Douro Valley, located in Northern Portugal is undoubtedly the most beautiful wine region in the world. It is a region that boast breathtaking vineyards, which is further enhanced by the beauty of the majestic Douro River that meanders through the central heart of the valley. In addition to its jaw dropping vistas, what makes Douro Valley special is its wine, people, cuisine and culture. This wine region has been making quite a name for itself, going from a primarily Port producing region, to making world-class dry wines.
Douro is the oldest demarcated wine region in the world, formed in 1756. It is also a UNESCO world heritage site, in recognition of its steep terraces, winding roads, and hand-built stone walls. Douro has a rich history of winemaking going back 2000 years. Winemakers have deep respect for tradition and history yet they embrace modern-day technology to create wines that are truly exceptional. Having spent extensive time in Douro on my recent visit, it was apparent that there is a fresh new culture of experimentation as the wines express creativity and innovation. It is a region where tradition and modernity reside side by side. An old world wine region making new world wines.
The most famous wines of the Douro Valley are Port wines, but today Douro is not just known for its Ports, but also for red, white, rosé and sparkling wines. The landscape and terroir allow them to produce world-class wines. The soils are some of the most infertile soils you can get, whereby vines really struggle to produce fruit. The soils are comprised of schist and granite. In a region where rainfall is scares schist soils are ideal for grape growing. Schist holds water, thus allowing roots to dig deep and in turn produce rich, concentrated wines with nice minerality. The topography is represented in their wines, as the wines are big, bold and powerful. Due to its long wine growing history many of the vines were planted decades ago, some being 60 to 100 years old.
Douro wines can be characterized as mountain wines yet they vary greatly in style due to a range of micro climates, soils, terrior, altitude and aspect. There is a wine sure to please every palate. The hillside is steeply sloped with vines facing east, west, north, and south. In addition the styles of wines can differ dramatically if planted at the bottom of the slope near the river or at a higher altitude. Each plot of vines has its own identity and personality, and thus the wines of Douro are reflective of where they come from and have a distinct sense of place.
What is unique about the Douro Valley, are its grape varietals. Many wine growing regions have succumbed to the popularity of traditional grape varietal like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay. The Douro Valley has stayed true to its traditional and with deep respect for its history, it continues to make wines from local indigenous grapes. Touriga Nacional is the star grape, and often blended with other varietals. Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão and Sousão are widely planted reds. The top white grapes are Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Moscatel, Rabigato and Viosinho. The Douro is also making some phenomenal dry white wines.
One of the reasons to visit Douro is the beauty of its landscape, but the beauty of its people stood out to me just as equally. As guardians of this majestic valley, the people are humble, generous, warm, caring and most welcoming. The people of the Douro Valley are genuine and have great passion for their wine and the history of the region. Throughout my visit I was greatly touched by the small gestures of the winemakers and most notably our hosts Rita and Pedro who made our stay the most comfortable and special. I was invited as a journalist, but left as a friend. Many late nights were spent laughing with Douro wine in hand, all the while listening to exciting tales and magical stories of the customs and traditions of the region. The friends you make in Douro will make you feel like you have found a second home, they will make you want to come back to Douro over and over and over.
During my seven-day journey through the Douro Valley I came across wines that had tremendous complexity, that were well-balanced, and had smooth silky tannins. I was blown away with the value proposition. Many Douro wines are in $8 to $20 range, which is astonishing as the steep terraces and elevation all require hand harvesting, making the grapes of Douro some of the most expensive in the world.
The wines of Douro have a phenomenal future. These are exciting times for Douro winemakers and Douro wine lovers; there is a deluge of high quality wines coming from valley. If you like wines that are complex, balanced, and expressive, then you need to explore the wines of the Douro Valley. It is not just enough to drink the wines of Douro, a visit to the region to experience the Portuguese wines, culture, history, cuisine, landscapes and people are a must. And if you are like me, you too will leave your heart in Douro.