stretch of the Douro River, covering different aspects of the area’s hot continental climate.
- To the east, near the Spanish border, is the furthest area Douro Superior, which accounts for only 2% of the region’s vineyards. This part of the Douro is with the hottest and most extreme weather, characterized by dryness and hellish summers. The number of vineyards here has historically been limited and still quite sparse, but in recent years more and more significant plantings have taken place as growers have begun to discover the potential of this dormant sub-region.
- The central part of the Douro is Cima Corgo, located around the village of Pinhão, where most of the high-end Vintage Port wines come from. It is the largest of the three sub-regions and accounts for almost half of Douro’s total wine production. Its steep vineyards grow predominantly on shale soil filled with granite deposits. Grapes closer to the river usually ripen much earlier than those higher up, because the river holds the heat more easily and longer than the air.
- The closest sub-region to the city of Porto is called Baixo Corgo, which is best suited for making table wines. This is the smallest sub-region with the mildest climate and the most rainfall, but it has the highest concentration of vineyards. In terms of infrastructure, it is also the most accessible area. Being the westernmost sub-region, it is the coolest and wettest of the three due to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, so its wines are slightly lighter and of lower quality compared to the other two sub-regions.
The Douro wine regulations since 1979 (both the temperature-controlled fermentation and the gentler extraction of tannins) resulted in an improvement in quality as a result of which producers began to use their best grapes to make table wines, instead of Port wines. As a result, the Douro Valley has become one of the world’s most exciting red wine-producing regions almost from nothing. It took centuries to produce world-class table wines in the region, but it was worth the wait.
The climate of the wine region is strongly influenced not only by the Douro River that crosses the region but also by the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding Marão mountain range.
The region’s vineyards rise steeply above the river, on slopes of up to 45 degrees. The vines struggle to find water in a region with very little annual rainfall. Thus, all the plant’s energy is concentrated on the fruit. The unforgiving terrain also limits the availability of mechanized work, so winemakers must perform almost all viticultural operations by hand.
The Douro is one of the richest regions of indigenous grape varieties, with more than 110 unique varieties, many of which have survived the Middle Ages.
Among them, five red varieties stand out: Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão, Touriga Franca, and Touriga Nacional. And each has a unique personality: Touriga Nacional is deep-colored, powerful, and structured, Touriga Franca is fruity and perfumed, Tinta Barroca is robust and sweet, Tinta Roriz is elegant and long-lasting, while Tinto Cão is spicy and concentrated.
Although there is no Douro without Port wines, nowadays even the most well-known wine experts recognize that the region offers ideal conditions for the production of the highest quality red and white wines. Local producers produce impressive table wines that are some of the most intense and complex in Portugal. While the white wines are also surprisingly delicious, especially if they are made from grapes grown in higher, cooler areas, it is their red wines that are really exciting, almost all of which are so-called blends, i.e. a mixture of different grape varieties.
But in addition, award-winning sparkling wines and even Moscatel wines are also produced in the region.
If you want to explore this beautiful region, I recommend starting your trip to Porto. Portugal’s second-largest, picturesque city rises steeply above the river with its narrow streets. Take a boat trip on the Douro River, walk across the Dom Luís I bridge, enjoy a seafood lunch at a local restaurant overlooking the river, and then sip a refreshing Porto-Tonic cocktail at a nearby bar.
After exploring the city, head to the Douro! Take a wine tour at one of the wineries where you can sit on Quinta’s terrace and simply enjoy the beautiful scenery surrounding the estate while tasting the winery’s excellent wines.
There are many treasures to be discovered in the homeland of the world-famous fortified wine, so it is definitely worth visiting the steep valleys and the grapes growing in the terraced vineyards, as well as participating in a wine tasting or two, even at several wineries.
Although the region was difficult to access for centuries, today, thanks to infrastructural developments, you can easily explore the landscape by car, train, helicopter, or even by boat. So what are you waiting for? Adventure up!
