Over the last twenty years the Douro Valley has advanced from port wine mecca to an El Dorado for high-quality, concentrated and well-structured red wines.
History of the Douro wine region
The earliest documented mention of winemaking in the Douro Valley dates back to the Roman era around 200 years before the birth of Christ. However, the rise in Douro's fortunes as an internationally famous winegrowing region did not begin until the 17th century. As trade wars made imports of French wine into England impossible, English wine merchants looking for alternatives discovered the Douro Valley. In order to prevent spoilage during the long voyages, brandy was added to these wines. Thus port wine was born. In 1756, Portugal’s Prime Minister Marquês de Pombal laid down detailed rules about wine production in the region which became the world's first protected designation of origin in the history of viticulture. Until relatively recently, the Douro Valley with its eye-catching vine terraces was almost entirely given over to the production of port wine. It is only since the 1980s that high-quality red table wines have been produced here too.
The vine terraces of the Douro Valley are spectacular. They begin at Peso da Regua, around 80 kilometres to the east of where the Douro flows into the Atlantic and extend up to the border with Spain. The rocky soil is clearly dominated by black slate.
Owing to their different climates, the Douro Valley is divided into three subregions. The Baixo Corgo is still under the influence of cool and moist Atlantic air. At almost 1 000 millimetres a year, rainfall is plentiful. Lighter, more fruity wines are produced here. It is significantly hotter and drier in Cima Corgo and especially in the Douro Superior region, where annual rainfall is only 450 millimetres. The wines produced here are therefore more concentrated and powerful.
Douro red wines are intensely coloured, dark berried and concentrated, but also have a firm structure supported by a good tannic backbone. Since the vineyards here are located at altitudes of up to 800 metres, winemakers have also succeeded in imparting freshness to their crus. As a result, many highly complex and elegant white wines are also to be found here. Traditionally vinified port wines are in a class of their own and count among the highest quality, long-living sweet wines in the world.
Nowadays both red table wines and port wines are based predominantly on the five Douro grapes of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Amarela, Tinta Cao, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca. For white wines Rabigato, Gouveio, Viosinho and Encruzado are considered to be the best varieties.