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Douro River

Douro: where Port Wine Grapes are Grown

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Douro: where Port Wine Grapes are Grown

Douro valley
Douro region

We inch up the serpentine bends, pulling the car precariously close to the side of the narrow road closer to the river, as an SUV returning from the mountain, hurtles down in haste. We draw in deep breaths, keeping our eyes as wide open as the glare of the sun will allow. Below us lies a latticework of vines growing in schist rock terraces, arranged at pleasing angles.

As if splitting the mountain interface, the mighty Douro river carves its way, flowing between Portugal and Spain. The river has witnessed the efforts of man and vine for more than 2000 years; in 1991 the Alto Douro was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site because of the long tradition of Port production and the resultant development in infrastructure in the area.

Visit to Douro
Douro wine valley

We stop off to the side of the road as safely as we can, one of us keeps an eye out for possible oncoming traffic, the other takes a few photographs. The Douro wine valley is as spectacular as they say, but even in the heat of summer, there are very few tourists. There are a number of rural houses across the river, some with a noble edge, and they cast ethereal shadows in the flat green waters. The terrain is unique and I feel a growing curiosity about the history and people who live and work here.

While the grapes for some incredibly good table wines, of which we have had the pleasure over three months of living in Portugal to sample, are grown here in the Douro, the region is most famous for excellent Ports or fortified wines. In picturesque Oporto, one of our favourite Portuguese cities which lies at the basin of the Douro, you will see prominent signs advertising the names of Port wine cellars. Port is stored in these cool cellars, but in order to get there, trucks must traverse the precarious journey down. We are told that it isn’t uncommon during harvest season for more than one collision or for a truck to tragically take a tumble over the side.

Douro
Tourism to Douro

In the old days, barrels of pressed grapes were transported by rabelo along the unpredictable Douro.

At various estates or quintas, you may still find rudimentary chapels built in the old style – these were houses of worship where the stewards of those small vessels would come to pray for safe passage.

At Quinta do Crasto, we are taken up to admire the views of the valley from the pool area before our tasting commences and the eye is tricked into believing the pool flows into the Douro river.

It is here that we are reminded what we have been told before, that as popular as Port is, it isn’t so with the Portuguese. Rather, it’s an English custom that seems to live on; naturally much of the port produced is for export. The Douro developed the first appellation system, a wine classification to distinguish the three regions in which the grapes are grown. This was developed 200 years before the French system!

View toward Douro river

Later on at Quinta do Nova, we both agree that this could be the very spot for a renewal of wedding vows, except we both know we have family who wouldn’t commit to scaling the hills to get here. Lunch is an elaborate affair paired with the estate’s wines, under the shaded pergola.

Portuguese Port Wine
Wine Tasting

After a day of exploring, wine tasting (the driver must opt for sensibility, the roads aren’t worth the risk), and taking in views we head back to the beautiful CS Vintage House Hotel for a nap and a shower before dinner at Rui Paula’s DOC, a sleek and modern restaurant with an excellent reputation, on the water’s edge.

Wine tasting in Portugal
Holiday at Douro

And tomorrow? We’ll blissfully do it all again.

Douro region
Douro tourists
Douro 15.jpg
Douro 16.jpg

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Food & Wine: Any Port in a storm

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Food & Wine: Any Port in a storm

By Robert Rabine

It’s finally getting cold and the holidays are here. Now is the perfect time to snuggle up next to the fire with a good glass of fortified red wine from the Douro Valley. A glass of what? From where? Port…you know, from Portugal.

When I was younger I had two misconceptions about port: (1) I used to think it gave me a hangover from all the sugar. Wrong. It was from all the assorted cocktails and glasses of wine I drank before actually getting to the port. (2) They added alcohol to port because the Portuguese wine itself was so bad. Well, not exactly. Initially, in the 1690s, they added a small amount of aguardente (similar to brandy) to plain red wine to stabilize it for shipping. Port was established as a protected appellation in 1756, but by the early 1800s the product had evolved into something quite different. Gradually, they began adding the aguardente to the barrels to stop fermentation while the wine was still sweet and strong (20 percent alcohol). It eventually became something similar to today’s port.

