We are in the north, the green country of Portugal. The sun is not quite as merciless there as in the southern part of the country and the occasional rain provides the flora with the important humidity.
Here, the glorious Douro River has formed one of the most beautiful landscapes of the Iberian Peninsula, if not all of Europe. This magnificent region boasts of delicious wines and delightful culinary offerings.
The winding vineyards stretch like a snake through the entire valley at all altitudes and locations, leaving endless traces of vineyard terraces that have been cultivated for over 2000 years.
On the Spanish border, the mountainous country even reaches considerable heights, which are used for winter sports in the cold season. Here nature is allowed to develop freely, so that even wolves are now at home there.
The river rises in the heart of Spain, in the province of Soria, and then meanders 897 kilometers, quite precisely from east to west, through Iberia. Around 140 kilometers as the crow flies east of the city of Porto, from which the port wine originates, the Douro passes through Portuguese territory. It cuts a breathtaking valley into the landscape. The steep, centuries-old wine terraces rest at up to 700 meters in black slate.
These masterpieces hark back to the work of many generations and produce the wine that has made Portugal so appreciated around the world . A flowery variety surrounds the houses, which, together with fields and trees, also find their place on the mountains.
Upstream - The Douro
The river is the essence of the region. From the Spanish border to the Atlantic Ocean, it winds its way past wine producers, the terraced quintas carved into the mountains. Thanks to its beauty coupled with its impressive history, the region has achieved UNESCO World Heritage status.
The journey upstream is one of the most scenic routes in the world. As spring approaches, more and more boats rush out onto the water to make up for the cool winter hibernation.
In the past, the Douro was used to ship barrels from the higher regions to the port wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia and Porto. However, evidence of the use of the Douro as a waterway goes back to the time of the Roman occupation. The Douro is still used today, but no longer with the same importance as in non-motorized times.
The three layers of the Douro Valley
Alto Douro (high Douro) is the first protected wine region in the world. Only here may the historic port wine be produced. As early as 1756 , the then Prime Minister Marquês de Pombal had the area mapped and limited it by law .
He limited the cultivation of wine to the very slate-rich locations around the Douro, which arose in the Precambrian. The slate soil is crossed by granite veins on both sides of the Douro valley, even beyond the national borders to Spain.
Not only the port wine comes from this famous region. In the 1950s, the Ferreira Port Wine House brought out Barca Velha - a red wine made from grapes from the higher altitudes of the Douro Valley, which are now among the most sought-after locations.
Often the winegrowers were not able to tame these sites, but more and more invested in the necessary equipment and learned the viticulture technique under these extreme geographical and climatic conditions. Since 1979, the delimitation of the cultivation area has not only applied to port wine, but also to table wines.
The Douro region enjoys the highest wine standard DOC . The steep slopes are extremely difficult to work with and must be cut and harvested by hand. While the Douro region is now famous for its wines, it's a surprisingly quiet and slow-paced place with a very hospitable culture.
T he valley can be divided into three areas from west to east: Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo and Douro-Superior.
Baixo Corgo means “below the Corgo” in Portuguese and is the sub-region with the mildest climate and the highest rainfall in the Douro Valley. Humidity is high, temperature differences are small.
Baixo Corgo represents the western part of the Douro Valley, stretching from the town of Peso da Régua to the Corgo River. The region is home to 14,000 hectares of vine crops, accounting for 50% of the total Douro terrain under vines.
Although Baixo Corgo was the very first sub-region to be planted, the wine produced here is considered to be of lower quality compared to the other two.
The name of this sub-region means "above the Corgo" and, at 19,000 hectares, is the largest sub-area of the Douro wine-growing region. The region is centered around the village of Pinhão, where most of the quintas (=wineries) are located.
The climate at Cima Corgo is very dry and hot. The landscape is rather barren, extremely steep and rocky. 40% of the total production of the Douro growing region takes place here.
Douro Superior or Douro Corgo
The "upper Douro" is the hottest and driest sub-region of wine growing in the north and extends to the Spanish border. Douro Superior is home to 8,700 hectares of vineyards and is the source of many high quality wines.
The Douro Superior is the least accessible of the three Douro regions. Being the youngest of the three and still very wild, he is still in a growth phase.
The grapes of the Douro
The Douro Valley is one of the most beautiful regions in Portugal, known for its terraced wine country that has been passed down and inherited for generations and the 'Golden River' that adorns the steep hills.
Vineyards planted on the slate are mostly used for the production of the port wine, while the granite-based land is used for the production of the table wine.
There are now over 40 autochthonous grape varieties in the Douro. Probably the most important are the reds: Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (=Tempranillo), Bastardo, Tinta Amarela, Tinto Cão, Tinta Barroca and Castelão. And the whites: Viosinho, Donzelinho branco, Gouveio, Rabigato and Malvasia Fina.
For a long time, the many different grapes in the Douro were not identified and hardly studied. Mixed plantations were the norm and most winery owners didn't even know what they were planting.
That changed in the 1970s. At that time, the Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Tinto Cão and Tinta Barroca grapes were identified as the main dark red grapes.
This started a new movement in the Douro, which produced quality wines and also focused on certain vines. Some winegrowers now shifted their focus to a specific grape instead of several and were able to increase the quality of the respective grapes even more. Of course, the old mixed varietal wineries still exist and will be for a long time to come.
And from the Douro we now go to the Minho in the green soul of Portugal, the Vinho Verde .
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