Saturday, February 22, 2020

Travels to Douro Valley, Portugal

Internationally known, Port wine is one of the most important heritages in northern Portugal and it's only produced in Douro Valley, the first demarcated wine region in the world. Nominated World Heritage Site by UNESCO, here the climate, the sun exposure and soil type make the grapes unique. In a day trip from Porto, we headed out to Douro Valley for a full day of learning more about this old wine culture.

The drive was a little over an hour and half up the mountain, and then back down into the valley.  Just before doing the first activity, we stopped for a coffee break to rest from the long journey and glimpse for the first time the majestic landscape. Though it was late January, the weather was mild with the sun peaking out from behind the clouds every now and then.

Our day then started with an hour long cruise on the Douro River.  These traditional rabelo boats were once used to transport port wine.  The scenery was very serene and overall, while it was quite chilly on the boat, it was a very relaxing ride. The water was this murky greenish-brown due to all the winter rainfall they had received the week prior.

I was so impressed with all the terraced vineyards and many "quintas" or wineries along the river.  It reminded me of the German wine region we visited.  I really enjoyed this boat ride but only wished they served wine aboard to add to the ambience!

Next, we continued on to lunch, held in an amazing 17th century property. The dining room was set up in the old stone area once used to press grapes.  We enjoyed a 4-course meal paired with wine from their production. We started with a light white, followed by a bold red (pictured above), and ended with a 10-year tawny port paired with dessert.

After lunch, we walked around the grounds of the property that had lovely views of their vineyards.

Then we entered their cellar to taste their 20- and 30-year tawny ports.  The port was a bit strong for me, but I did enjoy the 20-year the best.  They also had a "very old tawny" available for tasting at 500 Euros/glass!  We were satisfied looking at it behind the glass.

We continued on the second winery - a family sized small production called Quinta Dos Castelares. Started by two brothers who wanted to feature organic productions, we got to tour this 18th century property.

First we sampled two rosé - each were tart with subtle hints of strawberry and lots of minerality.  We also tried a white wine made from a single varietal, and were asked to guess the grape.  I took one sniff and immediately guessed moscato.  I then took a sip and was confused because the wine was not sweet at all, as I would expect from a moscato.  But I stuck to my gut, and to everyone's surprise, I was correct!  The winemaker explained they alter the typical production of this grape, not allowing it to produce as much natural sugars, so that the end result is very vegetal and citrusy - perfect for summer.

We went to another room and viewed the winemaker's collection of vintage wines - including this old Mateus and then sampled some organic honey. These three are made in different regions of the area - where each has different flowers and herbs that the bees pollinate, causing different colors, flavors, and complexities to the honey.  All done naturally.

Lastly, we tried their red wines.  The 2016 Reserva Blend was our favorite, which is traditionally made by crushing the grapes by feet and then aging in Californian oak barrels.  We were invited to walk outside to their terrace that overlooked the vineyards and drink more. We enjoyed chatting with the winemaker's wife here, as the husband left to escort another group around the property.  She generously poured us the remaining of the bottle until the rain started, and our driver came to collect us for the return trip home.

This day trip excursion was a nice change to get out of the city, though I wish we would have visited maybe one more winery since the trip out to the valley took so long.  Nevertheless, we had a great time. Have you visited the Douro Valley or had Portuguese wine before? What is your favorite type of wine? Please share in the comments below!

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