Getting to Know Portugal's Douro Valley

Posted in: Wine Region Profiles
By Robert Johnson, Editor
Apr 22, 2009 - 8:00 AM

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    There's no better way to appreciate Portugal's Douro Valley winegrowing region than by taking a day cruise on the Douro River.

     The Douro Valley is a magnificent sight, and the farther inland one floats, away from the cities, the more "wild" the countryside becomes. At seemingly every curve, a new vineyard terrace or olive grove comes into view. Almond trees also are abundant.

     Of course, the river also serves an important purpose in terms of commerce: With so many quintas along its banks, it provides a key link in getting Port wines to market.

     Indeed, wine always has been the lifeblood of the Douro -- both the river and the valley -- as the long tradition of Port and table wine production helped foster the building of churches, towns and infrastructure. For this reason, in 1991, the Alto Douro was named to the World Heritage List of UNESCO.

     While a vast majority of the wine estates have adopted modern winemaking practices, a handful stubbornly stick to tradition and crush at least some of their grapes underfoot in large vats known as lagares. The fermentation process makes this perfectly sanitary, although the practice is both labor- and time-intensive.

     The Douro Valley has a moderate to hot climate, thanks to the production of two mountain ranges. There's plenty of sunshine during the growing season, and the occasional frosts are restricted to when the vines are dormant. The schist/slate soils permit the roots of the grapevines to establish themselves, and also drain well so the vines do not receive too much water.

     Portugal's Institute of Vine and Wine recognizes 341 grape varieties, but in the Douro Valley, most of the acreage is devoted to just three: Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Francesa (a.k.a. Touriga Franca).

     Those are the grapes primarily used in making the country's famous Port wines, but a number of excellent white and red tables wines -- as well as refreshing Roses -- also are crafted in the Douro Valley.

     As a wine, olive and olive oil hotbed, the Douro Valley offers an abundance of joy to foodies on holiday... and to folks like Vinesse wine club members who can enjoy the region's vinous bounty in the comfort of their own homes.

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