by Emmanuel Cadieu
The Valley of Gold
Our Deputy Head Sommelier, Emmanuel recently came back from a trip to the Douro Valley, Portugal.
The Douro Valley, or Valley of Gold (De Ouro meaning Gold in Portuguese) is certainly one of the most unique and exciting wine regions to visit. Classified in 2001 as a Unesco World Heritage site, the region offers not only stunning wines but also fantastic landscapes. The roads in the Douro takes you along the river and the hills, where you can observe the Solcacos, original stoned terrasses and Patamares, allowing a partial mechanisation of the vineyard, planted on schist and granite. The region is composed from (west to east) three sub-regions: Baixa Corgo, Cima Corgo, Douro Superior.
Fortified wines and more
The Methuen Treaty, known as the ‘Port Wine Treaty’ and set in 1703, encouraged Port to be produced and sold in large quantities. The treaty stipulated that the duty on Portuguese wine would be lower than duty on French wines, encouraging and establishing trading relationships between England and Portugal.
The region is of course mainly known for tremendous fortified wines, but the quality of the still and dry expressions grows year on year, and I came across fantastic examples of still whites and reds during the trip.
Port is a fortified wine, meaning that the fermentation is stopped by the addition of a grape spirit (called aguardiente) at 77%, which kills the active yeast cells, and therefore keeps the residual sugar in the wine.
The grapes are traditionally crushed by foot in traditional lagares (granite or cement vessel), before the fermentation process. Finally, the Aguardiente is added to stop the fermentation and prevent sugars turning into alcohol.
Historically, Port wines were aged in Portlodges in Vila Nova de Gaia, being shipped down the river to the coast with Rabelos, traditional boats used specifically for this purpose. Access to the vineyards has eased considerably over the past 10 years; constructing roads and the creation of the railway were just a couple of developments made to make it much easier to access the vineyards and transport the grapes.
The Douro Valley wineries
I’ve visited 8 producers in total. I first started with a complete trip with the Douro Boys.
The Douro Boys are a group of five of the best winemakers from the Douro: Niepoort, Quinta do Vallado, Quinta do Crasto, Quinta do Vale D. Maria and Quinta do Vale Meao. Each of those producers have their personnal styles, and they join forces in order to showcase their wines and educate wine lovers about the Douro Valley, organising masterclasses, tastings and seminars.
Dirk Niepoort, whose family has been making wine since 1842, is now based at Quinta do Napoles and Quinta do Carril. Originally from Holland, he’s now the fifth generation.
While he keeps the tradition of making great Ports, he also produces other fantastic expressions, continuously looking for the best terroirs to make wines that inspire him. For instance, Coche (white) and Charmes are produced in the Burgundian style, and a million miles away from what we have in mind when talking about Douro wines. He is one of the most talented winemakers but also one of the most provocative from the Douro Valley. Niepoort is also famous for making Garrafeira Port, maturing Port into demijohns over a few decades.
Discover the other wineries in the next part of my Sommelier’s Diaries!