Douro Valley and Porto
Douro is a Portuguese wine region centred along the Douro River.
The region became an official appellation in 1756 and has Portugal's highest wine classification as a Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC). While the region is associated primarily with Port wine production, the Douro produces just as much table wine (non-fortified wines) as it does fortified wine. The non-fortified wines are typically referred to as "Douro wines".
The region itself is divided into three sub-regions: from west to east the Baixo Corgo, Cima Corgo and Douro Superior. The fertile, cooler, rainier Baixo Corgo, is the sub region with the most vineyards. The Cima Corgo, including the towns of Pinhão, São João da Pesqueira and Tua, is the heartland of fine port production, also the source of many of today’s fine unfortified wines. The Douro Superior, very cold in winter, extremely hot in summer, is the biggest of the sub-regions, and while not all planted, there is much more planting underway.
The Douro has a huge selection of local grape varieties, and many vineyards of impressive, gnarled old vines that give small yields of rich, complex wine, whether for port or for unfortified wines. Dozens of different grape varieties may be mixed together in these old vineyards. In modern vineyards, vines are planted separately, and five grapes have been declared the top choice for port: Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca and Tinto Cão.
The visually spectacular terraced vineyards are very common in the Douro region. Vineyards dedicated to Port production are usually planted on schist while areas with granite-based soils are used for table wine production.
While visiting this region we based ourselves in two areas; Peso da Regua and Porto.
The areas around Peso da Regua, including Pinhao, are home to some of the most spectacular winery landscapes we have ever come across. There are a large number of wineries (or Quinta’s) to visit in this area, many of which have absolutely stunning views, lovely restaurants, fantastic accommodation and, of course, fabulous wines. There are also a number of great cellar door and dining options in the villages themselves, making for a great mix of winery based and urban experiences. Also, if you love sparkling wines, then definitely add the area around Lamego to your itinerary, which has a great history and sparkling wine culture.
There are a number of other great activities in the area including an old steam train that you can catch on weekends to take in the amazing surrounds, boat cruises along the river, and a number of walks, including vineyard walks. In the town of Pinhao, you can also take a cruise on an old Port boat, originally used to transport port barrels between regions.
Porto, home to the majority of port cellaring, is the second largest city in Portugal and is a beautiful city with some fabulous architecture, amazing dining options and fantastic wineries. We had a great casual dinner on the waterfront at "Bacalhau", a lovely winery based lunch at Vinum at Grahams overlooking Porto and amazing fine dining experiences at Palco and DOP (which also has a sister restaurant in the Douro valley that is highly rated, DOC).
Most of the Port Lodges are in the area of Villa Nova Gaia, just across the river from the city and are mostly located within a short walking distance of each other, making it possible to visit a few of them on the same day. You can also take Port boat rides here, with a number of operators offering tours.
Most of the Quinta's and Port Lodges in this region require you to make a booking in advance if you want to do a tour or tasting and while a large majority of people in Portugal speak excellent English, if you want to do a tour or tasting in English, then booking in advance is a must do. We also note that a number of the Quinta's can be a little slow to respond to requests, therefore be sure to leave yourself sufficient time (we suggest at least 1 month in summer and harvest) to arrange your tours and have a number of backup options as you may find tours are already booked out.
There is so much to see and do in this region and we had a fantastic two weeks here. If you love wine, food, spectacular scenery and amazing people then definitely add this region to your bucket list.