• Alexander Smith

First impressions on the Douro, Portugal

Douro Valley, Portugal

I will have a full report up in the coming weeks, however, I wanted to share my first impressions of the Douro and Portuguese wine. Prior to coming to Portugal, I had expectations that Port wine would be very good, and the Vinho Verde, cheap and easily drinkable. The dry wine I was expecting to be overpriced and lacking complexity. Well, I could not have been more wrong! I have been blown away by the quality and complexity of all Portuguese wines. Portugal has made massive strides in the last 20 years. They are producing world class wines and I cannot think of a country which has made these types of gains in such a short period of time.

What surprised me the most, was unlike other wine growing countries, who have removed native grape varieties to replace them with international ones, Portugal is keeping their native varieties. I applaud them. I imagine it is difficult to convince people to try a Touriga Nacional over a Cabernet Sauvignon. Before this trip I would have always chosen the Cabernet, however now I will think twice.

This is probably the biggest question though in Portuguese wine growing: do they start growing International grape varieties? My advice, stick to the native grapes. They are just as good as International grape varieties and will continue to bring an identity to Portugal.

I visited Quinta do Vallado and Quinta Vale Dona Maria. Both of these vineyards (or Quinta's), produce fantastic quality and complex wines at all price points. They are proud of their produce, and I was blown away with what I tried.

The phenomenal Cristiano Van Zeller of Quinta Vale D. Maria

One warning for readers who are new to Portuguese wine, there are a lot of blends, and up to 50 grape varieties in one bottle! This might seem a bit extreme, however this allows for an appreciation of a ‘Cru’ or terroir, however, this can also confuse the consumer somewhat. I feel this is an area where Portugal could improve; to reduce the grape varieties. I found ~50 too many and often 70% of the wine is comprised of 4-5 grape varieties. Is there really a need to add the other 45? If removing one of these grape varieties will reduce the flavors or quality in any way, then the consumer will just have to live with 50! Otherwise I would consider reducing this number.

20 years ago Port was the only wine which Portugal was famous for. The focus was on that and that alone, all of the grapes which were left over, were used for still wine. This wine ended up being overripe, sweet and not really that great. Within 20 years the landscape has completely changed. I am very excited about the future of Portuguese wine, and I urge my readers to go and try more Portuguese wines outside of Port and Vinho Verde. In summary, If you are not drinking Portuguese wine, you really should be!

Full detail reported expected in October 2018.

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