WHAT TO TASTE
Raposeira Reserve Brut Espumante
Founded over 120 years ago, Caves da Raposeira now is a leading sparkling wine producer in Douro. The winery is located in Lamego where the wines’ prestige dates back to the 16th century.
Raposeira produces sparkling wines with the traditional champagne method, aging in the cellar always more than two years. This quality earns it the almost permanent leadership of the sector at a national level.
This Reserve Brut sparkling wine comes from the Malvasia Fina, Cerceal, and Gouveio Real grape varieties, presented a slightly citrine color with fine bubbles.
Fresh on the nose, with discreet fruity aromas of lime, green apple, and pear, accompanied by more mineral and floral notes.
In the mouth, a brilliant sparkling wine, light and smooth, where the good acidity and low sugar level make for a dry taste.
Endowed with fruity aromas and a persistent palate, it is ideal as an aperitif or digestive. Also good to accompany roast meat dishes, as an excellent option for a dinner with friends.
Pata D’Urso Red
The grapes come from the old vineyards of Quinta da Furada, in Ervedosa do Douro. Long aging in French oak barrels.
A well-designed label on the bottle. The origin of the name ‘Pata d’Urso’ (Bear Paw in English) is a very nice story. In the history of the Quinta, there was a very interesting episode about the existence of bears on the territory until the 18th century. At that time, bear hunting was a privilege only for a few. Whenever a bear was hunted, the hunter had to pay the charge, giving one or two paws of the bear to the landowner, because the paw was considered a true “delicacy of the Gods”.
The wine is a complex drink with light ruby color. Intense fruity aromas of red berries, cherry, raspberry, and strawberry on the nose, with some notes of smoke, wood, and vanilla.
On the palate, remarkable complexity and a lovely bouquet of red fruits and jams, mixed with a touch of coffee and dried figs. Good concentration and magnificent texture with a perfect balance between excellent acidity and rounded tannins. The wood is well integrated into the wine, making it elegant. A full-bodied, but silky dry wine in the mouth. The velvety finish lasts several minutes.
Goes well with roasts, wild and red meats.
Piano Douro Muscat Reserve
Founded in 1985, Carlos Alonso Douro Wine Company is an independent family business, located in Alijó in the center of the Douro region.
Piano is the brand that perfectly interprets the dream of the Alonso family: to produce wines that echo through time, filled with harmony between tradition and innovation, touch history with modern notes, and inspire the world with memorable sensory experiences.
This Moscatel wine was produced with 100% of Moscatel Galego Branco grape. It has a beautiful golden-yellow color and presents a very intense aroma on the nose, dominated by the noble oxidation of aging in wood. The notes of orange jam, the floral notes characteristic of the grape variety, the exotic wood, and the dry fruit’s characteristic of aging stand out. Its maturation in wood made the wine more complex, increasing its richness and nobility. In the mouth, it is a wine with a good balance between acidity and sweetness, full-bodied and with good structure, with a long and delicate persistent finish.
The wine, with its 17% alcohol content, is ideal as an elegant aperitif (served cold) but goes very well with appetizers, pâtés, or rich desserts.
Quinta da Extrema EDIÇÃO II Red
On the eastern edge of the Douro Wine Region, close to the border with Spain, among the breathtaking landscapes of the International Park, there is an estate with 150 hectares of high vineyards that are called Colinas do Douro. In that winery, the respect for the land and the wisdom of men has created a portfolio of elegant, fresh, and mineral wines that the world Critic soon recognized.
This multi-awarded, deep purple-colored red wine is a blend of Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca grapes, and that was aged in 225 and 500 liters of new French oak barrels for 24 months.
The nose presents good floral and fruity notes, accompanied by soft notes of spices and a very appetizing vegetable aspect, as also sweet cedar notes and toasted cereal nuances. In the mouth, it is concentrated and juicy, with broad tannins but a velvety texture. The finish is persistent.
The wine goes well with white meats, roasts, and intensely flavored cheeses.