It’s called port because it was always shipped from the seaside city of Porto on the Atlantic coast of Portugal. Which is weird, if you think about it. That would be like calling all wine from Napa Valley “San Mateo.” Port is actually grown and bottled in the hot, dry Douro Valley along the Douro River in northeastern Portugal. There are three sub-appellations that make different types of port reflecting their distinct terroirs. Most inexpensive ruby and tawny ports come from the Baixo (lower) Corgo. Tawny ports are barrel-aged and allow for considerable oxidation and evaporation in the barrel; hence their brownish color and somewhat nutty flavor. The Cima (upper) Corgo is hotter and gets less rainfall. It produces the best bottle-aged vintage and ruby ports. These are characterized by their bright color and freshness.

More fun facts: The grapes used in red ports are usually a blend of five or six varieties, both indigenous (like touriga nacional) and imports (like tempranillo). There are also white and rose ports. A LBV, or late bottle vintage, has spent more time in the barrel before being bottled due to lack of demand. Serve port at around 63 degrees Farenheit. The glass should be around 4 ounces and have a small bowl with sides that angle inward, like a shorter, fatter champagne flute. Vintage ports can be incredibly long lived. Always decant older ports, but drink them right away. The individual port houses – like Dow, Warres, Cockburn – decide when to declare the year a “vintage” year-meaning worthy of aging, but it must be approved by the Institute of Port. It’s in Lisbon. Not surprisingly, I have actually been there.

Source: shorelinetimes.com

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Portugal Finest Wine Regions - Douro Wines

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Portugal Finest Wine Regions - Douro Wines

Following our previous post of Portugal Wine & Vineyards’ where we presented the Tejo wine region, I want you to continue to be enchanted by this fine country by helping you to discover the one of the oldest wine regions in the world – Douro Region, also known by Porto wine region

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The Douro valley is one of the most impressive landscapes in the world. Unesco has classify it as a World Heritage site.

"Wine has been produced by traditional landholders in the Alto Douro region for some 2,000 years. Since the 18th century, its main product, port wine, has been world famous for its quality. This long tradition of viticulture has produced a cultural landscape of outstanding beauty that reflects its technological, social and economic evolution. It is an outstanding example of a traditional European wine-producing region, reflecting the evolution of this human activity over time."

Source: UNESCO

The extraordinary stepped terraces hill sided have been carved by generations of men who labored the land to produce the finest liqueur on hearth – the Porto Wines.

The region offers great contrasts, the Douro is marked by the shale mountains ranges of Marão and Montemuro, sheltered from Atlantic winds and creating a Mediterranean and continental climate. The Douro River and its tributaries wend their way at the bottom of vertiginous valleys, forming a landscape of wild and mysterious beauty subject to huge temperature changes from scorching summers to freezing winters.

Itineraries for the tourist are endless, from the famed Port producing “quintas” to the more recently-discovered pre-historic rock-carvings along the banks of the River Côa. There are fine restaurants and good hotels to discover, with boat trips up the Douro and steam-train journeys – all within sight of the countryside’s breathtaking beauty. Regional cuisine is matched well by fabulous Ports and the ever-increasing number of fine Douro wines.

Visiting the region

When visiting the region you will not only discover the magnificent beauty of Douro valley and its river you will also discover its history and its people. To go on a journey to discover this unique place, with unique history and culture you can chose the historic steam train – put it in your diary for this year between 5 June and 9 October 2010; by car, up and down the landscape or in a delightful cruise along the river with service on board and stops on the most charming little places. You will not forget this experience. Please click on the following link http://ow.ly/1i6A0 to view the river tour and for more information about cruises please go to http://ow.ly/1i6Ih

Enology

Today, there are two distinctly different ways of making a Douro wine.  The traditional method, where the grapes are trod in a lagar – a wide, shallow granite tank – produces wines with more colour and tannins which, generally speaking, improves their potential for ageing.  On the other hand, there is a more modern method that has risen in popularity, where the wines are made in stainless steel tanks under controlled temperatures.  The latter wines are more elegant and the aromas of the wine are better preserved.  Some winemakers use both winemaking techniques in order to obtain more complex wines.

