Douro table wines is a recent global phenomenon. The demarcation of the Douro, the first demarcated wine region of the world, was developed with Port wine in mind. It is Port production that has shaped the landscape and life within this unique environment. Small vineyards for generations have been growing grapes, the finest was sold to the Port producers and those of lesser quality were sold to co-operatives to make wine. With the relaxation of the strict regulations and the pioneering efforts of a few dedicated visionaries, the Douro has established itself as Portugal’s premium wine region in a relatively short period of history. For some of the traditional Port companies, table wine is only a side-line. A critical mass of like-minded winemakers has emerged, passionate about making the very best table wines that this landscape is capable of. In either case, the terrain, climate and pallet of indigenous grape varieties account for the finest quality of Bothe fortified and non-fortified wines.
Then there’s the soil. The ‘terroir’, is just about perfect for growing quality wine grapes. It’s schist, with a bit of granite here and there. It doesn’t look promising for growing anything, but vines flourish in these conditions. The poor soil encourages them to sink their roots deep, where they find a steady but stingy water supply and divert their energies to grape production.
IVDP- Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto Website
The river Douro (Spanish: Duero) flows 897 km (557 miles) from its source in Duruelo de la Sierra, Spain at an elevation of over 2,000 metres to Porto to the West. As it descends from its mountainous beginnings the terrain and climate changes from arid conditions to more temperate conditions. This variation is reflected in the three sub-regions the Douro wine-growing area is divided into: from west to east the Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo and Douro Superior. The fertile, cooler, rainier Baixo Corgo, closest to the Serra do Marão, is the sub-region with the most vineyards.
The westernmost zone located downstream from the river Corgo, a total area of 45,000 hectares, centred on the municipality of Peso da Régua, where the largest concentration of vineyards can be found – 29.9% of the sub-region area. This region is the wettest part of the Douro wine region, receiving an average of 900 mm, and has the coolest average temperature of the three zones. It is the most fertile of the three, the main reasons being the higher rainfall and the ability to create deeper soils.
Located further upstream from the Baixo Corgo, the landscape changes dramatically, centred around the town of Pinhão (municipality of Alijó). Hill slopes become more rugged and river and stream valleys are deeper, while soil and climate conditions are harsher. Of its 95,000 hectares, vineyards currently cover no more than 17.9%. Small ownership prevails but the quality is generally high. The summertime average temperature of the region is a few degrees higher and rainfall is about 200 mm less than the Baixo Corgo. The grapes grown in this zone are considered of higher quality.
The easternmost zone extending nearly to the Spanish border. It is the largest sub-region, with a total area of 110,000 hectares. However, only 7.3% of this area is planted with vines. In comparison with the other two sub-regions, Douro Superior is less mountainous, with generally softer slopes and fewer deep valleys. Its climate is typically Mediterranean-style, with the highest summer temperatures and annual rainfall of about 400 mm. This is the aridest and warmest region of the Douro.
The Duriense wine region covers the same geographic area as the Douro DOC and the Port wine region. The difference from Douro DOC, Duriense VR, similar to France's Vin de pays, has less stringent rules for winemakers and allows for winemakers some room for experimentation and indeed innovation. A broader choice of grapes and winemaking procedures is permissible.
Moscatel is a particularly aromatic grape variety, with citrus, flowery, ‘grapey’ flavours. It ripens with high sugar levels and is ideal for making sweet, fortified wines. Other than the Setúbal region in Portugal, the Douro produces this honey-like nectar, notably around the towns of Alijó and Favaios.
The Muscatel or Muscat grape has numerous variants across the world, however. the type found in the Douro, Moscatel Galego Branco (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) is recognised worldwide as the most elegantly scented in the family, but in truth, the elegance depends upon vineyard location and vine management. The skins of Muscat grapes are rich in flavour, so they are left in during fermentation, and grape brandy is added when the wine has fermented down to the required degree of sweetness. The wine is then left on the skins for a further three months or more, to absorb more flavour before being aged for a minimum of 18 months in large wooden vats. Originally Moscatel Galego Branco was used in white Port production but now this enigmatic grape is used to full advantage to make sweet Moscatel wines with balanced acidity, floral, citrus aromas, and flavours of orange or tangerine peel, apricots and butterscotch, turning nuttier and more figgy and raisiny the longer they remain in a wooden vat.
Last and not least Port is made in the Douro too, traditionally after a short maceration, the Port is shipped to Porto where it's aged before being bottled. Today new regulations say it can be aged anywhere in the Douro and still be classified as Port. We've dedicated a whole page on the subject of Port. More About Port Wine [ ► ]