Daydreaming On (And Of) the Douro
Trapped in the sweltering, window-less office of my job this week, with nothing to distract me since Twitter and Facebook are (naturally) blocked on our fancy-pants intranet, I drifted into daydream of my recent adventures in the open–where breezes dominated alongside the sunny, terraced banks of the Douro River in Northern Portugal.
“Why, God, am I stuck in this window-less, poorly ventilated cell when I could be floating down the banks of the Douro or meandering on National route 2 through ancient terraced vineyards?” I lamented. Guess I’m really just a spoiled brat since I was there not too long ago. In case you haven’t guessed it by now, I love Portugal, and think overall it tends to be an undervalued area when it comes to wine. This speck on the Iberian peninsula has many wine regions and the Douro (pronounced DOH-Roo) is thoroughly on the up.
A little history: this is the same ‘hood where port wine originated, and British monopolies dominated the region until the 1970s, so–despite being the world’s oldest defined growing region–wine makers weren’t able to devote much energy to making table wine until recent years. For me, this translated into more excitement during my trip, since lots of top-notch wineries are still just being discovered here.
The area is known for its reds, which can sometimes be similar to tempranillos from across the country’s Spanish border–known on Portuguese labels as tinto roriz. Tons of indigenous grape varieties flourish in this arid region, so don’t scan bottles for varieties like Cabernet, because you’re more likely to find touriga nacional or touriga franca.
The sloping, vine-covered hills surrounding the winding river are divided into 3 regions, where temperatures and humidity vary significantly–so the wines have the potential to deliver huge variety, despite close geographic area.
While I was in the zone, I tasted Vila Real Reserva 2009, a deep–but not heavy–red from a tiny town next to the village I stayed in. It was a refreshing red (perfect with the succulent and salty sliced steak also typical of northern Portugal) with a clean finish. In typical Euro-fashion, the bottle was an absolute steal when I had it overseas, and I still think it’s a pretty good value at $14.99 stateside (according to wine-searcher.com).
I also stopped at the Douro region’s wine museum, in the city of Régua–a tiny city perched over the banks of the river. Pictures tell the tale of my mini-adventure there: