Douro Valley is like no other wine region we have visited. The steep landscape, the terraces, and the Douro River that snakes between the banks have made this very recognizable, even though obscure wine region.
Most people take a day trip to explore Douro Valley and the wines but this region offers more than just a day visit. Wineries are plentiful and the food in the small villages throughout the region is delicious. The most known and used grapes in Douro Valley are also the same grapes used in Port – Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão, Sousão and spicy grape Tinta de Barca.
Historically, Portugal has been famous for its Port, but in recent years Portuguese table wine has started making a name for itself. The table wines are mostly blends of many grapes and in a lot of cases, the wineries may not know which grapes exactly they are. Over the centuries vines have been planted without any documentation.
How to Get to Douro Valley
Douro Valley is located only 60 miles west of Porto, but only recently did visitors start venturing to explore this wine region on their own.
The most practical and easy way to visit Douro Valley is by renting a car and driving. This gives you the most flexibility to explore and drive on the scenic (aka very scary roads) in Douro Valley.
However, if renting a car is not an option for you, taking a boat or a train is an option. Lastly, you can do this on your own or book a guided tour that will provide transportation and visits to the wineries they have a relationship with.
There is a plethora of day cruises that leave from Porto to Douro Valley. They usually are all-day cruises that start in the morning, stop at a couple of wineries for tasting and then return to Porto. Lunch and transfer to and from the hotel are usually included.
Taking the train from Porto is just an experience as the train station is one of the main attractions of the city. It is covered in beautiful azulejo tilework and mesmerizes you with its beauty. The train goes all the way to Piñhao with a stop along the way.
The train ride is approximately 2 hours long and costs only about €12 one way.
I would recommend spending 2 – 3 days in the valley visiting wineries, tasting food and learning the history of the hard-working people from this region.
A Little Bit About Douro Valley Table Wine
As I have already mentioned terraces of Douro Valley make this region easy to recognize and admire, but it also creates back-breaking work for the people that maintain and harvest the vineyards. Most of the labor to this day is manual and as younger generations are trying to reinvent this region, new and more modern ideas are being implemented to ease the intensity of the labor.
There are three main regions that make up the Douro wine region:
- Baixo Corgo (Lower Corgo) – a subregion with the mildest climate and most precipitation. This subregion was planted first.
- Cima Corgo (Upper Corgo) – the largest subregion and where the majority of wineries are located.
- Douro Superior (Upper Douro) – the hottest and driest of the subregions that stretches to the Spanish border.
In these regions, the vines have been planted for thousands of years, and needless to say, some of the records are not kept to date. A lot of Quintas (Wine-growing estates) are not exactly sure which grape varietals they may be growing in their vineyards.
During our visit to Quinta do Crasto, the tour guide explained to us that in one of their most prestigious parcels, they were not sure what type of grapes were growing so they did DNA fingerprinting of the grapes and found out they had 51 different grapes grown in that parcel. Many winegrowers are using this resource lately to fully understand what they are working with.
For the wine to be Douro DOC it must be made with indigenous Portuguese grapes from Douro Valley. There are many different varietals but some best know are: Tinta Roriz, Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barroca, Tinto Cão, Sousão and spicy grape Tinta de Barca.
Recommended Wineries to Visit
Wineries are plentiful in the Douro and at different scales. From small mom & pop places to big production associated or owned by the Port conglomerates you see in Porto. As you may imagine we tend to lean towards smaller, family-owned places with an intimate setting and delicious wine.
Quinta do Crasto
Visiting Quinta do Crasto was a pleasant surprise. Since this is one of the few Portuguese wines we can find in the states we were worried that this will be a group tour, with someone always taking too many pictures or asking a question that was answered 2 minutes ago. But we were in luck. It was a personalized tour for just the two of us.
The guide was very knowledgeable. She focused on the region, the grapes, the maintenance, the labor-intensive harvests, and just the overall production aspect of winemaking.
After the tour, we enjoyed amazing wine tasting with delicious almonds and olive oil.
SIDE NOTE: I have to admit, I (Dana) am not a big lover of olives, but olives in Portugal are something else! I could eat those every day. Oh, don’t forget to try the almonds too, so delicious!
From the moment we arrived at Gueda, Luís made us feel at home with his larger-than-life personality and hospitality. The tour here started with a nice walk through the vineyards with an audio tour talking about the history, vineyards, winemaking, and all things Douro.
The short 20–30-minute walking tour was followed by amazing wine, port, and olive oil tasting, complemented with generous cheese and sausage plate, locally sourced.
Gueda Wines is one of the new kids on the block, recently started up a winery that brother and sister took on, even though the land has been in their family for 36 generations.
At the estate, they also have a guest house where you can stay enjoying amazing views of Douro Valley from there – Casa de Romezal.
Quinta das Peixotas
We ran out of time in the Douro before visiting the next two wineries Quinta das Peixotas and Quinta Seara D’Ordens. However, we were fortunate enough to ship some of their wines to us. And boy is their wine good! Not just good but reasonably priced too.
Quinta das Peixotas is a winery operated by a mother and three daughters. Unfortunately, even though this was their husband’s/father’s vision he didn’t live long enough to see it become what it is today.
They create elegant and full-bodied reds, well-balanced for wines with an alcohol content of 15.5%.
Quinta das Peixotas offers many different experiences, but one that has caught our eye is the program during the harvest season where you get an opportunity to pick grapes, stomp the grapes in a traditional style and then enjoy a wonderful tasting.
Quinta Seara D’Ordens
Quinta Seara D’Ordens is a story of a family with three sons whose wines have been traded under this name since 1992.
They offer a variety of experiences when visiting their Quinta, anything from traditional wine tasting to Jeep tours. The line of wines, both red and white, as well as the ports that they produce, is quite extensive and all excellent quality.
Visiting and exploring Douro Valley is a must for any wine lover. However, driving on the roads in the region may not be for the faint-hearted. As a passenger, I (Dana) remember keeping my eyes closed a lot.
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