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In Autumn 2022 I escorted three groups on tours to the Douro Valley. This is a lovely time of year to visit – our visits were broadly conducted under glorious sunshine, with rain only once or twice hardly interrupting play. On each tour we were based in the valley, visiting a couple of estates each day and finishing the tour back on the coast with visits to lodges in Vila Nova de Gaia.
Transfers from our Meeting Point at Porto airport were very straightforward with a journey of about an hour by coach to Vila Real, where we stayed at the Miracorgo hotel, with its spectacular views over the Corgo River valley. The more intrepid undertook the boardwalk set up through the valley.
Vila Real is an important town in the Douro Valley and the dining scene is starting to emerge. While you can find a lot of traditional places, the one restaurant that really stands out is Cais da Villa. Using the old railway station as its modern cavernous base, chef Daniel is creating an innovative take on Portuguese cuisine. This first night dinner brilliantly established the quality of food we were to enjoy on our tours.
Over three days of visits in the Douro Valley itself we visited a variety of estates of different sizes, and each had something new to show us.
South of the river at Régua in the village of Barrô is a tiny estate called Terrus – run by the lovely Maria Foy. I have known Maria since 2008 and no tour to the Douro would be complete without a visit to her adega. She introduced her wines in the winery, beside the lagares, which on Tour 2 were full of grapes, awaiting another bout of treading.
Making only 2,000 bottles per year from Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Sousão, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, the original philosophy when they started in 2004 was to create wines capable of long ageing. The older vintages we tasted showed wonderful elegance, but the 2019 was a revelation. Having given the winemaker a new brief, the result was a more forward drinking fruit driven style. It will be fascinating to see how it develops over time. On each visit, Maria spoilt us with wonderful produce that was freshly harvested from the estate.
30 minutes drive from Terrus upstream along the Douro, is Quinta do Tedo, an estate bought in 1992 by Vincent and Kay Bouchard. Tedo is 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). The Bouchard family is very well known in Burgundy and Kay comes from Napa Valley and we could see they were keen to invest in new vineyards from the protective plastic around the young vines on the vineyards on the valley side of the Tedo river, which the estate overlooks.
We enjoyed a tasting of their wines, and a fabulous lunch – rounding off with two of their ports – the 10 year old tawny and the 2009 vintage.
At Casa do Romezal, north of the Douro, Luis and his sister Margarida oversee a small family estate. Their bed and breakfast accommodation enjoys stunning views over the river valley. We took a walk into the vineyards where Luis captivated us with family history, great detail about viticulture and terracing and of course the wines they make. Luis was utterly brilliant – passionate, funny and an excellent communicator. He brought the Douro Valley to life. The tasting was a very casual affair as we drank through his range of two whites, a red and a white and tawny port. All brilliantly made and we snacked on some delicious cheese, salmon, pastries and meats.
Another family owned estate, Quinta de Tourais, has 14 hectares of vineyards, managed organically. They are very innovative, using a variety of fermentation vessels (stainless steel, wood, granite, amphorae), and are making an orange wine, and a wine aromatised with hops, which brought back memories of the lovely delicately flavoured retsinas we had tasted in Greece earlier in the year. The family were totally involved in the visit, and Manuela, Liliana, Fernando and Antonio served us a leisurely lunch. Everything was home made: a delicious soup, a selection of local salads, cheeses, pies and meats, melting pork shanks and a fabulous array of puddings, complemented by a range of their still wines and port.
Quinta Seara d’Ordens is very high up in the hills with stunning views. It dates back to 1792 – and family owned with three brothers currently running the show. Our visits included a view of freshly picked grapes in the lagares awaiting foot treading, and the impressive barrel cellar built into the hillside. Here we tasted through another exceptional range of whites, reds and ports, and their estate olive oil.
Quinta do Beijo is another family owned property and over the three visits we met João, Mariana, his sister and dad Miguel There was a wonderful sense of mischief about all the family as they constantly seek to entertain, educate and inspire the people that visit. On our first visit João was engaged with the forklift truck as we arrived – literally just bringing in some containers of grapes, on our second visit we toasted Mariana’s birthday.
The winery and cellars are small, but we squeezed in for our tastings of their wines, which they only sell directly, at the cellar door or via mail order. Their still wines and ports were of extremely high quality – and the 40 year old tawny, made in fact from wines that have been aging for on average 70 years, was very special, with a silky texture and flavours of coffee and honey.
Two of our final night dinners were at the Quinta do Bomfim restaurant ‘1896’ – named for the year the Symington family bought the Dow business. The dining room is wonderfully elegant with fabulous views over the river and an open plan kitchen serving very stylish food, served with very high quality Symington wines and ports.
Our other final night dinner was at Quinta da Pacheca – another historic estate that I first visited in 2007. New owners in 2012 have invested heavily in the estate and it has been transformed with a hotel, fabulous dining opportunities and a beautiful winery. Fabio took us round and it turned out he was a nephew of Maria Foy at Terrus.
On the final day of the tour we retraced our steps to the coast, and prior to returning to Porto airport for evening flights, we visited port lodges in Vila Nova di Gaia, taking lunch at Taylor’s on two of the tours and at Graham’s on one.
Graham’s is a legendary Port house that was acquired by the Symington group in 1970 but remains an independent brand and is very highly regarded. Nuno Silva hosted our visit and he gave us a great insight into the philosophy of the estate as well as drawing on his own experiences around the world and within the Douro Valley.
He skilfully led our tasting of their LBV 2017, 1990 single Colheita tawny and Malvedos 2010 vintage port. Lunch at Graham’s was at the Vinum restaurant. A light stilton, apple and spinach salad was followed by a delicious entrecote steak and a delicious chocolate dessert.
Our tasting at Taylor’s encompassed the key styles: Chip Dry white Port, LBV, 10 YO Tawny and the Vintage 2009. On Tour 1 we toasted the Queen with a special commemorative aged Tawny that Taylors had produced for the occasion – a special moment on the day before the funeral.
Lunch followed a Port-tonic in the courtyard overlooking Porto. Creamy truffled potatoes, pork cheek with mushrooms and a chocolate lingot – washed down with Douro white and red wines, and tawny Port, and on our final tour we enjoyed the opening of the 2009 vintage with port tongs.
I have visited Portugal many times over the last 20 years, and every time I come the wine business has moved on. Despite the very real challenges of climate change, decreasing availability of labour, and ever changing consumer tastes, it is wonderful to see how the quintas and casas of the Douro Valley are responding and to enjoy the ever increasing quality of their fabulous wines. I’m sure everyone on the tour, as they sat in Porto Airport waiting for their flight home, resolved to return soon to this fabulously beautiful and hospitable place.
What my clients said about this tour
“Thank you very much indeed for a splendidly well organised and well arranged wine tour, as is the case with all the tours I have attended!! The Douro valley is absolutely beautiful and the wineries you choose for us to visit were wonderfully welcoming, the wines we tasted always interesting very drinkable and sometimes knock-out divine, with outstanding hospitality from the families. Our hotel was well-placed to visit the old town of Vila Real, very comfortable with a truly magnificent view of the river valley, down which I did not venture, although many enjoyed the challenge!” – P Bishop, Berkshire