Region At a Glance: Douro Valley

June 21st, 2010 by jolan in wine varieties and styles

The Douro Valley lies in Northern Portugal, the wine region partially demarcated by its namesake river and heavy hand of pre-Cambrian shist. Douro is the official name of the region, one of the oldest delimited wine regions in the world, and is most famous as the home of Port with a capital P.

Port is a fortified wine, whose name comes from Oporto, the second largest city in the country. In the context of Port, “fortified” means that aguardente (a liquor similar to brandy) has been added to fermenting grape must, which stops the fermentation process, and yields a drink rich, sweet, and thanks to the extra kick of liquor, an alcohol percentage hovering around 20 percent.

Port, beyond its basic structure as a fortified wine, varies greatly in styles and in colors (and the latter often defines the former). Most of us are familiar with Port as red, strong, and sweet, but there is also white Port, and dry styles of both colors; Port is also categorized according to whether it has been aged in cask or in bottle. Common styles of Port include Ruby, Tawny, Aged Tawny, and Vintage Port. They are listed, rather casually as most wine generalizations must be, in order from least to most complex. Ruby Port, for instance, is strong and fiery, whose personality the British once tempered by mixing it with lemonade. On the other end of the spectrum, Vintage Port has yielded some of the most long-lasting, famously delicious, and infamously expensive wines in the world: the Quinta do Noval 1931 Vintage sold for 5,900 dollars in the late 1980s. (Joe Roberts writes about 2007 potentially being the vintage of this decade.)

According to Jancis Robinson (a brilliant English wine writer whom I highly recommend you read), there are more than 80 different grape varieties authorized for the production of Port, but “few growers have detailed knowledge of the identity of the wines growing in their vineyards. All old vineyards contain a mixture of grapes, often with as many as 20 or 30 different varieties intermingled in the same plot.” With wine, history is not relegated to old notes in dusty books, but grows on gnarled vines: living, breathing, life-giving.

Have you tried a good glass of Port? What is your favorite style?

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply