The Douro region can hit 40 degrees in high summer, so its spectacular terraced vineyards are best suited to the production of rich, full-bodied reds. Traditionally the grapes were destined for Port, notably Touriga Nacional with its ability to withstand heat. The jury’s perennially out on whether it is rewarding a single varietal table red but, blended with the likes of Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), Bastardo, Tinta Amarela, Touriga Franca and Tinta Barroca from the highest sites, its fruity exuberance can be channeled into real elegance.
Thee days you’ll find the Douro increasingly populated with luxury cruise vessels where you can sample such increasingly appreciated wines on board or stopping off at the various quintas (estates) dedicated to wine tourism.
You can’t stay at the winery of Alves de Sousa, alas. Which is shame since they are spectacularly situated above the winding Douro. Te de Sousa family cultivate their five estates containing 110 hectares of vines, some over 100 years old. The winery, open to visitors is at the Quinta da Gaivosa. Visitors are welcome all year round, by appointment only (+351 254 822 111. The whole range is outstanding.
Our VIP visit culminated in a hair-raising four wheel dusk drive up 1 in 4, rutted mud tracks through pine and eucalyptus forests to the topmost vineyard, which produces their Vinho do Abandonado. Wine of the Abandoned, the first of my five recommended Douro Reds.
Alves de Sousa, Abandonado, Douro, Douro Valley, 2015 (£80)
‘Abandoned’ because it took year to recover the 85 year-old site. It was worth the effort. The 2015, a field blend (mixed vines in one plot) is inky, spicy intense yet surprisingly refined on the palate, with liquorice and black berry dominating. At this price, it’ one for the committed Dourophile. Count me in. All prices below re rrp.
Nat’Cool Voyeur Nierpoot 2019 (£30)
Very much at the opposite end of the Douro spectrum – from the region’s most restless groundbreaker, Dirk Neeport, now dipping his toes into the natural wine sector. Six amphora reds and whites, from vines 40-50 years old, and from six varying sites each year. Each site spent 6 months in 1000L Spanish amphora, lined with beeswax, prior to blending in stainless steel, returning to amphorae for a couple of months, and then bottling with minimal sulphur added. Result is a very fresh red with soft almost silky tannins, pale because of the presence of some white grapes in the blend. It bursts with redcurrant and raspberry fruit but it’s also quite earthy. Worth chilling slightly. If you seek a more traditional Neepoort red go for Redom Tinto 2018 (£40) or the top of the range Batuta 2017 (£80), both of which were in stunning form at a recent Manchester tasting.
Quinta do Vallado Reserva Field Blend 2018 (£33.90)
The entry level Tinto is a field blend too, but I’d recommend upgrading to the Reserva, always one of my favourite Douro reds, from a beautiful estate that dates back to 1716 but has moved with the times by hosting two highly recommended boutique hotels. Their elegance is shared by this fig-scented red that unleashes oodles of cherry and plum fruit.
Quinta de la Rosa Reserve Red 2017 (£38)
This estate upholds the old Portuguese tradition of treading the grapes in granite lagares – before transferring to stainless-steel vats for fermentation. After which it is matured for 20 months in used French oak casks. Result is a medium-bodied charmer with balanced acidity and a beguiling freshness.
Quinta do Crasto Reserva Old Vines 2017 (£29.95)
Complex and concentrated with a strong herbiness, this one needs a a couple of years but its juicy cherry fruit is tempting now. Maybe one to decant. Or just choose a simpler Crasto from lower in the range.
VISITING THE DOURO
If you ever get the chance travel up the valley from Porto. If you’re driving allow yourself plenty of time. Steepling hairpin bends offer spectacular views but make taxing motoring, particularly if you get stuck behind a tractor. Boat trip, as mentioned, offer a more laidback oenophile odyssey. Then there is the spectacular 175km Linha do Douro rail service up to Pochino by the Spanish border – one of the world’s great train journeys, much of it alongside the broad, swirling river, and on Saturdays offering a steam service from Regua to Tua (www.cp.pt).
Where to stay. In sleepy Pinhão, the heart of the quality vineyard area, where I recommend Vintage House Hotel, sister hotel to The Yeatman in Porto. This fomrer Port warehouse was repurchased and renovated in 2016 by the enterprising Fladgate Partnership, who own 500, hectares of vineyards nearby. So a great base to expand your knowledge of Douro wines.
BUT WHAT ABOUT PORT, YOU ASK?
OK, but let me stray leftfield to White Port. Served chilled, it makes a delightful aperitif. I first discovered its charms while staying at Vintage House. I’ve not drunk the Porto Quevedo since but a beautiful substitute, sharing the same honeyed colour and hints of pear drop on the palate with a long dry finish is The Quinta de la Rosa White Port (£15.95). It would be deceptively easy to sink the whole 50cl bottle but beware it’s 19.5 per cent.
The best foodie guide for any visitor to Portugal, with a strong section on Oporto and the Douro, is The Wine and Food Lovers’ Guide to Portugal by Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter (Inn House Publishing, £16.95).
Portuguese wines. To discover where to buy the finest in Britain visit www.viniportugal.co.uk.