wine-growing region Douro & Porto
The Douro and Porto wine region is located in the north-east of the country. Geographically, the two protected designations of origin are completely identical. While the DOC Porto refers only to the production of port wines, the DOC Douro is reserved for the production of red and white wines.
The wine styles in Douro and Porto
The few Quintas (Portuguese for "wineries") in the Douro region cultivate almost 40,000 hectares of vineyards. About three quarters of these are cultivated with plants intended for port wine. Since the late 1980s, the production of high-quality red and white wines has been gaining in importance in Portugal.
The most important wine styles in Douro and Porto include
- Port wines, from the young Ruby to the delicious Vintage Port to treasures like the 40 Years Old Taylor's Tawny Port
- Dry and complex red wines, often cuvées like the Domini Douro DOC from J.M. da Fonseca
- Dry mineral white wines, often with citrus notes typical of the terroir, for example Fabulous Branco Douro DOC
- Typical Vinhas Velhas with a variety of aromas (see interesting facts)
Terroir & layout of the vineyards
The climate of the Douro region
Three different climate zones characterize the Douro DOC. The western part, the Baixo Corgo, reaches up to 80 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean. The weather here is predominantly cool and humid, favouring light, relatively early maturing wines. In the heart of the Douro region, 200 to 800 metres above sea level, lies Cima Corgo, where numerous grape varieties thrive in a moderate climate and good port wines are at home. Hot and dry in summer is the Douro Superior. The area in the east produces mainly full-bodied Vinho Tinto and excellent Ports.
Barren, slate and granite soils characterise the vineyards in the Douro Valley. The roots of the vines penetrate to considerable depths along vertical rock fissures and transport the complex minerality typical of the region into the grapes and vines. While lighter, brownish rock is more at home with elegant, refined white wines, blue or black slate soils are mainly used for tannin-rich red wines. Slate is an ideal substrate for the production of good port wines: at night, the dark rocky soil reflects the heat absorbed during the day back into the plant.
Legendary wine terraces
Many of the picturesque old vineyards in the heart of the Douro are situated on impressively steep slopes. The vines are planted in single or double rows on terraces that are arranged in steps, in some places only two metres wide. Carefully aligned slate walls secure the steps and prevent the soil from slipping. The transformation of the inhospitable, rocky slopes of the Alto Douro into a spectacular cultural landscape with countless wine terraces took several centuries and earned the region a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001. More recently established vine terraces in other parts of the region are no longer protected by stone walls but by earthen walls. The vertical planting with multi-row trellises that is common today leaves room for passage by tractor and for cultivation with modern equipment.
Which grape varieties are cultivated in the Douro Valley?
More than 500 indigenous grape varieties grow in Portugal. A good 340 of these are authorised for wine-making, and around 40 may be processed into port wine.
The best red grape varieties of the two DOCs are cultivated for both strong red wines and port. Among them are:
- Touriga Nacional
- French Quarter
- Tinta Roriz
- Sousão or Vinhão
- Tinta Barroca
- Tinto Cão
Of the white grape varieties, only a few are reserved exclusively for the production of white wine. The best known are:
- Donzelinho Branco
- Esgana Cão
Far more white grapes are used for both White Port and Vinho Branco. Among the most widespread ones:
- Malvasia fina
The typical cuvée from different grape varieties within one location is mainly vinified by tradition-conscious small wineries. New planting with individual varieties considerably simplifies the work of the winegrower, as he can carry out the necessary work in the vineyard across the whole area and does not have to take into account the different needs of individual grape varieties.
Interesting facts about Douro and Porto
Since when is wine grown in the Douro?
The oldest traces of wine culture in the region can be traced back to Roman antiquity. Until well into the 17th century, the slopes of the Douro valley produced red wine of often questionable quality and low storage life. This changed when the first excellent port wines began to make a name for themselves. With a clever move, Prime Minister Marquês de Pombal declared the area of the upper Douro to be the Denominação de Origem Controlada for Port Wine in 1756, thus creating the world's first wine region with a protected designation of origin. Until the 1980s, Portuguese winegrowing concentrated on the production of this export hit.
Why is port wine considered a typical English wine?
Who invented it? Details are debatable, but British influence is unmistakable. Vinho de Lamego, a forerunner of port wine, enjoyed great popularity in the 13th century and soon aroused the interest of English merchants. Portuguese fishermen were licensed to cast their nets just off the British coast - on condition that they delivered Vinho de Lamego. 400 years later, legend has it that clever Portuguese monks invented a "priest's wine". Because they didn't like the usually well-fermented, acidic wine from the area, they came up with the idea of stopping the fermentation process by adding some alcohol early on. The fortified wine retained its residual sugar sweetness and could be stored for a long time even under poor hygienic conditions. However, British merchants took up the same idea. Wine from Portugal often arrived in England inedible after a long sea voyage. The addition of brandy solved this problem and created a paradise-like beverage with which English scholars were known to like to warm themselves up when they were shivering in unheated library rooms.
Where does the port wine get its name from?
The name "Vinho do Porto" or "Port Wine" is first found in Portuguese-English customs documents from 1678. It was not the Porto DOC that was the inspiration for naming this wonderful sweet wine - it was the other way round. In the often impassable and difficult to reach valleys of the Douro and its tributaries there are still only a few wineries. Grapes or locally produced base wines are almost always transported by river to the wine town of Vila Nova de Gaia at the mouth of the Douro. The finished port wine was shipped to England from Porto, the opposite port city. Until well into the 20th century, "Port wine from Porto" remained the only wine in the country intended for export.
What is the meaning of "Vinhas Velhas"?
A wine from Germany or France with the designation "Alte Reben" or "Vielles Vignes" comes from vines that are at least 20 years old. The situation is different in the Douro Valley: here, "Old Vines" or "Vinhas Velhas" stands for a traditional form of viticulture in which the type of vines did not matter. Vinhas Velhas are cultivated in old vineyards, in which up to 40 mostly indigenous grape varieties grow criss-crossed. Especially in smaller vineyards, this so-called mixed set can still be found today. Thanks to the old vines, internationally appreciated, unique and extremely terroir-emphasized "cuvées" with intense, complex aromas are also created.
Buy Douro and Porto wines online at VINELLO
Whether you have fallen in love with "poetry in bottles", as wine expert Peter Lanberg calls the wonderfully warming port wine, or you want to get to the bottom of the trendy red and white wines of Douro and Porto: Browse the virtual wine shelves of VINELLO and let our sommelier's advice inspire you to make exciting discoveries. We deliver quickly and safely. Felicidades!