Curious Small Sips #32: Douro

Vineyards along the Douro river in Portugal

The Douro Valley is the world’s largest mountainous vineyard. Carving through the north of Portugal, the Douro River, also known as ‘The River of Gold’, has been a winemaking hub since the 3rd century AD, rising in prominence as a exporter of wine in the late 17th century.

The terroir of the valley is a natural amphitheatre for vineyards, a place where vines perform at their best—similar to the Mosel region in Germany. With three divisions (Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo, and Douro Superior), each with their own distinct characteristics, there are multiple microclimates along the Douro river. And this mountainous land has poor soils with a lot of schist and slate, forcing the vine roots to dig deep for water sources. These complex conditions favour only resilient grapes that produce dry full-bodied, balanced wines with firm and round tannins.

The best known of these tough domestic grapes are Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cao, and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo). Although perhaps not quite household names, in the right hands, they nevertheless produce fabulous wines.

Until the late 1970s, most of the wines made in the Douro Valley were created for Port production. It is only in recent years that there has been some serious focus on unfortified table wines, with some magical results.

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