A day in the Baixo Corgo

Baixa Corgo is the most westerly of the three main Douro regions, closest to the coast, though still protected from extreme maritime weather by the coastal mountain ranges.  The protection was insufficient today, however, and we embarked at 8.30am on the coach in pouring rain.  Our views of the Douro landscape were therefore obscured, but our spirits remained high as Tim gave us some more background about the region and the visits we were about to do.

In the village of Barrô, to the southwest of Régua, we visited Terrus, the smallest estate we will visit this week.  Maria Foy inherited the estate 25 years ago, and has created a beautiful place from the 10ha of derelict vineyards and olive groves – running AirBnbs, a tiny winery and a number of fruit trees – the fruits of which we enjoyed with our tasting!

Maria explained that when they replanted vines, they kept the area to 2ha, which was what she felt she could manage herself – she is clearly an amazing plantswoman.  In addition to Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Sousão (some of the major Portugese varieties of the Douro), she planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.  All the varieties go into her wine – she makes a single wine each vintage, the mix of which reflects how each variety has performed (she makes stringent selection of grapes in the vineyard both before and during harvest).  Any grapes she does not have capacity to vinify she sends to a local port producer.

At this point she hands over to her oenologist, who makes the wine.  Most of the grapes are trodden in the granite lagares, which have recently been refurbished, and were very impressive.   A proportion is fermented in a stainless steel tank.  Unlike port, where the must is macerated for a couple of days, for her still wines the wine ferments to dryness, so foot treading, three times a day, a couple of hours at a time, continues for a week!  This year’s harvest had completed fermentation last week, and was now in a large tank, which Maria was keeping a close eye on – we could feel the warmth, indicating further natural process like malolactic fermentation, were continuing.

We descended to the barrel area, where Maria described the process of ageing her wine in oak, for 12-18 months depending on the vintage.  It is then bottled and aged further before release.  Since 2018, following the refurbishment of the winery, and the arrival of the oenologist, a more forward style is being made and wines are released after about 3 years (previous vintages had to be held back for 8 years to ensure they were approachable when opened – a somewhat economically suicidal approach).

We tasted three vintages of her wine – the Terrus DOC Douro.  The 2019 vintage definitely felt young, but its vibrant fruit and lovely acidity balanced its plentiful tannins well.  The 2012 (only released a few years ago) was my favourite – perfectly balanced fine tannins with lovely evolved flavours of dried fruits, earthiness and spice and still fabulous acidity, while others preferred the 2010 which was more evolved still.  Three fantastic wines, which were complemented by a spread including olive oil, olives, tomatoes, persimmons, apples, figs, chestnuts, walnuts and honey from the estate.  We tucked in with gusto!  

Our final taste was of a port, which Tim told me is typical of many family estates – they buy a barrel of port of a particular vintage, in Maria’s case, the year she inherited the estate, and choose how they mature it.  In Maria’s case it was bottled after several years so was more like a tawny than a ruby, though it was a very rich tawny and, needless to say, absolutely delicious. 

The weather was clearing so most of us walked back to the coach, Maria had provided a Land Rover shuttle service for those who preferred not to dodge the rain drops.  We looked at the Douro River in the valley below, and the landscape of terraces, woods and red-roofed buildings, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only person who was planning an AirBnB break here at some point in the future.

From Barrô the coach followed the Douro east, past Régua, to the Tedo river, the site of Quinta do Tedo.  Quite a contrast with Terrus.  Quinta do Tedo, a long established quinta with 15ha of ‘A’ classified Port vineyards (very important as only A and B classified vineyards can provide grapes for vintage ports), was purchased by Vincent Bouchard and his wife Kay in 1992.  The Bouchard family of Burgundy had been looking to diversify, and Tedo won out over Napa (possibly to Kay’s disappointment as she is American).

Our enthusiastic guide Patricia explained that the estate has 25 workers, 3 dogs and 1 horse.  They only make red wines and port, and the vineyards are being replanted – we could see the protective plastic around the young vines on the vineyards on the valley side of the Tedo river, which the estate overlooks.

All grapes for port are foot trodden, in a number of large lagares, and Patricia told us that even as a newbie she had done several shifts of treading, and was proud of her ability to sing and keep the beat as the teams of treaders march up and down the lagares.  For several hours – I hope the pretty tiled walls with images from Burgundy and California as well as the Douro keep spirits high.

The port wine must flows by gravity into 19th century concrete tanks, where the aguardente (the 77% alcohol distilled from pressed grape skins) is added to stop fermentation, leaving the fortified sweet wine that then starts maturation.  All but rosé port is matured in barrel – the tawny ports in the smaller pipes, for at least 7 years, while the ruby ports are stored in large barrels for up to 2 years, so less of the wine is in contact with the barrel side, and therefore has far less interaction with air.  Ruby ports can be drunk young with fresh fruit flavours and distinctive alcoholic ‘heat’, while vintage ports mature in bottle, for many years, allowing the flavours to evolve more dried fruit characters, and the alcohol to become more mellow.  Tedo make a traditional late bottled vintage port, which is less filtered than ‘regular’ lbvs, and therefore also has some evolution in the bottle, and will need decanting.

Our tasting was of their basic red DOC Douro, their Grande Reserva ‘Savedra’, made from the oldest vines, and a ten year old tawny.

Lunch was in the bistro, overlooking the Tedo river, which was sparklingly beautiful as the sun had come out.  A platter of meats was followed by a wild boar confit with roasted cauliflower and a cauliflower purée, accompanied by a local white wine and the Tedo Reserva red.  With pudding, a panna cotta with thyme, pear and ruby port, we had their 2009 vintage port, which was super. 

As this was the final tour Tim thanked the restaurant team for three magnificent meals, and our applause was heartfelt! 

The visit was a fantastic contrast with Terrus, and a great introduction to the range of estates to be found in the Douro Valley.  We were back in Vila Real by 5, and quite a few of us ventured out that evening to explore the local bars.