The Douro Valley, Not Just for Port Anymore

by Jeff Harding
Shannon Sturgis & Michal Vaerewijck
March 2012

The Douro Valley in Portugal—a DOC traditionally known for its production of Port wine—increasingly is becoming known for its unfortified wines, bottles that celebrate the valley's unique terroir and continued use of traditional grapes. The oldest demarcated region for wine production in the world, the Douro Valley is one of those anomaly wine regions whose climate changes from east to west, not north to south. To the west is the Lower Corgo, more influenced by the wet, cool Atlantic, and in the center is the Upper Corgo, the largest of the three sub-regions and home to most of the better-known quintas, or wine houses. Furthest east is the Douro Superior, with more continental weather (extremely hot summers, extremely cold winters) and the smallest amount of viticulture of the three regions. Interestingly, Porto itself has a climate unsuitable for growing grapes, but perfect for storing wines due to its cool and humid conditions.

Portuguese Legalese

Steeped in history, and named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2001, the Douro Valley's wine laws originally evolved into a system where production and export had to be carried out by separate parties. This law was abolished in 1986, allowing quintas to sell their own still wines, which has led to an exciting, evolving revival of traditional wine production in the Douro Valley.

Spread the Word, Taste the Wine

Enter the Douro Boys, a loose confederation of winemakers whose main goal is to market these unique wines, and let the world know that Douro wine means much more than just Port. They value using traditional grape varieties, and even holding on, where possible, to the old lagare production method for some wines—stomping grapes by foot, a more gentle method than modern machinery that can crush the grape seeds and release harsh tannins. At a recent tasting and presentation by the charming—and charismatic—Douro Boys, we tasted the wide variety of wines that brought to life the flavor (and future) of this beautiful winemaking region.

Tasting Notes:

Quinto do Crasto Reserva Old Vines, Douro, 2009

Quinto do Crasto Reserva Old Vines, Douro, 2009: A blend of more than 25 grape varieties (the older vineyards are a mix of different vines), certain to include some of the "top cinco:" Touriga Nacional for structure; Touriga Franca for bouquet and length of finish; Tinta Roriz, known as Tempranillo in Spain; Tinto Cấo, with low yields but great concentration of flavor and spicy bouquet; and Tinta Barroca, a robust grape to add fullness to blends. The Reserva is an example of brilliant blending, characterized by mature soft tannins with a strong, fruity finish. ($36 retail)

Quinta do Crasto, Crasto White, Douro, 2010
Quinta do Crasto, Crasto White, Douro, 2010: Vibrant and fresh, made with Gouveio, Roupeiro, and Rabigato grapes. White flower on the nose, followed by crisp citrus on the palate. Vines more than 20 years old lend a round richness that is unexpected but perfectly balanced. ($15 retail)
Quinta Vale D. Maria, Van Zellers White, Douro, 2010

Quinta Vale D. Maria, Van Zellers White, Douro, 2010: A blend of Viosinho, Rabigato, Codega, and Gouveio, with vines from 30 to 80 years old. More floral than citrus with pleasant spring hints of grass, the mouthfeel is round with an almond richness and a refreshing mellow citrus on the finish. ($16 retail)

Niepoort, Vertente, Douro, 2008

Niepoort, Vertente, Douro, 2008: A blend of many grapes lends a dark ruby robe, elegant and light on the nose, but full of baked red fruit, like raspberry pie, on the palate. Although rich in minerality, spice, and lush tannins, here the fruit sings loudest. ($27 retail)

Mordoree Tavelrose

Quinta do Vallado Reserva Field Blend, Douro, 2009: Mostly old vines and more than 20 grape varieties, including Tinta Roriz, Tinta Amarela, and Touriga Franca. Surprisingly big for such a young wine, due to the complex soil and old vines. Mellow and rich earth notes are balanced by baked fig and plum fruit on the palate. ($65 retail)

Quinto do Vale Meão Vintage Port, 2008

Quinto do Vale Meão Vintage Port, 2008: Rich tannins, yet somehow lightly refreshing for a Port; black and red fruit stand out in the loamy soil notes. A blend of Tinta Barroca, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Sousão, and Tinto Cão make this Port just right after a big meal: sweet and rich, but not overpowering. ($70 retail)

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