Tales from the Douro, Alto Douro Portugal

We are so excited to have our good friend in wine Jo Barrett in store this week to educate us on the Alto Douro region in Portugal. Wine has been produced by traditional landholders in the Alto Douro region for some 2,000 years. Since the 18th century, its main product, port wine, has been world famous for its quality. This long tradition of viticulture has produced a cultural landscape of outstanding beauty that reflects its technological, social and economic evolution. There are some very interesting facts about the Alto Douro, take a minute to read our blog this week and learn about a few of them.

The Alto Douro region is on UNESCO‘s World Heritage list as one of the oldest demarcated wine growing regions in the world. UNESCO has 10 criteria to be considered and at least one must be met to get the World Heritage designation. The Douro Valley qualified on three.  They are:

  • The primary product, port wine, has long been world  famous for its quality.
  • The cultural landscape is of a traditional European wine-producing region and shows the evolution of this human activity over time.
  • The components of the landscape represent the full range of activities associated with winemaking – terraces, quintas (wine-producing farm complexes), villages, chapels, and roads.

The soil in the Alto Douro is actually ‘anthroposoil’ which was made by breaking up rocks. The rocks were broken up manually by people and terraced and planted over centuries. Over time the techniques and planting patterns changed with each generation improving on the previous one.

In the late 19th century the vineyards suffered from a Phylloxera attack and had to be rebuilt. The new terraces altered the landscape again. They were wider, sloped to face the sun, had more rows of vines and were set more widely apart so advances, such as mule-drawn ploughs, could be used to make wine production less arduous. Phylloxera are almost microscopic, pale yellow sap-sucking insects that feed on the roots and leaves of grapevines. They were unknowingly (in the sense of understanding the effect they would have on European grapes) brought to Europe from North America. Portugal, and much of the rest of Europe, lost most of their vineyards to Phylloxera and had to resort to ripping out the diseased plants. As much of 70% of France’s vineyards were destroyed.

The only “cure” developed so far is to graft resistant US root-stock onto the European vines.  Lots of snooty Europeans were horrified that the tastes of their wines would be destroyed by the crass American roots. But, in fact, the grapes provide the taste, the roots just sustain them. Phylloxera is by no means eradicated and wine growers have to be constantly vigilant so you see roses planted here and there throughout vineyards in the Douro River Valley.

Port isn’t made in Port (and never was). The port itself has always been made at the vineyards. The grapes are (still) harvested by hand and then different varieties are combined. After being harvested they are crushed (used to be by feet but not anymore), put in vats to ferment and at some point brandy is poured in. Next the port is poured into oak barrels to age. This has been the process forever. Long ago the oak barrels were transported from the Upper Douro region to the city of Port via wooden boats called Rabelos. The boats have since been replaced with other means of transportation but the product is still given the name of the city it is shipped from, not the place where it is grown and made.

Ferreirinha Planalto Branco, 2016 :: $15 Sale $13

The vineyards of Ferreira are planted throughout the Douro region, which is divided into three subregions: the Lower Corgo, the Upper Corgo and the Douro Superior. The schist soil found on the steep hills along the Douro River is essential for the character of Port wines. In the 1980’s the vineyards underwent extensive replanting and investment, with Ferreira pioneering the vertical system of planting, where vine rows are aligned uphill rather than along the contours.

This wine is bright lemon in colour and has a very intense and complex bouquet, with a prevalence of white fruits (melon and pear), fresh vegetable notes of green shrubs and some mineral notes. Its palate shows great harmony and a fine body, with fruity and mineral flavours again in evidence. It has a long and balanced finish.

Quinta do Crasto, Douro Tinto, 2015 :: $22 Sale $18

Quinta do Crasto has been making wine for almost 400 years. Today, the estate is owned by the Roquette family. In 1910, Quinta do Crasto was purchased by Constantino de Almeida, founder of the Constantino Port house. Following his death in 1923, his son, Fernando de Almeida, continued to run the Quinta. In 1981, Fernando de Almeida’s daughter, Leonor Roquette, and Jorge Roquette, her husband, assumed majority ownership and management of the estate. With the help of their sons, Miguel and Tomas, they began the process of replanting the vineyards and renovating the winery. The winemakers are Manuel Lobo and Tomas Roquette.

Deep purple color. Great intensity on the nose, with fresh berry fruit aromas and elegant floral notes. Elegant start that leads to a voluminous wine, with elegant tannins and a fine texture. Fresh berry fruit notes complete the palate. this is a harmonious, balanced wine, with good persistence.

Ferreira, Tawny Quinta do Porto 10 :: $34 Sale $29

Ferreira is one of the top Port producers based in the Douro region of Portugal. Ferreira was founded in 1751, and gained prominence under the leadership of Dona Antonia Adelaide. Over her lifetime, she invested much of her considerable fortune in planting and improving the estate. Following her death in 1896, the business became a limited company and began a new phase building on the legacy of its Douro estates. Today, Ferreira is no longer owned by the family as it was acquired by Sogrape Vinhos in 1987.

This port has a deep tawny hue with red hints. Its aroma is characterized by an excellent balance between the quality of its original grapes and wine (noticeable in its floral and ripe fruit aromas) and its aging through oxidation in wood (which gives it spicy and nutty aromas). In the mouth, the classic and fresh style of the Ferreira brand is conspicuous, achieving a fine balance between the different sensations in the wine body and in the long final in the mouth.

Broadbent Selections, Madeira 5 Year Old :: $28 Sale $25

The Broadbent name has been synonymous with fine wine for more than four decades, beginning with the renowned career of British wine critic,writer and auctioneer Michael Broadbent and continuing with his son, the importer Bartholomew Broadbent. Broadbent has partnered with family-owned wineries around the globe to produce wines rich with the essence of place and tradition. Broadbent wines represent authentic character and infinite pleasure.

Aged in oak casks for at least 5 years. A delicious, full-bodied and rich dessert wine, with an excellent balance between sweetness and acidity.

Manuel Manzaneque SuarezWe start sippin’ and tastin’ at 4pm. Hope you can make it! Tag your pics #pickitupatpearl and #Neverabadbottle so we can CHEERS! 




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