Remember in middle school when you loved that band that no one knew about? And then they blew up and you had to tell all your friends how you knew them before they were cool? That’s the Douro Valley in Portugal right now.
Even though it's been making wine for 1,000's of years - thanks to major infrastructure investments in the region and a growing reputation for red and white table wines - it's on the verge of a major breakout.
Here's why you should be drinking it now...
This ain’t just about your grandma’s port.
When you hear "Douro", you may be savvy enough to be thinking about Port wine–and you are spot on, our dear friend. However, did you know that the Douro Valley also produces some of the best table wines in the world? Reds, whites, even roses? These are some of the most interesting and unique wines we’ve tried – ranging from light and refreshing whites to intense, velvety, complex reds.
The incredible range of varietals will keep you guessing.
There are literally 122 different grape varietals grown in just the Douro Valley. Not 12. 122. And they’re not growing your typical Cabs and Chardonnays. All the varietals are local – from Toriga Nacional and Toriga Franca to the spicy Tinto Rodiz. Most interestingly, all the wines from the Douro are blends. Different grapes bring different qualities to the party, which means you're going to find something unique with each wine you try from here.
How many other regions literally dynamited mountains to grow their grapes?
Beyond making the region one of the most breathtaking places you can visit in the world, the Douro's terraced vineyards are also part of what makes their wines so interesting. Not only are you dealing with 122 different varietals, but you’ve also got different levels of sun exposure on the North and South banks of the Douro river, a crazy wide range of topography, and varying altitudes.
In typical wine regions, the difference in your wines really comes from the winemaker her or himself. Here, winemaking is an art form of a different degree based on the wildly unique terroir.
Cheatsheet on what qualities you can expect from different areas of the Douro:
South Bank: More elegant
North Bank: More intense
Closer to the river: More intense
Higher altitude: More refreshing
The highest quality wines typically come from Clima Corgo (upper Corgo)
These grapes know a good struggle.
When you go through something tough in life, you come out on the other side even stronger and wiser than before because you are a badass human being. The same goes for grapes.
The Douro bakes in what locals call "three months of hell." In a fact that was surprising to us, the Douro is a Mediterranean climate. That means lots and lots of heat in the summer. Additionally, the vines sit in and on shale, which holds that heat at a constant temperature, resulting in rich, intense red wines.
When phylloxera hit the Douro in the 1800's, it wiped out +90% of production. Yes, 9-0. Winemakers across the Douro planted their vines closer together to try to increase their odds. This actually made it harder on the grapes. Think of when you and your sibling were put in a room together–you guys probably fought a bit. The grapes do, too. This ups the complexity of wines from the Douro and is part of the reason why you get an explosion of flavors with each sip.
As required by law, winemakers are not allowed to irrigate the vines. This means all of the water on these vines is natural, even in those three months of hell.
You can age the sh*t out of some of this stuff.
Getting back into our Ports. The Douro was the first demarcated (i.e. has rules) wine region in the world. Ever. One of the strange rules that is required of all producers is that they keep one third of their production, every single year. In other words, they cannot sell you that wine. This is why you can drink a 100 year old port wine that was born before your grandma.
It’s a good wine to be selfish with.
Locals call tawny port "selfish port." Wine producers will tell you that once you open a fine tawny port, you should drink it all within a couple of months. Apparently, you can actually keep this stuff for a couple of years. This is because it’s already adapted to oxygen.
Tawny ports are aged in small wooden casks that are porous, to age the wine quicker. That oxygen breaks down the fruit flavors (and turns it that brownish tawny color) and brings in notes of nuts, toffee, and caramel, along with upping its aging potential. All this means is you can hide it in a dark, deep corner of your fridge and pop it out every now to enjoy a couple of sips to yourself.
Okay, okay, they're also good to share.
For those of you who are nicer and like to share, they’ve got you covered, too. Even though the aging potential is killer on a lot of the reds and ports from the Douro, a lot of the wines produced here are meant to be drank young, once bottled. And because this region is still becoming really known internationally (beyond ports), you can also find them for pretty killer price points.
So the next time your favorite middle school band comes on the radio, remember the Douro. Head to your local wine shop. And pop uma garrafa open.