There have also been changes in the manner by which these wines are aged before they are bottled.  Traditionally, the wines were aged in large wooden vats although these are being gradually replaced by oak casks or by stainless steel tanks.

Grapes variety

Grapes variety.jpg

Vintage, some of the best years

The year 1994: A “monumental” vintage, even more intense than that of 1992, with tannins and fruit concentration. According to James Suckling from the American magazine Wine Spectator, which back in 1997 attributed the highest rating (100 points) to the Taylor and da Fonseca Vintages, as well as first place among the hundred best wines of that year, “Great Vintage Ports as the ones from this year come around only a few times in a lifetime “. A general declaration. Excellent weather, harvests under ideal conditions, with perfect grapes.

The year 1992: Exceptional vintage, with tannins and fruit concentrations.

The year 1991: Excellent vintage, harmonious and rich. Hot and dry summer, with only a few light rains at the beginning of September. Harvest under ideal conditions.

The year 1989: Very hot summer. Premature harvest, under ideal climatic conditions. Some excellent wines.

The year 1987 Very dry winter and spring. Slow maturation. Very hot and dry summer. Premature harvest, at the beginning of September. It was not a Vintage year, because of the low production. Few producers declared production, although there were several single-quinta wines. Very fine and fruity wines.

The year 1985: Wines with a very fine aroma. Exceptional quality. A classic Vintage, with intense aromas and a firm structure in fruit and tannins. Almost all producers declared production. Excellent weather. Cold start to winter, but warm February and March. Some rain in spring and normal temperatures until summer. A very hot June, followed by a normal summer. Harvest under perfect conditions.

(...)

The year 1966: Exceptional quality. Very sweet wines and rich in tannins, some of them sublime, with large aging capacity. Almost all producers declared production. Normal winter, with some rain, but afterwards the weather became dry between April and September. Grapes with a high sugar level, some of them burned. It only rained slightly at the beginning of the harvest (end of September). Scarce production.

The year 1963: A classic Vintage, intense and balanced, deep-purple, fruity and with a large aging capacity. “An apotheosis of Vintage”, as Chantal Lecouty said. Almost all producers declared production. Large production. Normal winter and cold rainy spring, but with good weather when blooming. Hot and dry summer. It only drizzled just before the harvests. During the harvest (end of September), perfect weather, with very hot days and cool nights.

The year 1960: Excellent quality, with sweet and elegant wines, with a good structure and much colour and body. Almost all companies declared production. Very hot year and premature maturity. The harvests started in the second week of September, initially with hot weather but with drizzling rain and cold after 24 September, which harmed the later harvests.

(…)

The year 1935: A classic Vintage, but some producers did not declare production because of having declared it in the previous year (example of a “split Vintage”). A harmonious wine, rich in fruity aromas and rich in tannins. Dry winter, Abnormally cold spring, with some frosts. Late blooming and fructification. Irregular summer, but the harvest occurred under ideal conditions. In 1937, Sandeman bottled its entire 1935 Vintage, simultaneously celebrating the George V (1935) Jubilee and the Coronation of George VI (1937), with two allusive medallions engraved on the bottles.

The Year 1934:Exceptional quality, mature and fruity, despite being a year of unstable weather. Dry winter, rainy spring. Late blooming and fructification. A very hot July. Some rain in September. A late harvest at the beginning of October, with ideal weather.

(…)

The year 1873: Great Vintage, with characteristics of sweetness. Almost all companies declared production. Late harvest, in ideal weather conditions.

The year 1872: Excellent Vintage, with very delicate and rich wines that proved to be better than was initially expected. Many companies declared production and others did not because they chose to give privilege to the previous year.

The year 1870: Great Vintage, very delicate and full-bodied, comparable to that of 1834, according to some traders. All companies declared. Scarce production.

The year 1868: One of the most delicate Vintages of the 19th Century, very rich and strong. A very hot year. In August the grapes appeared to be burnt and the year seemed a write-off. But a light rain that fell before the harvest saved the production. All companies declared production.

The year 1863: A great Vintage, one of the best years in the history of Port, according to Ernest Cockburn. A very hot year until the end of August. All companies declared production.

(…)

For more information and complete list please visit Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto.

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