The best wines from Douro

The Douro region in northern Portugal stands as the cradle of Port wine, owing its name to the winding Douro River that traverses from east to west, flowing into the Atlantic Ocean in Oporto. Renowned for Port and its unique still Douro wines, this area features a rugged terrain with diverse terroirs defined by varying aspects, altitudes, and soils. Its vineyards, perched on steep, arid slopes and narrow rocky terraces alongside the river and its tributaries, offer a UNESCO World Heritage landscape akin to Austria's Wachau wine region.

Douro's fame extends to its array of indigenous grape varieties. Red varieties such as Sousão and Tinta Amarela (Trincadeira), alongside white counterparts like Malvasia Fina, Moscatel, Rabigato, Gouveio, and Viosinho, contribute significantly. Notable grapes like Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cao, Touriga Franca, and Touriga Nacional play pivotal roles, especially in Port production. Presently, the Douro produces esteemed red table wines from its diverse native grape varieties. The region's diversity and indigenous varietals underscore its esteemed status in the global wine landscape.

All wines in Douro

History of wines from Douro

Historically, the Douro River played a pivotal role in facilitating human involvement in the region's terrain. Since the 17th century, it has been integral to fortified wine production along its steep banks. Traditionally, Port wines were transported downstream to Oporto in Rabelo boats and aged in Vila Nova de Gaia's cellars, a practice that endures. Despite a history of lower-quality still wines, the Douro expanded its demarcation in 1979 to include both fortified and still wines, leading to increased production in the 1990s.

The grapes of Douro wines

In the Douro Valley, encompassing both fortified and still wines, there exists a rich tapestry of over 80 grape varieties. Vineyards showcase a captivating mix of these port grape varieties, often featuring more than 20 types within a single plot. Principal varietals include Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cao, and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo). Of them, Touriga Franca is the most often planted variety in vineyards, while Touriga Nacional is highly esteemed. Additionally, several international grape types like Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc have found favour in the region for table wine production.

The terroir of Douro wines

The Douro Valley's terroir, a blend of altitude, sun exposure, wind, soil richness, and water access, profoundly shapes Ports' intricate aromas and allows vineyards to adapt. It stretches along the Iberian Peninsula's riverbanks, divided into Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo, and Douro Superior, each with unique climates. The diverse terroir across the sub-regions marks Douro's excellence in producing a range of wines.

Baixo Corgo, to the west, receives ample rain, yielding lighter wines early on. Douro Superior, inland and hot, boasts terraced vineyards, enduring extreme conditions with smoother terrain. Cima Corgo, home to Pinhão, is the heart of Douro, producing high-end Ports. Its steep vineyards face varied ripening due to the river's influence or altitude, often needing multiple harvests. The region has drier weather, lower yields, and hosts esteemed historic vineyards like Fonseca's estates—Cruzeiro, Santo António, and Panascal. Close to Oporto, Baixo Corgo supports table wine production with cooler, wetter climates, dense vines, and ease for bulk-wine operations.

Classifications of wines from Douro

Tinto Douro
Tinto Douro, renowned among the esteemed Douro Reds, is characterized by its full-bodied composition. Within the Douro region, a plethora of indigenous grape varieties contribute to its distinctive profile, including Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo), and Tinta Cão. Noteworthy is the increasing prevalence of dry "tinto" blends within contemporary viticultural practices.

Douro Blanco
Douro Branco wines are delicate white wines characterized by their light body and refreshing qualities. While they offer minimal fruity flavors, they provide a unique and complex drinking experience. They include the varieties such as Rabigato, Viosinho, Gouveio, and Folgazão, may be slightly challenging to locate due to their limited availability.

Wine Styles by Aging
Various wine styles are produced in this region, bearing names akin to other Denominaciones in Spain. Joven or Barrica are wines that undergo limited aging, with true Joven wines receiving no aging, while Barrica varieties spend approximately 4 months in oak barrels. Crianza wines mature for a minimum of 12 months, with at least 24 months of aging before release. Reserva, is the classification for wines that are aged for 36 months, including a minimum of 12 months in oak barrels, and Gran Reserva, are aged for 60 months, with at least 24 months spent in oak barrels.

What is a vintage port?

Vintage Port stands as the apex of port craftsmanship, sourced exclusively from grapes of a designated vintage year, constituting roughly two percent of total port production. Declarations occur selectively, with each port house, or "shipper," deciding based on quality and market factors, averaging about three times per decade. These decisions carry significant weight due to the industry's reputation-centric nature. Typically aged for a maximum of two and a half years in barrels, Vintage Ports necessitate further bottle aging of ten to forty years for optimal enjoyment.

Single Quinta Vintage Ports derive from a solitary estate, distinct from other ports sourced from multiple estates (quintas).

What is a tawny port?

In the hierarchy of Ports, vintage Port reigns as the 'king', while tawny Port holds the esteemed title of 'queen', sharing in the glory at the pinnacle. Tawnies may be bottled with an indication of age: 10, 20, 30, 40 or 50 years old. The age designations are obviously approximations, and all wines have to be submitted for tasting by the IVDP for approval. 

What is a Colheita port?

Colheita, translating to 'harvest' in Portuguese, denotes a wine originating from a single year, undergoing a minimum seven-year aging process in wooden casks before bottling. During this maturation, the wine progressively acquires characteristics akin to those of a tawny Port. While many colheitas undergo extended aging periods, ranging from 50 to 100 years, they typically bear two dates on their labels: the year of harvest and the year of bottling. The latter holds significance, as colheitas generally do not improve significantly once bottled, although they exhibit a propensity for sustained quality due to their prolonged aging in wood.

What is a Ruby Port?

Ruby port is your most basic and least expensive port. Aged for about two years in large oak casks, they are meant to be consumed young and offer a blend of quality red grapes from various vintages.

What is an LBV port?

Late-Bottled Vintage Port, derived from a single-vintage Ruby Port, undergoes up to six years of barrel aging. Sweet in style with moderate acidity and tighter tannins, LBVs are a popular choice.

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