The Douro

Douro and Port Wine

 

The vine culture in this region goes back to ancient times (3 to 4 thousand years). However, it was during the Roman occupation that it developed in a more systematic way together with the planting of the olive tree and cereals.


One of the events that has marked the history of the Douro Wines and especially Port Wine, was the signature of the Methuen Treaty in 1703. The signature of this Treaty helped promoting the trade of these wines, whose main destination was the British market. Such resulted in the growing settlement of British commercial agents in Oporto and in the Douro that with time gained the domain of the activity.


The Douro is the most ancient demarcated wine region in the world. It was demarcated in 1756 by the Marquis de Pombal, in order to assure the quality and authenticity of the wines of this region. The Douro Demarcated Region includes an area of around 250 thousand hectares, though only around 45 thousand are covered with vineyards. The Marão and Montemuro mountains protect the region from the humid winds of the Atlantic and influence significantly the climate of the region that is characterized by harsh winters and quite warm summers.

 

When one speaks about the Douro Region one is in fact speaking of three sub-regions with quite specific features: Lower Corgo, Upper Corgo and Upper Douro. Each of these sub-regions is characterized by a micro-climate that confers different characteristics to the grapes that will later be used in the production of different types of Port Wine, namely, Tawny, Ruby and White.

 

Port Wine is fortified wine, produced only with grapes coming from the Douro Demarcated Region, and the fermentation process is stopped before it is complete through the addition of grape spirit (around 77º of alcohol), that confers it with a natural sweetness as the sugar of the grapes not been completely transformed into alcohol. What differentiates the three categories of Port Wine is not the origin of the grapes, though their quality is also important, but how the wine is aged.

 

White Port Wine is made only with white grapes and ages in big oak wood vats. These are young fruity wines; and it is still the only Port Wine category that is divided according to its sweetness, namely dry, medium dry and sweet white Port Wines.

 

As far as Ruby Port Wine is concerned it is a red wine that also ages in vats. As it has little contact with the wood and through its little contact with the oxygen, it preserves longer its initial characteristics, due to the low oxidisation. Therefore these are fruity wines with a dark colour (ruby) with red fruits flavours (wild fruits or plums for example) and with characteristics of young wines. Within this category one should point out two wines of quite specific characteristics: the LBVs (Late Bottled Vintage) and the Vintage. The latter is considered by many the jewel of the crown of Port Wine, produced only with grapes of a single year and bottled two to three years after the harvest. It is a wine that should be kept as it still continues to age in the bottle.

 

The Tawny Port Wine is also a red wine, but it ages in 550 liters casks allowing the wine to have more contact with the wood and through it with the air. Therefore the wine oxidizes and ages faster, confering it a different colour with amber tones. The aroma is also different with nuts, wood, toast, coffee, chocolate and honey standing out. These are blends of several standing out the Aged Tawnies (10, 20, 30 and 40 years old). 
 

 
 
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