This past Friday, I opened up my copy of The Financial Times, skimming its pages over my morning cup of Portuguese espresso. And there it was: a feature on the Douro Valley and Tony Smith, an English ex-journalist who has set up shop there and is now making wines at Quinta da Boavista.
I can relate to the desire. My first visit to the Douro was in the summer of 2009, when I was still in law school. I fell in love in a matter of minutes - it's almost impossible not to. The place is visually stunning. I remember images from my first visit clearly. The sky was clear and egg-shell blue, expansive over the sloped vineyards planted on rugged mountainsides that had the Douro River lapping at their feet. I am not exaggerating when I say that my life was forever changed. Returning to long hours in the library when the beautiful world of the Douro Valley beckoned was heartbreaking.
The Douro DOC is increasingly the subject of media attention. Eric Asimov of The New York Times put it simply: "The Douro Valley region of Portugal has so much going in its favor, it's almost ridiculous."
Part of what makes the Douro so spectacular is its rich history. It is, in fact, the world's oldest demarcated wine region. It was created in 1756, a full 20 years before the United States became a country!
Where exactly is this historic, true gem of a wine region? The Douro is in the north of Portugal. It stretches from just east of the city of Porto all the way east to the Spanish-Portuguese border. The Douro is rugged, wild mountain terrain with vineyards planted anywhere between 200 and 850 meters' altitude. The soil in the Douro is as rugged as the landscape, but extremely well-suited to making top quality wines. The soils are primarily schist, which is a type of rock resembling slate. Douro soils are well-draining. They retain ideal amounts of moisture for vine growth - just enough to push the vine to grow its roots deep into the soil, just enough to encourage top-quality grape growth. Douro soils accommodate the often extreme weather conditions in the region, reflecting daytime heat to sustain vines during the crisp, high-altitude evening temperatures. As you can begin to see, the Douro is nothing like your average, cookie-cutter wine region. You could call it a winemaking frontier.
Like many things Portuguese, this wine region comes in a small package. The Douro in its entirety is about the size of the U.S. city of Jacksonville, Florida. About 46,000 hectares (178 square miles) are planted with vineyards. While the total land under vine in the Douro is relatively small, the region is unquestionably rich in resources, with unique grape varieties that are native to it. In fact, many of the Douro's trademark grape varieties aren't grown anywhere else in the world. So if you're thinking wine with character, think Douro. The region's unique grape varieties enable winemakers to produce excellent, inimitable wines: one sip will say 'Douro.' Look out for the most important Douro grape varieties, which include Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cao. If you're a port drinker, these grape varieties will taste familiar to you!
That wraps up a first taste of the Douro Valley. Over the next weeks and months, we'll be posting more about the region, what makes it so unique and what makes its wines so deliciously drinkable. Stay tuned to Firo's Blog for more!
And in the meantime, cheers!
Cathy and the Firo Team