A Tale of Two Rivers

Finding wine in Spain and Portugal

Shortly before the Duero River crosses into Portugal (and has its name changed to the Douro River), it weaves itself through the ancient town of Zamora. Travelers who appreciate history or architecture should visit the walled, medieval portion of the city or tour any of the dozen Romanesque churches. No other city in Europe can boast more of that style.

Travel is arduous but exhilarating when you reach the middle section of the Douro Valley near Pinhao, Portugal. This section is known as the Cima Corgo. Here, the steep contours of the Douro's bank are packed with terraced vineyards that supply the best grapes for Port production. Port vineyards are rated on a declining quality scale from A to F, depending on a list of natural and man-made variables. Vineyard location, aspect, vine density, gradient and soil composition are all part of the matrix. The better composite scores receive higher letter grades and that warrants higher prices for that vineyard's grapes. There are six main grapes (of the 48 permitted) widely considered to be the best for Port production. Of these six, Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (Tempranillo) command the most respect.

Most of the big names in the Port trade have quintas, or winemaking estates, in the Upper Douro near Pinhao. Traditionally, the wines were fermented and fortified at the quinta, transferred to a 550 liter barrel, and then shipped down the Douro on barges called rabelos. The barrels of Port, called pipes, are off-loaded just a few kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean at Vila Nova de Gaia. This picturesque village sits directly across the river from Oporto, the city that lends its name to the wine. Vila Nova de Gaia's narrow streets are lined with the aging facilities of all the famous producers of Port. Shippers like Graham's, Dow's, Warre's and Fonseca all have lodges in Vila Nova De Gaia where they age, blend and bottle some of their fortified wines.

Many of the Port lodges are open to the public for tastings, tours, or retail sales. While you're there, treat yourself to some of the world's great fortified wine in the city that raised it. Take a moment to reflect on the hundreds of miles you've traversed, the elements of natural splendor and ancient culture you've seen and heard, the nostalgic aromas of Iberian regional cuisine, and of course, the specific sense of place in the diverse wines you've tasted. Revel in that as you sit on the bank of the mighty Douro River and savor the last sip of a 30-year-old Tawny Port in the golden afternoon sun.

Do you really think you would get all that from a train window?

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  • The river is called Douro in Portugal, not Duoro!

    Aug 21, 2012 at 9:01 AM

  • Snooth User: Craig Donofrio
    Hand of Snooth
    1120324 10,981

    Indeed! Sorry for the slip Zag and thank you for your comment. Cheers, Craig

    Aug 21, 2012 at 9:58 AM

  • Snooth User: Azeredo
    536111 9

    You travelled the Douro River, a river's wine.
    Spain border, Ribera del Duero, Rueda and Toro.
    Portuguese border, in Douro Superior you could taste Quinta do Vale Meão, Barca Velha and CARM, in Cima Corgo (Pinhão), Poeira, Vallado, Quinta do Crasto, and more a dozen excellent wines, in Baixo Corgo (Regua), Abandonado, Quinta da Gaivosa and in Oporto the fortified Vinho do Porto.
    No doubt, if you travel the Douro River, you have the best of the world.

    Aug 21, 2012 at 8:55 PM

  • Snooth User: Craig Donofrio
    Hand of Snooth
    1120324 10,981

    Thanks for your comments Azeredo! Yes, I've had some of the great wines from Portugal you mention here. I'm looking forward to another trip to Portugal soon and I can't wait to see some estates and sample some wines that I missed on my first trip. Cheers, Craig

    Aug 23, 2012 at 2:28 PM

  • This is a bit Sunday paper travel section. Presuming we first hire a car, Who is supposed to drive us around, our chauffeur perhaps?
    When we went to Oporto in June, it was 45 degrees C, and plans to take boat trips to the Douro Valley died when we heard it was hotter still.
    Readers need to take care - these regions are hot, they are not geared up to tourism, but are often working places.
    And Port is dearer in Porto than it is in most places.
    If you do get a heatwave there, we found the shade under the trees, and the beautiful plants, bushes and trees in Jardim do Palacio Crystal, with its views of the wide river and port lodges opposite, very relaxing.
    Kudos to azeredo for his wines from Douro, Pinhao and Regua. But why miss out on the Alentejo while we are driving the desert?!!!!

    Aug 28, 2012 at 9:43 AM

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