I have had the good fortune to visit vineyard regions around the world. The Douro Valley, home of table wines and port wines was one I had always wanted to experience and, for my recent birthday my wife organised a visit. I shall come on to the table wines in the next post, port takes centre stage this time.
The English had a large role in developing the port trade and vineyards having signed an exclusive trade deal for the wines with the country’s oldest ally, Portugal. To help preserve the wines on the bumpy river journey from the Douro valley to Porto and the sea journey to England alcohol was added to the wine. Port wine has long been a favourite here in the UK and for me personally. So, it was a true delight to finally get to see the famous vineyards and the port lodges of Porto.
We wandered around the riverbank on the other side from Porto in Vila Nova De Gaia where the most famous port houses have their bases. At Calem there was an excellent tour with high tech displays showing the various types of port and how they are produced.
Quinta Da Noval is one of my favourite port producers and I enjoyed the tasting there of various types from white port to vintage via ruby and tawny. On to lunch at Graham’s on the hilltop with its excellent views over the river and its bridges.
A splendid lunch it was too and dessert was accompanied by tawny port of 10 and 20 years age. The bottles were 4,5l (6 standard bottles) and we were told to help ourselves, a dangerous invitation. The 20 year old tawny was especially delicious, perhaps the best wine I had all week.
However, there are a number of smaller independent producers and it was good to try some of those too, I do like to get away from the big names. Wine bars such as Portologia and Capella Incomum served such wines as Quinta Seara d’Ordens and Quinta Infantado, just as good as the more famous producers.
A day trip to the Douro valley itself with Douro First tours was the highlight however. A boat trip on the river, stunning viewpoints, an excellent lunch and tastings accompanied by an informative, knowledgeable and caring guide in Nuno. A full day, sadly with the worst weather of the week but that did not spoil the stunning scenery nor dull the respect I developed for these winemakers tending their vines on the near vertical slopes.
Note the green strips on the terrace with 3 rows of vines on each
The tastings were at Quinta do Beijo and Casa Dos Barros (also known as Vintage Theory)and reinforced the opinion that independent producers deserve a higher profile with port consumers. Joao Monteiro greeted us and took us round the cellars tasting the table wines and ports. Highlights included the concrete tanks where the grapes are still trodden by feet and the old barrels the biggest holding 19,000 litres, the oldest 170 years old!
The ports themselves were equally impressive, a lovely young tawny and especially an amazing white port of 1963, almost as old as me after that recent birthday. The white port gets darker with age because of oxidation so that it becomes a similar colour to the tawny ports which lighten in colour with age. Do Beijo had recently won a Gold Medal at The International Wine Challenge for its 40 year old tawny. It was magnificent, liquid sunshine which lingered in the mouth until lunch.
The tawny ports of Vintage Theory were very good too, the 20 year old my personal highlight. The 20 year old tawny wines have a good balance of fruity wine with the complexity of barrel ageing.
This was also where we had lunch in a lovely restaurant.
The terracing and dry stone walls which make vine growing possible in this valley are something to behold. Narrow strips of land with just one or two rows of vines were common, the effort in doing vineyard work must be immense. The results are worth that effort and port is under appreciated around the world. There is a lot to learn, white port was my major discovery on the visit and I still don’t fully understand colheitas. It will be fun to learn though!