An Intimate Look At The Douro

The terraced vineyards of Quinta S Luiz overlook the Douro River in Portugal.Photo by Robert Stephen.

The terraced vineyards of Quinta S Luiz overlook the Douro River in Portugal.
Photo by Robert Stephen.

(PESO DE REGUA, PORTUGAL) – I arrive in a bus with 50 journalists in the small town Peso de Régua, which is about two hours west of Porto. We are divided up into groups of three and skirted off to various Quintas (estates) in the Douro Valley.

As luck would have it, I am going to Quinta de S Luiz owned by Sogevinus. I have met some of these folks several times, including during their visits to Toronto.

Sogevinus owns the Kopke, Burmester, Cálem, and Barros labels. Families seem to come and go, as I know the Barros family and the Cálem family, yet they have been bought out, but still continue under different ownership.

Filipe and father Manuel Barros operate Dona Matilde while José Maria Cálem and his sons, Pedro and Duarte, operate under the Quinta Sagrado label.

I am with a couple of Brazilian bloggers as we are picked up by Márcio Nóbrega, the vineyard manager of Quinta de S Luiz. Off we head to the winery where we are met by the charming Tãnia Branco Oliveira and Ricardo Macedo, the winemaker.

It’s close to 24 hours without sleep for me at this point, so as we wind up the gravel road to the top of the Quinta the thousand foot drop makes no impact on me.

We reach the top of the Quinta and see the pickers harvesting the grapes for still wine. They work from 7:00am until 3:00pm and have a long lunch in between. Port wine grapes will be harvested the following week.

It’s been a dry year and the volume of grapes is reduced by about 12% from 2015.

I note that, in all my previous visits to the Douro from river level, I have marvelled at the terraced vineyards. But, at the top of this Quinta, I see that there are pockets of forest throughout.

Márcio notes the ecological importance of maintaining this forest as this is where the insects live and the birds and bats that prey on them, minimalizing the use of herbicides.

In fact, we are shown a little ribbon-looking twists which are attached to the vines. They emit pheromones causing male insects to believe they are impregnating females. The end result being fewer insects and no need for herbicides.

We try the grapes on the vine.

The Touriga Franca is smooth and soft while the Touriga Nacional is fruitier and soft. Furthermore, the Tinta Roriz is thick skinned and flavourful, but very tannic. Put these three grapes together and you have typical table wines or Port.

After this educational experience we head down to the winery.

My goodness what a lunch. Various sausages, cheese, a heaping bowl of sautéed mushrooms , bacalhau, and a wonderful salad with bright red and sweet Douro tomatoes. For desert is an enormous almond torte.

Of course, there are a few wines to try and I get a chance to vet my opinion with winemaker Ricardo.

The first is a 2014 Barros DOC Reserva white, made with Cercial, Ariento, and Gouveio grapes aged in French oak for six months. It has 13.5% alcohol.

It is light gold in colour with aromas of discrete pineapple, apple, and pear and with a taste of white melon, marzipan, and charcoal.

It pairs well with the sausage, cheese, and cured ham. I rate this a 92.

We try the Casa Burmester Douro DOC Reserva 2014, made with Gouveio, Rabigato, and Viosinho clocking in at 13.5%.

It is light gold in colour and, on the nose, pepper, pear, charcoal, and guava. On the palate a nice sharp acidic bite laced with a seam of tobacco. I rate this a 91.

With the bacalhau we pop open a red.

It’s a Casa Burmester Casa Reserva 2013 DOC Reserva. Red wine with cod? But, somehow it works.

It has a red plum colour and, on the nose, cassis, black cherry, blackberry, and herbs. On the palate, very youthful, but well integrated as to its tannins and acids. Medium finish.

This is a baby that needs at least five years more. I rate this a 92.

Boy, those sautéed mushrooms were incredible, but the mains are cleared and the enormous almond torte is plumped on the table to the groan of us three journalists. Now the Ports start flowing.

By the way, Quebec imports the most Port of any Canadian province.

The first is a Calem 2000 Colheita Tawny Port. At 20%, it has an orange brick colour and on the nose a strong blast of apricot, marmalade, and coffee.

The taste is a knockout peach and burnt orange with a very long finish, which is a perfect match to the small bites of the almond torte I am trying to consume. This rates a 94.

The Barros 1996 Colheita is a light-honeyed brown. On the nose there are burnt oranges, coffee, peach jam, chocolate, and mint. On the palate, a biting acidity full of crème brûlée. Twenty per cent alcohol.

It’s a still youthful 89.

The Burmester 1989 Colheita is 20% with a honey brown colour. On the nose, light burnt almonds, oranges, and Seville marmalade. On the palate, creamy orange mixed with Greek honey. It lacks complexity as it is still a baby. I rate this a 91.

We finish with a Kopke Colheita 1978 with the colour of orange brick. The nose has burnt almonds, marmalade, honey, and peach, while on the palate there’s a zesty acidity, honey cake, and burnt crème brûlée topping.

A long finish with hints of complexity developing. I rate this a 93.

Overall, an unforgettable experience despite massive jet-lag. Food, wine, and a precipitous drop at the edge of the gravel road keeps one on their toes.

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About the Author

Robert Stephen (CSW)
Robert K Stephen writes about food and drink, travel, and lifestyle issues. He is one of the few non-national writers to be certified as a wine specialist by the Society of Wine Educators, in Washington, DC. Robert was the first associate member of the Wine Writers’ Circle of Canada. He also holds a Mindfulness Certification from the University of Leiden. Be it Spanish cured meat, dried fruit, BBQ, or recycled bamboo place mats, Robert endeavours to escape the mundane, which is why he loves The Square. His motto is, "Have Story, Will Write."Email Robert Stephen
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