The Douro region has been producing fortified wines since the late 18th century, the production of Port wine alone has helped make it one of the most celebrated regions in the World, but today the Douro is gaining recognition for more than just its Port. All over the world, the focus of the wine industry is being turned toward this historic region, spanning a mere 103,000 acres of vineyards in the north of Portugal, where award winning table wines are being produced. While Port wine may have put the Douro on the map, it’s revolution focusing on innovation and the production of table wines is undoubtedly a key part of it’s future.
Among the Douro’s new found recognition is one of the most distinguished awards today: Wine Spectator’s coveted 100 point designation, which has only been awarded to 3 Portuguese wines to date: all of which are Port wines (vintage Ports to be exact). Since the beginning, the region has remained faithful to fortified wine, and among the international popularity and demand for Port, motivation to produce “table wine” varieties was discouraged. The most notable exception to this rule was Barca Velha, an exceptional red wine produced only with the best grapes, and only in the best vintages. In 1952, Casa Ferreirinha decided to take a chance on a top quality still wine, and to this day the successive vintages are thought to be the pinnacle of wine making in Portugal. But Barca Velha was, for decades, a lone voice in a sea of fortified wine producers. While winemakers in the region might produce a still wine for themselves, it was never intended to be sold. Port was still king, and no one was willing to challenge it.
This all slowly started changing, and today we are experiencing the cusp of a true revolution in the Douro. The climate and the grapes have proven ideal for producing exceptional still wines, both red and white. A quick look at the steep slopes where the vines grow along the course of the Douro, and its many tributary streams and rivers, is enough to understand the potential of the region. From the warm, sun-based slopes near the river to the high altitude vineyards that are hit with cool wind from the Atlantic, several different climate characteristics can be mixed and matched in the region, all opening up to a broad range of flavor profiles. This region also has another very important card up its sleeve: the Portuguese native grape. Portugal is, fortunately, very protective of its native grape varieties. This has helped stop foreign contamination in Port wine, and ensures quality and diversity for Douro still wines. Douro wine is truly unique in that it is made with grapes that grow only in Portugal, made by excellent Portuguese winemakers, many who are just the latest generation of a long line of wine making families. Adding to that is the experience that comes with having one of the oldest wine regions in the world. Typical Port grapes like Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca experience new depths when allowed to develop secondary flavors from fermentation and then aging. Not to mention white varieties have also taken off and reached similar heights to their red counterparts. All together, it is an exciting time to be a wine enthusiast, to be able to experience (and taste) a true revolution in wine making.
While some estates are experimenting with the production of still wines, others have a few years experience under their belts, and some are new estates that have opened without a single Port wine in their repertoire. The focus of the Douro is shifting from fortified wine, to table wine, and the world is taking notice.