Portugal Part 3: The Douro Valley
Updated: Aug 27
Dating back to 1756, the Douro Valley is the oldest, demarcated, wine region in the world and perhaps the most picturesque. It is located less than two hours east of Porto, Portugal. If terraced vineyards, gorgeous slopes, great wine and a peaceful river pique your interest, this valley should be on your list of places to visit.
The Douro Valley is most renowned for its port production but they provide equally compelling table wines from the same grape varietals. The steep, narrow, rocky terraces of the Douro Valley have been designated a Unesco World Heritage site.
Douro has three subregions. I visited the central region known as the Cima Corgo. The steep terraces here are primarily composed of schist rock. The stone walls prevent soil erosion and the structure of these rocks traps the scarce rainwater and releases it slowly down the steep planes.
Cima Corgo, centers around the village of Pinhão. This is the largest of the three Douro subregions and is reputed to have the most high-end port.
Rissóis de Camarão
Before commencing on my wine tasting adventure, I grabbed a snack in Pinhão. The best way I can describe a Rissóis de Camarão is a Portuguese version of something that lands between a turnover and empanada. These scrumptious pockets are stuffed with a creamy, shrimp filling, dipped in breadcrumbs and then fried until they are a golden brown.
After some sustenance, I embarked on a river cruise from the Pinhão Pier. We passed by the mountainous terrain and cruised under beautiful bridges.
If you notice those sparkles in the video, that is indeed rain which increased in volume as we journeyed down the river. Nothing could spoil my mood however. Between the picturesque landscape and the delicious port they gave us to sip on, I was joyful and content.
At the end of the short river cruise, we disembarked and headed to our first winery. Founded in 1638 by Nicolau Köpke, Kopke is the oldest port wine house in the world. It was originally a wine buying enterprise but transitioned in 1781 when the winery bought a farm in the Douro Valley. It became an established wine producer thereafter, known for its enormous library of award-winning wines.
In 1922, Kopke acquired Quinta de São Luiz which is the property I toured. Kopke considered this location "the jewel in the crown of the Porto region." This area of the Douro Valley gets the highest rating for its magnificent terroir.
Vineyards in this region grow more than 80 grape varietals but the most common are: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cao and Tinta Roriz. Some vines, like this one, are more than 200 years old.
Three-year-old white port and seven-year-old tawny port
Kopke is best known for their colheitas. Colheitas are single-vintage tawnies aged in barrel for a minimum of seven years. Kopke’s colheitas always age for at least a decade however. Sadly, the colheitas were not part of the tasting tour but, I was fortunate enough to try one at a restaurant in Porto and can understand why these wines are so highly regarded.
For lunch we stopped at The River Restaurant in Peso da Régua.
Bread with Portuguese olive oil
Puréed turnip sprouts and beans.
Iberian Pork Loin with Potatoes and Gravy
Chestnut and chocolate brownie with panna ice cream
Our last stop in the Douro Valley was at the Touriga Wine Shop and Bar where we were able to taste a few table wines in addition to a port.
Vinho Verde, Tinto and Tawny Port
The table wines I had in the Valley were very impressive. Table wines have traditionally ranked second to ports in Portugal but things started changing in the mid-1990s. Today, half of Douro Valley's wine production is dedicated to table wines. With the emergence of dynamic winemakers as well as the talent of established pioneers like Dirk Niepoort (who many consider to be the most important winemaker in Portugal), these table wines continue to grow in popularity.
In the end, it doesn't much matter if you come to the Douro Valley for the port, the table wine, or neither. Just come. This ancient wine region, with its sleepy towns, languid river and breathtaking scenery will capture your heart, as it did mine.